I’ve yet to discover the best reverb settings myself, but I can share with you already something that proved for me personally to be a good starting point.
First, you have to be aware that reverberation serves two purposes:
- Reverb 1: to (sonically) place instruments in a room and position them within this room, thus creating the impression that you’re actually listening to something that has been recorded in a cathedral, studio or wherever. This is what typically convolution reverbs are for. The impulse response that convolution reverb is based on is kind of the “fingerprint” of the room you put your orchestra into.
- Reverb 2: to glue all the instruments together, create seamless transitions between notes and create the impression that everything is more than the sum of its parts. This is what in my opinion algorithmic reverb does very well. Algorithmic reverb is basically artificial reverb. Some algo reverbs sound more natural than others. For our purposes, orchestral mixing, we shouldn’t stray too far from realistic sounding reverbs, though at the end the only criteria that counts is the old saying “what sounds good is right”.
Interestingly, different parts of those reverbs – reverb 1 and 2 – are significant in fulfulling their purpose. With reverb 1 it’s the early reflections (the first part of the reverb signal), while with reverb 2 it’s the reverb tail (the second part of the reverb signal) that is of importance.
My approach: For Reverb 1 I use convolution reverb (Vienna Suite or SIR2) on my instruments with its length reduced to about 1 second. That’s enough to make the signal “room-y”, yet avoids muddying it up, the latter being a common problem with mixing reverb, especially if you use the entire impulse response (often more than 3 seconds). Additionally, as Reverb 2, I have an algorithmic reverb as another effect bus. For this I use the UAD Lexicon 224, but I’ve had decent results with the Hybrid Reverb from Vienna Suite, too, with its early reflections turned off, just using the reverb tail.
Finding the right reverb is a painful thing. Take your time, experiment and let me know what’s your ideal orchestral reverb setup!