Delay vs reverb – two effects which can be used to affect the stereo width and depth of and bring life to your mix. Let’s compare the two to best explain the difference between delay vs reverb and identify which is best to use in your mix.
Delay Vs Reverb
Let’s compare the two effects of delay vs reverb.
While both effects are used to simulate reflections of sound bouncing off surfaces, there’s one substantial area where they differ: the decay of those reflections.
Delay is a very two-dimensional and by comparison much simpler effect. It simply creates an exact copy of your audio and plays it back at an interval of your choosing.
On virtually every delay plugin, the delayed signal can be played at a specific time in milliseconds or alternatively can be synced to the tempo of your song.
It can then be played at intervals like an eight, quarter, half, or whole note following the initial signal, making that delayed signal sound tight in the context of the mix.
Delay is much cleaner than reverb because it doesn’t simulate the size of the room via a longer or shorter decay of the signal, it’s simply an exact replica.
On some delay plugins, there are settings to give you more control over the delayed signal’s behavior or even have it act a bit more like reverb.
With one of my favorite delay plugins, Echoboy from Soundtoys, you have different modes to affect the position of the delays:
With the dual echo option you can create two distinct delays in the left and right channels with different timings to create more stereo separation and width for a track. The “style” option on the right lets you color the delayed signal in a number of ways, making it sound more distorted or filtered almost like a reverb.
There’s also lowcut and highcut which act as high pass filters and low pass filters or you can add what is known as “feedback” to simulate additional reflections and decay in the delayed signal.
Still, these are all just cosmetic compared to what reverb plugins simulate.
Reverb is more associated with depth as this effect is used to more faithfully simulate the decay of a reflection.
I talked about this in my comparison of high frequency vs low frequency sounds, but as sound bounces off walls, we hear reflections based on the distance and makeup of the environment.
Because of their longer wavelengths, lower frequencies are more durable and able to travel farther differences.
As such, in a larger room, it’s the lower frequencies that we’re able to hear when sound reflects off of those walls and surfaces with a longer decay.
We can use a reverb plugin like my personal favorite, FabFilter’s Pro-R, to create the effect that our audio was recorded in a larger or better sounding room by simulating different reflections:
In Pro-R, regardless of the length of the decay, we can color the sound of the reverb to make it brighter/simulating a smaller room or darker/simulating a larger room. This allows us to dial in some very custom and unique reverbs on our audio at will.
I alluded to this earlier when talking about delay, but one final important thing to mention in delay vs reverb is that reverb has a darkness to it by virtue of those realistic room reflections it’s simulating that delay doesn’t have.
It’s that darkness which gives an authentic sense of depth in our mix so that we can send certain instruments farther back in the three dimensional space of the mix.
When contrasting a heavier amount of reverb on some tracks over others, we can create separation between them.
This gives us an extra dimension to create space in the mix rather than just the stereo spread of panning left and right, ultimately creating a more interesting and cleaner mix in the process.
Unlike delay which again is much cleaner in just being a replica of our track, the “thickness” of reverb adds up in our mix. As such, I always recommend using the Abbey Road reverb trick which involves EQing your reverb with a high pass filter to clean it up.
Rolling off the low end of your reverb helps to remove one of the major buildups of mud in a mix and keeps your overall mix much cleaner without sacrificing the depth that you can create with your reverb.
Delay vs Reverb – Which to Use
Regarding which is better or which to use in delay vs reverb, it’s a boring but accurate answer to say that they both have a place in your mix.
Delay is useful for adding width, presence, and even a small touch of depth to a track without cluttering things up.
Reverb can be used to create the aforementioned depth and therefore more separation in your mix, it just needs to be used wisely and responsibly to keep your mix clean.
And of course they can both be used more aggressively as a bit of ear candy in your mix to keep your listener engaged.
Speaking of delay vs reverb, check out my complete list of audio effects explained to get an overview of every single common effect used in mixing!