To simulate reverb with delay, you have to know reverb first. And I of course mean the reasons of why you want to use it, too. But also its basic functions. Know what knobs to tinker with to get the sound you hear in your head. Then if you know all of that, you can start thinking outside the box. That’s when the age old question of “why am I using reverb?” emerges. And with it, usually another one, too, that goes something like “how could I free up some space in this dense crap I’ve just created?”. And that moment, my friend, is when you take out your sacred echo devices.
Delay saves the day – and the mix
Yeah, cause reverb has that dense clouding effect that mainly affects the midrange. That’s where most of our stuff is anyway, track and musical information-wise. Who cares. Anyway. To get the desired sparseness going while still having the sense of some ambience, do the following. For example on lead vocals, but you can really do this on any kind of track. First, remove your reverbs (d’oh!). Set up a very short delay, somewhere within the Haas-window – up to about 40ms. This will be your pre-delay, so to say. It’s going to simulate the early reflections of a reverb or a real space. The longer you set this delay, the closer to you the sound source will appear. If you set it near zero or if you don’t use this first delay at all, you’ll have the sense of a distant sound source. You know the drill. Now set up another delay, with quite a bit longer time, let’s say ~300 – 700ms. You’re gonna have to fine tune it depending on the tempo of the tune. Dial in their level; it’ll depend on the density of the arrangement. Bam! You have a nice ambience going. All that without most of the crowding effect of reverbs.
You can really play around with a couple of things on and about these delays. First of all, you can pan them slightly (or boldly!) off-center. Then you can tinker with the feedback. Giving them more repeats will sound ever so slightly more reverb-like. Of course it’ll be denser as well, and you’ll really have to pay attention to creating that tail with the last audible repeats of the 2nd echo. You can – guess what – also EQ the damn thing! Chipping off part of both the low end and the highs will give you a more natural sound. Leaving it fairly bright, especially on vocals or lead instruments will get you the in-your-face-ness factor. Just don’t go ice pick with it. Now I mentioned above that if you don’t use the first delay, it’s kind of like not having any pre-delay on a reverb. Well, the good thing about it is, it’s actually ambiguous. I mean, using a single delay can be another thing as well: a very big space with a close (to the listener) sound source. What’s that? The usual canyon echo stuff. But wait, there’s more!
Four delays for stereo
Yeah man, most of these darn reverbs do the stereo thing! Now what? Well, never worry, bro. Just bring 4 delays, and set them barely differently. Then pan them apart, in pairs! For example, 37ms and 360ms goes on the left side. Then you do 40ms and 370ms for the right pair. You can go further, and EQ them differently. And also set the regeneration/repeats to slightly different amounts. Or even distort them, because why not. Some nice delay plug-ins have the saturation thing built in now. Awesome. If you set these hard L and R, you’ll have quite some width happening. You’re gonna love this shit.