Gated reverb

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Gated reverb is an audio processing technique that is applied to recordings of drums (or live sound reinforcement of drums in a PA system) to make the drums sound powerful and "punchy," while keeping the overall mix clean and transparent-sounding. The gated reverb effect, which was most popular in the 1980s, is made using a combination of strong reverb and a noise gate.

Unlike many reverberation or delay effects, the gated reverb effect does not try to emulate any kind of reverb that occurs in nature.


The gated reverb effect became highly popular as part of the strongly syncopated sound of 1980s pop, rock and funk. Two early and prominent uses of the effect were associated with Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham: first in the production of the third Peter Gabriel solo album (with drumming on a few tracks by Collins and engineering by Padgham), notably the opening track Intruder, and half a year later on Collins' hit single In the Air Tonight, produced by Collins and Padgham.[1]

Methods of creation[edit]

"Classic" analogue method[edit]

The oldest, most "natural" technique can be done with minimal electronic processing. The steps for processing are as follow:

  1. At least 2 microphones are set up: close mic(s) (usually dynamic, to pick up the hit itself) and ambience mic(s) (usually condenser, to pick up ambient sound). Usually, there are 2 ambience mics in stereo pair to capture overhead stereo image.
  2. The whole drumset and all mics are placed in a very live room (i.e., one with huge amounts of reverberation and particularly early reflections from its walls, ceiling and floor).
  3. High-gain compression is applied to ambience mic(s) to capture rich reverb sound.
  4. Ambience mic(s) are fed through a noise gate with separate external key input.
  5. Close mic(s) are used as an external key for the noise gate.
  6. Hold time of noise gate is set to half a second or so (this would be a real duration of hit sound), followed by a fast release time. This causes the gate to allow only the first half second of reverb to pass though after each drum hit, before closing again.
  7. Optionally, close mic sound can be mixed in final result in some proportion to make a hit sound more "solid".

This results in a very live sounding drum that is rapidly cut off with none of the overpowering secondary reflections associated with reverb. Note that this process is generally used in studio recording environment only: it's hard to reproduce such effect when playing live, though both Phil Collins and Genesis were able to incorporate it into most of their live performances.

Modern digital method[edit]

When using digital reverb unit, it is possible to replicate classic scheme in much simpler steps:

  1. Only 1 microphone is set up: close mic. No real room for ambience is needed, all reverberation is done at effects unit processor.
  2. Close mic sound is fed to reverberation unit, then to compressor, then to noise gate signal input.
  3. Same sound of close mic is fed to noise gate key input.
  4. Optionally, just as in the analog method, original ("dry") sound can be mixed in some proportion to gated output ("wet") sound.

Each channel needs its own "reverb+noise gate" unit. Applying the effect on already mixed drums won't work properly. Most modern digital reverb units contain several "Gated reverb" presets, thus removing the need for a separate noise gate, compressor and commutation, effectively making it possible to get gated reverb sound from just single normal close mic or drum trigger. Also note that such setup does not require "live room" with huge reverberation ambience for the drumset and can be reproduced without major difficulties at live gigs.

Usage patterns[edit]

Gated reverb is most commonly used for empowering drum sounds, particularly snare drum and bass drum. The technique became so popular and the "gated reverb" sound is so recognizable that many drum machines and samplers include some sort of "gated drums" setting. These sounds are usually referred to as gated snare and gated kick, omitting the word "reverb" from the original name.

While General MIDI does not specify particular sound characteristics for its drum kits, it does include two distinct snare sounds, sometimes referred to as acoustic snare (38) and electric snare (40), the latter usually implemented with a "gated snare" sound. Later MIDI standards such as GS and XG include drum kits that specify gated drum sounds, most usually patch #16 (GS #17, with shifted numbering) named "Power drumkit" or "Rock drumkit", or patch #24 (GS #25) named "Electronic drumkit". Thus, for example, for snare drum, distinct sounds may be referred to as power snare or rock snare.

Notable records[edit]

Gated reverb as an effect was used on countless drum tracks during the 1980s, to the point that such a sound became a defining characteristic of that decade's popular music.

Phil Collins used gated reverb extensively, both in his solo work as well as working with other artists. Producer Steve Lillywhite and engineer Hugh Padgham famously applied gated reverb to Collins' drum timbre on Peter Gabriel song "Intruder",[2] Collins first use of the technique. Examples from Collins' own music include "In the Air Tonight", "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)", "I Don't Care Anymore" and "I Wish It Would Rain Down", and the Genesis tracks "Mama" and "No Son of Mine". The British band Duran Duran also made repeated use of the recording technique, heard prominently on the drums on the 1984 hit single "The Wild Boys" as well as the 1985 James Bond theme song "A View To A Kill". Bruce Springsteen used the effect on his 1984 hit "Born in the U.S.A.", with the drums being played by Max Weinberg. The song "Some Like It Hot" by The Power Station opens with a drum solo which features the effect prominently.


  1. ^ Robyn Flans (May 1, 2005). "Classic Tracks: Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"". Mix. 
  2. ^ Hodgson, Jay (2010). Understanding Records, p.87. ISBN 978-1-4411-5607-5.

Further reading[edit]

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