Delay is one of the most commonly included effect types in a DAW package or multiFX processor. However, delay effects will often come in several different “flavours,” all with strange, cryptic names; Analog, Digital, Multi-Tap, Tape Loop, or Bucket Brigade. They’re all variants of the same device, they just produce the repeating effect using a different method, and as a result, there are different parameters and controls for altering the specifics of how it sounds.
Analog Delay Units
The first delay units were based on the experiments of early Electro-Acoustic composers. They consisted of an unbroken loop of ordinary magnetic tape, mounted on a player with multiple tape heads. The first head would record a sound, then the movement of the tape would send it toward the next one. As the second head played it back it would be partially erased, creating a quieter sound by the time it reached the next head. This created the classic repeating echo that fades with each loop.
Early models just involved mounting additional heads to a standard tape loop, but later commercial devices such as the Echoplex or Roland Space Echo added a variety of features, allowing users to alter the speed of the tape, or reposition the heads to change the pattern of the repeating sounds. These are considered the “Classic” analog delay units. They are highly sought after by Dub musicians and trip-hop audiophiles such as Portishead, The Beastie Boys, The Dust Brothers and Tricky. They have a charismatic, earthy sound, but lack the fine control available on digital units.