The versatility of delay has given it a permanent place in just about every producer’s toolkit. I can’t remember the last time I made a song without it. At the right levels, it can improve the qualities of any instrument, including vocals. Some genres, like dub and ambient, rely on delay for their entire sonic aesthetic. From classic tape echos to stadium-sized vocals to psychedelic washes, delay is the secret force behind many of modern music’s most famed sounds.
In this article, I’ll show you a new approach to delay using DDLY, which combines dynamics processing with analog and grain delay technologies.
Delay does what it’s name implies: it delays an incoming signal, producing a repeating effect. This simple idea has opened up a world of processing possibilities.
DDLY handles DAW delay differently than most plug-ins. Instead of statically processing an entire input with a single delay, DDLY’s detects the transients of a signal, then processes them based on how loud they are at any given moment. Transients are the short boosts of energy at the start of a sound in a waveform. They are the loudest part of a waveform, giving listeners a lot information about the character of a sound. By adapting to transients, DDLY produces a more musical delay that changes with the shape of an input.
The loudness of an input’s transients also determines which of DDLY’s two delays will be used to process them. Loud, cracking sounds are fed into the top delay, and soft non-transient sounds are fed into the bottom delay.
Each of these two delays can be assigned with either an analog or granular algorithm. The analog delay algorithm provides lo-fi distortion processing, and the granular algorithm splits audio into grains adjustable by size and pitch.
Dynamic Threshold—which determines the dynamic at which an input switches between the two delays—is controlled by the lever located on the far left. Everything above the Dynamic Threshold is sent to the top delay and everything below is sent to the bottom delay. This split ensures that as sounds get louder they are emphasized with delay, and that quieter, less important material doesn’t cloud the mix.
I’ll show you how this all works with an arpeggiator sample. Here it is without DDLY.
Now, I’ll enable just the top delay using its associated power button. The analog algorithm is enabled and Dynamic Threshold is set at the bottom. With these settings, the entire signal is sent to the top delay, and DDLY acts like a standard DAW delay.
It sounds OK, but overall the mix is too muddy. After a few more repetitions, the arpeggiator will tire the listener, especially once more instruments are added. To fix this, I’ll bring the Dynamic Threshold toward the top, filtering out the less transient material to focus solely on the punchy parts of the arpeggiator.
The delay is still noticeable but it does not cause any blurring. By adapting to the input, DDLY produces an overall cleaner effect. Near the end of the recording, I pull the Dynamic Threshold right up to the top edge of the input waveform, producing a cool choppy effect that I would suggest you explore further on vocals. This chopping effect happens because only the highest peaks of the arpeggiator are being sent to the delay, leaving gaps in the signal.
So, what happens when I bring in the bottom delay? I’ve selected the granular algorithm and set grain size to 1000 ms and grain pitch to +12 semitones.
The granular delay introduces a cool shimmering effect that takes the loop in a more dramatic direction. I’ve also used DDLY’s filter to remove all frequencies below 800 Hz to highlight the crispy qualities of the arpeggiator here.
In a song context, try bringing in the second delay before a drop or new song section. This could work as an effective transition.
To get a better idea of what is happening with the bottom delay, here it is solo’d.
You can really hear how the bottom delay squeezes the transient sounds out of the arpeggiator. The punchy bass note is softened and the high end energy that makes the top delay version exciting is not there. But, the bottom delay still serves a purpose. It provides an adventurous textural layer that gives the arpeggiator style.
This squeezing effect is particularly useful for processing drums. If you add a standard delay to a drum loop, thing get messy, fast. Snares, hi-hats, and percussion will clang together, and rumbling kick drums will send your mix into bass overload. By splitting your signal into two parts—for example, hard hitting transients and underlying rhythmic material—you will gain more control and be able to introduce complex and intentional delay effects.
Whether you use both delays together or one at a time, DDLY provides a creative and often experimental alternative to the stock delay options that come with your DAW.
Although I focused on electronic sounds in this article, there’s much more you can do on your own. Take advantage of DDLY’s adaptiveness to process dynamic audio like vocal performances, guitar solos, and drums.
Learn more about DDLY.