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. Early and prominent uses of the effect were from Yellow Magic Orchestra, XTC, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham.

In 1979, it was used in Yellow Magic Orchestra's "Behind the Mask" (1979)[1] and in the production of the XTC album Drums and Wires.

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's 1980 song "Intruder", from Gabriel's third solo album.[2] Padgham discovered the sound accidentally when he opened an overhead mic, intended to be used as a talkback channel, above Collins's drum set when the pair were working on the track. The microphone was heavily compressed as well as using a gate.[3][4][5] Collins went on to use the effect notably on his hit single "In the Air Tonight" (1981), produced by Collins and Padgham.[6] Other examples from Collins' own music include "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". Lillywhite and Padgham's work on Peter Gabriel 3 was bookended with their work on XTC's Drums and Wires and Black Sea. In this period they perfected their technique on Terry Chambers' drums, which can be heard most distinctively on Black Sea (particularly songs "Respectable Street", "Generals and Majors" and "Love At First Sight").[7]

One of the first electronic reverb units to be powered by a microprocessor was the AMS RMX16, which was introduced in 1982, and could replicate otherwise expensive and physically large methods of generating reverb effects.[8]

Gated reverb was used on countless drum tracks during the 1980s, to the point that the sound became a defining characteristic of that decade's popular music.[8]

The British band Duran Duran 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.", the drums being played by Max Weinberg. The song "Some Like It Hot" by The Power Station opens with a drum solo that features the effect prominently. The song "Hounds of Love", produced and released by Kate Bush, makes heavy usage of this method. American rock band Haim used gated reverb on Danielle Haim's drumming for their first album Days Are Gone.[9]

In the 1990s the many bands went back to more natural sounding drums. By 2018, several contemporary artist began incorporating the effect in some of their rhythm tracks including Lorde.[8]

Methods of creation[edit]

Live Room method[edit]

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

  1. At least two microphones are set up: close mic(s), to pick up the hit itself) and ambience mic(s), to pick up ambient sound). Usually, there is also a stereo pair involved that captures the overhead stereo image or cymbals.
  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 the quieter details of the reverb sound. (optional)[10]
  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 through after each drum hit, before closing again.
  7. close mic and ambience sounds are mixed to taste.

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.

Effects processor method[edit]

When using a hardware reverb unit, echo chamber or digital emulation of either, it is possible to replicate the classic scheme:

  1. Whichever piece of the drum kit is getting the effect will need at least one microphone set up close to it. Ambient microphones are unnecessary but can be used if desired. The sound can be achieved in acoustically "live" or "dead" rooms, since all reverberation will be done inside the effects unit processor.
  2. The close mic sound is fed to the reverberation unit, then optionally to a compressor, and then to the noise gate's signal input.[10]
  3. The same sound from the close mic is fed to the noise gate's key input.
  4. The "wet" and "dry" sounds (which is to say the processed and unprocessed sounds, respectively) can be mixed to taste.

This setup does not require a "live room" to achieve the enhanced reverberation of the drum sound and therefore the effect can be reproduced at live gigs without great difficulty.

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 (1-128 #17, with shifted numbering) named "Power drumkit" (for GS) or "Rock drumkit" (for XG), or patch #24 (1-128 #25) named "Electronic drumkit". Thus, for example, for snare drum, distinct sounds may be referred to as power snare or rock snare.


  1. ^ Tanaka, Yuji (November 11, 2014). "Yellow Magic Orchestra: The Pre-MIDI Technology Behind Their Anthems". Red Bull Music Academy.
  2. ^ Hodgson, Jay (2010) Understanding Records, p.87. ISBN 978-1-4411-5607-5.
  3. ^ "LMC-1 Plug-In - Available FREE for PC and MAC". Solid State Logic Company. Solid State Logic Company. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
  4. ^ Flans, Robyn. "Classic Tracks: Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"". Mix Professional Audio & Music Production. New Bay Media. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Robyn Flans (May 1, 2005). "Classic Tracks: Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"". Mix.
  7. ^ Partridge & Bernhardt (2016). Complicated Game, p.116. ISBN 978-1-908279-78-1
  8. ^ a b c How a recording-studio mishap shaped '80s music on YouTube - Vox, 18 August 2017
  9. ^ Petridis, Alexis (2013-09-26). "Haim: Days Are Gone – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-10-19.
  10. ^ a b

Further reading[edit]