Call it an echo or a delay, every musician, producer, mixer, and listener knows what it is. What they don’t all know is how to use them properly, what situation calls for what type of delay, and most will even struggle to understand how a tape delay differs from a digital delay.
If you’ve already broken out of that group, congratulations on giving yourself a leg up on your competition. Being an informed music professional is the first step toward not only making things sound good, but also having the capability to explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it to others.
If you’re not familiar with the difference yet: no worries. We’re all working to improve our workflows, and ourselves - so just the fact that you’re reading this shows that you’re ready to take the initiative.
Digital delays traditionally create clean, exact copies of an audio source with control over delay time, repeats, and wet/dry mix.
Tape delays offer additional elements that create harmonic variances not usually achievable with digital delays since they use tape as their analog medium. Modern tape delay plugins have also taken advantage of these variants, giving users additional control over things like tape speed, flutter, and even tape health.
With so many additional controls, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and settle for a standard digital delay, but when used correctly, tape delays can blow digital delays out of the water in some situations:
1. Saturating A Sound
Not that there are a lack of saturation options on the market today, but being able to saturate naturally within a plugin that can do double duty on the delay front is a HUGE benefit in my book.
Instead of worrying about whether you should saturate before or after, you gain the ability have the saturation come in-line with the circuitry of the delay. The most common saturation effect created by tape delay comes from overloading the tape at higher volumes.
In-the-box you can also achieve the effect by reducing the Health of the tape and adjusting the Contour to taste.
2. A Subtle Chorus
Tape machines have always had a non-linear approach to playing back sound, and a good tape delay will let you control just how noticeable the chorusing is.
If you’re going for an obvious chorusing effect, you may want to use a full-on chorus effect. For the times where something a little more subtle is necessary? Go with a good tape delay.
Tape delays give users full control over the Speed and Flutter of the tape, which combine for wider variations that digital delays just aren’t capable of delivering.
Reducing tape speed will effectively make the tape pass over the playback head slower, resulting in more room for variation as the tape travels. Flutter is your control over how much variation is applied in that time. It’s the jittering & shaking that occurs from the motors moving the tape around.
Fully aligned and calibrated tape is a rarity – and the machines that are way out of whack can be great for experimentation and unique sonic exploration, especially on lead vocals.
3. Multi-Head Modes
You know those older songs that seem to have endless amounts of luscious, deep echoes? Chances are, they were stretching the boundaries of their tape machines and setting a gold standard for creativity.
Most tape delays these days offer a “multi-head” mode, which is distinctly recognizable when you need to take your delay settings past the point of no return.
By utilizing a multi-head mode, you can take advantage of multiple delays occurring at varying times in relation to the source audio. On hardware tape delays, this means playing back audio from multiple heads simultaneously – a process that required significant tweaking to dial in.
In-the-box we have much more flexibility and ease of use when it comes to using multi-head delays.
How are you using Tape Delays?Have you found certain instruments that tape delays sound better than digital delays on? We love the saturation they can add to a lead vocal or blazing guitar solo.
If you’d like to share your tape delay experience, join our conversation over on the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum.