Written by Bobby
Over the decades I've spent playing electric guitar, I've probably used delay pedals more than any other type of pedal. For whatever reason, I've always loved the way delay sounds and how it can be used either as a rhythm or lead guitar effect.
Delay is a type of ambient effect, which means it creates its sound by manipulating time.
In that respect, delay, reverb, and echo pedals are all in the same effects category.
For those wanting to cut straight to my recommendations, here are my five favorite delay pedals, based on actual use and testing.
Best Delay Pedals (my top 5 picks)
Strymon TimeLine Delay
Strymon Volante Delay
MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay
Line 6 DL4 Delay
Boss DM-2w Waza Craft Delay
1. Strymon TimeLine
The Strymon Timeline Multi-dimensional delay pedal has 12 different delay modes and an astonishing 200 presets. It's a digital delay with a tap tempo control and a ton of parameters to tinker with.
Selectable delay types include the following: Duck, swell, Lo-Fi, dBucket, digital, and more.
It's a great studio or recording delay, allowing you to craft essentially any type of ambient sound you can imagine. Though the presets and tap tempo give it some performance appeal as well.
In terms of pure functionality and tone quality, it's hard to top what Strymon has done with the TimeLine. If you're after flexibility and customization options, I'd recommend the TimeLine above everything else on this list. If you're after something simpler or perhaps an analog delay pedal, keep looking.
IDEAL FOR: High levels of customization, studios, recording, and performing
2. Strymon Volante
The Volante is a unique alternative to the TimeLine, offering an analog-style echo pedal that runs digital algorithms through an analog preamp. You also get reverb and a looper with playback control, all of which compliments the digital echo effects nicely.
It's meant to model more of an analog sound with tape, studio, and drum echo types, along with a spacing control that allows you to set the timing of the echo pattern.
The looping and reverb are both a significant part of this pedal's appeal, which means we wouldn't consider this a pure delay pedal. But if those features are more attractive to you than the presets and flexibility of the TimeLine, the Volante could be a better fit for your rig.
IDEAL FOR: Those prioritizing analog sounds, looping, and reverb.
3. MXR Carbon Copy
If you want a completely analog delay, the MXR Carbon Copy would be my top recommendation. It's built with bucket brigade circuitry and without any digital components.
While this reduces the pedal's flexibility, it improves the tone and overall sound quality of the effect.
Guitar players that prefer a vintage, true analog tone will appreciate how the Carbon Copy sounds right out of the box and likely won't want to spend much time tinkering with the sound.
Control is limited to the following:
You'll also have to go without a tap tempo, which could be tricky depending on how you use your delay pedal. Rhythmic use of a delay is much harder without the tap tempo added. Though if you're more of a lead guitar player and you use your delay as an ambiguous, ethereal effect instead of a rhythmic compliment, the Carbon Copy can still be a really good fit.
If you want the presets, tempo control, and functionality, you'd probably be better off with the Strymon offerings.
However, if you're after a simple, good quality tone that you don't have to mess with, the Carbon Copy is my favorite recommendation.
IDEAL FOR: Those after a simple, high-quality, analog delay pedal
4. Line 6 DL4
I've owned this pedal now for over six years and no matter what delay pedal I've tried (and I've tried a lot), I always come back to the DL4 as one of my absolute favorites.
You get the presets (albeit, only three of them) and the tap tempo of nicer pedals, along with 11 selectable modes which reminds me of the TimeLine setup, but it's also just far simpler to use and more intuitive.
Because at the end of the day, I don't really need 200 presets or a ton of tone-shaping options.
I just need a few really good delay sounds that work and can be called up at the press of a button.
That's what the DL4 does for me.
Yes, it's entirely digital, which isn't great for some people. But I've always been happy with the tone quality I get, despite the lack of bucket brigade circuits.
With the 11 delay modes, you can find both warm and digital-sounding delay effects, with just about everything in between. For a better price than both the TimeLine and the Volante, it's an old stand-by that I'll continue to use.
Read the full review: Line 6 DL4
IDEAL FOR: Recording, playing live, rhythm, or lead styles
5. Boss DM-2w Waza Craft
The Boss DM-2w is a part of the Waza Craft pedal series by Boss, which is a reissue of several older pedal that Boss used to make. With a completely analog circuit, the DM-2w is a reissue of the original Boss DM-2 which was an entirely analog delay pedal.
Currently, the DM-2w is one of the only Boss pedals to run a bucket brigade circuit, giving it an appeal similar to that of the MXR Carbon Copy.
It's small, simple, and warm, providing a vintage analog tone that you don't get with the larger, more complex digital delay pedals.
We'd recommend it for those who don't mind going without the tap tempo and without the presets, who value tone quality and simplicity over flexibility. I should also mention that the DM-2w is the second cheapest delay pedal on our list, hovering around $153 retail (the Carbon Copy is cheaper).
IDEAL FOR: Simplicity, analog fans, and lead guitar players
What is a delay pedal?
For those wanting more information on delay pedals, let's talk about some basics.
What is a delay pedal?
A delay pedal is an effects processor, also sometimes called a stompbox, that sits on the floor between your guitar and your amplifier. As the signal passes from your guitar, it goes into the pedal, is manipulated, then output as a delay sound.
Delay is a trail of echoes, created by sampling a line of your signal and then playing it back.
Typical variables include the following:
- Length/time of the sample
- Repeats/number of echoes
As the complexity of a delay pedal increases, other variables might include:
- Feedback of ambient trails
- Frequency of echoes
- Waveform manipulation
- Timing manipulation of echoes
All of this functionality can make up your average delay pedal, which can then be used either for electric guitars, acoustic guitars, or even bass.
How it works
Delay pedals work by processing your guitar's clean signal and outputting a wet or effected signal where you actually hear the echoes.
This processing occurs using one of two mechanisms:
- Digital signal processor (algorithms)
- Physical analog circuits (bucket brigade circuitry)
The short way of saying this is that you can have either digital or analog delay pedals, while some are even a hybrid of both (see the Strymon Volante from earlier).
We'll cover more about the specifics of analog and digital delay pedals later, but for now it's sufficient to know that these two mechanisms process your signal to create the delay effect which is then mixed with your original clean signal.
Difference between reverb and delay
I also mentioned in the intro paragraph that delay is a type of ambient effect, which is in the same category that reverb pedals fall into.
But what is the difference between reverb and delay?
In simple terms, reverb creates a sort of ambiguous trail while delay creates a uniform echo of the original signal. However, they both rely on timing and playback, albeit in different forms.
Reverb is never considered rhythmic, nor does it follow an identifiable repeat pattern.
It basically takes a sample of what you've played and plays it back slowly, in a way that it "trails off" the original segment.
How do I power my delay pedal?
As with most guitar pedals, delay pedals are going to be powered by a 9V battery or power supply. Some larger delay pedals may use a 12V or 18V power source. This simply depends on which pedal you're referring to.
You'll also want to keep an eye on milliamp load, which can be different for larger pedals, delay or otherwise.
Refer to our writeup on guitar pedal power supplies for more information on powering your delay pedal.
Analog or Digital Delay
Let's get back to our discussion about analog and digital delay pedals.
One of the most basic questions is simply: Which one is better?
As a potential delay pedal buyer, it's not necessarily true that one is better than the other. It really just depends on which two delay pedals you're comparing. However, we can make some generalizations about each type, summarizing their strengths and weaknesses:
Analog Delay Pedals Pros and Cons
- Generally better tone quality
- Vintage appeal
- Warm and more natural sounding
- More expensive
- Less control options
Digital Delay Pedals Pros and Cons
- Often cheaper
- More flexible than analog pedals
- More control options
- Tone quality tends to be not as good as analog
- Can be more complex to operate
Best analog option
With these differences in mind, what is the best analog delay pedal? Personally, I'd recommend either the MXR Carbon Copy with the EHX Memory Boy as an honorable mention.
Best digital option
What about the best digital delay pedal?
Again, we'd go back to the Strymon offerings, particularly the Strymon TimeLine, with the DL4 getting an honorable mention as well.
What is "tape" delay?
While shopping for a delay pedal, you might come across the term "tape delay" which can be a little confusing if you don't know the history of delay pedals.
Basically, delay pedals were first created using a device that literally recorded your guitar onto a tape deck, then played it back. These were the original delay effects processers and pedals.
As you might expect, this method of creating delay had its own unique sound.
Thus, while technology advanced to create smaller circuits and digital processors, the sound profile of the old tape delay boxes is still desirable, giving rise to delay pedals like this one:
Some delay pedals take it a step further and implement an actual mini-tape deck to mimic the old tape echo machines, like this one from T-Rex:
Thus, the term "tape delay" can refer to modern algorithms that mimic the original tape echo sound, pedals with actual tape decks, or the original tape machines that started the delay pedal family.
Best Under $100
What if you're looking to spend less than $100 on a delay pedal? What is your best option in that price range? Unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of delay pedals that get this cheap.
You have economy brands like Behringer and Donner, though we wouldn't necessarily recommend those just because they're poorly made and not nearly as nice as the other options we've mentioned in this article.
A couple decent options that don't sacrifice too much quality, would include the following:
- TC Electronic Echobrain Analog Delay
- JHS 3 Series Delay
Best Under $200
What if you're willing to go up to $200?
In that case we'd put the MXR Carbon Copy and Boss DM-2w in the driver's seat, which both get you an analog circuit and a great-sounding delay pedal for under $200 retail (both are actually closer to $150).
- MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay
- Boss DM-2w Waza Craft
Delay or echo?
I've touched on this topic briefly, but I want to give it a more full explanation: What is the difference between echo and reverb?
Practically, there is no difference between them. It's more so an issue of semantics, where "echo" refers to the actual repeats that you hear, while "delay" is used to refer to the entire effect in a guitar pedal context.
For example, a "delay pedal" allows you to control multiple aspects of the ambience, where the "echoes" are only one of those aspects.
When you see echo pedals specifically, you're still technically getting a delay pedal.
Do I need a delay pedal?
Is a delay pedal even necessary for you rig?
Particularly if you play electric guitar, the delay effect is going to highly useful, whether you're a lead or rhythm guitar player.
This means I'd recommend some form of a delay pedal or processor for every guitar rig, regardless of genre or playing style.
And while it's true that you can play electric guitar without a delay pedal, having the option makes your rig more complete and versatile, allowing you to create some of the coolest sounds an electric guitar is capable of.
Conclusion and Your Questions
These are the best delay pedals that I would personally recommend, based on actual use and intensive research. I've used them, held them in my hands, and played them through my own guitar rig.
I hope that's helpful and reassuring to you, though I should also mention that it doesn't negate other delay pedals that aren't mentioned on this page.
When I write these posts, I try to focus on less products in favor of highlighting pedals that I've actually used and have more experience with.
So feel free to drop thoughts about other delay pedals in the comments section.
You can also leave your questions there about the delay pedals I've listed, and I'll help out as much as possible.