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The 10 best delay pedals 2021: our pick of the best delay guitar effects from Boss, Strymon, Electro-Harmonix and more

The 10 best delay pedals 2021: our pick of the best delay guitar effects from Boss, Strymon, Electro-Harmonix and more
(Image credit: Future)

Delay is undoubtedly be one of the most important effects you can add to your pedalboard, whether you’re a lead guitarist looking to add motion to your solos or a rhythm player hoping to add some serious dimension to your riffs. And, just like any effect, delay has evolved through the decades – from the early tape echoes of the ‘50s to the arrival of analog delay in the ‘70s, and then the digital units that followed in the ‘80s. We’ve got every type covered in this best delay pedals round-up.

Nowadays, delay can mean anything from a simple, barely audible slapback echo to a sound effect where the original signal ripples and ricochets into an eternity of ambience. Which is why we thought we’d run through some of our favourites and the features which make them the best delay pedals of their kind...

What are the best delay pedals right now?

For those players on the lookout for the ‘ultimate’ delay unit - that one box which can do it all, from vintage Space Echoes to shimmers and sound effects, with options for true or buffered bypass - the Boss DD-500 flagship delay pedal is pretty much unbeatable. Limited space on the board? The DD-200 packs a lot of those features into an equally impressive and smaller 32-Bit/96 kHz box.

For something a little more classic that still includes plenty of versatile delay models, the list of TC Electronic Flashback users over the years speaks volumes. From icons like Tony Iommi and Joe Perry to virtuosos like Guthrie Govan and Brent Mason - plus modern heroes such as Mateus Asato and Jen Majura - the Flashback packs plenty of appeal for just about any kind of player.

Best delay pedals: buying advice

Which type of delay is best for you?
Generally speaking, digital delays have cleaner echoes, analogue delays sound richer and darker, and tape delays degrade with each repeat. Some lead players might just need one simple setting for every solo, and find they’re better suited to something like the MXR Carbon Copy – an all-analogue and true bypass favourite, though admittedly more of a one-trick pony compared to other options. 

Those looking to get extra experimental - such as post, indie or progressive/atmospheric rock players - might find the 600ms Carbon Copy somewhat limiting and find themselves better suited to something more modern, with options for more effected and extreme delay times.

And some guitarists prefer to use multiple delays running simultaneously throughout each section of every song – which means they’ll be needing something high-powered with dual modes and options for reverse, ping-pong and pad echoes to turn their guitar into a whole new instrument.

This round-up of the best delay pedals should help you find the right stompbox for your needs and get those repeats adding serious depth to your playing…

The best delay pedals you can buy today

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1. Boss DD-500

Boss's high-end unit is the best delay pedal around today

Launch price: £275/$418/€348 | Type: Stereo multi-mode delay | Controls: Mode, Time/Value, Feedback, E. Level, Tone, Mod Depth, A/B Bank, Tap Tempo | Sockets: Stereo in/out, Expression pedal, MIDI in/out, USB | Bypass: Buffered bypass or true bypass (with relays) | Power requirements: 9V, 200 m

Great-sounding delays
Plenty of deep editing available
Clear screen
Shimmer mode isn't the strongest

Let’s not beat around the bush – delay is most definitely Boss territory. The Japanese company launched the world’s first mass-produced digital delay pedal, the DD-2, in 1983 and the series continues to thrive to this day. And now, following some stiff competition from other companies like Strymon and Eventide in the high-end market, they’ve really upped their game.

Meet the DD-500, which boasts a whopping 297 patches to save your carefully crafted tones with the added functionality of running two simultaneously. Then there’s the tap-tempo, ability to freeze notes or manipulate delay rates into sonic infinity, plus a 120 second looper. It’s one of the most powerful delay machines ever made and somehow still manages to undercut most other high-end units in price. Full marks all round.

Read the full review: Boss DD-500

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2. Strymon TimeLine

The 'do it all' best delay pedal for stage and studio

Launch price: £399/$449/€444 | Type: Stereo multi-mode delay | Controls: Type, Value, Time, Repeats, Mix, Filter, Grit, Speed, Depth, A/B Bank, Tap Tempo | Sockets: Stereo in/out, Expression pedal, MIDI in/out | Bypass: True Bypass | Power requirements: 9V, 300mA

Massive range of delay types
200 onboard memories
Impeccable emulations of vintage gear
Sheer number of features

There’s a reason why the Timeline is one of the most common pedals found on the boards of professional guitarists. Actually, there are numerous reasons – it’s an all-encompassing delay beast with 12 different types included (‘delay machines’ in TimeLine-speak), plus a stereo 30-second looper and an onboard memory that can store 200 rewritable presets in 100 banks of two. 

And the options range from the more conventional repeats popularised through early analog and digital units to more extreme, pitch-shifted ambient depths that can make your guitar sound like its beaming through space. It’s not one of the cheaper options, granted, but then the smaller units out there won’t cover nearly as much sonic ground. If you’re serious about delay, this or the DD-500 are guaranteed to be the pedals for you. 

Read the full review: Strymon TimeLine

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Best delay pedals 2020: Electro-Harmonix Canyon

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Best delay pedals 2020: Electro-Harmonix Canyon

(Image credit: Electro-Harmonix)

3. Electro-Harmonix Canyon delay pedal

The best compact multi-delay pedal for those who need EHX weirdness

Launch price: £149/$139/€155 | Type: Compact multi-mode digital delay | Controls: Mode, FX level, Delay, Feedback, Tap/Divide | Sockets: In/out, Tap in | Bypass: Buffered bypass or true bypass (with tails) | Power requirements: 9V, 200mA

Packed with features
Some really unique tones
Great octave effects
Tap tempo can be a little confusing

While Boss were the game-changers for digital delay, it was EHX who pioneered the analog units from the decade prior – most famously the Deluxe Memory Man, the first echo/delay unit with no moving parts. In the years since, it’s been used by bands like U2, Radiohead and The Cure. 

The Canyon marks the company’s first compact, multi-mode offering, packing together 11 delay types, including a 62 second looper and the pitch-shifting Octave mode – a first in an affordable compact. So, while it can’t compete with the sheer horsepower of the DD-500 or Timeline and doesn’t offer stereo outs, it manages to pack a lot into a small amount of space – which is always welcome news for pedal freaks. One of the best compact delay pedals out there.

Read the full review: Electro-Harmonix Canyon

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4. TC Electronic Flashback 2

The best versatile compact delay pedal

Launch price: £166/$169/€111 | Type: Stereo compact multi-mode digital delay | Controls: Delay, Feedback, Level, Mode, Subdivision | Sockets: Stereo in/out, USB | Bypass: Buffered bypass or True bypass | Power requirements: 9V, 100mA

Wide variety of delay effects
Tap tempo
Unique MASH function
Excellent shimmer sounds

The TC Flashback has been one of the most popular delays of the last decade – which is why you’ll find different versions to suit different needs, from the Mini to the Triple and the X4. This update of the original compact pedal offers the same kind of user-friendly design and some truly lush-sounding delays. 

It’s also updatable via USB and allows users to beam TonePrints via their phones, which is exactly the kind of forward-thinking that made the Danish company one of the heavyweights in the effects business. Looking for the best delay pedal under £100? This could very well be it. 

Read the full review: TC Electronic Flashback 2

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5. MXR Carbon Copy

Quite possibly the best compact analog delay on the mass market

Launch price: £199/$254.61/€168 | Type: Compact analogue delay pedal | Controls: Regen, Mix, Delay, Mod | Sockets: In/out | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V, 26mA

Authentic analogue delay tones
Small footprint
Adjustable modulation
Internal trim pots are tiny

Using BBD technology, MXR's Carbon Copy has, er, echoes of the old MXR Analog Delay (discontinued in the '80s) – not least in its three control knobs and greenish colouring, albeit in a much spanglier metallic shade this time around. As to be expected, the analog delays are generally richer, darker and less clear than the digital kind – ideal for those who don’t want their repeats to pop out too much or hoping to retain more of a vintage-sounding warmth. 

The Carbon Copy boasts 600ms of delay time with optional modulation via a top-mounted switch and a simple, three-knob layout that controls time, mix and repeats. In addition, two internal trim pots offer user-adjustable width and rate control of the modulation for even more tonal options. Consider it a modern and updated version of the 1977 original that quickly became one of the most popular delay units of its era.

Read the full review: MXR Carbon Copy

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6. Empress Echosystem

The best delay pedal for aficionados

Launch price: £459/$449/€488 | Type: Stereo multi-mode digital delay | Controls: Mode, Delay time/Ratio, Mix, Output, Feedback, Tone, Thing 1, Thing 2, Tap, Shift, Scroll, Bypass | Sockets: Stereo in/out, Control port, SD card | Bypass: Buffered or true bypass | Power requirements: 9V, 300mA

Small size for the facilities onboard
Hands-on operation – no hidden menus
Two engines combine for complex delays
No display – keep the manual handy!

The Echosystem might not look as user-friendly as some of the other bigger delay units out there, but it doesn’t take long to adjust to and is capable of creating a whole universe of ambience. Like the DD-500, it offers a dual mode where you can have two different delays running simultaneously – which opens up endless possibilities for depth and space. 

It’s an incredibly intelligent delay unit once you get to grips with it – and so it should be, sitting at the very top of this best delay pedals list in price. Though it might be a bit overkill for anyone planning to stick to one or two straightforward delay sounds, anyone looking to get really experimental would be wise to give the Echosystem a try. 

Read the full review: Empress Echosystem

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7. Boss DM-2W

Thoughtful update on a classic compact analog delay

Launch price: £165/$149/€166 | Type: Compact analogue delay pedal | Controls: Repeat rate, Echo, Standard/Custom, Intensity | Sockets: Input, Rate, Output, Direct out | Bypass: Buffered | Power requirements: 9V, 35mA

Gorgeous analogue BBD tone
Expanded delay time
No onboard modulation

Discontinued in 1984, the DM-2 was the gold standard for bucket-brigade delay (BBD), and this updated Waza Craft interpretation recreates the classic tone incredibly well. There’s a direct out as well as the ability to switch from ‘standard’ mode, or the stock reissue, into ‘custom’ mode, which sees the delay times expanded out to 800ms. 

Another useful update is the option for an expression input to control the rate, so if you’re on the hunt for an old-school digital delay reissue that can go from simple slapbacks to OTT auto-oscillations, this could very well be it.. 

Read the full review: Boss DM-2W

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8. Eventide TimeFactor

A powerful delay pedal from the studio processing giant

Launch price: £279/$499/€399 | Type: Stereo multi-mode digital delay | Controls: Mix, Delay Mix, Delay Time A, Delay Time B, Feedback A, Feedback B, Tempo, Xnob, Depth, Speed, Filter, Active, Repeat, Tap | Sockets: Stereo in/out, Expression pedal, Aux switch, USB, MIDI in/out | Bypass: Buffered or true bypass | Power requirements: 9V, 500mA

Small, portable and very well built
Bright, easy to read display
A warm, musical and natural sound
Requires a high-power 9V output

Much like the aforementioned Echosystem, the TimeFactor isn’t amazingly user-friendly at first glance, but is capable of creating worlds of noise that will truly transport your guitar tones. It certainly feels more high-end thanks to its smooth-feeling pots, rubberised grip feet, sturdy casing and informative dot matrix display. 

It offers nine dual delays with dedicated mix, time and feedback controls for the two independent A and B lines, plus a Looper with variable speed and loop head/tail editing. Whether it’s MultiTap, Reverse, Mod, Tape, Ducked or AutoPan you’re after, operating in stereo or dual mono or straight mono, the TimeFactor will have you covered on all fronts. 

Read the full review: Eventide TimeFactor

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9. DOD Rubberneck

A versatile analog delay that can get as weird as you like

Launch price: £209/$312.44/€251 | Type: Analogue delay pedal | Controls: Time, Repeats, Level, Tap Ratio, Rate/Depth, Gain/Tone, Tails, Bypass, Tempo | Sockets: Input, Output, Send/Return, FS3X Footswitch | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V, 150mA

Long delay times for an analogue delay
Sweet tones
Awesome, unique oscillation
Not the cheapest analog delay

If you want to get really weird - as well as cover the more usual kinds of delay sounds - then the Rubberneck might be up your street. The feature from which it gets its name can be dialled in to a subtle vibrato or a deep, seasick warble… or ignored. It offers controls for gain and tone, meaning that brighter and cleaner or darker and grittier sounds can be dialled in, so clearly there’s a lot of tonal variety at hand. 

There’s also a tap-tempo functionality and the option for eighth, dotted eighth and quarter notes, built on top of a great-sounding analog delay. A regen knob gives control over momentary oscillation effects and a highly usable delay-time sweep makes more atmospheric delay lines possible. Definitely the winner of the quirky underdog award in this best delays contest!

Read the full review: DOD Rubberneck

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10. Source Audio Nemesis

The best affordable digital multi-delay

Launch price: £249/$299/€325 | Type: Stereo multi-mode digital delay | Controls: Time, Feedback, Delay Type, Mod, Rate, Mix, Intensity, Tap | Sockets: Stereo in/out, MIDI in, MIDI through, Expression pedal, Control input, USB | Bypass: Buffered bypass or True bypass | Power requirements: 9V, 300mA

Wide range of sounds
Small footprint for a pedal of this genre
Nifty app-based editing
No instant switching of presets from the pedal's own footswitches

For the serious tweakers and more producer-style guitarists, Source Audio's Nemesis is definitely a front-runner in sheer compatibility, working in conjunction with Source Audio's Neuro app for iOS and Android. You can even use the spare outputs as an external loop, so you can insert another pedal into the feedback loop of the delay line for a whole new dimension of sonic options. 

The 12 different delay engines offer a range of sounds, from classic to more modern and experimental tones, covering virtually all musical needs with stereo I/O and MIDI connectivity. And considering it’s one of the more all-encompassing and higher-end delays in this list, it still manages to be pretty affordable.

Read the full review: Source Audio Nemesis

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