The Best Delay Pedals - Analog & Digital

The Highest Rated Delay Pedals

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The Delay pedal is a valuable tool in any guitarist's arsenal. Entire genres of music have been built around the clever usage of repeating notes rhythmically or into a wall of sound. It elevates guitar solos and makes clean plucked guitars sound more somber and haunting.

Unlike other effects pedals, Delays are Time-based effects since these gadgets allow you to manipulate your signal by letting you hear your input at a later interval compared to your dry signal. Delays usually allow you to mix your dry signal in or out, how long the intervals between repetitions, and how many times these are repeated. Whether you’re looking for dry country slapback chunk or atmospheric, post-rock influenced washes, delay pedals add an extra dimension to your sonic palette.

While it may be tempting to categorize delays as just a large umbrella term for these time-based gadgets, the variations in circuitry, sound, and the amount of time in between the dry and delayed signals vary significantly. Some even emulate tape echo and delay without the tape. Modern digital delays are pushing the boundaries of what can be put into a stompbox format.

Choosing "The Best Delay Pedal" then depends on your needs: Do you need a vintage emulation to nail tones from earlier decades? Do you want to be able to tweak and experiment with some ambiance and atmosphere? Are you a lo-fi noise junkie that needs analog oscillation to create walls of sound?

To help you decide, we have compiled only the highest-rated pedals on the market. This guide includes The Best Analog & Digital Delays. If you want more information to support your decision-making process, we discuss helpful matters in the "Things to Consider When Buying a Delay Pedal" section.

The Best Delay Pedals

The Best Analog Delay Pedals

We’ve covered the difference between analog and digital delay in more depth elsewhere in the guide, but in case you’re not into reading a ton of technical jargon: analog delay sounds warmer and more natural while digital more accurately replicates what you play. If you favor an organic tone over to-the-millisecond accuracy, analog is the way to go.

Boss DM-2W Waza Craft Analog Delay Pedal

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 450+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$150
Boss DM-2W Waza Craft Analog Delay Pedal

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Analog Delay Pedal.

The Boss DM-2W is a reproduction of a famous delay pedal that was made commercially viable due to the increased availability of a certain chip. The expression input and the custom / standard selection switch add more options on top of the original Boss DM-2 platform.

The expression input allows you to plug in an expression pedal and allows you to control the timing of the effect, so you can increase or decrease the delay time while playing.

The Custom / Standard switch is useful for those who have darker (more bass and mids) voiced gear. In standard mode, the pedal functions just like its predecessor, sporting a dark voice and a delay time of up to 300 milliseconds. However, in custom mode, the unit’s repeats have a brighter (though still distinctly analog) tone, and it boosts the maximum delay time up to 800 milliseconds.

Features

  • Controls: Repeat Rate, Echo, Intensity, Standard and Custom Mode Switch
  • Delay Time: 20ms – 800ms
  • Switching: Buffered Bypass (Reportedly)
  • Additional Inputs/Outputs: Direct Output (Dry Signal) and Output (Mix)
  • Power: DC Adapter and 9-Volt Battery

Pros

Rave reviews come from users who either owned the original and want to take one on the road and people who have never tried the original but love the delay's warm and lush tonality. Some comparisons were made with the MXR Carbon copy with the DM-2W being warmer and darker of the two.

Cons

Like other vintage-inspired analog delays, the DM-2W has a dark voice to begin with. It’s not mushy per se, but it doesn’t have the clarity of a digital delay. While the dark voicing is a selling point for many, it does somewhat limit the unit’s versatility.

Overall

If you want a piece of the legendary DM-2 pie, the DM-2W is a great alternative to the constantly rising price of original units in the used market. The pedal is perfect for adding a nice, musical sounding wash behind your playing. If you're after absolute clarity or overall features, there are others on this guide that may be more of your liking.

MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay Pedal

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 2050+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$150
MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay Pedal

MXR is a brand that straddles the line between mass production and boutique. The MXR M169 combines the organic and chunky tone of famous analog delays without the associated fragility.

It was designed as a collaboration between MXR Engineer Bob Cedro and Way Huge pedals founder, Jeorge Tripps.

The delay times, while not competitive with digital delays, can dish out everything from country slapbacks to Gilmour-esque sonic landscapes.

Interestingly, the MXR M169 also allows you to enhance the unit’s repeats with a modulation effect. You can modify the modulation effect by two inner trim pots. The effect is subtle, but it helps to add an extra dimension of depth to your tone.

While the Carbon Copy is an analog delay, the tone lies somewhere in between vintage analog delays and more modern digital configurations. This helps increase the unit’s clarity, which helps to keep the modulation setting from washing out your tone. However, the unit doesn’t have a dark tone that defines many vintage delays.

Features

  • Controls: Regen, Mix, Delay, Mod Switch, Internal Trim Pots for Width and Rate
  • Delay Time: Up to 600ms
  • Switching: True Bypass
  • Power: DC Adapter and 9-Volt Battery

Pros

Positive reviews note how well the repeats sit in the mix with your dry signal. It's clear enough to be used as a slapback echo but warm enough for wide ambient soundscapes. Users also note that the simplicity of the pedal helped them focus more on writing than tweaking.

Cons

Some users noted the repeats are too dark. Others wanted more features like a tempo division switch and tap tempo. MXR addressed both concerns when they released the Carbon Copy Deluxe.

Overall

The MXR M169 Carbon Copy isn't an emulation of anything that came before it but brings to mind the best qualities of vintage units in a compact and gig-ready pedal. For those who find the repeats too dark, MXR Also released a Deluxe version with a bright switch and other additional features.

Fulltone Custom Shop Tube Tape Echo

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 20+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$1799
Fulltone Custom Shop Tube Tape Echo Pedal

The original Echoplex of the 60s and 70s is a finicky beast: You had to maintain a lot of things like the tape and be careful with the unit as it has plenty of fragile parts.

Today there are several pedals in the market that promise to provide the famed Echoplex delay sound without the tape. Many well-attuned ears gladly settled with this compromise until Fulltone decided to re-engineer the original Echoplex for the 21st Century.

The Fulltone Custom Shop Tube Tape Echo is a refined reconstruction of those classic Echoplex units, improved upon with more reliability and features.

Going beyond just a solid-state recreation, the Custom Shop Tube Tape Echo features real tube circuitry in a more reliable and compact form factor than the original.

Features

  • Controls: Stereo Mode, True Bypass toggle, Guitar Volume, Delay Volume, Record Level, Echo Tone, Echo repeats
  • Delay Time: Up to 2000ms
  • Switching: True Bypass
  • Power: Mains Input 120v (can be professionally rewired to 220v. See: Manual)

Pros

Users note it is a "must-have" for those pining over the real thing. Many veterans noted that the unit sounds exactly how they remember it when they used the originals; without the fragility and reliability issues. Many good reviews praise the stereo function for its expansive "bloom" and stereo width.

Cons

One reviewer noted that his unit sounded muddy and distorted. A subsequent comment noted the problem might be a defective tube. While reliability has been improved over the original unit, tube circuitry will still be more fragile than solid state and they need proper maintenance for longer operating life.

Overall

Whether you're a nostalgic guitar player or looking to have a taste of true analog tube and tape sounds, the Fulltone Custom Shop Tube Tape Echo is the closest you can get to the famed Echoplex.

The Best Digital Delay Pedals

Digital delay pedals are the best choice for anyone looking for accuracy and tweakability. So if you need to dial in the timing of your delay with high-fidelity repeats, or if you prefer a delay pedal with more tweakability, you may prefer choosing from the ones we have recommended below.

JHS Milkman

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 80+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$179
JHS The Milkman Digital Slap Echo Pedal

The JHS Milkman was designed to be a simple distillation of all you need for a great Rockabilly tone: a slapback echo and boost.

The pedal was born from a collaboration between Josh Scott of JHS and Tim Marcus of Milkman Sound. Tim wanted a pedal that could pair well with the tremolo and reverb of his amp.

It was also designed to be a pedal that Americana players could use as their only pedal if they want.

Features

  • Controls: Slap, Mix, Repeat, EQ, Boost
  • Delay Time: up to 240ms
  • Switching: True Bypass
  • Power: 9V DC power supply required (sold separately)

Pros

While many praise the Milkman for its true-to-form slapback, there were a surprising amount of good reviews for the boost section. The boost was noted to be ample enough to push amps into saturation without sacrificing feel and dynamic range.

Cons

It was seen as a one-trick pony for some players. The short delay time might not be to the taste for those looking to create lush soundscapes.

Overall

Paired up with an F-style amplifier and a T-style guitar, the JHS Milkman delivers the goods when it comes to the best of Americana tones.

Catalinbread Belle Epoch

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$210
Catalinbread Belle Epoch EP-3 Tape Echo Pedal

The Echoplex was known for its lush repeats from a saturated preamp feeding into the tape with just a little modulation provided by the tape speed and component condition. Older tapes will sound more lo-fi, aging motors will fluctuate in speed.

Whatever the quirk of those original units, Catalinbread sought to replicate as much of them as possible in a small-format Delay pedal.

Enter the Belle Epoch: A recreation of all the things that made the original Maestro Echoplex well-loved, without the maintenance.

Features

  • Controls: Echo Sustain, Mod, Rec Level, Mix, Echo Delay, Internal Trimpot for preamp level.
  • Delay Time: Up to 800ms
  • Switching: True Bypass
  • Power: DC Adapter and 9-Volt Battery

Pros

Users were delighted to find that the Belle Epoch recreates the wash/oscillation of the original unit. Many Echoplex recreations tend to just use a vibrato circuit for modulation but the Belle Epoch recreates the random wow and flutter effects of a real tape machine.

Cons

The control labels were hard to read as noted by one user. Another noted that the pedal took away from the sound that they wanted. A subsequent comment noted that this was the internal preamp at work. This is resolved by turning the internal trim pot to zero.

Overall

The Belle Epoch is the closest "tapeless" recreation of a well-loved classic. For those looking to make spacey soundscapes and noise oscillations, the Bell Epoch checks all the right boxes.

Strymon DIG Dual Digital Delay Pedal

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
Strymon DIG Dual Digital Delay Pedal

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Digital Delay Pedal along with the Strymon Volante and Strymon TimeLine.

The core design philosophy behind the Strymon DIG Dual Digital Delay is accurately reproducing the rack-mount delays of the 80s without the digital noise associated with those units. These units have a warm, high-fidelity tone different from the high-frequency roll-off from analog delays.

The Strymon DIG has two delay lines that can either work together or independently of one another. These work to create different rhythmic variations in the repeats, like triplets and dotted quarter notes.

You can also modulate your sound by toggling a three-way switch, one of which is no modulation, one is light modulation, and one is deep modulation. You can also change the response of the modulation through a “hidden” switch in the unit’s housing.

An interesting feature of this pedal is that the input signal has an analog path that runs through the housing. Your guitar’s signal runs straight through the pedal without digital conversion. This means that while the delay itself may be digital, your original tone remains unaltered.

Last, you can also select a “trails” mode. The trails mode keeps your repeats running after bypassing the effect, letting them fade off organically rather than being suddenly cut off. Though, switching to this mode changes the output of the unit from true bypass to buffered bypass.

Features

  • Controls: Time, Time 2, Mod, Repeat, Type, Mix 1, Mix 2
  • Delay Time: 20ms to 3200ms
  • Switching: True Bypass
  • Additional Inputs/Outputs: Switchable 1/4" - TRS Input, Stereo Output
  • Power: 9-Volt DC Adapter

Pros

"Pristine" is how multiple owners describe the quality of the Strymon DIG. Users love how they could immediately access great sounds without diving in too much into complicated menus or settings common in digital rackmount units. It was very easy for some users to tweak more complicated delay patterns. Stereo mode makes the delay sound larger-than-life.

Cons

It was hard for us to find any negative reviews but as with all Strymon effects, price may be steep for some.

Overall

The Strymon DIG is one of the highest-rated delays on our list and for good reason; its pristine and high fidelity repeats, various features, and depth of controls are wrapped up neatly in a pedal that's as simple or complex as you want it to be.

Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo Pedal

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$299
Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo Pedal

The Strymon El Capistan brings classic tape delay and echo sounds into a modern digital format.

Emulating every stage of the signal as it passes through an analog piece of gear like a tape echo is no easy task.

The El Capistan employs powerful processor chips to handle every nuance in replicating a good tape unit.

Controls for Tape Age, Wow and Flutter, Tape head, and Mode support the usual Time, Mix, and Repeats controls on modern delay pedals.

A Tap tempo is included as a second footswitch; a feature that is impossible on vintage tape units.

Features

  • Controls: Time, Mix, Repeats, Tape Age, Wow & Flutter, Tape Head and Mode toggle switches, Tap Tempo
  • Delay Time: Max 770ms for standard delay mode, 20s for sound-on-sound (looper) mode
  • Switching: True Bypass (electromechanical relay switching) or Analog “trails” Bypass (selectable)
  • Additional Inputs/Outputs: Input, Left out, Right out, EXP in
  • Power: 9-Volt DC Adapter

Pros

Users note that the delays sound "lush" and "organic" with just the right amount of modulation by default. Accessing the hidden parameters opens up options for more experimental use. Reviews note its character to be dark and rich. The hidden parameter for low cut helps clear up the repeats.

Cons

Not the most user-friendly device according to some users. Delay may be too dark for some.

Overall

The El Capistan is your ticket aboard warm slapback echos and lush soundscapes. While not the most versatile delay on this list, the richness and ambience the El Capistan brings to your pedalboard is worth the price of admission.

Strymon Volante

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 125+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$399
Strymon Volante Magnetic Echo Machine Pedal

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Digital Delay Pedal along with the Strymon DIG and Strymon TimeLine.

The Strymon Volante brings together three studio staple emulations in a floor pedal format: drum delay, tape echo, and studio delay.

The eight light-up buttons in the center represent tape heads. Selecting all four gives you a classic multi-head delay.

Engaging the feedback button below them brings back the signal into itself and makes the classic delay sounds we know and love. Each one of these "heads" is configurable for a multitude of rhythmic possibilities while the feedback button below them enables the creation of wide soundscapes.

Additional features include post-echo spring reverb, individual panning and head spacing/play speeds, as well as Midi I/O for integration with MIDI switching systems.

Features

  • Controls: Rec level, Mechanics, Low cut, Wear, Type, Speed, Repeats, Echo Level, Space, Spring
  • Delay Time: Up to 4 seconds
  • Switching: True Bypass
  • Power: 9V DC power supply required (included)

Pros

Many users found the Volante "inspiring" and aside from getting good sounds from the pedal, they were able to approach it beyond just a piece of gear and more of an instrument or creative tool. Some users liked the fact that you can tweak which "head" is active and a few other parameters much like modifying an actual tape echo the way they used to do it to achieve specific sounds.

Cons

There is a moderately steep learning curve to maximize the use of all its features. Others miss the "wow and flutter" control on the Strymon El Capistan.

Overall

If you fantasize over modding vintage tape echo units to achieve spaced out sounds, the Stryon Volante is a great launching pad into the cosmos of spacey experimental sounds.

Strymon TimeLine Multidimensional Digital Delay Pedal

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$449
Strymon TimeLine Multidimensional Digital Delay Pedal

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Digital Delay Pedal along with the Strymon DIG and Strymon Volante.

This is the top of the line digital delay offered by Strymon.

The unit includes a variety of delay models, including digital, dual delay, pattern (selectable repeat patterns), reverse, ice (plays sections of the input signal at certain harmonic intervals, like an octave or a fifth), duck (a reactive delay that changes based on your dynamics), swell, trem (delay with tremolo), filter (filters either input or repeats, like an auto-wah), lo-fi (sounds like a junky tape delay), dTape (intricate modeling of tape delay), and dBucket (recreation of analog delay).

Features

  • Controls: Value, Time, Filter, Repeats, Mix, Grit, Speed, Depth, Type
  • 12 Delay Types
  • Delay Time: 2ms to 2500ms
  • Switching: True Bypass
  • Additional Inputs/Outputs: Stereo Input/Output
  • Power: 9-Volt Adapter

Pros

While the unit may take a while to wrap your head around, users consider the pedal to be expressive and immensely versatile. The unit’s emulation of vintage delays is another plus for users, noting that the sounds in the unit are some of the best digital models on the market.

Cons

Users note that the TimeLine has a steep learning curve. Reading the manual is necessary to make the most of all its features.

Overall

If you could only have one Strymon delay pedal, this is it. It compiles some of the best aspects of Strymon's other best-selling pedals and more. Just be sure to read the manual; you might not want another delay for a long time.

Things to Consider When Buying a Delay Pedal

Luckily for musicians, most effects are simple. Once you wrap your head around a few terms, you will not be going in blind. While there is much more to learn beyond this, particularly creative uses for effects, we hope that this gets you on the right path for making a selection.

Analog Vs. Digital Delay

The differences between analog and digital are hotly debated. Some musicians swear by analog pedals, and others feel that digital is the way to go. So really, just like any other piece of gear one design isn’t objectively superior to another.

Analog delays use electrical components to achieve the delayed sound. Some of the components, aside from the delay circuit, may include filters, some compression or modulation.

A digital delay utilizes analog to digital conversion. This means your signal gets converted from an electrical signal to binary code to be processed with a microprocessor and then converted back to analog going out. Many modelling delays use digital technology to emulate analog gear in a smaller form factor.

Analog effects tend to sound more organic than their digital counterparts, but digital effects have more accurate reproductions of your input. Analog’s responsiveness (not that digital isn’t responsive to your playing, it’s just less responsive than analog) is a huge selling point with distortion and fuzz pedals, but many musicians prefer digital delays because they can be tweaked with greater fidelity.

Delay Time and Feedback Explained

Delay time is measured in milliseconds, which is 1000 milliseconds for every second. The higher you turn the delay time control the longer the time that the signal from your guitar will be captured. For example, if you dial in 500 milliseconds of delay time you’ll be capturing half a second of what you play.

Feedback is how many times the signal is reproduced. So, if you turn the feedback knob higher you’ll get more repetitions.

Another thing to know of is that companies label their controls differently. Every delay unit has a setting for feedback and delay time, and many have settings for the volume of the repeats. If you’re ever unsure what certain controls do, odds are you can find a description on the company’s website. However, most controls are self-explanatory.

The Pros and Cons of True Bypass

True bypass is a design configuration where your output and input are hardwired. This means that your signal does NOT pass through the pedal's circuitry beyond input and output. Because of this connection, when you disengage the effect your sound passes through it unaltered.

There is a slight volume and high-end frequency loss once your signal path (your cord and pedals) reaches a certain length due to capacitance.

With delay pedals, the main tradeoff is that when you disengage a true bypass delay pedal, the repeats get cut off. Most modern delays, particularly digital delays offer a buffered bypass where your signal passes through the circuitry and gets conditioned to push the signal further without any high-frequency loss. This also enables the use of delay trails that persist even when the unit is turned off. The trade-off for buffered bypass is how your signal will interact with the amplifier. Many people experience a change in the responsiveness of the tone with buffered bypass.

Stereo Out

Delay pedals are available in two configurations, mono out and stereo out. Mono out means that your pedal only has one output, whereas stereo means that it has two.

The main benefit of stereo output is that you can run two outputs with your effect to send it through two amplifiers. This makes it sound “wider” and fuller. The trade-off here is that using a stereo setup is more expensive. A mono output is simpler than a stereo output, and while the sound is different to a stereo rig it isn’t inferior.

The Differences Between Delay, Echo, and Reverb

Delay and echo are often confused with one another. Manufacturers often interchange the two terms. From a technical standpoint, Echoes are usually shorter in interval while delays have longer times. Another distinction that may apply to many pedals is the presence of modulation. Echo pedals are often paired with some form of modulation or frequency filtering on the repeats. Delays, particularly digital delays, have more fidelity.

Reverb on the other hand, is a different implementation of delay. Reverb is characterized as a random and blended repetition of a sound that is produced quickly after the sound is made. Your brain doesn’t notice that the sound is a series of repetitions, so it makes it sound like you’re playing in a room or space.

Delay’s Place In Your Signal Chain

There’s no hard and fast rule with pedal placement, because some musicians like the interaction that certain configurations can give rise to.

The way musicians used to use delays and echoes before the advent of distortion pedals, effects loops and a/b switching, was to plug their guitar into the input of the effect, then patching the output to the amplifier. This use is commonly heard from the 60s and 70s. Eddie Van Halen famously used an Echoplex in front of a roaring Marshall Plexi to get his signature "Brown Sound". Jimmy Page used it to create psychedelic effects especially while using a violin bow on guitar. Settings for these usually involve having the delay signal low in the mix since overdrive distortion accentuates all the sounds from the repeats.

With modern circuitry and distortion pedals, it has come to be more accepted to put overdrive/dynamics pedals first before modulation and delay. Amplifiers during this time also started to implement effects loops that go in between the preamp of the amplifier and the power amplifier. Rackmount effects also came to be popular during the 80s and 90s. This results in a clearer, hi-fi sounding ambience commonly heard on 80s rock music and beyond.

Best Delay Pedal Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in August of 2017 written by Mason Hoberg. The latest edition was published on November 3, 2020 written by Raphael Pulgar with some contributions from Mason Hoberg.

We looked at all the delay pedals (excluding multi-effects) available from major online American retailers and put the 62 most promising on our short-list for detailed examination - you can see them in the Music Gear Database. We then gathered feedback about each one from experts and users via online retailers, forums, YouTube, blogs and major publications, and processed those data with the Gearank Algorithm to produce the Gearank Rating scores out of 100 for each pedal - over 18,700 sources were processed. Finally, we selected the highest rated analog and digital pedals to recommend above. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

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