Reverb is probably the most widely used effect in a musician's arsenal. It's also one of the most important. In the real world, sounds don't exist in a vacuum, so reverb is essential in making recordings sound more natural. Of course, the cool thing about reverb is that you can also use it as a sort of special effect to make sounds even larger than life. Reverbs come in a variety of flavors, and some are more suited for certain purposes than others. So today I want to discuss that a bit.
• Room Reverb
True to its name, room reverb simulates the way sound behaves in a relatively small space. The most common use for room reverb is on drum sounds. Especially in faster-paced songs, you don't want your snare swimming in seconds-long reverb, so room reverb helps to fit drums into the mix in a natural sounding way.
A less common use is to use it on synths. It's very subtle when used this way, but I've always been a fan of how it sounds. The dichotomy of a clearly synthetic sound in a natural sounding environment is very cool. You can hear it used quite a bit on Nitzer Ebb's excellent "Belief" album.
• Plate Reverb
When artificial reverbs first appeared on the scene, they were usually produced by sending audio to a metal plate, causing it to resonate. This resonation was then mixed in with the original signal to produce a reverb. Although we've come a long way from producing reverbs this way, you're still likely to find a plate reverb simulation in just about any reverb unit or plug-in worth its salt.
Plate reverb is a favorite choice for using on vocals. The generally bright character also lends itself very well for using on percussion.
• Hall Reverb
Hall reverb is the room reverb's heavier brother. As you can probably guess, it simulates larger reverberant spaces such a large auditorium or cathedral. Hall reverbs really need to be used judiciously because if you over-do it, your mix is going to be a big, swampy mess. It's also important to note that for a hall reverb to be most effective, it's best if only 1 or 2 elements in the mix use it. The contrast between the sounds being fed to the hall reverb and the dryer elements in the mix will help to exaggerate the "bigness" of the hall reverb and make it sound more impressive.
Hall reverb is a great choice for pianos, vocals strings, pads, and just about anything you might want to make sound bigger and more impressive. It can even be called into duty for your snare if the track has a relatively low tempo.
• Spring Reverb
Spring reverb settings are another holdover from the early days of recording, and in fact, you can still find real spring reverbs in a lot of guitar amps. Like the plate reverb, a spring reverb is created by sending the audio to a spring whose vibration in turn creates the reverberant space. It has a very distinctive, metallic sound to it. If you want to hear it in action, check out just about any classic dub album, or even the catalog of Joy Division whose use of it on their drums and guitars was a big part of their distinctive sound.
Spring reverbs can be short or long, so they're really quite versatile. Because of its rather primitive sound, spring reverb is great for adding a lo-fi or retro vibe to your tracks. It can be especially effective at making softsynths sounds a bit more 'vintage'.
• Gated Reverb
The sound of the 80's in reverb form. Gated reverb is created by sending audio through a long reverb with a noise gate after it. When the signal drops beneath the noise gate's threshold, the reverb tail gets unnaturally cut off. Although many people credit the creation of this technique to Phil Collins, it was actually first used by Peter Gabriel and producer Hugh Padgham on his track "Intruder" (which featured Collins on drums, who later nicked the technique for his own material). Depeche Mode also used this technique a lot on their "Some Great Reward / People Are People" phase.
Gated reverb tends to make sounds a bit more bombastic and powerful. You're essentially getting the power and impressive sound of a hall, but the short cutoff makes it fit in the mix better, especially on faster material. Snare drums and toms are the most common uses for gated reverb, but you can use it very effectively on hits, brass, or anything else you want to sound a bit more in your face.