Top 11 Vocal Delay Tips

Top 11 Vocal Delay Tips


  1. Avoid High Feedback on Short Delay
  2. Use Delay Ducking for Clarity
  3. Try Emulation for Classic Sound
  4. Create Dynamic Control Before Delay
  5. Amplify Mel Curve Delay Frequencies
  6. Use Simple Stereo Delay
  7. Widen BGVs with Sample Delay
  8. Utilize this Free Delay Plugin
  9. Create Experimental Delay with Chow Matrix
  10. Use Latch Automation on Delay
  11. Recreate Ducking with Parallel Send

Avoid Aggressive Feedback on Short Delay

For this video, the chapters are in no particular order.

For most delay plugins, if you combine short delay with a high level of feedback, you get a really unpleasant, somewhat metallic sound.  This can be interesting for lo-fi projects, but for the most part, I’d recommend avoiding this combination when delaying your vocals.

Let’s listen to it to better understand why it should be avoided.

Use Delay Ducking for Clarity

When delaying a vocal, it’s really helpful if the delay plugin includes ducking for the delay portion of the signal – this basically means the start of the delay will be compressed.  Using the DualDelayX I’ll enable ducking to reduce the delay’s amplitude at the start of each passage.

This way the dry vocal cuts through, and the delay follows it – making the vocal clearer.  Let’s take a listen.

Try Emulation for Classic Sound

Although this may seem obvious, it’s best to use emulation when trying to create a vintage delay sound – although you could combine effects to recreate it, good plugins like this one use a lot of behind-the-scenes program-dependent modulation to create a convincing sound.

For example, Delay Tape-201, Arturia’s emulation of the Roland Space Echo 201, introduces both frequency and phase modulation that consistently changes, similar to the hardware.

Let’s listen and try to keep in mind how many variables are being used to create a realistic emulation.

Create Dynamic Control Before Delay

Before you being using temporal effects like reverb and delay, I’d definitely recommend that you control the vocal’s dynamics.  I’ll use PSP’s infinistrip to introduce some preamp emulation, compression, and then saturation, before routing the vocal to a delay – this way the delay has a dynamically consistent input.

Let’s listen first with the delay on and the infinistrip off, then with both plugins enabled.

Amplify Mel Curve Delay Frequencies

Mel Frequencies are perceived to be equal distance apart or each pitch from one another due to how our ears prioritize certain frequencies over others.  With the plugin EQviocate inserted after our delay, we can amplify our delayed vocal in a way that’s most effective for most listeners.

That said, I’ll use it to amplify the fundamental, some around 2kHz to add presence and some highs for air.  Since this EQ is inserted after the delay, it’ll also affect our delay taps, making both the vocal and delay sound more musical.

Let’s take a listen.

Use Simple Stereo Delay

If you’re using stock plugins, here’s a simple but really effective setup for vocal delay – with a stereo delay plugin, choose the mono to stereo option and delay the left channel by 1/16th and the right by a dotted 1/16th – then blend in the effect.

Creating this slight variation between the left and right channels will make the vocal more complex, and for one reason or another, has a pleasant sound.

You could also try 1/8th and dotted 1/8th delay, or 1/32nd and dotted 1/32nd delay.  Just be sure to keep the feedback a little lower for quicker delays.

Let’s take a listen.

Widen BGVs with Sample Delay

Sample delay is one of my favorite plugins to use – it’s super simple and only requires one parameter change to make it work.  Like the last chapter, use a mono to stereo plugin, then delay one of the channels by a few milliseconds to achieve the effect.

Phase cancellation between the left and right signals will widen the vocal significantly – which is great for any BGVs you want to occupy a different space than the lead.

Let’s use it on the same vocal we’ve been demoing to understand the effect.

Utilize this Free Delay Plugin

If you want complex delay but would prefer not to buy a delay plugin, I’d really recommend the Valhalla Supermassive – a free reverb, delay, and chorusing plugin that lets you introduce incredibly impressive and intricate temporal processing.  Start with a vocal delay preset, and then adjust the settings from there.

Let’s take a listen to 2 presets, and notice how the plugin works really well for delaying vocals.

Create Experimental Delay with Chow Matrix

If you create experimental music, and simple delay plugins won’t work for what you’re trying to do, I’d recommend another free delay plugin the Chow Matrix.  With it, you can create multiple delay tap branches that can be modulated, and made incredibly complex by holding shift and clicking.

The insanity slider introduces randomized modulation to these branches that affect the stereo placement, delay timing, pitch, and more.  Let’s listen and keep in mind the sound will be more unorthodox than the other examples.

Use Latch Automation on Delay

One cool sound you can create with delay is modulating the delay time at specific points in the song.  To do this, I like to use the latch function in my DAW, and then play back the section of the song where I’d like the modulation before writing that data by altering the delay parameter.

This way the change is more like a performance, and you can go over the section until you get it the way you want.

Let’s take a listen to the effect.

Recreate Ducking with Parallel Send

In chapter 2 of this video I showed how ducking can be used to create more intelligible vocal delay – but if the delay plugin you use or prefer doesn’t have ducking here’s what you can do.  Set up a send and on an aux track insert your delay.

Then insert a compressor and side chain the dry vocal.  This way whenever the vocal is sung, the delay will be compressed, similar to the ducking we used earlier.  Let’s take a listen.

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