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5 Great Delay Plugins (+ Mix Tips)

Delay is one of the most common special effects. Traditionally we use it to create a sense of depth, enhance groove, and provide energy to a performance. It’s also a staple effect in genres such as Psychedelic Rock, Reggae, Dub, Hip Hop, EDM and Pop.

Delay is one of my favorite effects. It’s one of those places where I can put my own signature into the song by customizing things to my liking. Clients tend to be particular about how much delay is on a record, but not very particular about what that delay sounds like.

The following is a list of my five go-to delay plugins as well as some tips on how I use them.

1. Waves H-Delay

H-Delay is the quintessential all-purpose delay.

It’s very simple in functionality, has zero latency and with just enough character to create a vibe. My tracking template contains a quarter note H-Delay send with the hi-pass at 400 Hz, the low-pass at 2.5 kHz and feedback set to 25%.

For anything in the realm of R&B, Hip Hop, or Urban Pop, having this on the vocal channel during the tracking phase can add a bit of vibe that encourages better performance. I find that even at -20dB on the send, it adds just a hint of groove and ambience that can help a performance feel glued and engaged.

For bonus points, I like to set up additional sends at quarter note and sixteenth note and feedback 33% at -8dB. During tracking, I’ll touch automate these sends to come unmuted and act as “response” lines. This is great for creating a more comprehensive studio rough mix as well as giving the artist some extra energy to catch a vibe. Sometimes I’ll swap these delays for another plugin later, but sometimes it just feels right with H-Delay.

2. Slate Digital Repeater

While H-Delay is my go-to for tracking, Slate Digital’s Repeater is my go-to in the mix.

Repeater is the perfect delay if you want something customizable but requires very little effort to sound like sexy Christmas. The different emulations capture a lot of the great nuances of classic units, from subtle degrees of time and pitch modulation to color and saturation, which makes it quick to dial in something that both sounds great and captures the vibe I’m going for.

My approach to Repeater is just knowing what the emulations sound like and where I like to use them. For example, there’s a Cooper Time Cube emulation, which is kind of like if a delay and a spring reverb had a baby, and it just sits perfectly on electric piano (Rhodes, Wurlitzer, etc.). There’s a number of bucket brigade styles and pedal emulations that marry great to guitars. And a PCM42 emulation that feels like the classic vocal effect. If I pick the right vibe, it’s just a matter of turning the color knob to my liking and I’m good to go.

3. SoundToys Echoboy

While Repeater is great for general mixing purposes,  if I want something super specific and nuanced, nothing gives me the flexibility like Soundtoys Echoboy.

Echoboy has a bit of a learning curve — there’s a lot going on under the hood. The double-edged sword is that it can be a bit daunting if you are new to typical delay features, but there’s an entire universe of possibilities to explore if you are comfortable with the concepts.

For my use, I really like Echoboy for dedicated one-time-events, like a “feedbacker” or “evolving” delay. These are delays that don’t simply support an instrument but actually become a feature within the record.

Another really cool trick I like to do with Echoboy is creating my own signature ad-lib effects. If you are involved with Hip Hop or any sort of Urban crossover genre then you are familiar with the “telephone effect” trend with ad-lib vocals. I happen to like this effect a lot but the stylistic clock is ticking and it’s going to be out of fashion pretty soon. However, I’ve always liked this approach to ad-libs so I’ve sought to find a new way of doing it.

What I came up with is using the saturation curves of Echoboy to produce the desired effect. This gives it that distinctly effected sound, but with a fresh sounding texture and character. So while this is not necessarily using Echoboy for its primary feature — delay — it’s still a great use of the tool. This can be accomplished by simply setting the feedback to 0, and the delay time to 0 milliseconds, and then choosing the delay emulation that has the best flavor (or go under the hood and get tweaky). You can also use the widening effect to give the sound some spread.

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4. FabFilter Timeless

While it’s fair to say Echoboy is versatile, FabFilter Timeless is the absolute pinnacle of “can do anything you want.” Of course, that also comes with the trade-off … the learning curve is steep.

Timeless takes delay into the world of complete sound design, making every parameter assignable to an LFO of a customizable shape, or to a MIDI X-Y controller. This means you can change literally anything to any degree in real-time playback.

This idea is extremely daunting. However, if you want to do some impressive mixing, you can get down into the nitty-gritty and actually play out the effects by changing feedback, time, filters, levels, pan, and tone as if it were an instrument itself. This is perfect for genres like Dub, Trip Hop, Progressive EDM or anything that involves the evolution of loops to form the story of the song.

A great and simple X-Y configuration is to become more or less distorted along the X-axis and less or more low passed along the Y-axis. This can be done by assigning positive value to the input and negative value to the output as you move left to right while having the input set to “Tape”.

In other words, as you move your controller to the right, the input of Timeless goes up, but the output comes down, keeping the overall volume the same but allowing you to clip the input as if you were hitting tape harder. Meanwhile, along the Y-axis, all you have to do is assign the filter frequency of a low-pass from your choice of high frequency at the top (I like 10 kHz) to a low frequency at the bottom (I like 100 Hz). This combination is great because it effectively allows you to change the harmonic tone of the delay while controlling how much of that distortion really pops through all in one motion.

5. Kilohertz Multipass

In a similar vein to Echoboy and Timeless, Kilohertz Multipass carries a great deal of versatility.

Multipass is not inherently a delay plugin, it can be used in all sorts of great ways. The concept is that any number of effects can be loaded into the input stage, output stage, or over specific frequency bands divided by a crossover. However, it also can be thought of as a modular delay plugin.

The flexibility of Multipass lies in being able to customize the exact nature of the delay. While all the other delays on this list rely on conventions, Multipass does not. I can bit-crush just the low end, clip the midrange, and compress the top-end. Basically, I play the role of the plugin designer by creating the mechanics of the delay, in addition to being the mix engineer using it.

I don’t have a specific technique for using Multipass. It’s a virtually limitless plug-in that just requires experimentation. And while that makes it conceivably the most complex of the plugins listed, it also makes it the most personal and unique.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com

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