What are Early Reflections and How Can They Help Me?


Among the stronger features of Exponential Audio reverbs are the early reflection controls.  These can be used in a number of ways to help your mixes.  Let's take a short look at what they're about.

In much of the classic literature about reverberation, there's a distinction between the early part of a reverb signal (the first 60-100 milliseconds) and the tail that comes after. We hear these signals in significantly different ways.  Let's go back a few million years and walk through a forest.  A branch snaps.  In most cases, you'll have a very good idea of where it is.  Your ears will give you a good approximation of direction and the reflected sound will improve that directional accuracy and also give you a sense of distance--how much danger might you be in?  It's worth burning those calories in the brain if it makes the difference between eating lunch and being lunch.  A more reverberant signal probably means the danger is farther away--nothing to worry about right away.

Fast-forward to now.  You're sitting in a concert hall.  Early reflections still tell you something about the position and distance of instruments, They might tell you a few things about the geometry of the room as well. The later reverb signal tells you a few more things--overall size and reflectivity of the space--but there's nothing directional left in the signal.

Slate And Wood

Slate And Wood

Early reflections in a reverb do the same thing, but they can also do more.  You'll see that most reverb presets in Exponential Audio reverbs are designed to work in a naturalistic way.  A higher level of early energy (relative to reverb energy) will generally move you closer to the source.  The early controls, in conjunction with the reverb attack controls, are the primary way we change perspective.

Of course in many mixes we're not really looking for a realistic sound.  We're looking for a 'produced' sound, a vintage sound, an in-your-face sound.  For starters it help to know a little about some of the older classic reverb units. A serious early section was out of the reach of most of the dedicated processors in those devices.  There were typically one or two reflection voices for each channel. They could be used to create a discrete punch or a bit of backslap, but that's about it.  The truth is that those classic reverbs are almost all tail.  If that's what you're looking for, the best place to start is by turning down the early reflection level in the Exponential Audio reverb.

It's not unusual for careful listeners to talk about the sound of older recordings from the sixties and seventies. While we (yes, I'm that old) may go on a little too much, there are some underlying truths.  The track count was lower, maybe 2 or 4.  A big-budget recording might mean 8 or even 16 tracks!  This meant that the primary performance happened at the same time in the same space.  Besides the advantages of playing together, this meant a lot of microphone leakage.  Every mic picked up a little something of everything, and of course this meant a different distance from every sound source to every microphone.  That's not very different from applying an early reflection pattern to a mix--even before we start talking about reverb.  There's a very nice little video right here that describes using PhoenixVerb to pull a band together in just this way.

The different elements of a recording might include direct signal, close-mic'ed signal, or sample libraries.

The different elements of a recording might include direct signal, close-mic'ed signal, or sample libraries.

These days we're often not in the same room when we make a piece of music.  We're often not even in the same country!  The different elements of a recording might include direct signal, close-mic'ed signal, or sample libraries.  Often a signal might be a little too much in-your-face to blend with the rest of the mix.  Using the early section of a reverb can help to smooth that signal and move it back a little.  If some of the small room presets don't do the job, try turning down the reverb level and just play with the early reflection part of the signal.  Usually a sort predelay (0-6 ms) and a short attack section (20-40 ms) will get you into the ballpark.

As always, feel free to play.  Look at the way presets are written and learn why one is different from another.  Make edits and then press the Compare button to see how your changes affect the original preset.  Learn from everyone, but remember that the sound you're looking for--as well as the toolset you're using and the people you record--is always uniquely yours.