5 advanced digital delay techniques

Illustration: Laura Bee

In music production, delay is just as versatile as it is influential.

This effect finds its way into every single one of my tracks and is practically a requirement for certain musical styles. We’ve already gone over how delay has shaped popular music since the mid-20th century, but how can you harness the power of delay techniques in your own compositions? From widening sounds to enhancing compositions, these five advanced delay techniques can make a huge impact on your music.

1. The Haas effect

Also known as the “precedence effect,” this psychoacoustic phenomenon describes how the human ear will perceive two different sounds as one, as long as the delay between each sound lies within a certain interval. In music production, we can use this effect to add artificial stereo depth to a piece of audio.

To achieve the Haas effect, first duplicate a mono audio track, and then pan one all the way to the right and the other all the way to the left. Choose a track and set its delay time to somewhere between 10 ms and 30 ms. Experiment with this setting to achieve your desired “widened” effect.

Hear this delay technique in action:


2. Dubbed-out

Now, let’s have some fun with feedback and filtering to create an intense, drawn-out delay tail effect reminiscent of classic dub reggae production. Grab a short piece of audio, like a guitar stab or a vocal shout, and throw a ping pong delay on the track. Set the feedback to its max value and keep the dry/wet value initially at 50%. After hitting play, start adjusting the filter frequency to give the delayed audio a sweeping, evolving effect. You can also increase the dry/wet value in order to draw the delay tail out even further.

Hear this delay technique in action:


3. Harmonizing delays

You can use delay on top of a basic melody to add a whole new layer of depth and variation. Just take your existing melody track and add an instance of Ableton’s Simple Delay, or any delay plugin with different adjustable delay times for the left and right channels. These offset timings will add notes to the melody, and potentially even create chords where the original notes and their delayed versions begin overlapping. Change up the left and right delay times to introduce fun moments of variation.

Hear this delay technique in action:


4. Delayed drum rhythms

Delay isn’t just for harmonic content – it’s also great for quickly experimenting with different percussive patterns. Instead of constantly re-writing notes and adjusting individual velocities to achieve the perfect rhythm, just place a delay on top of a less complex pattern and mess with the time delay and feedback parameters.

Hear this delay technique in action (the variations below all come from the same repeating four notes):


5. Selective delay with sends and returns

One of my favorite ways to use delay is with send and return tracks, because they give us more control over the effect. In this case, they let us decide exactly when and where we’d like to start applying the delay. Let’s say I want to add a long delay tail to a vocal sample, but only want it to affect the final word of the phrase. Start by setting up your return track – the default ‘B’ return track in Ableton conveniently has a delay effect already thrown in, so we can just use that. Make sure the dry/wet value is set to 100%, and then we can start sending audio into it. Find the track you’d like to affect and press play. Under the sends section of that track, quickly bring up the dial for the ‘B’ return track at the moment you want to affect the audio, and bask in the glory of selective delay. There’s also nothing stopping you from sending multiple tracks through that same return.

Hear this delay technique in action:



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July 9, 2019

Matteo Malinverno Matteo Malinverno is a New York-based music producer currently working on the Content team at Splice.