The best plug-ins to buy in 2021: 14 best delay plug-ins

With so many options out there, this list could go on forever.

Best delay plug-in 2021

Whether you’re mixing your latest track or conjuring up a spicy new tune, delays are indispensable tools that every music maker should have in their plug-in arsenal.

First, let’s find out why…

How can delays be applied?

Delays, along with reverbs, are crucial for adding depth to your tracks and giving instruments – particularly ones that were recorded direct – a sense of space. With synths, they can be well-applied to make them feel more natural and sit in with other instruments in the mix.

They can also be applied creatively to create sonic webs and arpeggiated pulses – or even as a callback to a particular era of recording: throwing on some slapback delay onto a vocal or guitar track for a 50s-recording feel.

Delays can also be “played” as instruments, achieving wild and pitchy fluctuations when you set them to self-oscillate. These will sound different based on your delay’s tone and temperament, and we’ll go through how to do that next…

How do delays work?

As their name suggests, a delay’s main function is to repeat (or echo) a sound a set number of times, and it’s on the user to decide how it should sound to best fit their production. That falls mainly on three ubiquitous delay controls: time, feedback (sometimes referred to as repeats or regen) and mix.

Time controls how long it takes before a sound is first repeated, while feedback decides how many repeats there will be. With the latter, this is done by feeding the repeated sound back into the delay, hence the term feedback.

On self-oscillation: it’s a sound you’ve probably heard before (For reference, check out the ending of Radiohead’s Karma Police). Essentially, if you set the feedback setting all the way up, the delay feeds back into itself infinitely; adjusting the time setting while this happens lets you fluctuate the pitch in some very trippy and fun ways.

And sure, while you can automate self-oscillation through your DAW, take it from us: it’s a lot more fun and intuitive when you can actually get your hands on the dials – so consider getting a MIDI controller if you haven’t already got one.

What types of delays are there, and how are they different?

For this list, we’ll categorise delay plug-ins into four types: analogue, digital, tape and creative. Here’s a breakdown:

Analogue – really analogue-style – means a delay that has been designed to take after real-world circuits. Usually, this involves emulating the warmth of bucket-brigade chips as heard in guitar pedals such as the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man or MXR Carbon Copy.

Tape delays, in a similar fashion, are often modelled after or inspired by real-world machines that use tape. They also often feature options for pitch wobble and degradation that sound great for lo-fi productions (as do these plug-ins).

Digital delays are the cleanest sounding of the delays and are highly practical for mixing. Some of these come purpose-built to handle stereo effects such as ping-ponging.

Some delays are designed for writing rather than mixing and come jam-packed with modulation controls, effects, and more. We’ll umbrella these as creative delays.

Without further ado, here are our picks for the best delays you can get your hands on this year…

The best delay plug-ins to buy in 2021:

  • Fabfilter Timeless 3
  • Softube Tape Echo
  • U-He Colour Copy
  • Baby Audio Comeback Kid
  • Waves H-Delay
  • Soundtoys Echoboy
  • Valhalla Delay
  • Native Instruments Replika
  • Initial Audio Dynamic Delay
  • iZotope DDLY Dynamic Delay
  • UAD Cooper Time Cube
  • Eventide UltraTap
  • Slate Repeater Delay
  • Blue Cat Audio Late Replies

Fabfilter Timeless 3

FabFilter Timeless 3 Hero

Kicking off this list strong is Timeless 3, the latest edition of the Fabfilter’s vintage tape delay plug-in series. With its deep controls and expansive features, you’ll find yourself crafting everything from lush vintage-style tape echoes to warped modulations and washed out lo-fi pulses in no time. It’s clear that this is so much more than just a simple tape delay. The icing on the cake is that information is laid out neatly in a well-thought-out user interface.

In our well-deserved perfect review, we said: “It has huge potential for complexity, but it can also be deployed quickly and effectively without eating into production time. This is a well-refined, elegantly presented delay that lives up to its name and comes at a very respectable price.”

  • Price: $129/€109/£94
  • Type: Tape delay

Read our full review here.

Softube Tape Echoes

Softube’s Tape Echoes is an impressive tape delay plug-in that lets you dial in just the right amount of tape character, whether you intend to go Elvis, Portishead or an amalgamation of the two. It delivers on its promise of realistic tape sounds by offering a blend of three classic pieces of kit: the Roland Space Echo, WEM Copicat and Echoplex.

Along with Drive Dirt and Tape Glitch flavour controls, the plug-in also accommodates serial and parallel routings, tempo sync and stereo imaging features for more precise control.

In our review, we said: “It sounds like a tape echo without just mimicking one model. It is easy to create effects you expect and explore for ones you don’t. It can gently lift a source in a mix, and it can take the foreground in a heavy dub style. It can do set-and-forget, and you can tweak it endlessly as an instrument in its own right.”

  • Price: $99/€99
  • Type: Tape delay

Read our full review here.

U-He Colour Copy

U-He Colour Copy

The Colour Copy is a straightforward plug-in that emulates classic bucket-brigade analogue delay, extended with modern features for a range of colouration options. These are nicely categorised into Reso, Sparkle, Fuzz, Snap and Dusk. Furthermore, there are brightness and saturation controls to fine-tune the effect and achieve the tone you desire. To get you started, there are also 100 presets, while an onboard LFO lets you get some modulation going for more interesting sounds.

  • Price: $69/£55
  • Type: Analogue delay

Baby Audio Comeback Kid

BABY Audio Comeback Kid

If you’re looking for quality on the more affordable side of the fence, check out Baby Audio’s Comeback Kid. This analogue-style delay comes armed with an array of presets that are rich in character as well as adjustable flavour controls for getting the sound you need.

In our review, we said: “This is more than just a delay plug-in, with presets that add lo-fi crunch, chorus, movement and a variety of delay types. Perhaps it would be best served by adding multiple instances to a bus and applying various blends of colour and time for some wicked sound-design action. For £23, this is a fantastic plug-in.”

  • Price: $49/£23
  • Type: Analogue delay

Read our full review here.

Waves H-Delay

Waves H-Delay

An oldie but a goodie for sure, Waves’ H-Delay is one of those plug-ins that has been around the block several times but still sounds great nonetheless. With its deep controls and time range of 1 to 3,500ms, you’ll be able to achieve all sorts of effects from filtering, flanging, and phasing to some good old-fashioned slap-back echo, ping-pong delay and more.

Plus, it’s commonly included in Waves’ popular plug-ins bundles, so if you do happen to pick up say, a Gold or Platinum bundle, chances are you’ll get a slew of other great plug-ins to produce with.

  • Price: $30/£28
  • Type: Analogue delay

Soundtoys EchoBoy

Soundtoys EchoBoy

Soundtoys says it dug into its crate of vintage echo boxes for inspiration in crafting the EchoBoy. The result arrives in 30 styles modelled after classic pieces of gear from the Echoplex and Space Echo to the Memory Man, DM-2, and TelRay oil can delay. Meanwhile, the Rhythm Editor graph presents an intuitive way to shape your echoes with ways to control their timing and adjust the loudness of each repeat. All that comes wrapped up in an attractive and easy-to-follow interface that drips with vintage flavour.

  • Price: $199/£164
  • Type: Analogue delay

Valhalla Delay

Valhalla Delay

Valhalla makes some pretty fine time-based effects, to say the least, and while its free Supermassive delay/reverb is the darling of most free plug-in lists, we decided to go with the Valhalla Delay this time around.

This digital delay presents a Smörgåsbord of styles that make it a great all-rounder to have in your arsenal. You get 14 modes that include the crystal clear HiFi and warm-sounding HiFi, along with more creative ones such as Pitch, Reverse and LoFi delays. Its selection of parameters is also impressive, and thanks to the simplified UI, it’s easy to dial in what you need for the moment.

  • Price: $50
  • Type: Digital delay

Native Instruments Replika Digital

Native Instruments Replika Digital

If it’s a no-nonsense digital delay you’re after, check out Replika by Native Instruments. This delay packs three main delay algorithms: Modern, which offers pristine repeats; Vintage, modelled after classic hardware delays; and Diffusion, an amalgamation of delay and reverb.

Through its simplistic controls, Replika delivers high-quality processing that you can use on a variety of sources, from vocal recordings to sound design. It also comes with a basic resonant filter and phaser effect built-in for just a touch of flavour.

  • Price: $49
  • Type: Digital delay

Initial Audio Dynamic Delay

Initial Audio Dynamic Delay

While it may not look like the most exciting of plug-ins, the Dynamic Delay from Initial Audio was developed with strong utilities that are well-applied in mixing. One of its strengths is how it handles sidechaining, which is a technique to help certain sounds stand out in the mix while ducking others. We applied it onto vocals in a track and found the Dynamic Delay to really shine in this domain.

Generated repeats would spice up as soon as the input signal dropped below the threshold, making for some very satisfying moments where echoes come in at just the right moment.

Some other nifty features include built-in reverb – a nice touch, as well as high and low cuts to further attune the echo’s tonal qualities.

In our review, we said: “If you’re looking for a time- and money-saving option that can replace your tiresome sidechain setups, we’d strongly recommend giving this a go. Dynamic Delay has a pleasing sound and certainly put a sustained smile on our faces.”

  • Price: $29/£20
  • Type: Digital delay

Read our full review here.

iZotope DDLY Dynamic Delay Digital

While some of the digital delays in this list were clearly built with utility in mind, iZotope’s DDLY Dynamic Delay leans more towards the creative side. We’re big fans of the sheer variety this plug-in offers. It’s really one of those delays you can experiment with for hours.

One of the DDLY’s more unique features is its threshold controls, which can be set to send two different signals – those above the threshold and those below it – to two separate delay engines. This helps in the creation of musical and unexpected results that can be great fun to explore and experiment with.

On top of that, there are also more interesting modes, such as a granular delay that can conjure up some especially unique sounds. Match that with pitch controls, and you’ve got hours of experimentation to mess about with.

In our review, we said: “DDLY is a lot of fun to use in the mix. If you’re just looking to add a simple delay part, there are obviously faster ways to get there, and we won’t be throwing out any of our other delays in favour of it. But the ability to process signals based on their dynamics without having to resort to side-chains or gates means this is likely to remain a permanent part of our mixing setup for some time to come.”

  • Price: $49
  • Type: Creative delay

Read our full review here.

UAD Cooper Time Cube Mk II

UAD Cooper Time Cube Mk II

Get out of the shed, put that box down and get that garden hose out of your hands because you don’t need to build your own Cooper Time Cube to put it into your productions.

The UAD Cooper Time Cube is described as an “exacting” emulation of the unique mechanical delay designed by Duane Cooper and Bill Putnam back in 1971, which operates on a garden hose mechanic. The result is a characterful delay that specialises in quick delays and doubling effects.

We recommend applying this one onto drums and guitars for a distinctly thick 70s sound. Plus, the modern features that come in this digital rendition allow for greater control over your output. There’s tempo sync for two separate delay lines, along with treble, bass, colour and high-pass filter controls.

  • Price: $149
  • Type: Creative delay

Eventide UltraTap

Eventide Ultratap

If it’s pulsating rhythms, glitched-out signals and modulation madness you crave, then Eventide’s UltraTap delay is the creative delay for you. In a live setting, this delay is one that just beckons to be controlled with a MIDI controller, particularly if you’re a fan of improvising on the fly.

Some nifty performance features include a control ribbon, which lets you transition between two programs and HotSwitch, which instantly jumps to a secondary setting on the fly.

Apart from that, there’s a unique “Slurm” control, which is said to swear and modulate pulses together for unusual sounding verbs, onboard envelopes and LFOs for modulating the signal and 150 presets crafted for creative use in mind.

  • Price: $99/£85
  • Type: Creative delay

Read our full review here.

Slate Repeater Delay

Slate Repeater Delay

The Slate Repeater Delay is designed to be an all-encompassing delay, featuring 23 emulations of classic hardware delays and the controls you need to fine-tune each one for your productions.

While its interface can appear slightly daunting, it actually breaks down quite simply. Starting on the left, you get tempo-sync options, followed by your main delay controls. Overall, it’s a high-quality delay that offers a plethora of stereo options with independent controls for left and right channels for colour, feedback and more.

  • Price: $99/£64
  • Type: Creative delay

Blue Cat Audio Late Replies

Blue Cat Audio Late Replies

With the tongue-in-cheek name, one might get the impression the Late Replies from Blue Cat Audio would be a simple delay plug-in, but that’s where you might be mistaken.

This is a powerful multi-tap delay with an eight-tap pattern module, two feedback looks and even plug-in slots that let you drop in built-in effects or even ones from your own plug-in library.

Needless to, this makes Late Replies quite the force to be reckoned with, especially since you could insert all sorts of plug-ins to affect the overall sound. Some of the included effects include EQ, filters, pitch and frequency shifter, yet more delays, modulation effects, a bit crusher, wave shaper and more.

While the vast possibilities of the plug-in can feel formidable, fret not, for there’s also an “easy mode” included that drops the number of parameters to just the ones you need. Along with that are presets crafted by Sink and Hans Van Even.

In our review, we said: “It will happily provide for your basic delay requirements while rising admirably to the challenge when you need something more advanced or complex. It will also function very happily as a multi-effects processor and with its 30 built-in plug-ins, offers exceptional value for money in this regard.”

  • Price: $/€129, £86
  • Type: Creative delay

Read our full review here.