What to look for in a delay pedal
Delay pedals, like overdrive pedals and fuzz pedals, come in a variety of flavours. Most can be categorised as either analogue or digital, with some exceptions coming in the form of pedals that use digital circuits to control analogue delay circuitry.
Generally speaking, analogue delays have shorter delay times and offer a more “characterful” tone to their repeats, while digital delays offer longer delay times and a more accurate reproduction of your sound.
A phrase you’ll see often in the world of delay pedals is tap tempo, which essentially lets you sync the repeats to a particular tempo. Certain delay sounds can be achieved much easier with a tap tempo footswitch, while other sounds – such as ambient washes – don’t really need one. With that in mind, it’s crucial to know the kind of effect you want to achieve before dismissing a delay pedal because it lacks a tap tempo footswitch.
Some pedals will also offer the modulation on repeats. In the heyday of tape recording, this effect was achieved by varying the speed of the tape being used to play the signal back, and some delays emulate this subtle pitch wobble. Others allow for much more extreme affectations of your sound. These can be anything from adding reverb to the delay trails, reversing them entirely or ping-ponging them across stereo channels.
Another feature to look out for is trails, which refer to the final repeats of a delay after the effect has been disengaged. With trails turned on, repeats will be mixed on top of your dry signal. This is great for smooth transitions in your set, but often comes at the expense of true-bypass operation.
Keep in mind that none of the above features make a pedal better or worse than its contemporaries overall – but they do affect the kinds of sound it is suited for. Like tap tempo, not every pedal and not every player is going to benefit from MIDI connections or presets. Equally, you may swear by them, especially if you have a different delay sound for each song in a set, and know your audience won’t be too thrilled by watching you adjust pedal knobs.
The best delay pedals to buy in 2021 at a glance:
- Line 6 DL4
- MXR Carbon Copy
- Boss DM-2W
- Universal Audio Starlight Echo Station
- Danelectro Back Talk
- Earthquaker Disaster Transport Sr
- Walrus Mako D1
- EHX Grand Canyon
- Strymon Volante
- Fender Reflecting Pool
- Eventide TimeFactor
- TC Electronic Flashback 2
- Old Blood Noise Endeavours Dweller
- Teisco Delay
- Chase Bliss Tonal Recall
Line 6 DL4
+ Tried-and-tested sounds
+ Onboard looper is a plus, as is the number of delay sounds
– Modern ears might be used to higher-fidelity digital delay
While it may be celebrating turning 22 this year, the Line 6 DL4 remains a staple of pro and amateur pedalboards the world over. It’s not the most compact pedal on the market, and it’s certainly not the best looking (it very much earns its nickname the Big Green Monster), but there’s a reason it’s stuck around since 1999.
For the price, it’s packed with more delay sounds than you could ever hope for, and the cherry on top is the remarkably creative onboard looper. On paper, it should have gone obsolete a while ago, but the DL4 continues to capture guitarists’ imaginations long after its introduction.
Price: £195 / $299.99 Description: Modulated delay/looper combo pedal with characterful digital sounds Controls: Knobs for mode select, delta time, repeats, tweak, tweez, mix Bypass: Either true bypass or buffered. Mono or stereo: Stereo Tap tempo: Yes Trails: Switchable
MXR Carbon Copy
+ Straightforward operation
+ True analogue sounds
– Might be limiting
If you feel abject terror when you look upon a behemothic multi-footswitch delay pedal with a thousand onboard presets, full MIDI connectivity and knobs for wash, spin, rinse and dry, the simple-to-use MXR Carbon Copy could be for you.
There’s almost nothing to get between you and all the warm, lush analogue-delay sounds you want – just three knobs and a button to engage modulation. Despite the limited number of things to turn and press, the pedal is less limited in terms of sounds, with up to 600ms delay time allowing for psychedelic swirls or funky slapback.
Price: $149.99 / £149 Description: Simple analogue delay pedal with optional modulation Controls: Knobs for regen (feedback), mix, and delay time and a push-button to engage modulation Bypass: True bypass Mono or stereo: Mono Tap tempo: No Trails: No
+ A revived classic
+ Custom mode gives more modern voicing in the same enclosure
– Like the MXR, could be limiting to modern palates
This compact red pedal was first introduced in 1981 – but was only around for three years. A fully analogue ‘bucket brigade’ delay, it was superseded by the digital DD-2 in 1984. In those three years, however, it built up enough of a cult following to warrant a Wazacraft reissue in 2015. Still fully analogue, this reissue adds a ‘custom mode’ switch to engage a brighter voicing and longer delay time.
But aside from that, the operation and sound are largely the same – three knobs allow for control over delay time, feedback and overall mix, with 300ms of delay time in standard mode and 800ms in the custom mode. Thanks to the analogue BBD chip the pedal is based around, the repeats retain that saturated, old-school sound that won’t clutter up your signal.
Price: £149 / $153.99 Description: Reissue of a legendary Boss analogue delay with added custom mode Controls: Toggle switch for mode select and knobs for mix, feedback and delay time, Bypass: Buffered bypass Mono or stereo: Mono Tap tempo: No Trails: No
Universal Audio Starlight Echo Station
+ UA knows its analogue modelling
+ Hi-fi digital sounds make full use of the powerful DSP
– No midi support
You might have noticed a theme among the digital pedals on this list: analogue modelling. So it’s perhaps no surprise that, when it jumped into the stompbox world, Universal Audio applied its extensive experience in that regard to some much-revered delay units.
The Starlight Echo Station has three modes: Tape EP-III, Analog DMM and Precision, all highly tweakable with three discrete variations and a colour knob that changes operation depending on the delay mode. The first two are based on the sounds of the Echoplex and Deluxe Memory-Man respectively, while the last is clean digital delay that offers some spacey texture options, including infinite repeats.
Universal Audio’s wealth of experience may come at a premium price, but the proof is in the pudding when it comes to their well-beloved audio interfaces and other hardware.
Price: £355 / $399 Description: Digital delay with analogue modelling, as well as various modulation options Controls: Mode select switch, three-way variant switch, and knobs for tap tempo division, delay time, feedback, mix, colour, and modulation. Bypass: True or buffered bypass Mono or stereo: Stereo Tap Tempo: Yes Trails: Switchable
Danelectro Back Talk
+ Another revived classic
+ Sturdier construction
– Only reverse delay
You might remember the original Danelectro Backtalk, however, yours mightn’t have survived the 20 odd years the pedal’s been around. The original was beloved for its sound – but somewhat bemoaned for its plastic enclosure and fragile audio jacks. Luckily, this reissue fixes that by offering the same swirling, psychedelic reverse delay of the original in a sturdy metal enclosure that’s far more pedalboard-friendly.
Controls are kept simple, with knobs for delay time, feedback and mix. The latter allows your reversed signal to sit subtly under your playing, or dominate it for a shoegazey wall of sound. Place before fuzz for maximum effect.
Price: £189 / $199 Description: Reissue of Danelectro’s highly-praised reverse delay in a more pedalboard-friendly metal enclosure Controls: Delay time, feedback and mix Bypass: True Bypass Mono or stereo: Mono Tap Tempo: No Trails: No
Earthquaker Disaster Transport Sr
+ Two delays for the price of one
+ Gets as weird as you want, or not at all
– Idiosyncratic signal path
Not many delay pedals have to come with a flow chart to explain their internal signal routing, but the Earthquaker Disaster Transport Sr is not your average delay pedal. It houses two delay engines, which can be run in parallel, series or a blend of the two, thanks to the bleed knob. Both can also be engaged separately, or engaged at the same time with the central bypass switch.
Delay A features a delay time of 600ms and pitch modulation, of which you can vary the speed and depth independently. Delay B features a reverb knob and a max delay time of 300ms. This idiosyncratic combo is a great blend of limitations and excess, and can be tweaked to achieve everything from the most bog-standard analogue delay tones to completely wild, pitch-bent, reverb-soaked shoegaze bliss.
Price: £329 / $299 Description: Dual analogue delay with modulation and reverb Controls: Rate, Repeats, Tone, Depth, Time, Mix Bypass: True bypass Mono or stereo: Mono Tap tempo: No Trails: Yes, by leaving bypass on and disengaging each delay with its respective footswitch
Walrus Mako D1
+ Incredibly high-fidelity delay sounds and powerful DSP
+ Presets save you time on stage
Walrus’ first foray into its new Mako pedal format, the D1 quickly became one of our favourites. The central program selector knob chooses between five different sounds, and the tweak selector switch multiplies the options by giving three different parameters to, well, tweak for each sound. There’s a discrete tap-tempo footswitch, too, as well as a selector switch to divide the delay time into quarter, eighth and dotted eighth notes.
One of the more unique controls on the unit is the attack knob. A problem with crystal-clear digital repeats is their tendency to overcrowd the signal, especially in the high-end – and so the attack knob essentially acts as pre-delay would on a reverb, meaning your echos bloom into their final form. Of course, this is just one example of how to use one control on a very in-depth pedal.
To make things less intimidating on stage, you can access up to 128 user presets with MIDI, or nine without, meaning you won’t have to spend half an hour dialling in a new delay sound between songs.
Price: £279 / $299 Description: Multi-function delay pedal with midi support Controls: Time, repeats, mix, tweak (plus mini toggle for modulation, tone and age), program, attack, A/B/C memory bank selector switch, quarter, eighth and dotted eighth division switch. Bypass: True or buffered bypass Mono or stereo: Stereo Tap tempo: Yes Trails: Switchable
EHX Grand Canyon
+ Packed with features and sounds
+ Fully-featured looper as a bonus
– Mono input but stereo output
The EHX Grand Canyon is the bigger sibling of Electro-Harmonix’s Canyon. It’s an incredibly advanced delay, packed with different sounds and an entire onboard looper.
The core of the pedal is its 12 different delay sounds, which range from clean analogue delay to modulated tape-simulation and even an onboard recreation of the EHX Memory Man. Each mode has two parameters specific to it controlled by two dedicated knobs. Each of these is written out on the Grand Canyon’s ample enclosure, so no need to consult the manual here.
The pedal also converts a mono signal to stereo, with optional ping-ponging between the channels.
The variety of different sounds, and the depth to which you can customise them, mean this could be the only delay you need – and that’s before considering the editable presets, programmable expression-pedal settings, multi-function buttons and footswitches and a ‘hidden’ secondary mode that only applies to the pitch and drum delays.
Price: £212 / $271 Description: Multi-function digital delay and looper pedal with in-depth controls Controls: Delay type selector switch, knobs for two parameters per type, push-buttons for expression pedal operating mode, trails, tap division and stereo ping pong. Knobs for delay level, feedback and delay time. Bypass: True or Buffered Bypass Mono or stereo: Stereo Tap tempo: Yes Trails: Switchable
+ Extremely customisable approach to tape delay emulation
+ Retains signature Strymon connectivity
If you’ve fallen in love with the sound of any kind of tape delay, the Volante offers the best way to achieve and control that sound beyond dragging an actual studio reel-to-reel unit with you on tour. There’s also a drum-style echo, and four virtual-playback heads that can be activated/deactivated individually and set to full or half volume. Each can also be panned when using the unit in stereo.
Non-tape-simulating features include tap tempo, spring reverb and extensive MIDI support (as is custom when it comes to large Strymon delays and reverbs).
It’s impossible to sum up the features of the Volante in anything less than the full review, but given its price and complexity, you’re likely willing to do some research before you drop nearly half a grand on a delay pedal.
Price: £399 / $399 Description: Workstation unit that simulates various tape delays Controls: Tape speed selection and delay type selector switches, knobs for tape record level, wear and mechanical noise as well as knobs for low cut, repeats, mix, reverb and tale head spacing. Push-buttons to engage different tape heads and select their volume level. Bypass: True bypass Mono or stereo: Stereo Tap tempo: Yes Trails: Switchable
Fender Reflecting Pool
+ Multitudes of variations on its sounds
+ Onboard reverb is fully-featured, rather than a single knob
– No ping-pong delays despite stereo operation
This dual-pedal has a lot to offer. Firstly, there’s a whole other reverb side of things with three modes and three variations each, so if you’re looking to kill two effects birds with one pedal-shaped stone, this could be the pick for you. The reverb is separately switchable to the delay, too.
The delay side also has three modes, with digital, analogue or tape delay, all of which can be tweaked with the quality selector switch, and modulated with the rate and depth controls. A central footswitch offers tap-tempo, divided according to the ‘time’ selector knob.
While each side of the Reflecting Pool is fairly self-explanatory, the multiple toggle switches mean more sounds can be conjured out of it than you might initially expect.
Price: £269.99 / $349.99 Description: Stereo digital delay/reverb combo pedal Controls: Reverb decay, dampen, level knobs, as well as type and variation toggle switches.Delay time, feedback, mix, level and modulation rate and depth knobs. Toggle switches for delay type, subdivision, and ‘quality’ level. Bypass: True or buffered bypass Mono or stereo: Stereo Tap tempo: Yes Trails: Switchable
+ Highly-tweakable dual delay
+ Lots of onboard presets
Another entry into the “massive delay pedal with lots of controls and connections” genre, the TimeFactor sports nine dual delay sounds as well as a dedicated looper.
The sounds themselves range from clean digital delays all the way to wilder sounds like reverse, multi-tap and ‘FilterPong’ sounds, the latter making use of the fact all the TimeFactor’s delays contain an LFO, Filter and a unique Xnob control. This Xnob varies its operation depending on the preset.
The large enclosure means there’s room for dedicated bypass and tap tempo footswitches, as well as an infinite repeats footswitch in between. In looper mode, these take the roles of record, stop and play respectively.
If all the control is a little intimidating and you’re not sure where you’d start, Eventide provides 100 presets to get you going. If you’re more confident, you can make use of the on-board MIDI connections to control anything you need. In the pedal, that is.
Price: £359 / $399 Description: Digital delay workstation with Controls: Knobs for delay A + B mix, time and feedback, as well as modulation depth, speed and filter, and proprietary Xnob control. Bypass: True or Buffered bypass Mono or stereo: Stereo Tap tempo: Yes Trails: Switchable
TC Electronic Flashback 2 Mini
– No way to access new sounds without TonePrint
Leaping gracefully to the other end of the price spectrum finds us at TC Electronic’s Flashback. Small in size, the Flashback offers some smart upgrades to its deceptively simple predecessor.
Firstly, there’s the ‘Mash’ footswitch, which can have different controls assigned to it – such as for adding bursts of intensity to your feedback or level. The pedal’s TonePrint capability allows you to switch out the kind of delay sounds you need, from dark tape delays to more avant-garde modulated sounds.
Price: £95 / $99 Description: Mini delay pedal Controls: Delay time, feedback and mix, assignable ‘mash’ expression footswitch Bypass: True or buffered bypass Mono or stereo: Mono Tap tempo: Yes, after a firmware update Trails: Switchable
Old Blood Noise Endeavours Dweller
+ Completely unique
+ Phaser effect thrown in
– Not much capability for ‘regular’ delay sounds
Old Blood Noise Endeavours dubs the Dweller not a delay but a ‘phase repeater.’ In practice, that means that the sounds that come out of this unit are as unique as that moniker, as it toes the line between delay and reverb. Reverbs, when you get right down to it, are made out of lots of delays mashed together, and it’s on the line where one turns into the other that the Dweller, well, dwells.
The phase part of the pedal’s description does indeed mean that there’s a phase effect going on here, but there’s also a warp-able delay effect (even more warp-able with an expression pedal, which controls the stretch knob) and a dripping-wet reverb.
It might not be the go-to if you want to perfectly recreate a clean tape delay, but it takes you to some interesting places regardless.
Price: £189 / $199 Description: ‘Phase repeater’ with unique approach to delay Controls: Stretch, rate, mix, regeneration and depth knobs, phaser voice and shape toggle. Bypass: Relay bypass Mono or stereo: Mono Tap tempo: No Trails: No
+ Warm analogue repeats
+ Chaotic self-oscillation and modulation is an option
– Subtler sounds are harder to muster
Teisco returned in 2019 with a line of pedals that aimed to capture the quirky character of the brand’s guitars – and quirky is definitely a word for the delay entry into the line.
The modulation applied to the repeats comes in the form of pitch bends, and the controls for depth and rate have a lot of scope, thanks in part to the fast/slow toggle switch.
While this kind of ultra-modulated sound won’t be for everyone, the option to have seasick pitch dives mixed with the warmth and self-oscillating possibilities of an analogue delay will appeal to the noisier end of the guitar spectrum. However, with both modulation controls at zero, the pedal is a straightforward analogue delay with the added bonus of a secondary output jack for just your dry signal.
Price: $149 Description: Analogue delay with modulation Controls: Delay time, feedback and mix, modulation depth and speed Bypass: True Bypass Mono or stereo: Mono with dry out Tap tempo: No Trails: No
Chase Bliss Tonal Recall
+ Analogue signal path, digital control
+ Chase Bliss’ signature pedal format offers huge amounts of customisation
The core of the Tonal Recall is built around a pair of reissued MN3005 bucket-brigade delay chips, resulting in an unmistakable analogue character and velvety tape-like modulation. But it’s the pedal’s digital functionality that really sets it apart. While the guitar signal remains 100 percent analogue, the digital side means you get modern amenities such as tap tempo, optional bypass, expression control over any parameter and the ability to save presets, all while retaining the fidelity of the pedal’s classic analogue delay tones. Simply put, it offers everything you could ever dream of from an analogue delay pedal, with the modern conveniences of digital.
Price: £349 / $399 Description: Digitally-controlled analogue delay pedal Controls: Delay time, feedback, tone, regeneration, modulation depth and rate, dip switch array for expression/ramp operation Bypass: True or Buffered bypass Mono or stereo: Mono Tap tempo: Yes Trails: Switchable