How to Mix Delay



When you mix delay, combine equalization and delay to help tailor the processing to the instrument or signal you’re affecting.  Additionally, delay can cause stereo expansion when used on a stereo signal, so keep that in mind as a possible method to affect your mix’s image.

Super Thick Bass with Delay

Delay is usually saved for vocals, but let’s consider some creative ways to use delay starting with the bass.  If we want a super thick-sounding bass let’s send the bass to an auxiliary or parallel track, on which we’ll insert a short delay of 1/16 or 1/32.

Then with an EQ, we’ll isolate the reflections of the delay to the lower frequencies, before blending in the low-frequency delays with the original bass.

This is going to amplify the lows but also, cause them to occupy more time, creating a very impressive sound.

Let’s take a listen.

Delay on Vocal’s Fundamental

If we want impressive vocals, we can do something similar to our last chapter, in which we send the vocal to a parallel track, use quick delay times, and then EQ.  With the EQ I’ll isolate only the fundamentals of the vocal, creating a full sound.

Additionally, since the fundamental help clue the listener as to the key of the song, augmenting the fundamental this way will actually make the vocal sound slightly more in tune.

Let’s take a listen and notice how the vocal sounds subtly thicker, and maybe even more musical.

Widening with Sample Delay

Using sample delay is one of the quickest ways to find a unique stereo placement for an instrument – Additionally, it’s usually included as a stock plugin, and is incredibly easy on your CPU.  Simply delay one channel of a stereo signal, and notice how its placement changes.

If you use this effect on different instruments, listen carefully as you adjust the times to find a specific placement for each instrument.

Let’s listen to this effect on our drum loop, just so the effect is easy to hear, and know that this example will be too aggressive for most mixes.

Compress and Saturate Delay Taps

If your delay is sounding somewhat boring, you can use some processors after the delay to make it a lot more intriguing.  Using the send we used in chapters 1 and 2,  insert your delay – then I’ll insert the Infinistrip plugin by PSP Audioware.

With it I’ll use a preamp emulation to add some harmonics, then optical compression with make-up gain to control the delay’s dynamics and make it more detailed.  Lastly, I’ll add a little more saturation to give the delay more character.

Let’s take a listen to the difference the channel strip makes.

Add Background Percussion

One effect for the delay that’s rarely if ever used is as an actual instrument – for example, if I add delay to my drum bus, I can basically rewrite the drum part.  I’m going to do this with Spaced Out by Baby Audio using the Percussion Spice preset and change some settings.

With the effect blended in, we can achieve a background percussion element to our primary percussion – which when compared to simply adding more percussion, has a really unique and creative sound.

Let’s take a listen.

Automate Delay Using Latch

Delay and Latch automation are a great pairing that unfortunately is combined enough – in short, I can set the automation to the latch function in my DAW, then play the track.  While the tracks playing I can alter any parameter of my delay to introduce creative and dynamic delay.

For example, I could increase the delay’s feedback on the vocal and then drop it aggressively for a creative effect.  Let’s listen to it, and consider how you can use this in your projects to add a lot of character.

Introduce Modulation to Delay

If the plugin you’re using allows for it, you can introduce modulated delay – Timeless 3 lets you add envelope followers and link them to various functions.  I’ll create one of these, change it to the transient mode, and then link it to my wet/dry and the functions.

Now I can create program-dependent delay, or delay that responds to my signal’s dynamics.  Let’s take a listen.

Modulated Delay Stereo Widening

Again, let’s use a delay that offers modulation, but this time, change the processing to mid and side.  Now I can link my envelope follower to mid-side panning of the delay, causing stereo expansion whenever a transient hits or I can cause narrowing if I invert the effect.

Let’s listen to delay being used to expand the stereo imaging using this method.

Using Delay for Chorusing

Chorus is a popular effect for guitars, synths, and vocals, but more or less a simplified delay and delay modulation effect.  With that said, we can use a delay plugin to create a more impressive chorus effect and have some more creative control over the sound.

Let’s use the free plugin Supermassive by Valhalla DSP and try out some of their chorus effects using this delay and reverb function.

When to Use L/R or Ping Pong Delay

When using delay you may have noticed the option for left and right or ping pong delays and wondered when to use each type.  In short, use a left/right delay setting when you want to delay taps to blend in with the surrounding instrumentation. 

Similarly, use a ping-pong setting when you want the delay to stick out or be more noticeable.  I usually treat left/right delay as a pragmatic effect used for a specific purpose like thickening a signal and use ping-pong delay for a more creative effect.

Let’s take a listen to the same delay settings first using left/right and then ping pong.

Using a Gate to Clean Delay

Using a gate after your delay will attenuate the delayed signal whenever it falls below a threshold, in turn simplifying the delay, and removing some additional reflections from the delay taps.  You can either use the gate aggressively or subtly, depending on your cutoff and range.

It’s definitely not perfect, but if you want very distinct delay taps, as opposed to a diffused sound, try a gate.  Let’s listen to the effect.

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