What is a delay plugin?
Delay plugins are audio software-based audio effects used in DAWs that create a copy of the original signal. You can then mix the original audio with the copy to enhance the perception of space, depth, and ambience.
Delay effects fall into three broad categories: tape delay, analog delay, and digital delay. Some plugins incorporate features of each type, while other specialize in just one. You’ve probably heard each type, perhaps without even realizing it. For example, mix engineers often apply slapback delay on vocals and guitars. Dub music uses tape delay effects extensively, partly due to the pioneering work of Lee Scratch Perry and his Echoplex delay box.
A Very Brief History of Audio Delay Effects
Delay has an interesting backstory. In the 1940s, tape-based systems looped recordings to create artificial echo effects. This process remained until the 1960s when analog delay units such as the Echoplex emerged. By the 1980s, analog competed with digital hardware units from Lexicon and Eventide.
With the budding popularity of DAWs in the 1990s, software-based delay effects came to prominence. Products like H-Delay by Waves and Karlette by Steinberg began to shape the market for delay plugins.
Today, the market has so many options that choosing the best delay plugin can challenge even the most seasoned producers. Plugins offer more flexibility when compared to their hardware counterparts, but their different algorithms, modulation capabilities, and vintage emulations make it harder to select the right one.
To help you decide, we’ve listed some of our favorites below, in ascending price order. Read on to get an overview of our picks for the best delay plugins available today.
Replika by Native Instruments
Replika by Native Instruments is a highly regarded delay plugin. It has three distinct algorithms, a user-friendly interface and powerful modulation features. Its versatility gives you everything from futuristic, ethereal sounds to classic slapback. Let’s take a look at the algorithms.
The first is “Modern,” a crystal-clear delay with pristine repeats that emulate modern, high-end physical delay units.
The next algorithm is “Vintage Digital”. This setting emulates the charisma of the 1980s digital delay units.
The “Diffusion” algorithm delivers one of Replika’s standout features by blending elements of delay and reverb. It creates intricate, evolving delay patterns, perfect for adding subtle movement and complexity to sounds.
On the right side of the device, Replika includes a modulation section for adding phaser-style effects and a resonant filter. You can sync the phaser to your track and add everything from subtle to intense motion. You can also adjust your signal’s placement in the mix with normal, wide, and ping pong stereo modes.
Replika offers fewer features than others on our list, and the price reflects that. But it works really well for slapback delay, especially on guitars and synths. After all, Native Instruments is a marquee name in professional audio. You know you’re in safe hands.
Replika’s Price: $99
Relayer by UVI
It feels like Paris-based UVI is not as loved as it should be. Their products constantly live up to expectations–just take a look at their hybrid virtual instrument Falcon. So when they launched their delay plugin in 2015 the market took notice.
Relayer is a cutting-edge delay and multi-effect plugin for producers, sound designers, and musicians, advertised as a ‘Precision Creative Delay’. Like others on our list, Relayer provides plenty of interesting features with precise control over every setting, from timing and feedback to modulation and filtering.
It boasts eight independent delay lines, each fully customizable with various delay types, including stereo, ping-pong, and multitap delays.
Beyond its delay capabilities, Relayer also serves as a versatile multi-effect unit. With an extensive selection of built-in effects like reverb, distortion, phaser, chorus and more, users can make creative textures and dynamics effortlessly.
Relayer’s user interface differs slightly from others on this list. It has a customizable XY control pad that allows for dynamic real-time manipulation of parameters. This unique feature makes Relayer powerful for live performance and studio applications.
Relayer also supports surround sound, making it a favorite with sound designers, live engineers and film composers.
Relayer’s Price: $99
Timeless by FabFilter
Swedish company FabFilter’s Total Bundle effects suite is as close to industry standard as possible. Timeless, their analog tape-style delay plugin, offers full-screen mode, which looks great on large monitors. It might not affect the sound but can definitely streamline production workflows.
There’s an argument that Timeless is the plugin for sound designers due to its modulation features. You can modulate almost any parameter with LFOs, envelope generators and followers, XY controllers, MIDI sources, and more. The modulation drag-and-drop workflow is far easier to use than tedious menu diving.
It’s also a very musical delay. You can create rhythmic patterns of up to 16 delay taps, and best of all, each tap can be modulated individually. This gives you ultimate freedom on every step of your delay to add movement, groove and dynamics across your delay signal. You can also adjust parameters such as Drive, Lo-Fi, Diffuse, Dynamics, and Pitch of your delay tail.
Timeless’s versatility is nearly unmatched in delay plugins, with six analog-sounding filters, with vintage low pass, high pass, and bandpass filters, plus more modern bell, shelf, and notch EQ filters. These filters add a ton of character and shape to your sound.
Timeless’s time stretching algorithm takes it above and beyond mere analog tape-style plugins. You can still choose analog tape delay, but its Stretch mode allows you to change the delay time without changing the pitch. This offers a smoother, more modern sound.
The plugin is feature-heavy, so if you are looking for just an analog tape delay plugin, you might consider something more straightforward. But rest assured, Timeless also has excellent built-in tool tips to guide you at every step.
Timeless’s Price: $129
Satin by U-he
U-he is considered one of the best analog emulation companies in the business. Their synths Diva and Repro are gold standards for analog emulations. Satin, therefore, had high expectations on its release in 2013.
Let’s make it easy: Satin is a highly acclaimed tape emulation plugin, and if you’re looking for rich analog tape sound, it is the best available.
It faithfully replicates the sound of various reel-to-reel tape machines, offering various controls to fine-tune the tape characteristics. Users can choose between several vintage tape machine models, each with a unique sonic signature. Satin even allows users to mix and match characteristics from different models, providing endless possibilities for crafting custom tape sounds.
Satin’s flexibility differentiates it from the competition. The device is designed for tweaking, with EQ curves inspired by classic tape record and playback circuits that give you almost overwhelming control in search of a specific tone. Furthermore, you can tweak the Headroom knob to fine tune circuit distortion, giving you a crunch far removed from regular tape saturation. It’s pure vintage.
If you don’t trust your ears, there’s a very intuitive analyzer which can assist you in totally transforming the default sound. But remember, it’s packed with excellent presets, meaning you don’t have to tweak at all if you don’t want to.
If it’s vintage you’re after, look no further than u-he’s Satin.
Satin’s Price: $129
EchoBoy by Soundtoys
EchoBoy dates from 2006. Soundtoys set a high bar by referencing the classic Space Echo, but the result is a priceless delay unit featured on countless records.
EchoBoy has 31 different delay/chorus styles, including Tape, Space Echo, Memory Man, DM-2, and CE-1. With that many, it’s one of the most versatile on the market, suitable to all genres.
It’s one of the most musical delay plugins available, thanks partly to its Rhythm Echo engine. This enables rhythmic manipulation that breathes life into your music. It’s further enhanced by Groove and Feel settings in the center of the device, adding a whole new ‘swing’ dimension to delay.
Across all the settings, you get up to 15 seconds of delay time, giving you the freedom to design long, lush and intricate soundscapes.
The designers at Soundtoys went above and beyond basic delay features. Echoboy offers a 2-band EQ for fine-tuning, ping-pong mode for spatial exploration, stereo imaging control, and a dash of lo-fi charm with low-fi bit-depth control.
EchoBoy still feels like an advanced piece of technology, even though it has served up excellent delay effects for nearly 2 decades. Its user interface remains easy to use as almost all features are available in one window. And it sounds great, with warmth and soul that will get your vocals sounding great in no time.
Echoboy’s Price: $199
Plus, it depends on how deep you want to go. Some are so feature-heavy that you could spend a lifetime exploring their full capabilities.
The best thing to do is consider the sound you’re after, which will influence which type of delay you should look at. Then consider the features and of course the price. You should comfortably arrive at the one for you, and if you use any on this list, we’re confident you won’t be disappointed.
Have fun in the echo chamber!