'Verb is the Word (from 13/9/2017)

Posted 6th December, 2017
The History of Reverberation

Imagine being able to imitate the ambience of a neo-gothic cathedral from your bedsit in Croydon, or to mimic the reflections of Abbey Road's recording studio from your garage in Glasgow. With a combination of today’s technology of digital effects and analog circuitry, all this is possible. And in fact, this is just a small fraction of the vast capabilities available. As the threshold for creativity is constantly pushed outwards by the thirst for advancement, we take a look back at one of the earliest forms of effect: reverberation (or as the kids are calling it – reverb).

Us humans have always enjoyed the qualities different spaces can provide. Grand spaces with big domes or large open roofs have always been preferred for public entertaining. The reasons are obvious, especially when we consider the acoustic design of theatres, concert halls and religious venues.

Wallace Clement Sabine was the first man to actually study the science of room acoustics. This American physicist who founded the field of architectural acoustics went on to help design Boston’s Symphony Hall in around 1900, widely considered one of the best sounding concert halls in the world. Years later studios such as Abbey Road built highly reverberated spaces called ‘Echo Chambers’ in which they placed a speaker and a microphone. The result was reverberated signal that was mixed with the ‘dry’ signals to add tails to otherwise flat signals. Sound engineer Bill Putnam once put a loudspeaker and microphone in the studio's bathroom for the recording of ‘Peg O’ My Heart’ by The Harmonicats in 1947, the No.1 hit became famed for its hypnotic tone.

Of course it isn’t always practical to build a giant cavern-like space just for the purpose of re-micing sounds. I’d imagine my other half would be opposed to me having a loudspeaker and microphone set up in our shower, although I will run it past her tonight (wish me luck!). In 1957, German company EMT had a breakthrough and introduced the EMT 140 Reverberation Unit. This device contained an electromechanical transducer that sent sound through a large sheet of metal. It also housed pickups that captured the vibrations and threw them out as an audio signal. The plate reverb was born. Shortly following this came the invention of spring reverb that squeezed similar technology into a smaller space, allowing the likes of Hammond's B3 organs and Fender's Twin Reverb amplifiers to utilise this technology in their units. Thus, it was now accessible to the masses. But it wouldn't end there.

In 1976, EMT, still pioneers of the ‘Verb, produced what is thought to be the world's first digital reverb, the EMT 250. This bulky looking unit wouldn’t look out of place on the set of ‘A Space Odyssey’, but really this was a giant leap for mankind. However, like the more recent invention of the mobile, reverb effects units not only started to gradually shrink in size, but also to gain more and more features that made them an essential tool for musicians to create near limitless new sounds that take you from St Paul's Cathedral to somewhere in another Galaxy. And the whole lot fits inside a briefcase!

Since the 70s, many companies like BOSS, TC Electronic, and Eventide, to name but a few, have been leading the way for ‘verb, with endless options in terms of budget, size and space available, so whether you want that ‘vintage’ spring style reverb, or you want to sound like you’re fingerpicking in The Great Tombs of Babylon, we can make it happen.

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