June 26, 2023 by Nick Messitte

Gated Reverb Explained: What It Is and How It Works

Gated reverb is a time-honored, instantly-recognizable mixing technique that uses a noise gate to cut off the reverberation tail. Discover how to set up a gated reverb and take it to new heights in your mix.

Producers and engineers love nothing more than learning a new technique—or repurposing an old one. If we can understand how a classic, iconic effect is made, that’s the stuff that gets us out of bed in the morning. Bonus points if we can figure out new ways to use it in a modern context.

Gated reverb is one such iconic effect. Of course, reverberation has been an essential ingredient for creating a sense of space and depth since the first recordings. But when reverb is combined with the controlled precision of gating, something entirely new is made: an exclamation point of ambiance—an almost weaponized sense of space that commands the listener’s attention. 

In this article, we'll delve into what gated reverb is, its purpose in music, and how it can be effectively marshaled to achieve that 80s—and faux 80s—sound.

Follow along with iZotope  product-popover-icons-neutron.png Neutron , a powerful all-in-one mixing tool that helps you mix smarter and faster. 

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What is gated reverb?

Gated reverb involves the strategic combination of a software reverb effect with a plug-in noise gate. The gate abruptly cuts off the decay of the reverb tail once the sound falls below a certain threshold, resulting in a distinctly succinct effect, instead of a reverb’s more typical fade out.

“Gated reverb” as we know it now emerged in the late 1970s, though it gained immense popularity throughout the 1980s. The canonical story of its origin comes courtesy of two giants in our field: Hugh Padham and Steve Lillywhite. 

They each recount the story behind the technique differently but agree that an accident brought it into focus. Padgham accidentally activated a talkback mic near Phil Collins' drum kit instead of an overhead mic. The recording console being used was an SSL 4000 E, which has a compressor and gate built into the talkback channel to keep speech intelligible. When Phil Collins began playing the drums, the compressor produced a brash and aggressive sound that exaggerated the room tone, while the gate abruptly cut off the reverb tails.

Examples of gated reverb in music

If you want to hear examples of gated reverb in music, look no further than "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. That’s a fantastic example of gated reverb on drums, particularly the toms.

Indeed, here’s Phil’s iconic fill, offered in a continuous 30-minute loop:

The gated reverb helps make these toms what they are; it is an effect inseparable from the song itself. 

You can also hear gated reverb at play on "Let's Dance" by David Bowie (example at 00:11). The snare drum hits with a powerful, yet papery sound. It seems like it's going to be large and then suddenly cuts right off. This is a gated reverb creating a sense of intensity, adding punch to the overall mix while simultaneously filling out the heft of the drum—though without adding unnecessarily to the sustain.

Though inexorably tied to drum sounds, gated reverb is frequently used on various other instruments to create unique textures. One notable example is the song "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush (example at 0:59). You can feel the effect brashly surrounding her vocals, but then edging down into the mix, with no opportunity to cloud up the soundscape with sustain. It’s a strange atmosphere indeed. 

How to make a gated reverb

To make a gated reverb, we’re going to keep it easy and use two common iZotope effects. The first is Neoverb, and the second is Neutron, which has a fantastic gate. We'll be using these tools to make a gated reverb on drums. 

Neoverb reverb plug-in

Neoverb reverb plug-in

Neutron gate module

Neutron gate module

First let’s take a nice drum loop with a killer tom fill to see what we’re working with:

Drum Loop, Roomy

These drums are recorded with a lot of room, so here’s a tip to get you started: gated reverb works better when you start with drier sounding drums. So, I’m going to ease back on our room mics and our overheads to let the spot-mics do the work.

Drum Loop, Less Roomy

Now we’re good to proceed. Let’s say we like this kit as is, and we just want to add gated reverb. We’re going to send the snare to an auxiliary channel and place the reverb on that aux track, so the original snare can continue to do its thing unharmed. If you’re unfamiliar with aux channels, you can find out more in our guide on mix buses.

We want something thick and bright, so favoring a plate/hall combination with a bit of pre-delay will work just fine.

Neoverb reverb settings that favor plate/hall and some pre-delay

Neoverb reverb settings that favor plate/hall and some pre-delay

Reverb on Snare

Now, we open up our gate in Neutron, and use its timing, threshold, and sidechain controls to our advantage.

Neutron gate, open

Neutron gate, open

Gated Reverb on Snare

Note that all the gate settings will have a drastic effect on the resulting reverberated snare, which is something I can better show off in this video below that reviews Neutron's gate parameters. 

This still doesn’t give us a sound approaching the classic 80s gated reverb effect. To get closer to that iconic timbre, we need to add gated reverb to the kicks and toms as well. We’re going to route these shelled instruments to different reverb/gate combination, one that’s better tuned to those boomy, thumpy drums.

Gated Reverb On Toms, Kick And Snare

We’re not using Neoverb and Neutron on the toms and kicks. Instead we’re using a combination of a classic 80s reverb and a console-style gate found in Native Instruments’ GUITAR RIG 6

GUITAR RIG 6 gate and reverb combo

GUITAR RIG 6 gate and reverb combo

This mixture is then given some excitement courtesy of Ozone’s Exciter module

Ozone Exciter module on drums

Ozone Exciter module on drums

All of the processing taken together gets us into the wheelhouse of that classic gated sound.

Beyond drums: creative applications of gated reverb

Gated reverb can be used on many other instruments besides drums. With the advent of digital processing power, you can truly bring gated reverb into a new and modern place. Let's take a look at a couple of examples.


We highlighted Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” as an example of gated reverb on a vocal. That’s a distinctly 80s sound, but we can do something brand new with this effect if we change the type of reverb used, and introduce multiband gating into the fray.

We’ll start with a vocal and a guitar. 

Vocal and Guitar, No Reverb

The reverbs used in the 80s tended to be of the Lexicon variety, which have their own dated timbre. Modern tastes have moved more toward brashy spring reverbs, so we can start by taking a vocal and slapping a spring on it, like so: 

Vocal and Guitar with Reverb

This is the spring tank found in GUITAR RIG 6, preceded by a little tape echo. Both are high-class emulations that I use all the time.

Spring reverb on vocal

Spring reverb on vocal

We’ll gate this reverb—but not in the normal way. Instead, we’ll take advantage of Neutron’s ability to operate in multiband. 

Multiband gate on spring reverb using Neutron

Multiband gate on spring reverb using Neutron

We’re starting with the Dialogue Multiband Expander preset, and using the gate to emphasize the midrange of the signal. The low-end will die quickly, much like a traditional gated reverb, while the highs are gated with a very slow attack time and a lower ratio, allowing them to fade into existence and cut out dramatically. Let's listen to the before and after. 

Before and After Gated Reverb

Vocals & Guitar

This doesn’t sound like your typical gated reverb, but it is a gated reverb nonetheless. In this case, the gating is creating a kind of swell on the reverb, as well as an abrupt decay that changes depending on the frequency bands.

We can take a similar approach with other instruments, as I did with the following example. 

Lead instruments

I’m currently working on an album for a fantastic band called Ari and the Buffalo Kings. In the song “Living in 5D,” a sitar takes a solo that’s reminiscent of a slide guitar. 

The solo itself sounds grand, but I want to emphasize the sitar’s sympathetic string swells in a manner that creates almost a pad. So, I’ve used a shimmer reverb (for octavizing the harmonics), and a multiband gate to create swells and sweeps.

Here's an excerpt of the mix in process before and after the shimmer reverb and multiband gate. 

Before and After Gated Reverb with Shimmer


I can show you more about what this entails in the following video. 

Start using gated reverb 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking gated reverb is a dated sound. On the contrary, gated reverb is a fascinating technique that has stood the test of time. Its ability to add power, impact, and a sense of defined space has made it an invaluable tool. So definitely experiment with what gated reverb can do for you. It’s a wide world of possibilities out there, thanks to tools from iZotope like  product-popover-icons-neutron.png Neutron  and Native Instruments' GUITAR RIG 6

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