Delay has been one of the most used effects in music production since the early days of commercial recording. Adding delay to any track adds depth and intrigue, transforming a stagnant song into an expansive one. Of course, the effect has come a long way since the days of its analog predecessors. Today, just about every DAW and sequencer feature some kind of digital delay. And sometimes a standard echo is all you need. But this effect can do so much more than meets the ear. We’ve rounded up 8 of the most unique delay plugins available, including a few freebies. While all of them can perform basic delay functions, they each go above and beyond in compelling ways. Some of these offer intuitive visual controls, while others feature immeasurable possibilities hidden underneath a simple user interface. Regardless of your preferences, you won’t want to delay on downloading these plugins.
Free Delay Plugins
They say to never judge a book by its cover. Indeed, these free delay plugins might not look state-of-the-art, but you’d be surprised at the sounds they can produce and the features they offer.
1. Valhalla Freq Echo
You may recall that ValhallaDSP’s Freq Echo previously made our list of the top 25 Mac Free plugins. This simple plugin doesn’t overwhelm the eye with a complex interface or loads of knobs and switches. Instead, its power lies beneath its unassuming exterior. As its name suggests, the key factor of the Freq Echo is its frequency modulation. The large central white knob labeled “Shift” controls the amount of frequency modulation in Hertz, allowing you to create flanger and chorus effects with ease. Combine this with the typical delay settings like delay time (with note length) and a powerful feedback loop, and you’ve got yourself one of the most versatile delays you can get for free.
2. Voxengo Tempo Delay
Voxengo’s free plugins have made just about all our lists so far. It’s no surprise, then, to see one of the developer’s many delay plugins land here. What separates Tempo Delay from Voxengo’s other delay plugins is primarily its stereo applications. This zero-latency plugin allows you to modulate the left and right channels separately. A master tempo knob allows you to lock in a proper BPM setting, while individual tremolo sections for each channel give you immense creative control of the stereo field. Each channel also has filtering/frequency controls. If you’re a fan of ping-ponging sounds left and right across your mixes, Voxengo’s Tempo Delay is a must-have, no question.
3. Lagrange by Ursa DSP
Like the Tempo Delay, the final free delay plugin on our list, Lagrange by Ursa DSP, also features stereo compatibility. However, Lagrange stands out as a granular or grain-based delay. This means that small pieces of a digital audio signal (samples) are taken and randomly modulated via delay and sometimes pitch-shifting. As you might imagine, this can result in some wild sounds, far different than the original input signal. Lagrange embraces this chaos while still offering its users enough control to use it for typical delay, flanging, and tremolo purposes. To ease you in, the plugin even lets you choose from five preset algorithms such as phasoid and flangoid. If you mess around with the feedback knobs enough, you’ll end up with bizarre lingering soundscapes that can completely open up your mix, or at least give you some new ideas. You won’t find another delay, free or otherwise, quite like this one.
Paid Delay Plugins
For those who want to meticulously shape their tracks, the five paid delay plugins below offer as much control possible. Whether you’re into sequencing, soundscape creation, or experimentation, or modulation, any one of these will scratch the itch.
4. FabFilter Timeless 2 ($129)
The developers at FabFilter are wizards at creating plugins with short learning curves yet overflowing with features. The Timeless 2 presents itself well, with a simple schematic user interface. Symbols, arrows, labels, and vibrant colors make it easy to follow where signals flow and what happens to them as you modulate and adjust settings. This elegant design becomes necessary as you realize how much this plugin can do. Underneath the main diagram, you’ll find a space for modulation inserts. This is where things get interesting. You can insert and adjust filters, add XY and XFLO controllers, or introduce MIDI sources. Of course, this is all in addition to the plugin’s standard stereo tempo delay features. And with more than 300 presets to play with, you’ll find that the Timeless 2 truly lives up to its name.
5. Slapper by Cargo Cult ($339)
Like the Timeless 2, Cargo Cult’s Slapper gives its users a powerful visual interface. However, this tap-based delay goes even further, representing each audio signal as a colored dot. When the signal plays, concentric circles ripple out from the source. These objects are easily moved across the interface for stereo imaging, volume, and modulation. Each object has its own delay controls as well, such as feedback, time, and damping. Its tempo snapping feature can make for complex rhythms, while its tape option turns the plugin into a tape delay simulator. Slapper might have a slightly steeper learning curve than the Timeless 2, but once you get the hang of it, it’s one of the most unique delay plugins you can purchase, especially for sound design.
6. Native Instruments Replika XT ($99)
If you’re looking for an elegant all-purpose delay, the Replika XT is all you need. With this plugin alone you have access to five kinds of delay: modern, analog, vintage, tape, and diffusion. Beyond that, the plugin features seven modulation options: flanger, phaser, chorus, frequency shift, pitch shift, filter, and micro pitcher. All this before even mentioning its clear visual interface and abundance of input and output controls. You can do so much with the Replika XT alone.
7. RP-Delay by Rob Papen ($49)
For the more advanced producer, the RP-Delay gives you plenty to work with (it’s almost overwhelming). Its interface is admittedly less intuitive and busier than any of the previous delay plugins here. The RP-Delay’s main trick, however, is its sound reverser feature. This effect reverses both the input signal and a resultant delay, giving you some experimental sounds. If you’re a bit lost at first, the plugin also comes packed with hundreds of presets to get you started. As long as you can overcome the somewhat cluttered design, the RP-Delay can produce some of the coolest delay and modulation you can find. You certainly won’t get bored with this one.
8. UVI Relayer ($129)
Lastly, we have the Relayer by UVI. Like the NI Replika XT, the Relayer can fulfill just about any and all of your delay needs. It serves best, however, as a tap-based tape delay. This feature-rich plugin gives you up to 32 delay lines to work with. These are easy to see and manipulate on its colorful, crisp user interface. Each tap can be controlled in terms of gain, pan, time, and modulation. The Relayer also comes with several presets and options to help you shape your delay as you go. Delay time is adjustable in terms of milliseconds or sub-divisions of time based on the host tempo via the sync feature. No matter which genre, instrument, or DAW you’re working with, the UVI Relayer can help bring your mix to the next level with relative ease.
As with all our plugin roundups, we’ve only just scratched the surface of all the brilliant and unique delay plugins available. But any one of the eight plugins listed here will provide you with enough possibilities for quite some time. Delay is simply fun to work with, and you should enjoy yourself as you tinker with all that these mind-blowing plugins have to offer. Don’t delay! And be sure to tell us about your favorite delays, too!