Gated reverb is a great way to add size in width and depth to any track, while maintaining full control over the finished product. Professional mixing engineers use this trick every day to use reverb but keep it clean. Let’s talk about how you can use gated reverb to make anything sound huge yet clean.
What is Gated Reverb
Gated reverb is pretty much exactly how it sounds: a reverb which is controlled by a gate. Instead of the normal and natural decay on the tail of a reverb, a gate instantly closes to abruptly cut that reverb early.
This gives you the wet depth of reverb on your tracks while controlling it and keeping your mix clean. Perhaps more than anything, it sounds really cool.
The exact origins of the gated reverb technique are disputed, but it’s generally credited to Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins of Genesis along with their engineers Hugh Padgham and Steve Lillywhite.
Purportedly they stumbled on the sound when a gate was left on a reverb channel on the drums by mistake. They liked the sound so much they decided to use it.
Most first reference Genesis’ subsequent “Abacab” record as being the first instance of it being used in popular music, but Phil Collins took and ran with this trick on his solo work. One of the most famous examples of gated reverb is on his drums on “In the Air”.
As such, gated reverb is heavily associated with the popular music of the 80’s, but it’s been used in popular music ever since due to its tight and unique sound.
How to Use Gated Reverb
Gated reverb can sound good on a number of instruments including vocals, but it’s especially good on drums. This is because you can accurately match the gate settings to your BPM, allowing the gate to open and close tight with your snare for example.
To use gated reverb, create an aux/return track. You can use gated reverb as an insert, dropping it right on the track itself, but this method allows you to use it on multiple tracks.
First, drop your reverb of choice on the aux/return track. Gated reverb works with all kinds of reverb settings; the real magic is in the gate, but try starting with a medium sized room setting.
By the way, gated reverb sounds better the drier (ie less room reflections) your audio is because it makes for a better contrast.
Depending on the reverb settings on board, you might want to add an EQ after it with the Abbey Road reverb trick. My reverb of choice to throw at most everything is the FabFilter Pro-R and it has built in EQ, so I like to use that to keep the reverb a little brighter and mid/high mid heavy.
After the reverb (and possibly an EQ), drop a gate next in the signal chain.
Gated Reverb Settings
Threshold – The threshold on your gated reverb determines how much signal it needs to detect from your source to open up. Set this low enough to catch all of the audio you want to open the gate. If you don’t set this low enough, you’ll only get the reverb on some of your audio as the gate will be closed.
Attack – This determines how quickly the gate opens up. You can put this around 1-3ms if you’re worried about the reverb blunting your transients, but generally on a gated reverb I set this near as low as possible.
Release – The release determines how gradually the gate closes back up after the source signal dips below the threshold. Setting this longer will mimic more of your reverb’s natural tail decay which we don’t want. We want an instant cutoff for the contrast, so set this as low as possible.
Hold – The “Hold” dial on a gated reverb is one of the most important settings as this determines how long after the signal drops below the threshold that the gate closes/mutes the reverb. Because we set the release to be instant, the hold is the gatekeeper for the reverb, no pun intended. Experiment with different hold times as you blend in whatever source you want. I recommend setting this to your song’s BPM. You can use this calculator to find the exact time in ms that you want for a quarter note, half note, etc.
You can also ignore this and set the hold time relatively short to instantly close as your input signal of whatever source drops out. This keeps the reverb tied to that threshold and essentially glued on top of your source so the two are one, playing in unison.
Floor – Experiment with this, but be sure to keep it below 0dB otherwise this will bypass the gate. Just set it low enough so that it doesn’t interfere with the other settings.
Sidechain – The sidechain can be useful if you’re dealing with multiple tracks on a single track. For instance, if you’ve just got a single drum bus style track to work with, you can exclusively have certain pieces of the drums trigger the gate by creating a filter which dictates the gate’s behavior. If you don’t want the kick to affect the gate, high pass around 150Hz. If you want the snare to trigger the gate, put a bell filter around 350Hz and set the threshold accordingly to just catch the hits which will cause a surge in that frequency range.
Tweak the settings of the reverb and gate as you like to get the sound and tightness of the reverb you’re after, and enjoyed the benefits of controlled, gated reverb!
Gated Reverb Recap
- Gated reverb involves following a reverb with a gate in order to control and tighten up the reverb in your mix.
- It originated in the late 70’s and was especially popularized by Phil Collins on his solo work, and it continues to be utilized today.
- Gated reverb works best on dry, clean audio.
- Try a medium sized room for your reverb and EQ filter out lower and higher frequencies to keep the reverb clean.
- Set your threshold to catch all audio you want reverb on.
- Use a fast attack and release to get abrupt reverb starts and cutoffs. Adjust the hold to match your song’s BPM or turn it lower to essentially glue it on top of your dry audio.
- Blend the reverb level to taste whether you used it via an insert or an aux/return track.