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Looking for the best delay plugins around?
Tape, analog, digital delays: Choose your poison
What are our picks for the 7 best delay VST plugins in 2021?
Being an expert procrastinator, I know a thing or two about delays. Of course, two decades of wandering in studios and stages also helps.
If you are still learning the ropes of music production, I recommend you start with our post on the types of delay where we define the delay effect, list the various styles of delay plugins, and teach you how to create them in your DAW.
Delay VSTs: The Quest for the Best
Subtle slapback, massive feedback, in-motion modulation, or the grit of a bucket-brigade chip in action – various delays have their own characteristics that elevate them beyond ‘just an effect’ status.
The ever-growing market of delay plugins represents everything from sordid tapes to space-age echoes, and you can never just have one delay plugin because of this.
In our collective wisdom, we’ve been through a dizzying number of delay VSTs. In this post, we reveal some slick contenders with the potential to become your ‘go-to’ delay VST plugins.
That being said, I love OhmBoyz but Echoboy finds the most use. If I need a delay plugin with a tonne of usable presets that I can just flip through, H-Delay is my go-to.
I have tried to strike a balance between classic gear emulations and modern digital delays. Now it is up to you to pick a favorite and start experimenting with them in your tracks!
1. Waves H-Delay
Touted as a ‘hybrid’ delay by Waves, H-Delay is famed for flexibility, smooth parameter transition, and a straightforward interface. It has an impressive LFO range and a characteristic color inspired by units like the Lexicon PCM42.
From real old school PCM42-style effects like filtering, flanging, and phasing, to slap-back echo, ping-pong delay, and tempo-sync with modulation, H-Delay delivers the goods, controlled by a super intuitive interface that lets you get right down to business.
H-Delay is a simple-to-use delay with modulation capabilities and a lot of analog tape flavor. It can be a useful tool for creating phasing effects or the usual fare of the delay (up to 3500ms).
The preset menu includes commonly used slapback, stereo delays, specialty FX, and stock delays designed in collaboration with eminent audio professionals.
Plus, with the LFO section, modulation, and some enhanced filters, you can create some serious phasing effects and creative sounds. The delay and feedback knobs can be automated in real-time to produce psychedelic pitch sweeps, infinite echoes, swells, and more.
Changing the delay duration causes dramatic warbling pitch shifts as with old tape units. You can crank the feedback knob to create a positive feedback loop with dense swells that can be fully automated. The dry/wet mix knob makes H-Delay an ideal plugin to be used as an insert or as an auxiliary send.
The output knob below can be used to adjust the overall output level of the plugin, helping with gain staging. The ‘analog’ knob can be used to dial in operation noise for added authenticity.
The ‘Lo-fi’ button gives the delayed signal a solid old-fidelity grit. It is similar to the scratchy signals of old-school digital delays. It works brilliantly when you want to smooth out sharp consonants in vocals. Or, make everything sit in the mix with some uniquely colored texture.
The filter section is simple but effective. The low and high pass knobs (20Hz to 20kHz) help the delay to sit in the mix without interfering with any other elements. In combination with the lo-fi setting, the filter section can be easily used to create telephone-style delays.
Overall, H-Delay is a classic cross-platform contender for a ‘bread-and-butter’ delay, especially if you enjoy its intuitive interface. It is dipped in analog flavor and armed with enough tools to be deemed sonically flexible. The cross-application support, light footprint, and extreme LFO range make it a delay VST plugin worthy of your consideration.
2. Soundtoys Echoboy
Echoboy – surprise surprise – is the next on my list of ‘bread and butter’ delays. Of course, I’m just one name in a long list of industry pros who fawn over its tape sounds and painstaking emulations of not just one but dozens of legendary delay units. It is (IMO) the best delay plugin in terms of versatility and accuracy.
Echoboy has single echo, dual-echo, ping pong delay, and ‘rhythm echo’ modes. It hosts a slew of helpful presets (echo styles) that range from emulations of analog delay to tape delay units.
However, the real fun starts with the rhythm echo mode that can venture into some crazy digital delay adventures. It leads to a fully interactive graph that displays each delay repeat (tap), allowing users to manually enter up to 16 independent taps.
Each tap can be placed at the exact time the user desires, with a slider to control the volume. This alone can create complex and unique delay rhythm patterns. Hitting the tweak button reveals further options to define the grid resolution, total length, and more.
The “style section” is my absolute favorite part of the plugin. It leads you to 30 different flavors of digital delays, covering decades of technology. From Memory Man to Binson Echorec, the options grant access to an enormous palette of sonic possibilities.
The ‘Style Edit’ button gives you options to fine-tune the selected delay flavor with a 3-band EQ, a diffusion circuit to smooth out your delays, a wobble control for introducing tape-like flutter, and a saturation circuit for some extra grit.
The ‘groove’ and ‘feel’ controls can make your delay swing or shuffle, rush or drag, adding tension and authenticity to your production.
In a nutshell, Echoboy does everything you expect from a modern delay plugin, plus a whole lot more. The presets will satisfy those looking for a straightforward delay plugin, but users who uncover its full potential will find an echo farm of nonpareil textures and endless fun. Its scope extends far beyond digital delay units, and its endless options are pure tweak heaven.
3. Ohm Force OhmBoyz
Ohmforce OhmBoyz, an advanced stereo multi-tap delay, is the ultimate answer to creating ambient spaces, long-tail echoes, and more.
It looks more like a synth than a typical digital delay plugin. Unsurprisingly, all those delay parameters open doors to staggering customization and limitless sonic possibilities.
When it comes to OhmBoyz, it is not so much about presets as it is about creating a haven for modulation parameters. Of course, presets are available covering the gamut of standard delay types, but they are not the selling point for this VST plugin.
The signal flow of OhmBoyz occurs in two stages: ‘multi-tap pre-delays’ going into two main delay lines, the second of which can be turned off. The pre-delays are 4 one-hit repeats that can be independently configured.
The delay lines then generate decaying echoes of the signal in the pre-delays. The pre-delay section allows users to define 4 independent pre-delay taps with level, duration, and pan controls. Each of these values has modulation controls with individual LFOs.
Everything can be modulated with its internal LFOs. As you can imagine, this opens the door to infinite possibilities for shaping the ambiance of your sound. You can link and tweak parameters on the fly to create highly intuitive and totally new sounds.
The distortion section features two distortion styles, each with its own distinct sound. The gain knob sets the amount of distortion to dial in. A high-shelf option adds another layer of EQ to the delay.
As with the other sections of the plugin, almost all parameters of this section have individual LFOs which can be modulated to create an infinite range of sounds.
The third section features the main display screen which shows the name and current value of the selected parameter. Besides it is the LFO control, whose display shows the values for the individual LFO for the selected parameter. The user can also select between 10 different LFO shapes.
The plugin’s last section is reserved for the optional second delay line. When the second line is off, OhmBoyz displays a schematic diagram showing the signal flow of the plugin. When turned on, this switches to showing controls identical to the ones for the first delay line.
OhmBoyz is not the most intuitive choice for someone looking to slap on some quick tape delay. First-time users might find the UI intimidating because of the unrelenting knobs and a schematic diagram.
Nevertheless, it is wildly different from other delay plugins. Its modulation capabilities are second to none. I’ll sign off on this as a blessing for sound designers looking to experiment and create highly dynamic spaces.
Timeless 3 is an advanced, powerful, modern delay plugin. Timeless 3 has 2 independent, programmable delay lines, together with high-quality effects and filters, and a super-flexible modulation system.
FF’s new interface accommodates everything from simple delays to complex parameters with smartly arranged menus to access advanced features. Delay patterns are now displayed as a series of taps with a ‘tap editor’ to add/subtract taps and adjust pan levels for each repeat.
The frequency spectrum graph provides a 6 band EQ to fine-tune the delayed sound as desired. Any of these bands can use any shape and they all have adjustable bandwidths/slopes.
The central large Delay knob sets the delay duration in terms of musical note divisions or in absolute time (ms). When set to sync to host tempo, a delay offset knob appears to shift the delay time relative to the chosen subdivision.
The interface sports a powerful toolset consisting of a delay pan time, a collection of dials for shaping the tone, drive control, feedback, and the Wet/Dry mix of the plugin.
The plugin’s flexibility comes from its powerful drag-and-drop method for adding modulation. It lets you add a variety of modulation sources like sliders, LFOs, or XY pads. These sources can then be linked to any parameter by dragging their connector to the parameter in question.
Ring lights and color-coded indicators everywhere provide an organized view of everything. The activity of modulators is further visualized by glowing lights above the modulators.
Parameters can have multiple modulators controlling them. This means you can quickly set up complex chains for utility as well as for creative effect. The Diffuse control blurs and smooths out the delay taps, resulting in a reverb-like quality.
The lo-fi control uses a combination of sample rate reduction and bit-depth reduction to impart ‘vintage’ tones or destructive degradation. The “Pitch control” can pitch shift the entire delay signal up or down by an octave, to create slight chorusing or more obvious pitch shift effects.
Interestingly, Timeless 3 provides an inbuilt intelligent compressor by way of its Dynamics control, which can easily provide pumping compression or expansion to the input signal.
Unlike other delay plugins, FabFilter Timeless 3 isn’t out to emulate any tape models or analog delay. It is a tour de force in flexibility, form, and function – and an absolute delight to use.
Much of this is due to its fantastic UI and modular approach to building delays. It is as simple or complex as you want it to be, and either way, it sounds marvelous. It is a top contender – if not the reigning champion – for the title of best delay plugin.
5. UAD Cooper Time Cube Mk II
The CTC hardware unit commands its own page in the audio history books. The UAD plugin is a modern reincarnation of the bizarre classic that replicates its smooth frequency response and ability to blend in a mix.
Of course, unlike the hardware, the plugin includes all the additional parameters to make it relevant and future-proof.
First released in 1971, the Time Cube is one of those analog delays that achieved the effect with a surprisingly basic mechanism: passing the sound through a long garden-hose-like tube. It had two such delay lines, providing a delay of 14ms and 16ms respectively, or a combined 30ms if used in series.
The original hardware wasn’t as flexible as its tape-based contemporaries. But it was treasured for its seductive short delay and doubling effects. Effects with an uncanny ability to sit perfectly within a mix.
Universal Audio has translated the unique sound of this analog delay into a (UAD-2) plugin with the additional ability to set custom duration for each delay line instead of the fixed 14ms and 16ms of the hardware. The delay times can tempo sync to the DAW host.
The user can select between single coil and dual coil modes similar to the hardware. Also included are a simple 2 band EQ, a high pass filter, and decay controls for each line. As far as software plugins go, the sound quality is amazing.
Understandably (although somewhat unfortunate), the plugin’s interface omits the garden hose.
The plugin provides two ‘color’ options, each with slightly different frequency responses for a varied tone. True to its origins, it sounds amazing on vocals, electric guitar, and solo instruments as a doubler or short delay.
If you are a fan of bucket brigade delays, I would like to give a shout-out to other plugins such as Colour Copy by U-He and the dub-friendly UAD Galaxy Tape Echo, which are flexible, affordable, and well-suited for guitars and vocals.
It salvages a distinct color from audio history and plants it in a new digital realm. It is more of a ‘specialty unit’ with a sound that you will not bump into elsewhere. I recommend having a crack at it if you love classic delay units or want a ‘go-to’ doubling effect bar none.
6. Arturia Delay Tape-201
Arturia’s Delay Tape-201 is a multi-tap tape unit and spring reverb in a single package. It attempts to bring the sound of the Roland RE-201 to the plugin realm. It pays (authentic) homage to the vintage hardware tape delay and sports some much-appreciated additional features for modern-day use.
The Roland RE-201 delay unit is a bona fide celebrity of the audio industry. It is not hyperbolic to say that the ‘Space Echo’ revolutionized the music industry with its 12 modes of operation, rhythm patterns, adjustable tape speed, and more.
This delay plugin’s interface does a stellar job of bringing you those vintage-style tape delays with an interface that is identical to its muse. It also features a ‘Mode Selector’ to access the 12 different patterns with combinations of the 3 tape heads as in the original.
The plugin version, thankfully, adds a control to select the type of delay: L/R, ping pong, or mid/side.
You have controls for repeat rate (delay duration), intensity (feedback), echo and reverb amount (volume), and bass & treble. Enhanced functionality is added by the plugin in the form of stereo width and offset control, along with a dry/wet mix knob.
Like with the hardware, the tape speed can be varied in real-time, producing smooth pitch-shifting effects. You can get some remarkably psychedelic and ambient sounds when you combine the delay effects with reverb.
Instead of stopping at replicating the Roland Space Echo, Arturia has made some modernized “additions”. The two important ones are the sidechain filter section and the LFO section. The LFO can be mapped to any parameter to achieve continuously variable delay effects.
In an attempt to add more authenticity and the non-linearity found in tape delay, the plugin also features controls for flutter, motor inertia, and unit noise.
Arturia Delay Tape-201 does a gratifying job of capturing the fat, saturated delay sounds of the original unit. It takes you from the decaying dub-tones of reggae legends to the pitch-warp of Indie icons. It is a fantastic delay VST plugin for vintage tape-style delays, especially if you enjoy spatial width and smooth saturation.
7. Pulsar Audio Echorec
Pulsar Audio has painstakingly recreated the Binson Echorec – a rare classic – modeling all the subtleties and nuances of a magnetic recorder.
The Echorec owes much of its popularity to Pink Floyd. Unlike its tape loop contemporaries in the late 60s, the Echorec derived its distinct sound by using a magnetic drum recorder.
Just like the hardware, the plugin features a ‘Delays’ knob to select from 12 combinations of the playback heads for different rhythms. Also modeled is an ‘off’ mode, which doesn’t produce any delay but colors the signal with the tube warmth of the circuitry.
A drive control decides the amount of saturation for this coloring. I have had great success using it to add dimension to clean guitars and acoustic instruments. Faithful to the original Echorec, the plugin provides 3 main delay modes:
Echo: Single repetition for a classic slapback effect.
Rip: The selected playback heads feed their output back into the input, resulting in multiple repetitions.
Swell: The output contains all the heads, causing even more repetitions with overlap and a reverb-like delay sound.
The disk speed (and hence delay rate) can be controlled freely or synced to the host DAW’s tempo. A nifty Easter egg of sorts is the ability to drag the magnetic disk in the GUI to simulate putting your finger on and slowing down a physical disk to produce pitch shifting.
Pulsar Audio recreated three different Echorec units, each in a different state of wear. These three models each have subtly different sounds, from the clean sound of a mint condition unit to the dirty grit of a used one. These models can be selected via a ‘Condition’ control in the plugin.
Apart from recreating the tone control (bass/treble) of the original, the plugin adds a stereo drift option to enhance the width of the delay sounds.
When it comes to emulating the classic, the Pulsar Echorec is the best delay plugin for the job. It has warm, saturated tube delay sounds that can thicken up instruments wistfully and organically. Original Echorecs were notoriously delicate and cumbersome to maintain. At the same time, a classic delay unit is more than what most of us can afford. Having that sound quality and character in a digital format is worthy of a chef’s kiss, especially for Us Crazy Diamonds.