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The Best Delay Pedals - Digital & Analogue

Published: Thu June 20, 2013  News Feed

Finding The Best Delay Pedal - Digital Or Analogue

By Hugh McKenna

The Best Guitar Delay Pedals Dolphin

Thanks to David Poe For This Boss Picture

Updated For 2014, Including Three Of The Best Delay Pedals Available Today!

Three Of The Best Delays 2014
Boss DM-2 Analogue Delay TC Electronic Alter Ego X4 Boss Tera Echo Pedal
The Boss DM-2W is a spot on recreation of the Boss DM-2 pictured above. Things have changed in the 30 years since this iconic delay was released so Boss have also sought to enhance things with expression input, dry out and a Custom Mode that doubles the delay time and cleans up the sound a little. The DM-2 is a legend among guitarists but the 2nd hand price has been creeping ever higher so the time is right for an all analogue recreation to sit alongside the many cool digital versions. The TC Electronic Alter Ego X4 is another one that plunders the past. With enough different delay modes to make your head spin. Tube echo, tape, analogue and digital are all present. Furthermore there's also a built in looper and TC's Toneprint software lets you geek out massively, tweaking everything or browsing presets from your guitar heroes. That's enough of the past, here's a taste of the future from Boss. The Tera Echo has to be heard to be believed. Fortunately John 5 has produced a demo to show just what it can do.

A Little History Of Delay

What do you think of when someone mentions echoes? The Grand Canyon, Pink Floyd and King Tubby are all common responses. Ever since the earliest days echoes and delay have been an important part of music culture. From pre-historic tribes playing music in cavernous spaces through classical music taking place in large halls to ensure the impact of the orchestra is not lost in a wash of sound right up to the 20th Century and some of our earliest audio technology being used to create repetitions and emulate the sound of a real space.

The very first of these was tape, with early engineers playing around with tape loops and feedback to create the famous 'slap back echo' sound of 50's Rock 'n Roll. You might be surprised to find that digital delays and reverb were the next thing to be experimented with, with early research from Manfred Schroeder creating a convincing digital reverb. At that time it couldn't be done in real time, with an impulse response being rendered much like the Freeze or Offline Render function in your DAW. Although it would minutes or indeed hours to calculate a few seconds of reverb. This helped lay the foundations for great digital delays from AMS (now AMS Neve) in the UK and Lexicon in the USA.

Finally there's that famous analogue delay sound, loved by guitarists and dub fanatics alike. Essentially the sound is stored in capacitors and "moved" from one to the other at a rate dictated by the clock (at least that's how we've interepreted the Wiki, best read that if you're doing this as part of your electrical engineering course). In order to operate correctly the signal needs to be low pass filtered and that along with some inherent distortion helps to create that grungey but lovely analogue sound.

Black Ark Studios Tape Echo

That's a potted history of delay but here's a few major milestones to put down in your jotter:

1974 - Introduction of the Roland RE-201 Space Echo, one of the most famous, road worthy tape delays. Used by in the Black Ark Studio by Lee 'Scratch' Perry, above the console and right at the heart of the studio (see picture above).

1977 - Introduction of the Electro Harmonix Memory Man. The world gets to grips with affordable, portable, tweakable delay. "King Of Delays" The Edge from U2 uses the Memory Man as part of his signature sound.

1978 - The first commercial digital delay gets released by AMS. Famously used by Martin Hannett when working with Joy Division (his Strawberry Studios and AMS gear pictured below.

1983 - The first compact digital delay pedal from Boss, the DD-2. The shape of things to come, robust, easily portable and great sounding.

Martin Hannett Strawberry Studios

So in less than 10 years we get from the first gig-ready tape delay in a box the size of a desktop PC to the compact effects pedal we all know now. At the forefront of that development were Roland/Boss and today they've brought the two together with the RE-20 Space Echo Twin Pedal. Every nuance that made the 201 such an icon is captured in the classic Boss pedal format. If you want to hear just what made the 201 so special, here's a little demonstration...

Tape Style Delay Pedals

While the RE-20 is certainly one of the finest dedicated digital modeled tape delays around it isn't alone. Here's our choice of how best to get a tape delay today.

Best Tape Delay
Roland Space Echo In A Boss Pedal Tape Delay Sound With Digital Features Analogue Tape Delay With Looping
Boss Delay Pedal
Boss RE-20 Twin Pedal
£199
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Digitech Timebender TB2 Delay
Digitech Timebender TB2 Musical Delay Pedal
£199
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Akai Headrush E2 Looping Tape Delay
Akai E2 Headrush Tape Delay Loop Pedal
£129.99
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The best way to get that special RE-201 sound. Boss Delay pedals were among the first and remain among the best.
The Timebender has a huge range of musical delay sounds including Fixed/Moving Head Tape as well as a looper. Theres a few little things that sets the TB2 apart however:

-Fixed pitch delays, not ascending or descending like the classic Eventide sound. Combined with the looper you can turn your guitar into an orchestra!
-Hold down the pedal and strum to set the key for harmonic delays.
-Hold down a pedal and tap your guitar to set tempo or use the traditional stomp tap.

So that's some very musical features on top of everyones favourite geeky sonic details. A real performance pedal.
Almost more a piece of studio gear than a guitar pedal. The Headrush has 4 individual Outputs for each tap on it's emulated tape delay. Combined with a looper that gives you huge creative options, take each output to a separate effect (another delay!) and loop up a whole song underneath.

We're pretty sure the 70's reggae masters would have loved one of these to stick on keys, bass, vocals or spoon percussion.

Given how close these pedals get to the studio tape units of old there's no reason to limit them to guitar, if you have a spare send on your mixer or sound card why not get a nice bit of vintage style outboard for under £200. Keys players and beatboxers will doubtless get a kick out of them too.

Getting back to guitar, a big, lush tape delay can help you "be the band" when playing solo. Perhaps the best example is John Martyn and his trusty Echoplex on Small Hours.

Analogue Delay Pedals

Best Analogue Delay Pedal
Electro Harmonix Analogue Delay Pedal
Electro-Harmonix Memory Toy

£65
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Delay Time: 550ms
Modulation: Switchable
Guitar Delay Pedal
Electro-Harmonix Memory Boy

£79
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Delay Time: 550ms
Modulation: Chorus/Vibrato, Depth, LFO Select, Expression Pedal In
Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy Analogue
Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy

£128.90
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Delay Time: 700ms
Modulation: Rate, Depth, LFO Select, Expression Pedal In
Tap Tempo
Multi Tap Settings
FX Loop
Electrox Harmonix Memory Man Deluxe
Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man

£219
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Delay Time: 550ms
Modulation: Depth, Chorus/Vibrato Knob
Direct Sound Out

Electro Harmonix Vintage Analogue Delay Ad

When only true analogue will do Electro Harmonix are the company that many turn to, easy to see why when we've already established they pretty much invented the bucket brigade delay (BBD) pedal. They're far from the only option however with some notable examples coming from MXR with their Carbon Copy delay concentrating on tone and simple control for purists as well as Moog. The MF-104M analogue delay certainly can be used as a simple delay pedal (and my god does it sound lush) but with MIDI/CV control, 6 LFO waveshapes, LFO depth and Line Input it slots pretty neatly into a modular synth or studio setup too.

The Moog, MXR, Memory Man and Way Huge Aqua Puss all feature in this boutique pedal shoot out so you can hear them in action.

Best Digital Delay Pedals

Now back to the modern era with digital delays. One common misconception is that digital is really a byword for sterile or characterless. That's never really been the case with the Boss DD-2, Digitech PDS-1002 and vintage Lexicon delays all being very sought after in the vintage market. Plus a "pristine" delay is going to take on all the mojo of your amp, guitar and fingers, lofi is all well and good sometimes but if you really want to soar like a Joe Bonamassa solo then a clear digital delay might be the best option.

Just in case you need more convincing about digital character, here's ambience master Martin Hannett using them in a production at Strawberry Studios. Check it out from 3m46s onwards...

Best Digital Delay Pedal
Best Boss Digital Delay
Boss DD-3 With Free Patch Cable
£99

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It came along and replaced the DD-2 almost 30 years ago and has graced innumerable stages and studios since then. Along with SM57's, NS10's, Stratocasters, Marshall Stacks this is one of those bits of gear which has shaped the sound of music in the 20th century.
Electro Harmonix Best Digital Delay
Electro Harmonix #1 Echo
£75

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No muss, no fuss just straight up digital delay with three controls. Simple elegant and great sound quality from delay daddies Electro Harmonix.
Boutique Digital Delay
Dr Green 'The Waiting Room '
£149

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British boutiuqe, hand made in the Essex countryside. Designed and tuned for analogue character.
Vox Time Machine Lofi Digital Delay
VOX Time Machine
£116

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Remember what we said about vintage digital delays? Well Joe Satriani agrees and so designed this pedal with a Modern/Vintage switch to choose between pristine digital repeats or more degraded sound with EQ on the delay.
Blackstar Tube Delay Pedal
Blackstar HT Tube Delay Pedal
£199

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How better to add a little grit to your delays than with some valve distortion. We're cheating a little as this pedal has tape and analogue models built in too. It sits along the Dr Green & Vox as a British company adding a little eccentricity and character to their pedals.
Best Digital Delay Analogue Character
T-Rex Replica
£199

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Many of those who've played the Replica don't simply consider it to be the best digital they've used but the best delay, full stop. Carefully engineered to be the best digital delay pedal it can be. Danish boutique T-Rex know a thing or two about analogue character with their huge range of analogue pedals.

Best Digital Modelling Delay Pedal

We're getting to the big boys now and if you need a full range of delay types, plus maybe looper functionality then these are for you. The best tape and analogue emulations combined with a range of other creative delays from compact to larger formats.

The Best Digital Delay
Best Digital Delay Looper
Digitech DL8 Delay/Looper Pedal
£139

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Packs a whole lot of features into a small package. Looping, delay modeling and tap tempo in a compact pedal format. The Hardwire series is Digitech's high end pedal line and has sound quality to match.
TC Electronic Flashback Delay Pedal
TC Electronic TonePrint Flashback Delay Pedal
£132

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Another one that squeezes a heap of delay models, stereo operation and looping into a compact pedal. TC Electronic made their name with delays and reverb and are used in studios and live venues all over the world. Get a pro pedal sound.
Electro Harmonix Memory Man Digital Delay
Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai
£155

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Hazarai stands for "all the good stuff" apparently. You might be able to say all the crazy stuff too. Imaginative modulated, stepped, slurred and reversed delays that can be used in conjunction with the looper, repitched and filtered. A truly creative tool.
Vox DelayLab Digital Analogue Delay Pedal
VOX DelayLab Delay Pedal
£185

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Specialises in recreating classic BBD, tape and modulated delays, plus loads of control at your feet. Perfect for live used and as a one stop looping station, using delays in your loops.
Boss Digital Delay Pedal
Boss DD-20 Giga Delay Pedal
£199

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While the RE-20 is a dedicated digital tape delay from Boss the DD-20 has analogue modeling too. Indeed the DD-20 brings together all their expertise in one amazing twin pedal.
Line 6 DL4 Digital Analogue Tape Delay
Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler
£200

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Another stone cold classic the DL4 has graced hundreds of stages. With preset selection, tap tempo and loop functions at your feet it's easy to see why.

 
 
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