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Topic: how much reverb to use with Ambience?

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  1. #1

    how much reverb to use with Ambience?

    For someone composing orchestral music (romantic/impressionist style), how much reverb is advisable (strings vs woods vs brass etc)? I'm working with Sonar, and use Ambience Concert Hall 1, using the reverb sliders, whose values range from 0-127. I realized recently I was using too much reverb (80 and up). Now I'm getting confused as I try different values, and could really use some feedback. What have people doing similar music found helpful? Thank you.

  2. #2

    Re: how much reverb to use with Ambience?

    In SONAR I use reverb sends to send each track to the reverb.

    If I'm using Ambience I choose a hall (usually Concert Hall 2 for my wind ensemble stuff) and then vary each send as to how "deep" the instrument/section is on the stereo stage (imaginary stage).

    I actually draw a seating chart then pan the different tracks to their positions in space (I even sit at the desk and point to where I want instrument X to be). Then I place them back to front with the reverb (for distance from the microphone(s)).

    So, in many of my large ensemble mixes, the percussion, being at the back of the stage, get more from the reverb send than the solo oboe, which usually sits right up front (closer to the mike) to the right (or left - depending on your setup).

    That's not the entire thing and there are many more subtle things to do but I hope I described it adequately and I hope that will help get you started.
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

    http://reberclark.blogspot.com http://reberclark.bandcamp.com http://www.youtube.com/reberclark

  3. #3

    Re: how much reverb to use with Ambience?

    Quote Originally Posted by michael diemer View Post
    For someone composing orchestral music (romantic/impressionist style), how much reverb is advisable (strings vs woods vs brass etc)? I'm working with Sonar, and use Ambience Concert Hall 1, using the reverb sliders, whose values range from 0-127. I realized recently I was using too much reverb (80 and up). Now I'm getting confused as I try different values, and could really use some feedback. What have people doing similar music found helpful? Thank you.
    Ah, you ask an interesting question. In fact, if memory serves the subject of reverb has sparked some rather heated debate on the forum in the past.

    There's no easy answer, and if you put it to 50 people, you'll get 50 different opinions of what and how much to use (and some will say you shouldn't use reverb at all!). The best approach would be to go with what you prefer, then experiment with Ambience until you get there, or at least reasonably close. (There's also the matter of whether it would be better to use an external reverb program, but I'll address this at the end of my reply.)

    Okay, so step 1 is to define your personal preferences. Do you prefer an intimate sound space, or a larger and more reverberant one? Do you prefer the feeling of being in the middle of the concert hall, close to the stage, or being on the conductor's podium? Once you have answers to those questions, then the issue is how you go about implementing them.

    A good starting point is to open the ARIA player, click on the Effects tab, and audition each of the Ambience presets. I'd also recommend cranking the send level up to 100% so that you get a full sense of the preset's sound characteristics (you can always scale back the send level later). When you find a preset that seems to work best for you, it's time for the next step -- and this seems to be something that a lot of people miss out on for some reason.

    In the ARIA effects panel, there are control knobs that can be used to change the default settings of the Ambience presets. See pages 60 and 61 of the GPO4 PDF manual for more information on the control settings and what they do. The top of page 61 has a helpful tip on applying different reverb levels to different sections of the orchestra. In my experience with Ambience I have found that decay, predelay, width, and level are the most useful adjustments for tailoring the behavior of the reverb to suit both personal preference and a sense of at least some degree of realism. For example, I prefer the sound of a large resonant concert hall. However, the Ambience concert hall presets fell short to my ears, so I selected the Cathedral preset and reduced the decay time down to where I felt that it was giving me the sound I wanted. The point is that you have more control over reverb behavior than you may realize, and there's no reason to just make do with the default settings for any of the Ambience presets unless they happen to match up with the reverb sound you want.

    Another ARIA feature you should be aware of is one that fits hand-in-glove with Ambience, and that is Stereo Stage. Once again I'll direct you to the GPO4 manual, this time pages 56 and 57 for information on Stereo Stage and what it does. The only thing I'll say here is that because it is a reverb response "add-on", the degree to which Stereo Stage has a noticeable affect depends on reverb levels. According to my experimentation, the reverb level needs to be at least 50% for Stereo Stage to work.

    To close out this wall of text, I'd like to briefly discusss other reverb options. IMHO I think Ambience sounds pretty dang good, and a lot better than many other reverbs out there, especially compared to the effects included with DAW software. However, there's a little something called convolution reverb, and it seems to beat Ambience on realism. (The gold standard for convolution is a program called Altiverb.) Besides Altiverb there are a couple of other reverb programs I'll be test-driving later in the year. In the meantime Ambience suits me just fine, although its time remaining in my creative toolkit may be running out soon. I realize that your original inquiry was about how to work with Ambience, but I wanted to put this on the table for your consideration because I believe it is something you may want to explore later on.

    Anyway, I hope you were able to extract something useful out of all this blather!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  4. #4

    Re: how much reverb to use with Ambience?

    Quote Originally Posted by reberclark View Post
    In SONAR I use reverb sends to send each track to the reverb.

    If I'm using Ambience I choose a hall (usually Concert Hall 2 for my wind ensemble stuff) and then vary each send as to how "deep" the instrument/section is on the stereo stage (imaginary stage).

    I actually draw a seating chart then pan the different tracks to their positions in space (I even sit at the desk and point to where I want instrument X to be). Then I place them back to front with the reverb (for distance from the microphone(s)).

    So, in many of my large ensemble mixes, the percussion, being at the back of the stage, get more from the reverb send than the solo oboe, which usually sits right up front (closer to the mike) to the right (or left - depending on your setup).

    That's not the entire thing and there are many more subtle things to do but I hope I described it adequately and I hope that will help get you started.
    thank you very much Clark, I've always wondered about the percussion and if it should have more or less reverb. This seems like a good general rule. I'm sure it will be helpful.

  5. #5

    Re: how much reverb to use with Ambience?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Johnson View Post
    Ah, you ask an interesting question. In fact, if memory serves the subject of reverb has sparked some rather heated debate on the forum in the past.

    There's no easy answer, and if you put it to 50 people, you'll get 50 different opinions of what and how much to use (and some will say you shouldn't use reverb at all!). The best approach would be to go with what you prefer, then experiment with Ambience until you get there, or at least reasonably close. (There's also the matter of whether it would be better to use an external reverb program, but I'll address this at the end of my reply.)

    Okay, so step 1 is to define your personal preferences. Do you prefer an intimate sound space, or a larger and more reverberant one? Do you prefer the feeling of being in the middle of the concert hall, close to the stage, or being on the conductor's podium? Once you have answers to those questions, then the issue is how you go about implementing them.

    A good starting point is to open the ARIA player, click on the Effects tab, and audition each of the Ambience presets. I'd also recommend cranking the send level up to 100% so that you get a full sense of the preset's sound characteristics (you can always scale back the send level later). When you find a preset that seems to work best for you, it's time for the next step -- and this seems to be something that a lot of people miss out on for some reason.

    In the ARIA effects panel, there are control knobs that can be used to change the default settings of the Ambience presets. See pages 60 and 61 of the GPO4 PDF manual for more information on the control settings and what they do. The top of page 61 has a helpful tip on applying different reverb levels to different sections of the orchestra. In my experience with Ambience I have found that decay, predelay, width, and level are the most useful adjustments for tailoring the behavior of the reverb to suit both personal preference and a sense of at least some degree of realism. For example, I prefer the sound of a large resonant concert hall. However, the Ambience concert hall presets fell short to my ears, so I selected the Cathedral preset and reduced the decay time down to where I felt that it was giving me the sound I wanted. The point is that you have more control over reverb behavior than you may realize, and there's no reason to just make do with the default settings for any of the Ambience presets unless they happen to match up with the reverb sound you want.

    Another ARIA feature you should be aware of is one that fits hand-in-glove with Ambience, and that is Stereo Stage. Once again I'll direct you to the GPO4 manual, this time pages 56 and 57 for information on Stereo Stage and what it does. The only thing I'll say here is that because it is a reverb response "add-on", the degree to which Stereo Stage has a noticeable affect depends on reverb levels. According to my experimentation, the reverb level needs to be at least 50% for Stereo Stage to work.

    To close out this wall of text, I'd like to briefly discusss other reverb options. IMHO I think Ambience sounds pretty dang good, and a lot better than many other reverbs out there, especially compared to the effects included with DAW software. However, there's a little something called convolution reverb, and it seems to beat Ambience on realism. (The gold standard for convolution is a program called Altiverb.) Besides Altiverb there are a couple of other reverb programs I'll be test-driving later in the year. In the meantime Ambience suits me just fine, although its time remaining in my creative toolkit may be running out soon. I realize that your original inquiry was about how to work with Ambience, but I wanted to put this on the table for your consideration because I believe it is something you may want to explore later on.

    Anyway, I hope you were able to extract something useful out of all this blather!

    Steve
    thank you for such a thoughtful and thorough response, Steve. I have thought about changing the values of the Ambience parameters, but have always been afraid they won't go back to their original settings.That happened to me once in another program. I do use the stereo stage, and it does make a difference, although subtle. I too have concluded that Ambience is better than all the reverbs that came with the Sonar software I use, although I do use the latter for non-Garritan sounds. (I have found Studioverb 2 somewhat helpful in this regard). But as I use Garritan for at least 90% of my music, I really need to get this reverb thing down!

    Does it ever happen that one gets all this stuff figured out, so that you can get back to actually composing again? anyway, I really appreciate the advice, I'm sure it will be very helppful. I will do some tweaking and see how it sounds.

  6. #6

    Re: how much reverb to use with Ambience?

    Hi, Michael - The question you've asked is one of the great eternally debated ones about creating effective "virtual orchestra" recordings.

    Isn't it great to see what detailed and thoughtful responses you've gotten? As Steve Johnson said, you'll get a different answer from everyone you ask.

    Reberclark also gave you very useful input if you're using a recording program like Sonar, because in those kinds of programs, you set any reverb program you use at full on "wet" and determine the amount of reverb each instrument or section gets with sends going to the bus which has the reverb plug-in in it.

    But I think maybe you're using a notation program, and so need to use the wet/dry sliders to set the ratios of wet to dry signal?

    In any case, I'm someone who has long championed the use of less reverb than many people are in the habit of using. I find that a lot of recordings I hear are too distant sounding (more reverb makes instruments sound farther from the listener) because the creators are trying to emulate a huge sound like maybe they've heard in Hollywood sound tracks, but ends up sounding like music playing from the bottom of the grand canyon.

    I encourage you to experiment with using much less reverb, so the instruments just have enough ambience to sound natural, but don't sound so far away from the listener. In terms of percentages, if you're using Ambience or any other good reverb plug-in (Sonar has many which are equally as good as the Garritan Ambience plug-in) - test what it sounds like to have about 80% dry signal and 20% wet. Just enough to give air around the sounds but not enough to draw attention to using an effect.

    No matter what method use to apply the reverb, just keep in mind what the basic theory is - that the more reverb there is, the farther away from the listener the sound seems to be coming. I prefer for my whole band/orchestra to be sounding the way it would from people in the best seats of the house - the ones closest to the stage. Why put the listener back in the cheap seats? One of the advantages of buying the more expensive tickets is to be close the music - so when making your recordings, let your listeners have the best seats in the house.

    Randy

  7. #7

    Re: how much reverb to use with Ambience?

    Quote Originally Posted by michael diemer View Post
    thank you for such a thoughtful and thorough response, Steve.
    You're quite welcome, and if you were able to extract anything even vaguely useful out of my response, then I'm happy.

    I have thought about changing the values of the Ambience parameters, but have always been afraid they won't go back to their original settings.That happened to me once in another program.
    That is a concern. I really wish the Ambience control knobs had a numerical readout, then you could just write down the default setting numbers and restore to them if you needed. (The previous versions of GPO used Kontakt Player, which had this feature. Seems like it would be a common sense thing, so I find it a mystery that ARIA doesn't.) However, I wouldn't let the situation stop you from making changes to the defaults. Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

    1. When you change the default Ambience settings, those changes don't "stick" unless and until you save your ensembles in ARIA using the File > Save as command. So, let's say you have an instance of ARIA going with an ensemble loaded, you're tinkering around with the Ambience settings and you make a boo-boo. All you need to do is close ARIA, reopen it and reload that ensemble. All of the Ambience settings will be back to what they were before -- no changes. However, once you save the ensemble as a .aria file, any changes you made are committed to the ensemble parameters.

    2. Worst-case scenario: You've been tweaking and tweaking, saving and saving, but things are such a mess that you want to go back to the default Ambience settings and try again. (Been there, done that!) Here what you can do is keep your messed-up instance of ARIA going, open a new instance, and load one instrument (doesn't matter which one). Then go to the Effects panel and select the Ambience preset you want to restore. The new ARIA instance will display the preset's default settings, which you can use as a visual reference to reset the control knobs for the "problem child." Those settings may not be precisely the same as the original defaults, but close enough. Yeah, I know -- what a pain, but it is a practical work-around in the absence of the numerical readouts that should be there. (Well, maybe in the next version. We can only hope.)

    One more idea, and this comes from the fact that I document everything in case I have to rebuild my music projects from the ground up. Before you start making changes to any of the default settings in Ambience, take a screenshot of the Effects panel, save it as a GIF or a JPEG and store it in whatever folder is a place you'll remember. Variation on idea #2 above, gives you a visual reference for restoring defaults.

    Does it ever happen that one gets all this stuff figured out, so that you can get back to actually composing again?
    Yes, exactly. Here's my tale of woe. I have a symphony and a piano sonata, both works-in-progress. I neglected both of these pieces more years than I care to admit. Then over the course of about 4 months I completed renditions with GPO2, which I "debuted" at my Virtual Concert Hall back in August. I purchased a 64-bit PC with Windows 7 about a month later, upgraded everything (including GPO2 to 4), then started work on rendering my WIPs with GPO4. The only things I could bring over from my GPO2 project were the Finale notation files which source the MIDI files I use for DAW editing. All the MIDI controller stuff I'm having to redo from scratch. OY!

    Okay, a lot of it has to do with the fact that I don't have nearly as much time for working on music as I'd like. But with all my new toys (oh yeah, and changing from an ancient version of Cubasis to Sonar 8.5) all these learning curves seem like a mountain range, and I wonder sometimes if any new music will ever have the chance of jumping from my head into all this great music technology I'm trying to learn.

    A friend of mine with a lot of experience in computer-based music production once warned me that one could write a piece of music, then spend the rest of their life reworking it for whatever the "latest and greatest" happens to come along. I can definitely appreciate his point.

    Anyway, I digress. Let me know if you have any more questions, and I'm always glad to help if I can!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  8. #8

    Re: how much reverb to use with Ambience?

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser- View Post
    Hi, Michael - The question you've asked is one of the great eternally debated ones about creating effective "virtual orchestra" recordings.

    Isn't it great to see what detailed and thoughtful responses you've gotten? As Steve Johnson said, you'll get a different answer from everyone you ask.

    Reberclark also gave you very useful input if you're using a recording program like Sonar, because in those kinds of programs, you set any reverb program you use at full on "wet" and determine the amount of reverb each instrument or section gets with sends going to the bus which has the reverb plug-in in it.

    But I think maybe you're using a notation program, and so need to use the wet/dry sliders to set the ratios of wet to dry signal?

    In any case, I'm someone who has long championed the use of less reverb than many people are in the habit of using. I find that a lot of recordings I hear are too distant sounding (more reverb makes instruments sound farther from the listener) because the creators are trying to emulate a huge sound like maybe they've heard in Hollywood sound tracks, but ends up sounding like music playing from the bottom of the grand canyon.

    I encourage you to experiment with using much less reverb, so the instruments just have enough ambience to sound natural, but don't sound so far away from the listener. In terms of percentages, if you're using Ambience or any other good reverb plug-in (Sonar has many which are equally as good as the Garritan Ambience plug-in) - test what it sounds like to have about 80% dry signal and 20% wet. Just enough to give air around the sounds but not enough to draw attention to using an effect.

    No matter what method use to apply the reverb, just keep in mind what the basic theory is - that the more reverb there is, the farther away from the listener the sound seems to be coming. I prefer for my whole band/orchestra to be sounding the way it would from people in the best seats of the house - the ones closest to the stage. Why put the listener back in the cheap seats? One of the advantages of buying the more expensive tickets is to be close the music - so when making your recordings, let your listeners have the best seats in the house.

    Randy
    Ah Randy, I was wondering if the topic of this thread might bring you in here! I don't know if you recall, but you and I had a similar conversation when I first posted my timpani roll tutorial way back in December of 2009 (geez, has it been that long already??!!??). It's a good example of how divergent opinions on reverb can be. I find that a sense of resonant space adds to the expressive qualities of the music I enjoy listening to. What you call the cheap seats are the ones I would choose, not because they're cheap, but because I'd get that resonant space. You and I will have to agree to disagree on this one, but that's okay because there is no objectively "right" or "wrong" preference. Now, I will modify and say that context is a definite factor. The preference I'm describing applies to orchestral music. In the case of small ensembles and solo music I believe that a more intimate sound space is certainly more appropriate. (I admit that I may have over-reverbed the piano sonata-in-progress I have up at my Virtual Concert Hall. Need to revisit that as I re-render it with the Steinway in GPO4.)

    By the way, Randy -- OT I know, but it appears that NS fixed their broken auto e-mail notification system. I've been getting them every day without fail for several weeks, and I was just wondering if it's been the same for you.

    Cheers, everybody!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  9. #9

    Re: how much reverb to use with Ambience?

    These are great posts everyone. There are some nice techniques as well as insights. The only small contribution that I can give is to let your ear guide you. Nothing is written in stone as to how to set your reverb and their is no one correct recipe that will suffice every situation. Also, one or two words about using your ear to guide you. After completing that wonderfully new piece or orchestration one has been working on, one should step back from the piece for a while and not do the final mixdown right away. You need to separate your "inner" ear (what your mind thinks it hears) from your "real" ear (what you actually hear). I have done pieces and jumped right into mixdown to a final mix and think to myself "wow, I can't wait to let everyone hear this!!!" Then, after I post it for the world to hear and leave it for a few days, when I come back to it, I hear (sometimes well, many times) an overly reverbed and badly mixed work of music that definitely needs to be re-mixed.Even if you are doing this in a notation program, I still think you can give the piece some rest time and listen to it a day or two later to make reverb settings and volume adjustments.Okay, that's my 2 cents worth and that's how I look at reverb in the mix.
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

    Rich

  10. #10

    Re: how much reverb to use with Ambience?

    Hiya, Steve - Yes, I remember us talking about reverb in 2009. Reverb has been the topic of quite a few of my posts here and on other bulletin boards. I tend to jump in when someone is asking about using reverb in their recordings, because I like to help people from ruining their music with bad use of reverb.

    But we're not disagreeing, Steve, and I don't think we should say we are. That could be confusing to newcomers to home recording. As you said yourself, people have different tastes, and there is no right or wrong amount of reverb to use. But it's not as simple as only worrying about how Much to use--

    Things are a bit more complicated than what I briefly outlined in my first post - SO here's a bit more detail, and it might be useful to Michael who asked the original question.

    --That big lush "back of the house" sound can be great, and is something everyone enjoys hearing, including me. The problem is in reproducing that sound effectively in our recordings. Very often the result is a blurred, messy sound which obscures the music rather than enhancing it. Reverb plug-ins can have so many controls that it's confusing, changing the EQ of various frequencies, changing the amount of early reflections, the length of the tails - And then there's varying quality of reverb plug-ins. Most add a lot of color to sound which when used at a high level adds more distortion than believable reverberation.

    DPDAN does a brilliant job of using Altiverb. That expensive plug-in does a much more accurate job of re-creating the sound of a large concert hall. Convolution reverb in general works much better since it uses "impulse responses" which are actual recordings of the air in a performance space. But of course even using a great reverb unit like Altiverb doesn't automatically guarantee success. One needs to do a lot of experimenting and learning the best way to use the effect.

    When I suggest that people dial back their reverbs, it's mainly because they're more likely to get a good sounding recording by being more subtle with reverb. It's apparently too difficult for a lot of people to use reverb plug-ins well, since we hear so many recordings with badly done reverb. Better to be subtle than to obscure our music. That's the main point.

    We should also remember that how reverberant recordings are is also largely due to fashion. Right now we've been in an era where film sound tracks are generally GIGANTIC in their sound, with massive amounts of reverb being used. But some of the most beautiful sound tracks recorded prior to 1970 were much more intimate. Back then we heard the natural sound of orchestras, even large ones, performing in studios that weren't very large. And they sounded great - But that sound isn't fashionable currently.

    Rich was right on saying we have to use our ears--and of course our ears are guided by our tastes. And I'm saying that it can be so tricky to get acceptable results with reverb units, that we should consider simply being more modest with our use of them - we're more likely to have our actual music heard that way, instead of having it lost by washed out, botched attempt at sounding Big.

    So to most accurately state my opinion about reverb in recordings - I prefer the sound of being closer to the instruments to an improperly done attempt at being at the back of the house. It's not that I don't like good sounding recordings with the Huge sound.

    And so on.

    Have fun with your music, Michael!

    Randy

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