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Q: How can I use my hardware reverb unit with my DAW?

I would like to use my fine hardware reverb unit to add reverb to my recordings during the mixing phase. How can I do that?


I think that for many people the answer would be another question - "Why would you want to do that when there are excellent reverb plug-ins available?"

Well that's true, but it's also true that you can get attached to hardware in a way that plug-ins don't seem to be able to match. Anyway, with plug-ins you have to get used to the fact that sooner or later you won't be able to use them because of OS or DAW upgrades. Lexiverb 2 anyone?

We have a couple of favorite hardware reverb units at Audio Masterclass Towers. Actually we only physically have one of them because the other has a reputation of needing a live-in maintenance technician to keep it working. It still counts as a favorite-sounding unit though.

One is the inexpensive and tiny Alesis Microverb. Not the Microverb II or other Microverb models, which were not nearly as good in their intrinsic reverb quality. The other is the mighty Lexicon 480L. There are times when the heart yearns for the sound of either of these units, even though our DAWs are stocked with reverbs.

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Equipping Your Home Recording Studio

Oh, and another favorite would be any of the EMT plate units. Pure electro-mechanical bliss!

So how do you use a hardware reverb with a DAW?

Well, with one of our Pro Tools systems we have an eight-channel interface. It is simple to configure a spare couple of outputs as a stereo auxiliary send and two inputs as auxiliary returns. Adding reverb to the mix is almost exactly the same as on a physical mixing console.

But most DAW users don't have the benefit of having an eight channel interface, or at least the four channels of input and output that you would need to make the above scenario work. (Actually, you could do it with three channels of output and use a mono send split to both inputs of the reverb. The outputs would still be stereo.)

So if you only have two channels of input and output, what can you do?

The answer is that you can't use reverb as you would with a console. But if you were determined to add hardware reverb to one track (or more tracks, one at a time), then you could do that (DAW software permitting, but you can do it with Pro Tools.)

To do this, mute everything apart from the track you want to add reverb to. Connect the outputs of your interface to your reverb unit, and the reverb's outputs to the inputs of your interface. Play the track you want reverb added to and record the 100% wet reverb signal to two new tracks. IMPORTANT - mute these two tracks while you record otherwise you will get a terrible howlround.

Once you have done this, disconnect the reverb and reconnect your system in the normal way. Now you can mix all the vocals and instruments, plus the reverb you have just printed to disk.

Clearly this is not a very flexible way of doing things, but at least you can achieve your objective.

If your interface has insert points, then it depends on the configurability of the DAW software whether you can achieve something similar. The trick in this method is to print the reverb to disk rather than mix it live, although if you can find a way of adding the reverb live that will be much easier.

Of course you might say that this is all rather a lot of bother. But successful producers and engineers are generally those who are prepared to go the extra kilometer, when they can see a potential creative advantage at the end of it.

P.S. There is another way to add reverb live with a two-input, two-output interface. Use one output and input as a mono auxiliary send and return. Monitor through the other output, pan everything to that output and mix in mono!

By David Mellor Sunday December 19, 2010