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Gated Reverb 101: Creating That 80s Feel With a Modern Twist 

Gated reverb is one of the most distinctive sound effects in music production history. 


It emulates the expansive echo of a sound abruptly cut off to create a unique blend of depth and precision. 


This effect can infuse your tracks with an atmospheric quality that stands out, adding drama and presence to percussion, vocals, and other instruments. 


So, as a music producer, it’s key to understand the intricacies of gated reverb to use it creatively in your tracks.


In today’s article, we’ll cover:


  • How gated reverb works & its unique features ✓
  • The history and significance of gated reverb ✓
  • Setting up gated reverb in your mix ✓
  • Fine-tuning decay and sustain ✓
  • Adjusting threshold, attack, and release ✓
  • Balancing gated reverb with other mix elements ✓
  • Creative applications on drums and vocals ✓
  • Experimenting with modulation & combining effects ✓
  • Much more gated reverb ✓


You’ll know everything about gated reverb so you can apply it effectively and innovatively in your music. 


You’ll be able to add depth, character, and a professional edge to each track. 


This way, you can experiment properly and use gated reverb flawlessly to create sounds that resonate with listeners and stand out in a major way.


So, let’s dive in…


How Gated Reverb Works


Digital Reverb Alternatives - Unison


Gated reverb, a technique synonymous with the lush, expansive drum sounds that helped define 1980s music, remains super beneficial in modern music production.


At its core, it’s an audio effect that combines reverb with a noise gate to create a distinctively punchy and tight ambience. 


This reverberation effect is achieved by: 


  • Applying a reverb to an audio signal (often drums)
  • Using a noise gate to abruptly cut off the reverb tail (creating a spacious, precise sound)


Understanding how gated reverb works is essential for musicians looking to add depth and character to their mixes. 


The process starts with the reverb, which simulates the natural echo and decay of sounds in a physical space. 


When applied to a drum sound, for example, you can hear it add a sense of dimension and resonance. 


However, without gating, this added reverb can make the mix sound washed out or overly diffuse… 


This is where the noise gate comes into play.


By setting a threshold level that the reverb tail must exceed to be heard, the gate allows the initial burst of the reverb to come through while cutting off the tail as soon as it drops below this threshold. 


The result is a captivating, snappy, defined drum sound that carries the ambience of a larger space without muddying the overall mix.


The History & Comeback of Gated Reverb



The birth of gated reverb can be traced back to the late 1970s, with its discovery often credited to a serendipitous moment during a recording session by Peter Gabriel. 


Engineer Hugh Padgham and Phil Collins were experimenting with drum sounds when they stumbled upon the effect as well. 


The iconic sound truly came into its own with Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” where the drum break became one of the most recognizable moments in music history. 


This same sound quickly spread across genres, defining the sonic landscape of the 1980s and being embraced by artists such as Prince, David Bowie, etc.


Despite its association with a specific era and the recordings of Peter Gabriel, gated reverb has experienced a resurgence lately 一 finding its way back into the now. 


The effect’s ability to lend a dramatic, punchy quality to drum sounds, while still providing a sense of space, has made it a valuable asset to this day.


Key Components of Gated Reverb


Gated reverb isn’t just about slapping a gate on a reverberated signal; it’s a process that requires a deep understanding of both the effect and the desired outcome. So, let’s dive.


  • Noise Gate


gated reverb


At the heart of gated reverb lies the noise gate, a dynamic audio processor that controls the volume of a track. 


By setting a specific threshold, the gate remains closed 一 silencing the track until the signal surpasses this level. 


Once the signal falls below the threshold again, the gate swiftly closes, cutting off the reverb tail. 


This rapid opening and closing action is pivotal in shaping the gated reverb sound.


It allows for the initial impact of the drum hit to be enhanced by reverb while preventing the tail from overwhelming the mix


Experimenting with the gate’s threshold and release settings enables producers/musicians to fine-tune the effect.


This will ensure that the gated reverb complements the track without dominating it.


  • Setting Up Gated Reverb in Your Mix


Setting up Reverb in your - Unison


Creating the perfect gated reverb effect starts with a good understanding of your mix and knowing exactly where this technique can shine most. 


Typically, drums are the prime candidates for gated reverb, thanks to their inherent dynamics and the dramatic impact the effect can have on them. 


Start by selecting a high-quality reverb plug in that offers a range of adjustable parameters. 


Apply this reverb to your snare drum or entire drum kit to begin shaping the sound. 


The goal here is to blend the reverb seamlessly with the original drum sound 一 enhancing its presence without overshadowing the natural tone of your drums.


The mix stage is crucial in determining the gated reverb’s final impact. 


  • Too much reverb 一 Can drown your drums in a sea of echo.
  • Not enough reverb 一 Might not achieve the desired level of ambience/punch. 


Carefully adjust the mix setting of your reverb to find the right balance. 


Remember, the essence of gated reverberation lies in its ability to provide a powerful, expansive sound that abruptly cuts off.


It gives your drums a distinctive presence in the mix that is instantly heard and recognized (and loved worldwide).


  • Decay and Sustain (Reverb Tail)


Convolution Reverb Pro 3 - Unison


The decay and sustain parameters of your reverb are pivotal in defining the character of your gated reverb sound. 


  • The decay controls how long the reverb tail lasts before it fades away.
  • Sustain determines the level of the reverb tail’s persistence. 


Adjusting these settings allows you to sculpt the space and dimension of your drum sound. 


For a classic 80s reverb effect, aim for a longer decay time to initially fill the space, before the noise gate cuts it short.


This will create that signature abrupt end to the reverb tail. 


This combination of extended decay and a sharp cut-off adds dramatic flair to snare hits and tom fills, making them stand out in the mix.


  • Threshold, Attack & Release Settings (Gate)


Neutron Gate - Unison


The threshold, attack, and release settings on your noise gate are critical for fine-tuning the gated reverb effect. 


  • The threshold determines the level at which the gate will open to let the reverb through.
  • The attack and release dictate how quickly the gate opens and closes. 


Setting a higher threshold ensures that only the loudest parts of the drum sound (like the initial hit of the snare) trigger the reverb, while a faster release time will more abruptly cut off the reverb tail.


That faster release time will enhance the gated effect, so just keep a mental note of that.


These settings require experimentation to match the dynamics of your track.


However, when they’re dialed in correctly, they create a tight, punchy reverb effect that can dramatically enhance the rhythm and energy of your song.


  • Choosing the Right Signals


Snare Drum 1 - Unison


Selecting the right signals to apply gated reverb to is key for achieving the desired effect


While snare drums are the most common choice, don’t be afraid to experiment with other elements of your drum kit or even other instruments. 


Toms and kick drums can also benefit from the added depth and punch of reverb, especially in genres that demand a larger-than-life drum sound. 


The key is to listen carefully to how the gated reverb interacts with the natural sound of the instrument and adjust your settings accordingly to achieve the perfect blend.


  • Balancing Gated Reverb with Other Instruments


Balancing gated reverb with other instruments - Unison


Integrating gated reverb into your mix requires careful consideration of the overall frequency content and phase relationships between instruments. 


Gated reverb can significantly alter the spatial perception and dynamics of your track 一 making it essential to balance its effect with the rest of your mix. 


Pay attention to how the gated reverb on your drums interacts with: 



The goal is to enhance the impact and presence of the drums without causing phase issues or cluttering the mix’s frequency spectrum


This might involve adjusting the EQ settings on your reverb or tweaking the release times to ensure the reverb tail doesn’t interfere with other instruments. 


Ultimately, achieving a harmonious balance will elevate the overall sound of your track and make each audio element shine while maintaining a cohesive mix.


  • Pro Tip


Gated Reverb3 - Unison


Emulating the gated original snare reverb involves carefully adjusting your gated reverb settings to replicate the punchy, immediate sound that made it so iconic. 


Start by selecting an original snare drum track and apply a bright, room reverb with a moderate to long decay time


Next, set up your noise gate with a fast release time to cut off the reverb tail abruptly 一 creating that distinctive gated effect.


Enhancing Drum Sounds with Gated Reverb


Drum Bus e1687645743511 - Unison


Gated reverb has the power to transform drum sounds, adding a layer of depth and dimension that can elevate a track from good to unforgettable. 


By applying it to your drum kit, you can achieve a sound that’s both expansive and tight, a combination that’s particularly effective for creating impactful music


Whether you’re working on a snare drum to give it that classic ’80s pop punch or on toms to add dramatic flair, gated reverb can make your drums sound larger than life. 


The key is to adjust the reverb settings to match the energy and tempo of your song.


This will ensure that the effect complements rather than overwhelms your drum sounds.


NOTE: When recording drums (live) in which to apply gated reverb, placing an overhead mic above the drum kit can capture the natural ambience and detail of the drums.


This will provide a richer sound to process with gated reverb.


Adding gated reverb to a snare drum can instantly inject a sense of power and presence into your track. 


For a rock song, a snare with gated reverb can provide the driving force behind the song’s rhythm, while in a pop track, it can add a glossy, polished feel to the mix. 


Similarly, applying gated reverb to toms can create a sense of space and depth 一 making each tom fill a momentous occasion in the song. 


Experiment with different reverb types and settings to find the perfect sound for your drums, and don’t be afraid to push boundaries.


Gated Reverb on Vocals


Channel Strip Vocals - Unison


While gated reverb is most commonly associated with drums, it can also be a powerful tool for adding interest and depth to vocals and other instruments. 


Applying a subtle gated reverb to vocals can give them a larger-than-life quality. 


This will help your vocals stand out in the mix without overwhelming the listener. 


The key is to use the effect sparingly and to adjust the gate settings to ensure that the reverb tail doesn’t interfere with the clarity of your vocals.


Similarly, gated reverb can add dimension to other instruments aside from vocals, such as: 


  • Guitars
  • Keyboards
  • Even bass


By carefully selecting which instruments to apply the effect to and adjusting the reverb and gate settings to suit the sonic characteristics of each instrument, you can create a rich, cohesive sound that enhances the overall feel of your track. 


Whether you’re aiming for a subtle gated ambience that might fade or a bold, dramatic effect, gated reverb offers endless possibilities for creative expression.


Remember, it’s all about getting creative and thinking outside of the box 一 nothing is off limits.


Modulating Your Gate & Reverb Settings


Modulating reverb and gate parameters - Unison


One of the joys of working with gated reverb is the opportunity to experiment with modulating your gate and reverb settings to create unique sounds. 


Modulation can involve automating the: 


  • Reverb size
  • Decay time
  • Even the gate’s threshold and release settings over time


This will help you add extra movement and interest to your tracks. 


For example, gradually increasing the reverb decay time on a snare drum during a song’s build-up can create a sense of growing tension.


This results in a powerful release when the chorus hits (super intriguing).


Try modulating different audio parameters in your reverb plugin and gate plugins to see how they affect the sound. 


You might be surprised at how a small plugin adjustment can dramatically change everything in an instant.


Pro Tip: Placing a compressor after the gated reverb can help control the dynamics of the effect, ensuring that it sits well in the mix without overpowering other audio elements. 


Also, adding a delay before the reverberation can introduce a rhythmic element to the reverb tail when played.


Final Thoughts


Gated reverb is not just an effect; it’s invaluable when it comes to breathing life into your tracks and giving them a unique edge.


With its distinctive ability to blend depth and precision, it can dramatically transform your sound and make your music stand out.


Plus, as you now know, it can help your tracks achieve that iconic ’80s vibe or even modernize them with a fresh twist, and enhance the dynamic range of your drums.


This will make people stop and take notice instantly.


To truly practice the techniques discussed today and elevate your music production, you’ll need the most epic drum samples around…


This is where these legendary free Famous Billboard Drum Essentials pack comes in.


Boasting 20+ legendary drum samples, recreated to 99.9% accuracy from top Billboard hits, this pack is a goldmine.


The samples are virtually indistinguishable from hits like “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish and “Beautiful People” by Ed Sheeran & Khalid


It will provide you with the top-notch quality needed to produce your own hit tracks.


By incorporating these unparalleled samples into your productions and applying the gated reverb techniques we’ve explored, you’re setting the stage for endless innovation.


Gated reverb is more than just an echo from the past  it’s a timeless technique that can inject your tracks with unparalleled depth and vibrancy.


With the right approach and the best samples at your fingertips, there’s no limit to how far you can push the boundaries of music production.


So go ahead, experiment with gated reverb, and you can get to the top of the Billboard charts too.


Until next time…



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