Order and chaos live side by side in a wildly expressive digital delay.
Death By Audio doesn’t really care what people think. Commonplace notions of what fuzz, overdrive, delay, and reverb are supposed to sound like mean little to them, and many musicians that treasure their effects couldn’t be happier with that stance. Because where a lot of pedal builders build variations on established templates, Death By Audio builds for iconoclasts. It’s always fascinating to see what these mad scientists have conjured in their lab.
One of the latest offerings is called Ghost Delay. It’s an appropriate moniker because it doesn’t take many knob turns to extract a wealth of supernatural sounds. The idea is simple enough: cascade three delay circuits into each other, and let chance do some of the work. And unlike other multi-taps, there’s no emphasis on synching, or subdividing.
Death By Audio may savor unexpected sonic results, but they know how to design effects that makes sense. On the Ghost Delay, there are three shaded strips—each one home to a time and feedback control for a single delay. A color-coded, three-triangle graphic reminds you (rather subtly) that signal flow is right to left. Each of the three echoes has a range from 30 ms to 700 ms.
A 4-position blend control allows you to choose between four proportions of dry and wet signal. This might sound limiting at first, but given the copious possible delay permutations available here, it actually enables you to more easily get back to where you started. There’s also an input master volume—not unlike what you’d see on an Echoplex. The back panel is home to an input, output, aux out (more on that later), and a connection for a 9V jack (though there is a battery option too).
Exploring the milder side of the Ghost Delay first, I played a Telecaster through a Matchless HC-30, setting the Ghost for a sort of slapback effect—which, in reality, is to the traditional Sun Studio slapback delay what The Jesus and Mary Chain are to Motown. At this setting individual notes take on the percussive characteristics of heels clacking down a hospital corridor, only a bit darker. One of the strongest impressions I got at this setting is that the Ghost Delay has little of the harsh brightness we associate with digital echoes. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the old, analog, Boss DM series ... or rather, three of them.
I toyed with putting short, medium, and long delays in various orders, and I’d often get patterns that almost mimicked the output from a sequencer. You could build entire songs around these patterns, and the only limitation of using this as a composition method is that there are no presets for recalling the settings later. What’s more, the controls are sensitive, so returning the knobs to previous positions might not get you exactly what you had before.
Every delay reacts differently at maximum feedback. As you might expect from a Death By Audio product, this one screams and distorts when it’s infinitely cycling. I’m a fan of more controllable, throbbing foldback, and at times I found the Ghost’s self-oscillating settings a bit challenging to manipulate. The upside of the Ghost Delay’s sensitivity is that when the feedback control is on the brink of cycling infinitely, you get a very touch-responsive and musical screech that you can manipulate with downstream delays. The more notes you play, the more they pile up exponentially and the volume increases. Add space between the notes, and the mayhem subsides.
Aux out sends the echo trails of the first two delays in the series (the black and silver strips) to a different amp. The dry signal and the delayed signal from the last delay in the chain are routed through the output. In a two-amp rig, the split and disparate delay rates can create a fantastically disorienting effect.The Verdict
Death By Audio are a ferociously creative collective that encourage players to embrace happy accidents and chaos. Founder Oliver Ackermann’s band, A Place to Bury Strangers, has made a niche career out of embracing chaos, and his effects seem like an extension of the band. The Ghost Delay fits squarely within the “to thine ownself be true” ethos. It’s not built to be predictable or easy to control (and let’s face it, there’s plenty of that out there). Instead, the Ghost Delay is designed to keep your playing life a little wild, and the potential results are nearly infinite—and infinitely rewarding.