Please note: this article is about a very specific niche of reverb pedals we here refer to as “ambient reverb.” If you are interested in more traditional reverb stompboxes, check out our Best Spring Reverbs article.
Once upon a shoe-gazing time, guitarists had few choices when it came to pedals that could create washes of ambiance. Many players used multiple delay and reverb pedals at the end of their signal chains to generate deep, blooming and lingering soundscapes. These days, thanks to advances in digital signal processing (DSP) chips, pedal makers can create stompboxes dedicated to this particular brand of reverb.
As it happens, pedals that excel at creating ambience are all the rage right now. We’ve spent some time with the current crop of offerings and have collected 18 that we consider the best. All of the pedals listed here will allow you to create cavernous reverbs with lingering tails, shimmer effects, delay, modulation and much more. Which is not to say they’re all one-trick ponies. Many of these entrants can cover a range of reverb densities and tail lengths, making them rather useful for other musical styles as well.
NOT ALL REVERBS GAZE AT SHOES
We should note that there are many full-featured pedals not included here—like the Mooer Audio Ocean Machine, Boss RV-500, Strymon Big Sky and Empress Reverb— In this article we decided to focus on pedals that are more or less devoted to that shoegaze thing we all love so well.
In this article we decided to focus on pedals that are more or less devoted to that shoegaze thing we all love so well.
If you don’t know what shoegaze is, here’s an illustrious (and rather mind-blowing) example:
And here’s another one, less edgy and more ambient. This musical genre oscillates between these two extremes.
And, in case you are wondering, the word shoegaze is a misnomer: it should have been “pedalgaze,” since the guitarists in these bands are so busy stomping on effects they have to constantly stare at them – hence the genre’s name.
We decided to organize this list in two categories: pure reverb stompboxes, and circuits that feature both a reverb and a delay circuit.
Read through the entries below, watch the videos, and visit the manufacturers’ websites to learn more, and as usual… Click on the galleries’ thumbnails to see a video of each pedal.
AMBIENT/SHOEGAZE REVERB PEDALS
In rigorous alphabetical order…
EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath
EarthQuaker’s otherworldly reverberator creates its digital reverb from many short delays. Controls for Length and Diffuse let you adjust decay length and reverb spread, respectively. But the big control here is Drag, which separates all those little delay lines for a cool warped speed effect, creating more delay as you rotate the control counterclockwise and more reverb as it’s turned clockwise. With a Reflect control that regenerates the reverb into self-oscillation at maximum levels, Afterneath has everything you need to create deep, spacey washes of ambience.
Flux Liquid Ambience
Liquid Ambience combines hall reverb with polyphonic octave generation that translates your input signal up and down the frequency scale. A Voice control lets you blend between octave and suboctave or between a fifth and subfifth, or cancel out pitch with the control at 12 o’clock. There’s also a Bend mode that creates a slightly detuned note instead for a syrupy-thick tone. The Space knob controls the hall reverb’s size and damping, but the key to the Liquid Ambience lies in the Evolve control. It adds a dynamic effect by recirculating some of the output back into the pedal, resulting in shimmers on super octaves and super fifths, synthy sounds on octaves, crystals on fifths, and reverbs that melt through the frequency spectrum on suboctaves and subfifths. In Bend mode, Evolve turns the detuned note into a continuous bend up or down. A stereo version of Liquid Ambience is also available, which adds an expression input for either pedal or control-voltage control of the Voice knob.
Meris has carved out its own niche with the Mercury7, which features a reverb algorithm inspired by the score to the 1982 film Blade Runner. Mercury7 gives you the option of two reverbs: Ultraplate, a lush plate-style reverb with fast buildup; and Cathedra, a massive, ethereal and slow-building reverb. The pedal has controls for Space Decay, Modulate (to set the overall mod rate of the reverb algorithm), Mix, Lo Frequency, Pitch Vector (to set the pitch interval of the reverberated signal) and Hi Frequency, and an additional parameter is available through the pedals’ Alt function. With a premium analog signal path, stereo output, selectable true-bypass or analog-buffered bypass and an expression pedal input, Mercury7 offers deep-sounding studio-quality reverb in a stage-friendly pedal.
Mr. Black Eterna Gold Modified
With a reverb tail exceeding 60 seconds in length, the Eterna Gold Modified belongs on anyone’s short list for an ambient pedal. This shimmer pedal features a new algorithm that delivers four-octave processing for a fuller effect. The midrange has been revoiced as well to help the pedal cut through in live settings. The Shimmer control adjusts how much of the octave signals are fed into the reverb, allowing you to create conventional modulated room and hall reverbs at low settings and haunting modulations at higher settings. The addition of multiple early reflections and a shimmer-swell that’s added in beneath the standard shimmer make the Eterna Gold sound truly gigantic.
Neunaber Wet Mono Reverb
The reverb from this simple but versatile pedal has been described as “organic,” “haunting” and redolent of a “choir of angels.” What’s undeniable is that it is dripping with… reverb, hence its name. The Wet pedal’s Mix control goes from zero to 100% wet, allowing you to get every drop of reverb out of it. It also has a versatile footswitch with three bypass modes: Buffered Trails, which allows the effect to trail off when the pedal is bypassed; Normal, which cuts the effect immediately when bypassed; and Two-Stage, which allows the trails to continue while the switch is held down.
Walrus Audio Descent
The Descent has modes for Hall, Reverse and Shimmer, each of which can produce tones one octave above and below the original signal to create a symphony of sound. Tone sculpting is facilitated with eight rotary controls, several of which change function depending on the mode selected. In addition, you can place an auxiliary momentary switch in the Fav input to switch the pedal on and off and call up three of your own custom presets. There’s also an expression pedal input to give you foot control over a single parameter or multiple parameters.
Just as the Wampler Reflection features two reverbs in on pedal, namely spring and plate. The spring setting faithfully replicates the boing and drip of the classic effect, while the plate places your tone in 3-dimensional spaces that add character to everything you play. Internal switches let you control if reverb tails ring through when the pedal is switched off and add or remove your guitar’s original signal from the signal path. As for lingering reverbs, check out 1:32 in this video.
AMBIENT/SHOEGAZE REVERB + DELAY PEDALS
In rigorous reversed alphabetical order…
The Ethereal reverb and delay pedal is all about ease. Its five knobs for Feedback, Tone, Delay, Delay Mix and Reverb Mix give you everything you need to create luscious ambient drones. But the Ethereal’s secret is that it’s actually two delays. The first beats in quarter notes, while the second is layered atop it and can be selected via the Delay Modes button for triplets, dotted 8ths and other rhythmic patterns. The pedal will happily function as a standalone reverb or delay pedal, giving it greater versatility for guitarists who play a variety of music styles.
Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star V2
The Dark Star is a reverb at heart, but from there it can be passed through three possible modes: Pitch, Delay and Crush (as in bitcrush). Two mode-dependent knobs—CTRL 1 and CTRL2—give you control over octave (Pitch mode), delay time and feedback (Delay mode) and octave and bit crush (Crush mode). The Mix and Reverb knobs control the mix of dry/wet signal and the decay of the reverb, respectively. In addition to a standard on/off true-bypass switch, the Dark Star has a momentary Hold footswitch that locks in whatever note is being played and sustains it through the effect as long as the switch is held. If the Mix control is set less than 100% wet, you can continue to play over the sustaining signal.
Quiet Theory Prelude
The dreamy-sounding Prelude analog delay and reverb pedal uses the PT2399 delay chip to create up to 1,000ms of delay. The chip is notorious for being somewhat gritty above 500ms, which adds greatly to the sound’s character at lengthy delay settings. The two footswitches let you engage the effects together or separately. In addition, either footswitch can be put into Burst mode, in which the effect is engaged only when the footswitch is held down. There is a toggle to choose how the pedal behaves when switched off: True Bypass cuts off the effect, while Trails allows the echo and reverb to naturally decay. Two other toggles select the tone for the reverb and delay effects, with a choice of Bright, Medium and Dark settings.
Keeley Caverns Delay & Reverb V2
The Caverns Delay Reverb V2 combines reverb and analog-style tape delay with modulation options. It has three modes: Spring, a blackface amp-style spring reverb with Fender-esque tremolo; Modulation, which adds choral modulation to the reverb; and Shimmer, which emphasizes octave-up voices in the reverb trails. The pedal utilizes Keeley’s popular Magnetic Echo circuit to emulate analog tape delay lines, and its three-way switchable modulation gives you options for adding tape-like wow and flutter to the repeats.
Hungry Robot The Wash Delay-Reverb V2
The Wash Delay-Reverb is dedicated to creating that low-in-the-mix slurry of reverb and delay that has long characterized shoegaze guitar. With just over 1000ms of delay time, this analog-voiced delay can be used as a standalone delay pedal or combined with its internal Wash circuit for organically trailing ambience. The circuit features a network of internal feedback loops with a subtle tape-delay effect based on a Binson Echorec to create what Hungry Robot calls the “ripple effect,” in which each successive delay trail slowly scatters and transforms into reverb. The Ripple knob controls the effects, the large central Wash knob governs the mix/level of the wash, and the Resonance knob fine-tunes the Wash circuit’s resonance and decay. The pedal features a manual delay time control and can also be purchased with tap-tempo control.
Henretta Engineering The Valley Reverb
Designed to emulate “the haunting echoes heard in the [Great] Smoky Mountain valleys,” the Valley Reverb has standard controls for Delay Time, Delay Repeats, Delay Level and Verb Wet and Verb Dry levels. Its secret, however, is a toggle called The Hollar, which applies reverb only to the delay repeats to maintain clarity while providing a wash of echo and reverb underneath your playing.
Foxpedal The Wave
The Wave combines reverb with emulations of three classic tape delays: the Binson Echorec, the Roland RE-201 Space Echo and the Echoplex EP-3. The Modulation control adds tape-style warble to the delay, and the Decay control adjusts the room size and amount of modulation applied to the reverb. Coolest of all is the Wash momentary stomp switch: Hitting it maxes out the feedback knob, creating spacey oscillations that instantly return to the Feedback knob’s setting when you let up on the switch.
EarthQuaker Devices Transmisser
The Transmisser is a modulated reverb mated to a highly resonant filter, and offers a high degree of interactivity between the controls. The top three—Decay, Darkness and Freq—affect the character of the reverb: The Decay knob is all about long, cavernous reverbs, the Darkness control lets you make the mood as clear or murky as you wish, and Freq sets the frequency of the resonant filter, which is always on the verge of self-oscillation. (Freq can also be controlled via expression pedal.) The bottom controls—Warp, Rate and Mix—affect how the reverb processor behaves. Rate controls the speed of reverb modulation as well as that of Freq and Darkness, to get the pedal’s constituent parameters moving together as one. Warp is where the magic occurs. Turn it counterclockwise and the filter gets deeper and more resonant, decay grows longer and warmer, and modulation gets wider. Spin it clockwise and the system becomes tighter and more refined. Mix blends the Transmisser’s cosmic cloud with your dry signal in whatever proportions you desire.
EarthQuaker Devices Disaster Transport
If your ambience is all about adding loads of delay to your reverb, the Disaster Transport is your ticket to sonic bliss. It’s a dual delay with reverb and modulation that excels at creating washes of swirling, lo-fi tape-style echo. The path here is Delay A > Reverb > Delay B, with the option to have both delays running in series (A into B), parallel (A and B) or series/parallel (A and B, with the Bleed control feeding A into B). While B has up to 300ms of delay, A offers up to 600ms plus Depth and Rate controls to adjust the intensity and speed of modulation from zero to seasick pitch bends. Delay A’s repeats can also be controlled by expression pedal, as can Bleed, giving you more sonic options for live performance.
EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run
With up to 2 seconds of delay and lush stereo reverb, Avalanche Run creates floating ambient tones in a pedal that’s deep but still easy to use. It has modes for Both (standard delay and reverb) and Reverse (reverse delay and standard reverb), but the real prize here is Swell, where the Avalanche Run reacts to your picking dynamics, adding an undercurrent of movement you can ride while you riff along. Other features here include an assignable expression pedal control and a Tails mode that fades out the wet signal when the effect is switched off.
Alexander Pedals Sky Fi
The Sky Fi’s reverb engine is based on affordable digital rack units from the 1980s and 1990s whose hardware quirks caused the reverb to build in intensity. The engine is combined with a crystal-clear digital delay that can be mixed to your liking with the reverb. The key elements here are three well-tailored modes—Wash (reverb sustain), Gleam (shimmer) and Echo (delay oscillation)—and a multifunction Hold button that can shift reverb or delay into feedback mode, set reverb time to infinite in Wash and Gleam modes, and increase delay feedback to the maximum in Echo mode. But there’s more! The Hold button also has functions for Infinite, which allows new notes to be added to the held signal, and Freeze, which routes your dry signal around the held notes, allowing you to play over the frozen notes without adding to them.
And here, for completion of information, are a few shootout videos of ambient stompboxes featuring also pedals not covered in our article.
– by Christopher Scapelliti