Room Realness Is Within Reach.
Generating decent-sounding artificial reverb is brain-meltingly complex, so it’s little surprise that most reverb plug-ins provide heaps of adjustable parameters. This is great for tweakheads like me, but in practice most engineers just stick to presets, with perhaps a little help from familiar broad-brush parameters such as Reverb Size/Time and Pre-delay. With Exponential Audio’s R2, however, there are some very nifty ‘under the hood’ option that I’d urge every user to experiment with.
The envelope controls in particular warrant investigation, because they determine the crucial onset characteristics of the algorithm’s early reflections and (independently) the reverb tail. Let’s check out the early reflections first, so select a reverb preset (Medium Chamber 2’s as good as any), then set the Early Level to maximum (0dB) and the Reverb Level to minimum (‘OFF’). Send a good healthy level to this reverb from any dry instrument in your mix — something fairly rhythmic will be most revealing, so maybe some hand percussion or an acoustic guitar. The reverb will immediately transport the dry sound into a medium-sized, reasonably live-sounding room.
Now click the plug-in’s Early button to reveal those envelope settings, and give the Early Attack control a good swivel. Notice how lower settings immediately give the space a more intimate and damped character, and the reverb suddenly sits behind the instrument in a much more understated way. At higher settings, on the other hand, you get that sense of garagey rear-wall slapback which can be so effective in adding indie personality to overdubs — indeed, you can hype that, if you like, by increasing the Early Slope value so later reflections retain their ear-catching brightness. The setting of the Early Time control is also critical, because it provides a strong psychological clue as to the physical dimensions of the simulated space: dial it back and the room shrinks; crank it up and the walls and ceiling recede.
If you now fade down the Early Level and instead bring the Reverb Level up to 0dB, you’ll hear similar factors at work when adjusting the very similar envelope controls accessed via the ‘Rvb Attack’ button. One thing I particularly like doing here is using a high Envelope Attack in conjunction with the Envelope Time control to generate a rhythmic ‘bump’ in the reverb tail that subtly supports the groove of the music. Another useful trick is to max out the Envelope Slope with high Envelope Attack settings when using the Plate Reverb type on vocals. This is great for generating that luxuriant Adele-like reverb sustain, but without loss of lyric intelligibility.
And, speaking of luxuriant sustain, another of my favourite power-user facilities in Exponential Audio’s R2 is its Chorus section. Forget thinking of it as a traditional chorus effect, though, because its main appeal is the way it subtly introduces a sense of movement into long reverb tails. Not only do I find this instinctively more appealing on the ear in most mixing situations, but it’s also very effective at preventing nasty metallic-sounding resonances developing when you’re working with things like sustained solo/choral vocals, finger-picked acoustic guitars, or string ensembles. What’s more, the special ‘fat’ chorus options are so good at disguising potential pitch-drift side-effects that I find myself using R2’s Chorus module even on instruments such as solo piano which normally make modulated reverb sound rather unnatural.