Types of Delay – A Complete Overview on Delay Types and Times

Like there are different types of reverb, there are different types of delay, as well. Analog versus digital, time versus note versus dotted delay, let’s give an overview of everything to know about delay now.

Types of Delay

Before we get into specifics of analog versus digital, let’s cover the practical topic of the types of delay timing. This is a setting which you’ll find on virtually any delay plugin you use.

types of delay

Types of Delay Timing


Time is just that, it uses the amount of time in milliseconds or seconds as your delay interval.

Remember that when the delay time is set to less than 40ms, something called the Haas Effect comes into play. Also known as the precedence effect, this essentially states that 40ms is the minimum amount of time between two sounds which a human can perceive as being different.

With that in mind, shorter time intervals may help to thicken out your track if that’s what you’re going for as the listener will interpret the delay as just being part of the sustain of the original sound.


Note based delay syncs the delay interval with a certain note and BPM of your track. For instance, setting a 1/4 note delay causes the delayed signal to sound after a 1/4 note’s time which will obviously vary based on your track.

As such, setting a short note like a 1/16th will sound very quickly, particularly at faster tempos, essentially going back into that Haas Effect range.

Note based delay sounds much more natural and helps to keep things cleaner in your mix, not to mention it keeps the delay from triggering too soon or too late to where it’s ineffectual or covering up the next sound.

Dotted Delay

The dotted delay works in an additional note at 1/2 the note value you have set.

Admittedly it’s a little mathy and complicated to explain, but it sounds very cool.

8th dotted notes in particular are a popular choice for making it sound like you’re doing a lot more by playing a simple 8th note rhythm than you are.

In 4/4 time, eighth notes receive 1/2 of a count (1/2 of 8=4). With the dotted note occurring at 1/2 the value, dotted eighth notes add an additional half of 1/2, or 1/4. 1/2 + 1/4 = 3/4, the each dotted eighth occurs at a 3/4 interval.

Add in a little feedback on top of that and an otherwise pedestrian part suddenly has a lot more life, like in the beginning of Temper Trap’s biggest song, “Sweet Disposition”.

Triplet Delay

Triplet delay also requires some math to understand with each repeat occurring at 2/3 of a beat.

So if we again use our example of an eighth note which receives half a count in 4/4 time, an 8th note triplet delay produces three repeats per beat.

Halve this to a 16th note, and a 16th note triplet delay produces 6 repeats per beat and so on.

You get that fast 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 rhythm with triplet delay (obviously) which isn’t always what you want, but in the right circumstances with the right part it can sound great.

This effect was pioneered by Elvis’ producer and went on to be a huge signature sound on vocals on the early 1950’s rock n roll records.


Not a delay timing per se though I referenced it above, feedback affects how much repetition or decay is applied to that delay.

Typically represented as a percentage, turning feedback to 0 means that you’ll only hear the initial delay, whatever setting it is.

A quarter note delay will be heard a quarter of a note after the initial sound, then disappear, much like a slapback delay (which I’ll talk about in a moment).

Turning the feedback all the way up will create a feedback loop, making it repeat endlessly and quickly amplify until you turn it back down.

Adding a little feedback gives the delay more character and the illusion of depth as it decays. That said, you don’t want to set the feedback too long otherwise it will clutter up the overall sound and step on the new notes you play.

Analog vs Digital Delay

Analog vs digital delay primarily relates to how the sound degrades with analog delay typically getting darker as it decays and digital producing an exact replica each time.

Analog Delay

Analog delay is based on analog hardware. Tape delay is a prime example of a form of analog delay where tape machines are with a literal delay upon playback to capture a delayed signal.

In general, if you like warmer, darker, and sometimes unpredictable characteristics in your delay, analog is a good choice.

Note that you don’t need expensive hardware based units to create the analog delay effects; there are plenty of plugins which effectively reproduce the sound of analog delay like one of my favorite all around delay plugins, including one of my favorites, Echoboy.

Tape Delay


Tape delay is the earliest form of delay pioneered in the early 1950’s. Essentially it involved placing a reading tape head just behind the recorded tape head signal so that that slight distance creates the tape delayed effect live.

The amount of delay was changed simply by adjusting the distance between the two positions.

Authentic tape delay requires hardware which obviously isn’t practical for most of us, but thankfully there are plenty of delay plugins today like the Waves J37 Tape which recreate tape delay and the saturation like effect without having to worry about physical tape.

Digital Delay

Digital delay on the other hand produces a crisp, clean, and consistent replica echo which is completely accurate to the tempo.

While sounding comparatively artificial, sometimes this better fits the mold of what you’re trying to do than analog delay. While it may not fit in with a mix with organic instruments, digital delay can sound sleek in a pop or EDM mix.

Slapback Delay

Slapback delay or slapback echo refers to a very simple, single echo typically placed after a relatively short interval.

With zero feedback, you get a single reflection typically 60-200ms after the initial sound. This can sound great on vocals or drums and percussion for creating a little size on the track.

Ping-Pong Delay

Ping-pong delay alternates the delayed signal between the left and right channels, producing an interesting and unique effect which is all its own.

The Best Delay Plugin

You might think virtually all delay plugins are interchangeable since they all accomplish the same basic task of create duplicates of a signal and spacing it at an interval of your choosing.

There’s some truth to that which is why you can get a lot of mileage out of the stock delay plugin which comes with your DAW.

But it’s the tone of the delay where different plugins set themselves apart, typically in modeling themselves after hardware delay units.

Part of the reason why I love Echoboy from Soundtoys is that it’s one of the most versatile delay plugins you’ll find, taking the place of a handful of other delays which are more specialized.


It’s capable of reproducing a lot of the effects and styles I’ve covered through its presets.

This includes:

  • Setting the delay time by milliseconds, note, dotted, or triplet as discussed earlier.
  • Filtering the delayed signal to contrast with or stay out of the way of the dry audio.
  • Choose between a single echo, dual echo (left and right where you can vary the timings of the two sides), ping pong (alternating), or rhythms (up to 16).
  • Adjust “Groove” and “Feel” parameters which lets you set the delay slightly around the tempo or early or later, respectively.
  • Adjust the “Style” which provides countless options to color the sound of the delay to mimic all types of analog delay hardware.

Echoboy is an all-in-one delay plugin even before the “Style” parameter which is actually its secret sauce in giving you a lot more control over the tone of the delayed signal:

You don’t get this from other delay plugins when you’re typically left to use an external instance of a saturation combined with EQ plugins to get the same effects.

There are limitless uses for delay in your mix to create space, contrast, or lend size to tracks which need it. Plus and unlike with reverb, delay is generally a cleaner spacial based effect which helps to keep your mix less cluttered.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, check out my tutorials on using delay in mixing for more information on specific uses of delay in your mix.

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