Compared to digital, analog delays cost more and do less, so why bother? “Because,” the inevitable answer goes, “they sound warmer.” Old-school analog bucket-brigade delay (BBD) chips create that warmth in two ways: high-end loss (the delays get darker as they repeat) and a unique type of distortion that makes fading echoes seem to dissolve into the ether. The first quality is easy to mimic in digital—just add a low-pass filter to the delay loop, which is how most faux-analog delays work. But I’ve never heard a digital delay faithfully reproduce that “crumbly” BBD distortion.
Thanks to clever programing (and a ready supply of new-production BBD chips), some nouveau-analog delays are closing in on the power of digital units while providing true BBD tone. And Walrus Audio’s Bellwether delay is a stellar example.
You Can Do That in Analog?
Bellwether comes in a standard BB-sized box. A peek inside reveals … holy crap! Look at all those parts! Twelve modern CoolAudio chips (eight dedicated to delay) and 27 trim pots! (They’re not for users to mess with, but necessary during laborious factory setup—and one reason Bellwether’s $349 price tag isn’t surprising.)
All those chips provide uncommonly long delay times. Classic analog units usually max out around 300 ms., but Bellwether offers a full second of delay time—extraordinary for a BBD device. And that’s not the only advance over vintage BBD delays. There’s a dedicated tap-tempo switch, a feature unknown in the late ’70s/early ’80s, the golden age of analog delay. You can also connect a TRS expression pedal to control either the delay time or feedback amount. (A front-panel toggle selects the function.) That means you can generate the two classic noise-bomb tricks (runaway oscillation and the cataclysmic swoop of altering the delay time while you play) without having to stoop.
You can also modulate the delay signal via dedicated depth and rate knobs, mimicking tape-machine wow or adding a touch of chorus. Analog LFO delay modulation isn’t a new idea—the old EXH Memory Man Deluxe had this feature. But here, it’s more musical, with a focus on subtle settings rather than seasick wobbles. It’s great for animating delays without drawing too much attention to the process. The tone knob (a simple treble-cut filter) also boasts a suavely musical range.
And there’s more: An effect loop jack lets you insert other pedals in the delay path via TRS plug. (Mmm—so many options!) There’s also a tap-division knob that lets Bellwether interpret taps as quarter notes, eighths, dotted eighths, or triplets. (A common digital delay feature, but rare in analog.) Bellwether runs on a standard 9V power supply (not included). There’s no battery option.
Bellwether’s core tone delivers everything players love about analog delay. It’s warm and immersive, with analog’s signature darkness and distortion. Just for fun, I listened to Bellwether alongside two classic vintage delays: the aforementioned Memory Man Deluxe and a first-generation Way Huge Aqua-Puss from the mid-’90s. (It’s essentially a clone of the Boss DM-2, another coveted classic).
It was easy to match the relative brightness of the Memory Man and the darker voice of the Aqua-Puss, or to go brighter or darker than either. The EHX modulation is more extreme in range and depth than Bellwether’s. (I generally dig extreme effects, but in this case, I far prefer the relatively delicate Bellwether pitch-shifts.) The Aqua-Puss/DM-2 has a uniquely punchy and compressed sound—the effect feels tight, almost as if it your signal had been mastered. Bellwether’s tones are looser, but no less attractive. I love that DM-2 edge, but the pretty and powerful Bellwether is the one I’d take to the gig.
Bellwether is a BBD bombshell. It sounds as warmly immersive as any vintage analog delay, while adding powerful features usually found only in digital: tap tempo, an effect loop, realtime modulation options, a killer LFO section, and extra-long delay times. If you don’t need the fancy stuff, you might be better off with a simpler, cheaper modern option, or maybe a vintage pedal. But frankly, you’d have to be sorely lacking in imagination not to find cool uses for Bellwether’s superpowers. I can’t imagine a happier marriage of analog color and modern functionality.
Watch the Review Demo: