Creating a Sense of Distance
Mattias Danielsson, April 2012

One way to place a sound source further forward or back in a mix is to use the blend of early reflections and reverb tail. But first a simplified explanation about the different components of a reverb and how we perceive sound in a room.

First of all we will hear the direct sound (green), i.e. the sound wave that reaches your ear without bouncing of a wall or other reflective surface in the room. Then we get the early reflections (ER, blue), which are the first reflections that reaches you. The reverb tail (red) is the complex mix of reflected sound waves that has bounced multiple times before reaching you. All this together creates a sense of the distance from the sound source, the room size and the reflectivity of the room.

Using the ER/Reverb mix knob to create distance

The examples are all 100% wet and taken from the TSAR-1 reverb output with different ER/Reverb mix settings.

Using the ER/Reverb mix knob to create distanceThe examples are all 100% wet and taken from the TSAR-1 reverb output with different ER/Reverb mix settings.

How do we use this to place something closer or further back?
In TSAR-1 Reverb you can find two controls for the early reflections: Size and ER/Reverb mix. Size dictates how long it will take for the ERs to reach you, which corresponds to the size of the room. Setting the ER/Reverb mix knob towards the ER side will make the source sound closer to you and if you turn it to the reverb side it will sound further away. To the right you can find a couple of sound examples which illustrate this. The examples are all 100% wet and taken from the TSAR-1 reverb output with different ER/Reverb mix settings.

How does the Early Reflections sound?
Sometimes it is hard to hear what is going on with the ERs, since our brain psychoacoustically masks the ERs with the louder direct sound. To actually hear them you need to trick your brain into not masking them, by increasing the volume of the ERs until they are louder than the direct signal. With the right mix between ERs and direct signal the ERs will be easily discerned.

Psychoacoustic masking

The example starts fully dry (0%) and increases to about 65% where it stays a couple of seconds. Then it goes to fully wet (100%).

Psychoacoustic maskingThe example starts fully dry (0%) and increases to about 65% where it stays a couple of seconds. Then it goes to fully wet (100%).

A short example on how to do this in practice: Place an instance of TSAR-1 Reverb as an insert on one of your tracks, perhaps the drum bus or snare track. Solo the track. Choose one of the nice sounding presets and set the ER/Reverb Mix knob on full (100%) and set the Reverb Wet/Dry dry (0%). Now slowly turn the Wet/Dry knob towards wet. At some point the ERs will be loud enough compared to the direct signal so that they can be clearly heard without the psychoacoustic masking. Smaller sizes of the ERs tend to be more masked than larger sizes.

A sound example can be found to the right. It starts fully dry (0%) and increases to about 65% where it stays a couple of seconds. Then it goes to fully wet (100%).

Support Manager, trumpet player, and sort of the technical go-to guy. Mattias is the guy answering your e-mails and helping you with whatever problems you might have. There are no issues that he hasn't seen before so if you just follow his instructions everything will get sorted out. At night he's usually seen with a soda (Trocadero, a speciality from northern Sweden) engineering behind a live console or playing some kind of game with very small figures or something like that. As long as he has a steady supply of soda he can keep going forever.