by Ellison Wolf
I’ve been recording my own music forever, and have tried/owned tons of different mics, guitars, synths, keyboards, drums, etc., but the one and only thing [aside from my suitcase Rhodes] that I have always held onto was my Roland RE-201 Space Echo. I’ve considered it my secret weapon forever, as it always adds just the right amount of delay and mystique to background vocals, snare, synth, whatever. But it’s not without its caveats. In my time with it, I’ve recapped it, put in new felts and pinch rollers, cleaned it hundreds of times, tried numerous tapes from numerous sources, found a rattlesnake skin inside, and more than a few times, have powered it up to use on a session only to not have it work properly, or at all. It hasn’t always been easy [or reliable], but the results have always been worth it. I’ve tried/owned other tape delays, pedals, and plug-ins to take the pressure off of it, but nothing sounded like my RE-201, nothing could dethrone it from its perch high atop my studio desk. Until now.
Yes, it’s a bit sad, but what can you do? I still love the Space Echo, and it will always hold a special place for me, but nowadays when I need a good delay I don’t even hesitate. I go straight for the Valhalla Delay. I’ve been using Valhalla reverbs ever since reading about them in Tape Op a while back, so when they finally released the Delay I kept thinking, “It’s about time!” There are so many things I like about Valhalla plug-ins. They sound amazing, are dead simple to use, there’s no dongle/key/password/bribe required for them to work, they’re priced well, and their interface is simple and attractive, not just some animated version of the thing they’re trying to emulate, which can hog up a ton of CPU and seems totally pointless to me. I’m friends with somebody that was working on the production of this, and for over a year every time I’d ask about it, he would tell me they were close, but there was always another [pun intended] delay, and it just needed a little more tweaking. It’s understandable. The Valhalla Delay has a lot to live up to, and I knew I would like this, but would it add the magic, the special sauce that my RE-201 lent to all my recordings over the years? As my now dusty Space Echo can attest, the Valhalla Delay absolutely can. And then some.
Valhalla Delay offers ten different delay modes, and they cover a lot of ground. The delays on offer might be inspired by vintage delays, but Valhalla has moved way beyond what was, and has in the process created a new standard. There’s plenty of available tweaking to be had, without too much clutter of the GUI—a Valhalla trademark—and it’s truly a joy using their plug-ins because of this. There are the standard Delay/Mix/Feedback controls for each mode, and a Style control as well, which adds various changes to the mix depending on the mode you’re in. In each delay mode you can choose Single, Dual, Ratio, Ping-Pong, and Quad algorithms. Dual, Ratio, and Ping-Pong are stereo effects with distinct left and right delays. When you’re in Quad style in a given mode, you have the option to turn on/off whichever of the four delay taps you’d like, giving you the ability for further exploration/customization. There’s a Color section with Drive and Age controls, and there’s a Diffusion control that shapes the clarity of the delays, not in terms of EQ, but how blurry or crisp they are. You can really smear the delays into one other in a very pleasing way. Each mode also has two knobs to tweak things a bit that are specific to the mode, such as Wow/Flutter for Tape mode, Rate/Depth for the BBD mode, etc. Finally, there’s some EQ control to tame the highs or get rid of unwanted lows.
Four of the delays go for the feel, rather than exact replication of vintage devices, and at first, Tape was where I spent most of my time, as it’s more reminiscent of my beloved Space Echo. To start, I put a vocal part on loop and just played around, changing this, trying that, messing with the Style, just to get a feel for how it worked, how it felt, how it sounded. One thing I’ve always loved doing in my recordings is sending vocals through the Space Echo and tweaking the feedback and rate knobs to give a little texture and atmosphere, a little creepiness even, and recording that on a separate track to mix with the original. Doing the same in real time with plug-ins doesn’t always work that well, as sometimes the interfaces aren’t designed for this, and are clunky and not much fun to navigate. With the Valhalla Delay, this wasn’t the case, and using just the trackpad on my laptop, felt pretty good, and easily yielded great results, creating some really weird changes, sounds, and textures—why I use delay, specifically tape delay, in the first place—that I’d never gotten with my Space Echo. We were off to a great start.
Easing my way out of Tape, HiFi is a more refined tape delay that sounds akin to how delay was first utilized in recordings in the early days of studio trickery, using multiple tape machines to achieve a delay effect. Until the release of Valhalla Delay, for my main delay plug-in I was using an emulation of this effect. I liked it, but was never in love with it, and let’s be honest; when it comes to delays [and reverbs, and distortion, and…], it’s all about love, right? If you don’t love it, you’re going to keep looking and move on for something else. I did.
Another mode available is a bucket brigade style, BBD, which also has a place in my heart as I’ve always loved the Boss DM-2 and have been using one for going on 20 years. There’s a certain charming degradation of the repeats that I’ve always loved, and of course I love getting it to self oscillate and scream. In BBD mode with the Mix at 100% I was able to get some really muted, dirty, and desperate sounding vocals, perfect for panning hard left in a stacked vocal part. It can get weird in a way I’ve not heard on another plug-in. The final replication style of delay is Digital, which has more of a sparkly clean modern sound, but can get really nasty. There’s nothing like the sound of 1s and 0s distorting to bring on some necessary harshness, and this does that well.
Three more algorithms; Pitch, RevPitch, and Ghost deal with pitch and frequency shifting. Pitch is a digital delay with the addition of pitch-shifting, with RevPitch being a granular reverse delay. I like to use slight pitch shifting a lot to make the something in the stereo field more present, when I want something felt rather than heard, and yet at the same time without taking up too much sonic real estate. With a little adjustment on the Spread it’s perfect for this for synth pads or background vocals [in some cases] and can add that extra something to boost a chorus, make a part really stand out, or just fill up an empty space quite well.
A Valhalla original, Ghost is a frequency shifter rather than a pitch shifter, combined with the Tape setting of the HiFi Mode. It can be a really sad and somber effect, and the cascading delays have a long pre-delay and disappear like the last wave in a set, taking a while before finally being out of sight and past the horizon. Maybe it was just the song I was working on, but it added an atmosphere I’d never come across from a delay before.
Since the initial release of the Valhalla Delay, three new algorithms have been added to the mix: BBDuck, Clarity, and DuckTape. BBDuck is based off of rack mounted delays such as the Ibanez AD-150 and Roland DC-10, and is interesting because the longer the delays are the darker they get. It has the ability for ducking and you can definitely hear the difference between this mode and the regular BBD, especially if you haven’t dialed in any ducking because the input signal and repeats blend together on the same sound plane, which sounds different than just dialing in the Mix a certain way as the decays are more at the forefront of the sound. Clarity mode is another cleaner delay, this of the digital style, with an added limiter so that you can hit the drive gain hard sans distortion. It sounds a bit like being in the middle of a giant concrete tube, with a certain digital detachment that permeates this mode. DuckTape is another tape delay that employs noise reduction and as the name suggests, more ducking. The ability to duck in these updates is a real plus as they’ve made it easy to do and is very useful. Free updates to a plugin are NOT always par for the course, so hats off to Valhalla ringleader Sean Costello and Co. for continually improving their products, and not just updating them when a new iLok or MacOS update comes out and it’s just a compatibility issue.
Valhalla Delay really impressed me, not that I was surprised by that. Every Valhalla product, from their excellent reverbs to their free downloads*, have always been top notch. It’s been my go to delay ever since I downloaded it, and with no rollers, tape, chips, or capacitors that will ever need replacing, I don’t see that changing any time soon. And at $50?! This one is a no brainer brainer brainer brainer brainer brainer brainer
*As of this review, Valhalla just released SuperMassive, a FREE reverb/delay plugin that is a also a no-brainer.