Mixing - creating space in mixes using delays, not rever

Discussion in 'Mixing & Editing' started by arneholm, May 31, 2001.

  1. arneholm

    arneholm Guest

    Hi ya all!

    Question especially to Mixerman.
    This is a topic that has puzzled me for a while now. I remember that many times, when asked such a question, about using reverbs to create an effect of spaciousness in the mix Mixerman has suggested that using reverb to create that is not always the best idea as the reverb thends to eat up all the space there is between instruments and instead he suggested to use delays for that.

    Now what I would like to ask is some pointers how to actually implement that idea in mixing. I know the correct answer is "do what sounds best to you" but so far everything I have done in this area has made things to come out even worse. Basically if I use very short single delays before I get anywhere in the ballpark of a sense of added space it all gets very phasey, as through it is recorded in the tube and I don't mean the glowy glass thing but the round metal thing in the sewers... If I use 'repetitious' short delay... well the effect I get is best described as the 'boing' you get holding the ruler from one end, pressing that end to the table bending it upwards and then releasing it. (Peter Gabriel's song Moribund the Burgermeister has that sound in it)

    To make the long story short, I have always liked more the sound what went 'in' the delay than the sound that came out. I have never been able to get really satisfying results with delay in this application and the place for it has been more in the 'special effect' reign.

    So I guess I am asking some pointers as of what you guys actually do with delay in these situations? Is it time delaying the whole track a few mS or using relatively small amounts of short delays combined with the original track or various amounnts of multitap delays or long delays timed to beat with the song... or combination of them all?

    So what do you guys do with delays?
  2. Juergen

    Juergen Guest

    What I usually do (and most of the time I try using delays) is to calculate the delay time based on the tempo of the song. In other words, how many ms will be a quarter note, or an eigth note, or a tripled quarter note (can't remember if it's the right expression in english)...

    I try using it on rythmic instruments like guitars, but just mixing it in sparesly, so it doesn't sound obvious. For vocals...I am not so sure, I am still learning by trial and error. One thing that does seem important is to filter the delay, by taking the highs out, I usually try taken 8k and up out...so that the "s" and "k" and "t" isn't very obvious in the delay. You don't have to do it though if the song lends itself to it...The Feedback I set to no more than 20%, otherwise it gets to be rather messy.

    For synth pads or something with not too much attack, I sometimes use a stereo delay with more Feedback, with a quarter note delay on the L and a half note delay on the R, perhaps...so there's actually some cool stereo going on. You can try that on guitars, or whatever other instrument that you can think of...if it soundns good in the end. :)

    For vocals, there are cool tricks to make it sound bigger, like sending it to a short delay, like 20ms on L and something a bit higher on the R, and mixing that in...and then yuo can send that to a longer delay, but that can get out of hand quickly if you're not too careful...

    Just some things I do...what does every one else do?

  3. Juergen

    Juergen Guest

    I forgot to add

    You can set the delay for something that is panned to one side, to the other side. That way, you will have spaciousness, and still more of an in-your-face sound of whatever isntr. you are delaying...

  4. Bear's Gone Fission

    Bear's Gone Fission Active Member

    Jan 4, 2001
    Also, don't forget the option of eqing your delay sound. Rolling off highs can help it blend, though sometimes you need the delay to be more in-your-face. Nuking lows can cut down on the clutter in a mix, also. Ideally, if you have good console eq and the channels you can run your returns into some channels so you can tweak the eq and ride the sound as needed durring the mix.

    And, for panning the sounds, always remember there are a lot of points between hard right, dead center, and hard left. Use them well.

  5. Ang1970

    Ang1970 Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Some great tips Juergen and Bear! Muy bien! :)

    One mistake I see (hear) many people make is mixing in reverbs and delays way too loud. It is possible to mix a delay or verb in at a level so low you wouldn't know it was there unless somebody pointed it out, but you can "feel" the difference when it's removed. Sometimes that's all you need to create the illusion of space inside a mix, without cluttering things up.
  6. Mixerman

    Mixerman Active Member

    Feb 27, 2001
    I like reverbs to help create the illusion of a space, or to give a very dry sound a little more depth. I like delays for tails. I can get a longer tail on an instrument without washing out the mix with a delay than I can with a reverb.

    If you use too short a delay, with repeats, you will get the 'boing' effect you mentioned. 60 - 80ms of delay will give you that effect. I don't like tails to be in time with the music (generally), I just want it to elongate the sound, as if it's distant. Anywhere between 250ms and 400ms will be good for this. You have to play with the feedback and the output level until it's right. You can also send the delay lightly back into itself to get more out of the tail (too much and it feeds back, careful).

    Sometimes I'll use a delay to accentuate a word. In those cases I'll set a timed delay to whatever works best, 1/4 note, 1/8 note, dotted 1/4, triplet, etc... 1/4 note triplets sometimes work great as repeats because they stay off the beat. In those cases you'll need an automated send.

    An automated send allows you to send the signal to the delay on the notes or words that require it. Rather than having it delaying all the time. That can be worse than a reverb. Automating the send works much better than allowing the signal to go to the delay all the time, and unmuting the delay return. Sometimes I'll put a reverb on the delay and tuck it for a more subtle tail.

    I use tape delays allot, and I also have a couple of Prime Time M93's, which autmatically roll off by halving the sampling time, therefore doubling the length of the delay. Sometimes I prefer a full range delay, and I'll use something like an AMS DMX. I also enjoy PCM42's or for the smae sound with slightly less accuracy I like the PCM 41's. plug-insare usually fine.

    Reverb is fine if you don't use too much, or make it too loud in the mix. There are times when an exaggerated reverb is great, but typically you probably shouldn't really notice the reverb. Short reverbs aren't typically space eaters. It's the long reverbs that can kill the space.

    I couldn't agree more with Angelo's comments on this subject.

    Tell us how it all works out.

  7. arneholm

    arneholm Guest

    Thanks a bunch, all of you guys, I will probably have time at the beginning of next week to try it out.

    From Mixerman's reply it seems to me as I have been too much fixating on 'timing' the long delays with the beat of the song and that fixation has been hampering me a bit. Thanks for the suggestion, Mixerman, I'll try it as soon as I can and report how it worked out then!
  8. nrgmusic

    nrgmusic Guest

    Originally posted by Arne Holm:
    Thanks a bunch, all of you guys, I will probably have time at the beginning of next week to try it out.

    From Mixerman's reply it seems to me as I have been too much fixating on 'timing' the long delays with the beat of the song and that fixation has been hampering me a bit. Thanks for the suggestion, Mixerman, I'll try it as soon as I can and report how it worked out then!

    you an me both Arne,
    my mentor always told me that to time the delays was critical as it achieved two things, the first was that delay lessened the need for reverb and therefore the mix would not clog, and the second was that timed delays were better as they tended to help the track "move", or groove better if you prefer. I like the idea of the non timed delay thing and I'm mixing this weekend so I'm gonna give a go and see what happens.

  9. Mixerman

    Mixerman Active Member

    Feb 27, 2001
    If you're using the delay to elongate, or give a tail, then it should be subtle enought that you don't actually recognize the repeats as distinct individual repeats within a mix. Subtle is key.

    Sometimes 120 ms light on the feedback can add a nice dimension to a sound.

    Don't feel compelled to put an effect on every instrument. Less is more.

  10. Ang1970

    Ang1970 Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    More on timed delays...

    Some people like to use delays right on the 8th or 16th. A lot of that is up to preference and what the individual song needs.

    If your song already has a lot of instruments hitting on 8th or 16th notes, a delay timed exactly to match that will not add to the groove, but actually sound more mechanical since it accentuates at a specific interval (like a robot or a computer). Make the delay hit on anything but the exact beat everything else is hitting on, and that will add a groove to the mix.

    Mixerman's method of using 1/4 note triplet is one good way to insure the delay hits when relatively little else does.

    Another way is to pick a delay that hits just before the next down or up beat, to add a "swing" type feel.

    Sometimes it's fun to pick a random number and see where it takes you.

    Yet another alternative - make the delay equivalent to a beat, and then add modulation so it seems to randomly hit a few milliseconds before or after the beat.

    There's no right or wrong way to get there. Just use moderation. And remember what Mixerman said, "LESS IS MORE". (Unless you're in a situation where "more is more", but let's save that for another topic.)
  11. arneholm

    arneholm Guest


    I finally got to try out some of the ideas Mixerman and guys over here suggested...

    I had a hard-rock'ish song, perhaps into direction of King's X somewhat, tempo was 90 BPM.

    I tried just a simple mono mono delay on vocals miked with TLM 103, not eq-ing neither the delay send nor return(I try to get there one step at the time, when I am confident in myself using the simple method I'll starting futzing with eq-s on send and return and the rest of the stuff), soloed the track, added a bit too much of delay for better monitoring and started to pull up and down the delay length fader. I tried not to look at where it was (sometimes hard when you are "mixing with a mouse") and ended up with somewhere around 280 mS (I never try to remember the exact positions I set the knobs while mixing, used to do this but this seemed to do more harm than good, I just try to remember, which type of method helps and which hurts and why) just to help the long phrase ending tails a bit. I tried it with and without feedback and the single delay sounded better. Backed off to about 10 percent of delay to make it barely noticable.

    This was however on the section with 'mid-tempo phrasing' with sustained notes and delay really helped the sustain there. There was however faster 'narrative' type of phrasing in the song on top of very sparse arrangement and there I got an ugly phasey type of sound with annoying things like double esses more audible than the opened up tails. It actually reminded me of the vocal sound of El Camino's Sunglasses submitted to last RAP CD set by Fletcher but in a very ugly way. So I started pushing and pulling the delay length fader again and ended up somewhere in 120-130 mS region, again with single delay. It worked well.

    I tried another song, a more melodic vocal tracked with a mic with more presence and less stellar highs (an old Gefell condenser) and there delay with feedback worked the best.

    The most pleasing thing common to all was that I did not get anymore that hollow sound using a delay, the sound that always made me wanting to cut more 700 Hz off the vocals. I did learn a lot with this little exercise so thanks to you all, guys!
  12. Eric Sarafin

    Eric Sarafin Guest

    From reading your exercise, it sounds to me like you still have the delay return too loud. It's not always necessary to hear a delay to the point of knowing it's actually a delay. It's pretty rare for me to EQ the delay, of course, I usually choose the delay for an application by the 'sound' I'm looking for.

    I frequently bring the delay down, or even off in the verses, and up in the chorus'. There's a few reasons for that.

    The verses tend to be more sparse, so the delay becomes more audible. The chorus' get bigger, and tend to swallow up the delay. Bringing up the delay a little can help the emotion of the section. B-sections, or transitional bridges, or pre chorus' (take your pick) can benefit from adding or bringing up the delay, depending on the song. In many cases the verses are more wordy, and the chorus' are more fluid, the delay with multiple repeats usually works better for more fluid style of singing.

    Don't be afraid to ride the delay up and down in the section too. Riding a delay return up at the end of a phrase can be very nice.

    Based from your description, I would probably turn the delay off in the verses, or treat the vocal differently. Perhaps only one repeat is necessary for the verse, and more repeats for the chorus'. If you turn the delay off, and you don't enjoy the dry vocal (I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't enjoy a dry vocal)you can always put a very short ambience on the vocal. Don't make it too loud though. The singer won't appreciate sounding like he's in the bathroom, come to think of it, neither will the listener.

    Eric Sarafin
  13. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Jan 28, 2001
    Originally posted by Eric Sarafin:
    If you turn the delay off, and you don't enjoy the dry vocal (I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't enjoy a dry vocal), you can always put a very short ambience on the vocal.
    Eric Sarafin
    IF ya leave the vocal dry, then you can hear the Autotune artifacts better. :)

    Nice to see you here, Eric. I really enjoyed all the Ben Harper stuff you've done.
  14. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff Resource Member

    Mar 20, 2000
    Prince George, BC
    Home Page:
    I second that Eric :cool:
    Awesome to have you posting!
  15. arneholm

    arneholm Guest

    Originally posted by Eric Sarafin:
    From reading your exercise, it sounds to me like you still have the delay return too loud.
    Could very well be, as I said, I used about 20-30 percent of delay monitoring and backed off to about 10 percent, perhaps even 8-9 in the mix. Of course, when I heard stuff I didn't like with the delay like tha phasey type of sound in the verses, I changed the delay time until it sounded OK, also I messed with return level until it didn't interfere with the vocal anymore in my opinion.

    The funny thing is, I've gotten many comments about my mixes like "don't you ever use any effects? why?", so my mixes are definitely not washed in verbs and delays. I have actually at one particular time had a hard time not yelling to a drummer for "why do you always use so little verb on the snare" - comment when in my opinion there was too much of it there already. But enough of that, I guess I have to relook the things and see how it sounds with less delay.
    It's not always necessary to hear a delay to the point of knowing it's actually a delay.
    This has been my intention all along, yes. But when you are inexperienced in certain areas you tend to exaggerate them a bit too much just to be sure. I do, at least. I know I do it, I try to do it less but still sometimes now and again I'll catch myself doing it.

    Thanks, Eric, for all your comments, I'll definitely try them as I go along the way, some of them were new things, things I haven't used or thought of yet, some I had already worked oud myself, still, it's always nice to have some sort of assurance!

    Nice to see you on the board!

    Arne Holm
  16. realdynamix

    realdynamix Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2001
    This is great stuff, manipulation of tiny delays, making such a difference in the sound. Thanks, Mr.Holm, for starting this informative post, and to all who shared.

  17. hathabr

    hathabr Guest

    I agree - cool stuff. I tried out many of these ideas, & I totally liked the results.

    Keep it flowin'!
  18. try2break

    try2break Guest

    If I use short delays that seem to phase cancel, i'll flip the polarity [sic phase reverse] of the delay. I don't have [sic] phase buttons on my desk, so I made a polarity reverse balanced patch cable that I use on the return if I need to. I setup my patchbays normalled to "aux rtn a", so I just patch the top jack directly below to the bottom jack. Or I can bring it up, polarity reversed, to a channel strip input on my patchbay from the reverb box.
  19. Since no one else mentioned it in this thread,
    let me just issue a reminder that if you're
    using an external digital delay, you might
    need to make it "all wet" since any "dry" that
    it mixes in with it's output might have some
    latency that can create comb filtering when
    you mix it back in with the original. This
    might not be obvious to someone who hasn't
    run into it before.

    And just to contribute a little something:
    I've been enjoying using short reverb *with*
    my timed delays to smear them out a bit.
    Not that this is a good idea, it's just what
    I've been doing. :)

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