When discussing effects, reverb is usually one of the first ones to come up and it’s often in the context of delay or echo as well. Either way, some effects are extremely common, and there’s no question that reverb and chorus are on that list.
Both reverb and chorus have been used for a very long time, especially reverb. There was a time when the effect had to be natural, but now, plugins, software, and hardware can easily generate the effects. But what’s the difference between them? Or are they similar?
The difference between reverb and chorus is that reverb refers to the sound waves in a room that persist long after the source has faded out and disappeared. Chorus, on the other hand, is a replica of the same signal and played slightly out of time and tune. It’s an imitation of an actual “chorus.”
There are a few more key differences between the two effects, and we’ll make sure to dive into both. Some of the distinctions between the two will certainly help you understand some of the more basic audio engineering and gear concepts.
The Main Differences Between Reverb And Chorus
Let’s really unpack what I talked about earlier, which is the primary difference between reverb and chorus. Before we continue though, let’s take a look at the comparison video right now between them.
Pay attention to how the signal without reverb and chorus sounds, compared to when I’ve applied both effects.
1) Chorus Is A Replicated Audio Signal That’s Slightly Out-of-Time and De-Tuned
This YouTube video from Roland Media does a great job of explaining what Chorus is so I recommend checking it out. In simple terms, the chorus effect refers to audio signals that are replicated and played back slightly out of tune and time.
The idea behind this is to imitate an actual chorus of people who all sing the same note together as a group. If you think about it, a group of people will never sing the same note at the exact same pitch and timing.
There will be a slight delay or a small difference in pitch, even if it’s negligible. Chorus was designed to imitate this phenomenon. But it has evolved into a lot more since then.
There’s another reason why the chorus has to be slightly out of tune/time. From what I understand, one reason is to avoid phase cancellation.
Phase cancellation is when two inverted audio signals wind up cancelling each other out. Sean Divine is pretty good at talking about this kind of thing – I recommend checking his video out down below.
This is one reason why many engineers and producers recommend mixing in mono (which I have a guide on by the way, on Producer Society). Mixing in mono puts all of the audio signals in one channel.
This way, you get a better idea of what the audio sounds like across multiple types of audio systems, including in big clubs or venues. You obviously wouldn’t want the vocals or another instrument to totally disappear when played in front of a huge crowd of people.
Another reason the audio signal has to be pushed out of time and de-tuned is that if it were the exact same, it would just increase the volume.
For instance, if you’ve ever used parallel compression before, you’ll notice that it tends to boost the volume by quite a lot. This is because if you double up a signal, you make it louder.
Reverb doesn’t make a sound louder because it doesn’t replicate anything. It just acts as if the sound was triggered in a huge room.
2) Reverb Refers to Sound That Stays After the Source Has Faded
Reverb is short-form for “reverberation.” It refers to the way sound waves persist and bounce around in a room long after the source of those sound waves has faded away.
It’s the sound that you hear whenever you sing in the shower.
According to Stella from Waves Audio (they have a great YouTube channel, by the way), this is one reason why some engineers would record in bathrooms.
It gave the singing a natural sound. These days, this kind of thing isn’t necessary because we have several different ways to make reverb.
One way is with actual rooms, as I just mentioned. Another is with algorithmic reverb, convolution reverb, and mechanical reverb like spring and plate reverb. Sweetwater also has a great video on this topic although it’s a little heavy on the jargon, in my opinion.
3) Reverb and Chorus Are Used For Entirely Separate Things
When We Use Reverb
- Bass Guitar
- Lead and Rhythm Guitar
- Soundscape Instruments
- To create space
- To make it sound less “dry” and “dull”
These are just a few of the applications of reverb. Granted, you could use chorus for them too, but it’s not as common. There are no rules to where you use what effect, but there are some common tendencies.
For instance, we commonly use reverb to give the sound a more natural vibe – a vibe like we’re singing in front of a big crowd of people. Reverb just makes things sound better, as long as it’s not overused.
People use it for guitar tones, for drums, and especially for singing. It tends to make everything a lot less stale.
When We Use Chorus
- Lead and rhythm guitar
- Vocals (but not nearly as often as reverb)
- Acoustic guitar
- To imitate 12-string guitars
- For thickening up sounds
Chorus is used more like an effect, rather than a tool of improvement. In other words, the chorus changes the character of the audio signal quite a lot, in my opinion.
As I said earlier, it replicates it so it’s slightly out of tune and slightly out of time. The result of this is almost like a sci-fi-type sound. When we use reverb, we’re not replicating anything or changing the fundamental structure of the audio signal.
If anything, reverb just simulates or captures the effect of putting the audio signal in a really large room.
Chorus, on the other hand, alters the signal in two different ways and then replicates it as well. You can take it a step further and use different parameters like “Rate” to increase the speed of the replication. Others have cool modulation tools.
The song “Leech” from Incubus is a great example of chorus cranked to the max (although it could also be a flanger – it’s actually kind of hard to tell):
Of course, you can use chorus where you would use reverb and vice versa, but I would say that chorus is used to really change the way something sounds.
Whereas reverb is for making something sound a lot more natural, or much closer to the way it should sound.
4) You Have To Use Different Gear for Reverb and Chorus
Because the nature of the two effects is completely different, you’ll have to use separate pieces of gear to actually use them. For instance, the Hall of Fame Reverb 2 is probably the most popular reverb guitar pedal you could buy.
If you want a great software reverb the Eventide SP2016 is incredibly popular and well-regarded. For a chorus, on the other hand, I would recommend something like the Walrus Audio Julia.
The DLYM chorus from Imaginado is a great software chorus – I’ve talked about it in my guide to GarageBand plugins. There are some exceptions, however, to the idea that certain pieces of gear only perform certain functions.
For instance, algorithmic effects like what can be seen on a Line 6 Spider II amplifier, or a multi-effects pedal like the Line 6 Helix, can perform both functions.
They can do a lot more.
Computers perform algorithmic effects. They’re not mechanical like what you would see in an analog pedal. There is some debate over what’s better, but I think most would agree that mechanical effects and stompboxes sound way better than plugins.
This probably won’t be the case forever though because technology seems to improve every day. For instance, a lot of guitar players are moving away from traditional amplifiers and using amp simulators with a DAW instead (my guide dives into this topic).
5) Reverb Is Probably Used More Than Chorus
I haven’t done an official study on this or anything, but I bet you I’m not far off if I say that reverb is more commonly used than chorus.
Reverb is just a lot more natural and versatile. You can use it for almost any kind of audio signal. However, I could be wrong about this. This article from Izotope, for example, says chorus is one of the most used effects.