The best guitarist in the world can only accomplish so much with their instrument alone before they need to begin experimenting with their sound. One of the easiest and most common ways to expand on your sound is with the best delay pedal. Used in virtually every genre of music that employs guitars, the delay pedal is a quick, easy way to give even a beginner that rich, full sound so many people love.
This article will go through the 5 best delay pedals, identifying their strengths and weaknesses. We also breakdown delay pedals in general in our buyer’s guide. We personally think the Boss DD-7 is the best, but you may prefer one of our analog options instead.
Best Analog and Digital Delay Pedals of 2019
|Digital delay pedal with tap tempo||Up to 6.4 s||1.23 pounds||20 x 25 x 20 in|
|TC Electronic ND-1||Pedal with different stereo delay types||Up to 2290 ms||1.7 pounds||2.2 x 5 x 5 in|
|MXR M169 Carbon Copy||Analog delay pedal||Up to 600 ms||1 pounds||5.5 x 2.5 x 4.5 in|
|Donner Yellow Fall||Cheap delay pedal||20 - 620 ms||0.7 pounds||4.6 x 2.6 x 2.5 in|
|Jim Dunlop EP103 Echoplex||Tape echo delay pedal with tap tempo||40 - 750 ms||1.03 pounds||4.5 x 2.5 x 2 in|
1. Boss DD-7 – Best Digital Pedal with Tap Tempo
Boss is a well-respected and storied manufacturer of guitar pedals having first gotten their start with the introduction of their iconic Stompbox. While they have expanded their lineup a bit since then, Boss still specializes in manufacturing some of the best guitar and bass effect pedals of all kinds. While Boss pedals are no longer made with Japanese components like in the beginning, the brand still makes sure you get your money’s worth with high-quality Taiwanese components. With market-leading specs and the ability to customize the chain even further, the Boss DD-7 is our Editor’s Choice best delay pedal.
Time to Spare
That is not to suggest this is a perfect delay pedal by any means as the buffered bypass will almost certainly require a noise gate right before this particular pedal in your chain. On top of that, being a digital delay pedal with more functions does make it inherently more difficult to use, but it also provides some of the most impressive effects that we saw. Specifically, the 6.4 sec maximum delay length crushes the competition and allows for some sonic qualities that the other options simply cannot replicate. Of course, you do not have to go with the longest maximum delay on our list as this pedal also present one of the widest delay ranges at 50 to 3200 ms.
A Modular Design
Beyond the direct delay time control, the Boss DD-7 delay pedal also comes with 4 preset delay modes including an analog mode. That said, the most impressive quality of the Boss DD-7 has to be the various additions that this digital delay pedal supports. First, it can support a tap tempo function with an additional footswitch sold separately. On top of that, the Boss DD-7 delay pedal also supports the use of expression pedals which allow you sonically shape the tone of the delay in real time. Though, after purchasing these two accessories, the lower cost of the Boss DD-7 starts to fall more in line with the top-tier manufacturers.
2. TC Electronic ND-1 – Best Stereo Digital Pedal
While TC Electronic may have always been a company specialized in manufacturing instrument audio accessories, they were not always one of the big players in the pedal market. In fact, to this very day, TC Electronic still focuses primarily on devices that are not easily adjusted in real time but provide an incredible wealth of functionality, much like the Nova delay pedal. However, as one of the premier digital delay pedal manufacturers, they provide the tools to let the guitarist solve that problem however they see fit. That ability, along with many others, provides ample reason to rate this the best digital delay pedal on our list.
With Great Power
One of the first things to consider with a digital delay pedal is exactly how much control the device provides. One look at a functioning TC Electronic Nova digital delay pedal is all you need to see that this product offers infinitely more control than any of the other delay pedals reviewed. Of course, this does mean that it will inherently be far more difficult to master, and this model is a bit complex even for a digital delay pedal. Still, if you do master the controls and have the sonic know-how, this delay pedal offers one of the most impressive delay ranges at 1 to 2290 ms.
Of course, if you are not into crafting your soundscape with exacting idiosyncratic refinement, the TC Electronic Nova delay pedal has you covered with 6 different delay types. One of the more convenient qualities of the different delay types is the inclusion of both an analog delay as well as a tape delay. This is also one of the few delay pedals, digital or otherwise, that comes with a tap tempo feature built-in. Granted, it is a touch tap tempo, so you will not be able to adjust it quickly in real time. Thankfully, this is where the 9 programmable presets comes into play as you can preprogram the delay effects as you will need.
3. MXR M169 Carbon Copy – Best Analog Pedal
MXR has a long and storied history, but the company really took off once it was purchased by the guitar juggernaut, the Jim Dunlop company. With the backing of a respected leader in the musician’s world, MXR made it a point to produce a throwback with a few modern improvements in a market quickly going digital. A big part of the inspiration for this model was to recreate the classic tones of older delay pedals from days past. Having succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, we definitely feel like this is the best vintage delay pedal for those who like the classic sound.
Down to the Bone
One of the first and most obvious choices when trying to recreate a vintage delay effect is the use of an analog style system. However, what really puts this analog delay pedal overtop many of its contemporary competitors is the fact that it uses the “old school” bucket brigade circuitry arrangement. It is this circuitry arrangement that is responsible for the characteristic degradation that gives vintage analog delay pedals their iconic sound. As if not to be outdone by other delay pedals with a quality vintage sound, the MXR M169 analog delay pedal can also emulate the dry timbre of a tape delay.
Give and Take
The biggest knock against the MXR delay pedal is the fact that not only does it not natively feature a tap tempo function but it cannot be expanded with one either. This is likely a big part of the reason that the M169 delay pedal is less expensive than most of the other products on our list. This is a fairly severe limitation for more technical styles, but the M169 analog delay pedal does at least feature two internal trim pots to provide further control for those audio engineers among you. Of course, the most common controls are easy to use and clearly displayed with a satisfying amount of immediate feedback when adjusting the effect.
4. Donner Yellow Fall – Best Budget Mini Pedal Under 100
If you want a delay pedal without all the bells and whistles, and their attending costs, but still has plenty of vintage aesthetic to spare, then the Donner Yellow delay pedal might be ideal for you. To be clear, this is not the best performing delay pedal we saw by any measure or metric or in any niche or category. Instead, the Donner Yellow Fall analog delay pedal is simply dirt cheap compared to the other delay pedals on our list. As such, it is almost necessarily the de facto best budget delay pedal, but it is certainly not without its faults.
Give a Little
In terms of the issues with the Donner delay pedal, they fundamentally boil down to the product not being as well-made as its competition. This is not to suggest that the Donner is junk, but there are noticeable differences in overall quality, both performance, and general. For one, the noise generated from a delay pedal’s bypass is especially noisy with the Donner Yellow Fall. While this can work with some of the heavier or more distorted genres of music, the fact that it muddies the clarity of sound will disqualify it for many highly mixed genres.
Get a Little
On the other hand, the Donner does manage to capture that rich analog tone that keeps this type of pedal around. It has a reasonable delay range of 20 to 620 ms which is not the narrowest on our list. On top of that, the three knobs are clearly identified with black on yellow and are easy to use. However, you will want to make sure to be careful when using or transporting the Donner delay pedal as it is not the most durable product on our list. Though, this primarily concerns the interface and the circuitry which is not internally well-protected from impacts, even if the body is made of durable and resistant aluminum.
5. Jim Dunlop EP103 Echoplex – Best Analog Tape Delay Pedal
It is hard to exist in the musician’s sphere for any length of time without hearing about the Jim Dunlop company or its sister Dunlop Manufacturing. That said, someone who chooses the Echoplex EP103 analog delay pedal is likely a bit of a connoisseur of audio tones. This is because the biggest selling point of the Echoplex, and arguably the strongest argument still fueling the digital delay pedal vs analog delay pedal debate, is the fact that this delay pedal produces some of the sweetest and richest tones that no digital delay pedal can seem to truly capture. Without a doubt this is the best analog delay pedal on our list, but it does not come without a similarly impressive cost.
Name Brand Bloat
When you pull back from that hyper-focused approach you see some cracks begin to show in the edgy exterior. Most notably, this is easily the most expensive delay pedal on our list, bucking the trend of analog delay pedals generally being less expensive than digital delay pedals. This is likely due to the prestige of the Jim Dunlop company as well as their confidence in the tonal quality that their Age mode delay effect produces. Another great delay effect that is not given, especially with analog delay pedals, is the ability to emulate a tape delay.
Highs and Lows
One thing that is definitely frustrating is the fact that while the Echoplex will support a tap tempo function, it does not come with one natively. This means that after spending more than most for an analog delay pedal, you have to purchase a tap tempo accessory to get that feature. Still, it does have a fairly impressive delay range of 40 to 750 ms, which is the widest range in the analog delay pedal category. Jim Dunlop also did their due diligence with the bypass as the EP103 analog delay pedal produces some the lowest noise we heard.
This choice comes down to a matter of taste versus versatility since one option produces a sound that cannot be replicated while the other provides far more room for features. In this instance, the analog delay pedal produces a sound that is often distinct to itself based on the components, circuitry, and instrument being played. If that is the kind of quality you are looking for in a delay pedal, then look no further as the digital cannot compete.
Instead, the digital delay pedal makes up for the fact that it compresses the guitar’s signal, changing it, by providing a full suite of features that simply will not work with an analog delay pedal. There really is no “right” choice when it comes to this consideration as each guitarist’s preferences and needs are different.
These are more popular among the guitarists who play highly distorted and experimental music or precisely sophisticated. Basically, a digital delay pedal takes the guitar’s signal and applies the effects in a fairly straightforward manner that reproduces the sound exactly as preset. Some people will argue that digital delay pedals have a “colder” tone compared to analog delay pedals.
What is not in question is that digital delay pedals are capable of far more complex functions than an analog which must rely on the physical components to generate the effect. For example, both types of delay pedal are capable of setting a tempo with the effect, but there is not an analog delay pedal on the market that can do all of the tempo effects that some of the digital delay pedals can pull off.
From a more general perspective, digital delay pedals to present more issues with ease of use as the increased number of functions necessarily make the delay pedal more complicated. However, some manufacturers are better than others at making their products easier to use for the uninitiated. It is also worth noting that digital delay pedals will also necessarily be more prone to failure in some form or another as it has more ways in which it can fail.
When it comes to an analog delay pedal, the primary reason to choose one is the sound quality. If you find a delay pedal that generates a signature sound with your particular arrangement, then it is worth its weight in gold. Outside of the idiosyncratic sound quality though, it gets a bit tougher to argue in favor of the analog delay pedal without referencing non-performative factors.
That said, for the non-performative factors, the analog delay pedal is definitely more convenient and sturdy. For one, in much the same way as the digital delay pedal’s complexity makes it inherently more difficult to use and prone to failure, the simplified construction and function of the analog delay pedal makes it easier to use and less likely to fail. When you also consider the fact that analog delay pedals are also often less expensive than digital delay pedals, the value begins to swing a bit in the analog’s favor.
Unfortunately, you need to be as much a sound engineer as a guitarist if you think you can get as much versatility out of an analog delay pedal as you can from a digital one. Many analog delay pedals offer a few different functions which may then offer some sub-functionality, but the sheer control that a digital delay pedal can provide is unmatched. In this case, those genres that favor passion over precision can easily find their heartbeat sitting in an analog delay pedal.
More than any other feature, this is generally one of the most convenient features a delay pedal can have. Without tap tempo, you will have a much harder time changing the delay on the fly which is a big deal for live performances. While a number of features are more based on flavor and taste, the tap tempo function is one that virtually every guitarist will appreciate. Even if you are not performing live, the convenience of being able to streamline your creative flow is priceless.
That said, it is worth noting that few of the delay pedals we reviewed actually used the pedal to accomplish this task and instead relied on a button meant to be pressed with your finger. While this is still fairly easy to use, it does make it a bit more difficult to switch up the tempos during a live performance without taking 5 and looking incredibly unprofessional, not to mention sucking all of the energy out of the performance. As such, tap tempo is only ass versatile as it is easy to use, but configurable presets can help alleviate this issue.
Ease of Use
This is generally one of the biggest reasons that a person opts for an analog pedal over a digital one. Digital pedals can have numerous knobs and functions to the point where it is difficult to know exactly what one thing will do or how to achieve the desired effect. Some digital delay pedals try to alleviate this with presets and descriptive titles, but for the versatility they provide, mixing and matching can require some extensive understanding of electronics and how delay effects physically work.
Basically, the simplicity of an analog delay pedal combined with the relatively few controls provides immediate feedback that the user can feel. Digital delay pedals may be able to do the same thing for presets, but once you begin to customize your delay effect, you begin sailing in choppy waters that require a strong grasp of the appropriate techniques to make sure you achieve the desired effect. Otherwise, you will regularly find yourself feeling as though something is just not quite right but unable to understand or explain what it is.
One thing to consider is the fact that analog delay pedals do not need to make their controls visible or easily accessible, and a number of high-end analog delay pedal manufacturers do just this. Specifically, analog delay pedals will often contain what are called internal trim pots which are essentially knobless knobs buried within the pedal’s body. The reason manufacturers do this is to provide further controls without also cluttering up the analog delay pedal’s user interface.
This mostly applies to digital delay pedals, but there are a couple of higher-end analog delay pedals that can produce entirely different types of delays. That said, it is not as if even advanced pedals a producing some kind of new or unique type of delay. Instead, the different types of delays refer more to the timbre of the delay, whether it sounds dry or wet, heavy or light. To be fair, since delays are intended to have a similar effect as reverb in terms of filling the soundscape, most delay pedals have a tendency to favor the heavy and wet sound.
That said, even plenty of analog delay pedals can mix and match different audio qualities to differentiate types of delays. Some of the most popular types of delays are those that emulate other types of technology. For instance, most digital delay pedals will have an analog setting where the delay is far heavier and more distorted than the standard digital timbre. Likewise, both digital and analog delay pedals will regularly have a setting to emulate the incredibly dry timbre of tape delays.
This is more a matter of convenience since most guitarists are not also sound engineers, but presets can make getting to the work of making music that much quicker and easier. Basically, presets refer to different configurations of the delay pedal’s settings to produce common effects. For instance, some popular songs will use long delays to layer their guitar strokes one over the other in cascading swells of audio waves. To accomplish this effect, you will generally need a fairly heavy, fairly wet delay with a longer than average delay time. This will provide both the room to work from stroke to stroke as well as fill the space with a multitude of ethereal layers.
However, you need to know what the various settings on your delay pedal should be before you can achieve the effect. Since few guitarists walk around with a list of different delay pedal configurations and their corresponding results, nor are many people to simply keep that information at recall, having presets can make finding the right balance to achieve iconic sounds simple.
The other big feature to look for with presets is arguably the most useful feature for guitarists performing live who do not have a pedal-based tap tempo function. Basically, digital delay pedals will sometimes provide blank presets for you to fill with a customized delay setting. This is incredibly convenient as it removes the need to constantly fiddle with your delay pedal during a live performance. Simply switch the digital delay pedal to the preset delay effect for the given song and never miss a beat.
This may seem a bit odd to some and a bit obvious to others, but the delay pedal’s build will become incredibly important if you use it anywhere other than your home. The moment you take your delay pedal outside of your home, it’s materials, how it was constructed, what type of controls it has, its weight, and many other seemingly “trivial” factors become far more important. While few delay pedals from reputable manufacturers are poorly constructed, avoiding cheap plastic bodies is always a good word of advice.
Consider too how much the delay pedal weighs and its dimensions, since there is a good chance that you will be lugging it around with you all the time. A heavier delay pedal will be more cumbersome to carry for any length of time, but it will also be able to absorb a fall a bit better. If the delay pedal uses switches, these are prime candidates for damage if dropped, so travel pedals might want to stick with knobs.
Ultimately, the best delay pedal will be the one that best fits your style of playing, command of audio engineering, and budget. The big choice will be between a digital and an analog delay pedal, but with the way audio technology is advancing, we do not see the point in getting an analog delay pedal. If music is important enough to devote this kind of time and money towards, you are better off getting a delay pedal that can grow with you, and that is precisely what a digital delay pedal offers.
Of course, just because you want a digital delay pedal does not mean you want to pay for the most minute level of control, many of which you are liable to never use depending on your style of play. This is why we ranked the Boss DD-7 as our Editor’s Choice best delay pedal, due to the combination of advanced features and controls at a more reasonable price point than some of the other models reviewed. On top of that, the Boss DD-7 digital delay pedal is one of the few that comes the closest in bringing the ease of an analog delay pedal to the versatility of a digital delay pedal.