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Certainly, there are some great hardware delays available to get the job done. Among them, the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, TC Electronic TC 2290, Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler and MXR M169 Carbon Copy delay have all graced my effects rack. However, in the studio and cutting tracks it’s sometimes better to use a delay plug-in. This provides more flexibility in the sound at the mix stage and doesn’t lock you into the settings you used when recording with a hardware delay. Of course, there are times where that hardware delay is simply part of the sound and has to be recorded as is, but if you don’t have to use one, try not to. You may find yourself re-recording that guitar part if the fixed delay sound doesn’t work for you in the final mix stage.
Like their hardware cousins, delay plug-ins come in many different types. Generally, though, they can be automated so the settings change in real-time, and they’re often more flexible control-wise than guitar pedals or rack units. Many plug-ins can be quickly and easily tempo-mapped to your software, so you don’t have to sit there and figure out the bpm calculations— it’s just a few mouse clicks away. Also, if you absolutely must track with the delay, you can set the plug-in and monitor it with headphones while recording. Almost every current DAW, such as MOTU Digital Performer, Apple Logic, Digidesign Pro Tools and Cakewalk SONAR, include delays that are of excellent quality.
However, there are a few choice plug-ins that take delay sounds to the next level. Used daily in my studio, the Lexicon PSP 42 stereo digital delay by PSPaudioware is based on the classic Lexicon PCM 42 hardware unit. It will run VST, RTAS and AU on most every system, and has some great tape saturation and flanging delay sounds in it. Its capabilities are a bit more extensive than your standard delay offering, and can certainly help you shape a tone.
Another great tone shaping delay for RTAS, VST, AU and TDM users is the Soundtoys EchoBoy. It’s got 30 echo styles, including “Studio Tape” from an Ampex ATR-102 half-inch two-track, as well as an assortment of such goodies as Space Echo, Memory Man, Tel-Ray oilcan delays and more. You can go deep with this bad boy, and by hitting the Tweak button you’ve got access to a 3-band parametric EQ with separate control for tone and echo decay. For further tweaking, there’s the High Cut filter and Saturation control. But playing with the Groove and Feel control can have some cool timings, which respectively feature a knob to shift between Shuffle and Swing, and Rushin and Dragon.
For those that can run TDM plug-in within Pro Tools, the Line 6 Echo Farm provides a whole collection of vintage echo effects. You can easily flip between such goodies as Maestro EP-1 Tube Echoplex, TC 2290, Auto-Volume Echo, Roland RE-101 Space Echo, Boss DM-2 Analog Delay and more. Most often, I will simply dial in a basic delay time and lock it to the session tempo. From there, it’s easy to flip through the various models to see what sounds best. While the time and tempo remain the same, the quirks of each individual selection, such as Drive, Wow & Flutter and Filtering, change with each model. Sometimes I’ll even automate the delay times to change with the various sections of the tune, which helps to truly tailor the delay to fit the song.
Another useful thing about owning a high quality delay plug-in or two is their flexibility. You can call up several of them on separate tracks, or use one in a bus situation and send other instruments or vocals to the “master delay.” The next time you’re about to cut some tracks with a delay pedal, think twice about “printing” that effect. You may want to check out a plug-in instead, leaving yourself a few more options down the line.
Rich is a producer, engineer and mixer who has worked with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David Bowie . A life-long guitarist, he’s also the auther of Pro Tools Surround Sound Mixing and composes for such networks as Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon and National Geographic.