Analog or Digital? Delay and reverb effects

It can be a lot of work sifting through all the delay and reverb choices out there. I find knowing some of the basic categories can help sift through, compare with what you've already tried, and find what's right for you to make music. To keep it brief there are lots of generalizations. YMMV, and there's no substitute for trying out a pedal for yourself.

Delay pedal types:

1. Analog

Analog delays use a "bucket brigade" chip (BBD).  Analog delays tend to have a warmer, darker sound. The main reason for this is that the BBD chips themselves are prone to producing noise. To counteract this noise, the EQ of the repeats is often adjusted, taking away some of the highs. Your dry signal is left in tact, but the repeats are warmer. This actually has a beautiful side effect that the repeats sit back out of the way of your notes. They kind of blend into the background, creating lush textures, without distracting rhythmically from your playing.  

2. PT2399 chip (Analog-ish feel, technically digital)

A large number of delay pedals use the PT2399 to handle the delay.  These are incredibly simple to use, and sound pretty great. The technology is digital in that it samples your signal numerically. But, there is no opportunity to edit the code, which means you just drop it in your circuit like any analog part. There's plenty that can be done in the circuit around the PT2399 to differentiate from other PT2399 pedals (like modulation, EQ on the repeats). But generally the simple 3-4 knob pedals using this chip will share some sonic resemblance. There is some noise like the analog BBD chips, but not as much. It is often likewise filtered out by cutting some highs on the repeats. Typically I find PT2399 designs to not be as dark as BBD, but not as pristine and clear as a digital delay can be.  Some have tone knobs to dial in darker sounds reminiscent of analog.

3. Digital Processing (DSP)

Here's where it gets really wide open. DSP chips allow the pedal designer to write the code to do whatever is desired. Often, digital delays are described as pristine and clear, since they don't need the filtering to reduce noise that BBD and PT2399 need. This can be used for overt rhythmic effects, where the repeated note is indistinguishable from the note you played. But, because the code can be written however desired, there are many digital delays which are programmed mimic analog or tape delays. There can also be wild, newly imagined types of delay only possible through digital manipulation.  

Musical style factors:

Analog delays are great for when you want to click on a simple delay and let it give your sound some ambience. Since the repeats sit out of the way, it's often not crucial for the delay time to match your tempo. PT2399 can also be very nice for this purpose, and they may have a bit more shimmer than analog delays.  If you're planning to use your delay in a rhythmic fashion, and use tap tempo to sync it with your playing, digital is likely the preferred method. There are some analog and PT2399 delays with tap tempo, but a problem I've found is that the repeats sit back behind the guitar a bit too much, and lose some of the rhythmic effect.  
You've probably guessed the Time Lapse is fully digital DSP. This allows us to offer some straight ahead digital and tape emulation delays, as well as some more experimental delays. Hopefully it's a pedal that can find an easy home on your pedal board carrying typical delay duties, and be right there ready to go when your looking for new sounds that inspire.

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While we're on the topic, it makes sense to apply the same categorization to reverb, since reverb is an effect made of multiple delays.

1. Analog

BBD analog delays are not used for reverb pedals. The BBD chip set is too large, costly, noisy, and requires too much high frequency cut to be a good solution. There is another analog approach though of course, which is spring reverb. A set of springs is vibrated by a transducer and the vibrations are picked up on the other end of the spring. These are very often built into amps, and there are vintage standalone spring reverb units that look like an amp head. There's even a few pedals now-a-days that pack a miniature spring inside. They produce a drippy sound that is associated with surf rock, but it can be used with a number of genres. The sound is so distinct and popular that many digital multi-mode reverbs have a spring emulation setting.

2. Belton Brick (Analog-ish feel, technically digital)

This is very much the same situation as the PT2399 is for delay. In fact, inside a Belton Brick there are several PT2399s chained together, cleverly interacting to produce the wash of delays that is reverb. Like the PT2399, it's very simple to drop into an analog circuit. I find it is very nice for a mild reverb to just give your tone a bit of life. I built a Belton Brick circuit into my amp head and use it most of the time when playing at home.

3. Digital Processing (DSP)

Like with DSP delay, the possibilities here are endless. Many reverb pedals have code designed to emulate spaces with natural reverb (room, hall, arena, etc), or designed to emulate spring or plate reverbs. There are some that create new sounds such as shimmer reverb (octave up tones are slowly added to the reverb tail).
Currently our reverb offering is the Space Camp. The Space Camp wasn't designed to cover all your reverb needs. In fact, you can't turn the fuzz off (though with the gain knob down, single coils sound fairly clean). Rather, the reverb mode on this pedal serves as a texture to embellish the fuzz tones. It uses a DSP chip, and could maybe be described roughly as a plate or hall depending on the rate knob. It's placed before the fuzz in the signal path, so that the tails of the reverb reflecting interact with the fuzz.


Alright if you've made it this far, hopefully you found something interesting. Thanks for letting me get some of this out of my head onto paper.  And of course, learning the circuit construction can be a helpful tool to navigate the pedal world, but always let your ears guide you.  Delay and Reverb are too inspiring, beautiful, and expressive to be judged simply by a parts list.