Gated reverb

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Gated reverb or gated ambience is an audio processing technique that combines strong reverb and a noise gate. This effect is often associated with the sound of 1980s British popular music. It was developed in 1979 by engineer Hugh Padgham and producer Steve Lillywhite while working with the artists XTC, Peter Gabriel, and Phil Collins at Townhouse Studios in London, and is most famously demonstrated in Collins' hit song "In the Air Tonight" (1981).[1][2]

The effect is typically applied to recordings of drums (or live sound reinforcement of drums in a PA system) to make the hits sound powerful and "punchy" while keeping the overall mix clean and transparent sounding.[3] Unlike many reverberation or delay effects, the gated reverb effect does not try to emulate any kind of reverb that occurs in nature. In addition to drums, the effect has occasionally been applied to vocals.[3][4]


Phil Collins used gated reverb extensively, both in his solo work as well as working with other artists.[2] At Townhouse Studios in Shepherd's Bush, west London, producer Steve Lillywhite and engineer Hugh Padgham famously applied gated reverb to Collins's drum timbre on Peter Gabriel's 1980 song "Intruder", from Gabriel's third solo album.[5] 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.[6][7][8] Collins went on to use the effect notably on his hit song "In the Air Tonight", produced by Collins and Padgham.[9]

Other examples from Collins's own music also include "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)", "I Don't Care Anymore", "I Wish It Would Rain Down", and "You'll Be in My Heart" and the Genesis songs "Mama" and "No Son of Mine". Lillywhite's 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").[10]

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.[11]

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.[11]

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 Tony Thompson 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.[12]

In the 1990s, many bands went back to more natural sounding drums. By 2018, several contemporary artists began incorporating the effect in some of their rhythm tracks including Lorde and Beyoncé.[13][11]

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 follows:

  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)[14]
  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.

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.[14]
  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.


  1. ^ "How Genesis's Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins stumbled upon the '80s gated-reverb drum sound". Music Radar. Retrieved 10 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b "How Phil Collins Accidentally Created the Sound That Defined 1980s Music". Mental Floss. Retrieved 10 October 2020.
  3. ^ a b Fink, Robert; Latour, Melinda; Wallmark, Zachary (2018-09-18). The Relentless Pursuit of Tone: Timbre in Popular Music. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-998525-8.
  4. ^ Bordowitz, Hank (2007). Dirty Little Secrets of the Record Business: Why So Much Music You Hear Sucks. Chicago Review Press. p. 253. ISBN 978-1-56976-391-9.
  5. ^ Hodgson, Jay (2010) Understanding Records, p.87. ISBN 978-1-4411-5607-5.
  6. ^ "LMC-1 Plug-In - Available FREE for PC and MAC". Solid State Logic Company. Solid State Logic Company. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
  7. ^ Flans, Robyn. "Classic Tracks: Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"". Mix Professional Audio & Music Production. New Bay Media. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
  8. ^ David West (26 January 2017). "Classic Drum Sounds: 'In The Air Tonight'". MusicRadar.
  9. ^ Robyn Flans (1 May 2005). "Classic Tracks: Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"". Mix.
  10. ^ Partridge & Bernhardt (2016). Complicated Game, p.116. ISBN 978-1-908279-78-1
  11. ^ a b c How a recording-studio mishap shaped '80s music on YouTube - Vox, 18 August 2017
  12. ^ Petridis, Alexis (26 September 2013). "Haim: Days Are Gone – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  13. ^ "How a Recording Studio Mishap Created the Famous Drum Sound That Defined 80s Music & Beyond". Open Culture. Retrieved 10 October 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Canyons Of The Mind". Archived from the original on 2005-03-10. Retrieved 2019-10-29.

Further reading[edit]