Adding Reverb to Your Electronic Mix

Sonically speaking, your synthesizer has more in common with an isolation tank than with an acoustic guitar. That’s because electronic instruments are completely incapable of natural reverb.

Classical instruments like guitars, violins, and cellos are built with sound holes so that musical notes can vibrate and resonate. Contrary to their acoustic kin, electronic instruments create their sounds from a place where natural reverb doesn’t exist: the circuit board.

Onset spatial boundaries resulted in innovation. The circuit board’s ostensibly anechoic limitations inspired manufacturers to develop a wellspring of hardware and software applications that produce fantastic sounding reverb for electronic instruments.

Read below to learn about initial workarounds in the studio, in–unit solutions from instrument makers, and the resulting wealth of options that modern musicians now have for imbuing electronic instruments with natural sounding and otherworldly reverb.

Old School Techniques For Recording Instruments Without Reverb

When synthesizers first hit the recording scene in the ‘60s, many engineers found their voltage-controlled tones quite abrasive and difficult to mix alongside traditional instruments.

Echo chambers offered a solution. Engineers would amplify synths in a separate room and record their sound along with the room’s reverberations. A separate synth track, softened with reverb from the echo chamber, could be mixed more evenly with drum, bass, and guitar tracks.

Though effective for creating the impression of resonance in recording sessions, echo chambers weren’t always an option for engineers with limited studio space. In response, manufacturers began developing electronic instruments with their own onboard reverb effects.

Despite manufacturers’ best intentions, early design decisions for in-unit reverb proved somewhat cumbersome. Some vintage synthesizers, such as the ARP 2600, included their own spring reverbs that sounded great but made the units impractically heavy.

The advent of the computer age provided a practical, but not entirely perfect, alternative in the form of onboard digital effects.


Recreating Acoustic Spaces With Digital Effects

As the computing power of electronic instruments increased exponentially with each new generation of gear, so did their capability to host onboard digital reverb effects. Most digital reverbs built inside electronic instruments adhere to one of two forms:

  • Physical modeling reverb processors use a complicated series of medium and short delays that create thousands of decaying echoes, simulating the natural resonance of sound inside a room.
  • Convolution reverb processors utilize actual recorded samples of reverberations from a physical space, and superimpose the shape of these samples onto the instrument’s sound to create realistic digital interpretations of natural acoustics.

Digital reverb processors require a large chunk of computational power to create high-quality resonance. So do the actual sound generators inside electronic instruments (like oscillators and samplers). As a result, most internal digital reverb effects are quite basic and low on features so that maximum computing power can be dedicated to the instrument’s sound synthesis.

In-unit effects are a convenient feature that offer decent-sounding reverb, but external processors are key to unlocking the true resonant potential of your electronic instruments.

Enhancing Electronic Echoes With External Reverb

Now that you know the history, it’s time to pick the right reverb for your own electronic rig. Nothing equals the sound variety achieved by routing your electronic instruments into stand-alone reverb units.

Check out a few of SYNC’s favorite reverb processors for electronic instruments below.


Eventide’s Space effect pedal offers 12 diverse reverb types in addition to instrument synchronization enabled by the unit’s MIDI clock-sync feature. Inspired by Eventide’s celebrated reverb rack units, Space is capable of both realistic reverb and interstellar resonance. Space is powered by software that’s updated by plugging the pedal into a computer via USB, turning a versatile reverb unit into a perpetually evolvable effect for your electronic rig.

The BlueSky Reverberator by Strymon is a blissfully resonant stompbox that’s beloved by electric guitarists for its lush reverb and is equally adept at blanketing the sounds of synths and drum machines in expressive echo. The BlueSky’s powerful digital signal processor creates complex reverb algorithms that are rich in texture and well-suited for electronic instrument signals.



Waves Abbey Road Plates

Waves Abbey Road Plates

If you want to recreate reverb effects used by The Beatles and Radiohead without booking studio time in London, check out the Abbey Road Reverb Plates plugin by Waves. This reverent effect plugin emulates the four EMT 140 reverb plate units installed at Abbey Road Studios in 1957. The clickable interface pays homage to the audio aesthetics of the original reverb plates by letting you control the amount of analog noise and hum that leaks into your signal.

Eventide Blackhole

Eventide Blackhole

The Blackhole reverb effect plugin by Eventide is the DAW-friendly, standalone version of the supernatural-sounding “Blackhole” preset found on the Space stompbox. The Blackhole preset is beloved for its soft attack and enduring harmonic trail, enabling soundscapes that range from subtle ambience to extraterrestrial special effects. The plugin version comes preloaded with more than 50 unique reverb settings, making the Blackhole an easy to use and intuitively deep tool for your digital studio.

We’ve only just begun to explore the vast universe of gear that’s optimized for electronic instruments. Stay engaged with Reverb SYNC for more helpful guides to musical methodology in the digital realm.

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