Creative Reverb Techniques in Ableton Live

Explore reverb as a creative effect in Ableton Live. Gary Hiebner shows how, using send channels, side-chain and split band processing techniques, you can create inspiring and unexpected sounds.  

You are probably used to creating your beats, bass and synth sounds, then creating a reverb bus channel, and applying some of that reverb effect to your individual instruments. Sure, this is a nice way to create a room effect that is coherent amongst your instruments and sounds, but what about using some creative techniques with reverb? I am going to show you how to use reverb a little differently to create interesting processing effects with your tracks. I will be using Ableton, but these same principles can be applied in other DAWs as well.


Step 1 – Side-chain Reverb

An interesting effect is to create that side-chain “pumping effect” with the reverb. I have programmed a simple Kick beat.

Kick pattern

Next I have created a MIDI Track (Shift-Command-T), and loaded up the Pad-Bowed-Square preset (Instruments > Instrument Rack > Synth Pad) under the Live Library. This Synth preset has a nice long release that will come in handy on the side-chaining. After that I have inserted the Ableton Reverb. I have used the Ambience preset and then tweaked it with the following settings:

Synth Reverb

Next up I have added the Ableton Compressor. Click the little triangle on the left of the plugin to view the side-chain settings. Activate the Sidechain (so that the Sidechain name goes yellow). From the Audio From Menu I have chosen my Kick source, and I have selected Post FX as I have added some effects/plugins onto my Kick channel. Next I have increased the gain on the sidechain to 11.9dB, and the Dry/Wet to 100%. I really want this sidechain to kick in hard. Next I have pulled the Threshold down until I start hearing the synth/reverb pumping effect. Then I moved across to the Attack and Release and have tailored these settings until it sounds just right. 

Here is what my synth sounds like:

Instead of using the reverb and compressor as insert effects, you can add them to a send. On the synth, increase the send level to the max. Now mute the synth and only the sound coming from the reverb send will be audible. This gives a very different reverb effect than if the reverb was placed as an insert effect.

Synth sends only

Step 2 – Gated Reverb

Gated Reverbs were all the fashion in the 80s but there’s no reason you can’t use them today and for creative purposes as well. Gated Reverbs tend to work quite well on percussion sounds, particularly snares. I am using an electronic snare sound that has a sharp attack to it. Next I have created a send channel. On that I've inserted the Ableton Reverb and applied the Long Tail reverb preset. I have changed the settings slightly. I've increased the Decay time, and the Reflect and Diffuse settings. After that I have inserted the Gate plugin.

On the snare channel make sure the level to the Gated Reverb send is all the way to the right (to the max level). 

Snare gated reverb send

Now drop the Threshold on the Gate all the way to zero. Now play the snare track and start pulling up the threshold. You will start to hear the gate taking effect. I have also changed the Attack, Hold and Release times to sit well with the snare.

These are the settings I have settled on the Reverb and Gate plugins on the Send channel.

Gated reverb settings

Here is what my snare sounded like before the gated reverb:

And here is what my Gated snare now sounds like:

Step 3 – Reverse Reverb

Another nifty trick to try on your tracks are reverse reverbs. This step is a bit more involved. First, select a piece of audio you would like to apply a reverse reverb on. I have found that it works particularly well with vocal pieces. I have selected a vocal snippet I've been working on.

I have applied some heavy reverb to the vocal piece. I've then reversed the vocal piece. Next I have created a new Audio Track. On this track select Master from the Audio To Menu. This will record any audio received on the Master channel. Now solo just the reversed audio track and the reverb send. Record enable the Audio track receiving audio from the master channel and then record the vocal clip (This channel will now receive the reversed audio clip and the reverb level of this vocal).

After this I have reversed the new clip by clicking on the Rev button in the sample editor of the audio waveform, and unsoloed the tracks. 

Reversed audio

Take a listen to what the reverse reverb vocal sounds like. It gives a nice build-up effect before the vocal hits. This can definitely be useful to buildup sections before big drop in a track.

Here is my vocal before it is reversed:

Here is my reversed vocal:

And here is the vocal reversed back again with the reverse reverb:

Step 4 – Split Reverbs

This technique is very similar to my previous article on split-band processing, but here I am using different reverbs on each split band I have created.

Here is the synth line I am going to process. It is quite simple. 

But look how Split-band reverb can change the sound: I am going to create 3 sends in Ableton. Then on my Synth channel strip I am going to increase the 3 send levels to the max, and on the Output I am going to choose Sends only.

Split reverb channel strip

I have renamed the Sends to LOW, MID and HIGH. On the LOW send I have inserted a EQ Three plugin. I have increased the GainLow to 6.0dB. The other bands I have decreased to 0. 

I have also inserted EQ Three on the MID and HIGH send channels. On the MID I have increased the GainMid and decreased the rest, and on the EQ Three assigned to HIGH I've increased the GainHi and decreased the rest. This has broken the send into different EQ bands. Different reverb presets and settings were applied to each band.

Below are the split reverb settings for Low, mid and high respectively:

Split reverb low

Split reverb mid

Split reverb High

Take a listen to them individually:

Low Band:

Mid Band:

High Band:

And then all together. Hear the drastic change between this and the synth before any splitband reverb? Quite amazing.


As you can see, there are many ways to use reverb in your tracks. It doesn’t have to simply be a reverb plugin stuck on the send channel for the whole track. You could even automate some of the features I have mentioned throughout the track for even further mixing possibilities and creative use. So play around with these techniques and see what results they bring to your tracks, Happy reverb-ing!

Gary Hiebner is an enthusiastic South African Sound Designer and Apple Tech Head! Gary has been involved in the South African music industry for the decade, and in this time has also been involved in the sound design and music production for many advertising agencies and media houses. Gary is a devoted Logic and Ableton user, but he al... Read More


Salve! Ho appena scoperto questo fantastico forum! Una domanda: come si fa ad ascoltare le tracce audio che ci sono in questo (come in altri) articolo? Ho letto "audio id= "..." " ma non capisco cosa bisogna fare per ascoltare!
Grazie in anticipo!

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