Erica Synths Zen Delay Virtual: What is it?
The original Zen Delay landed in hardware form back in 2019. This desktop effect unit was a design collaboration between Latvian gear brand Erica Synths and venerated UK electronic label Ninja Tune, with label founder and Coldcut member Matt Black contributing to the design.
Key features: Virtual delay plugin with five delay modes, analogue-style low pass filter and various modulation tools.
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The hybrid device combined a five-mode DSP-based delay effect with an analogue filter and valve-based distortion. We were impressed, concluding that its varied elements amounted to one of the most creative hardware effects in recent years.
Now Erica has released a plugin version, described as “not a replacement for the Zen Delay hardware but an addition to it”. This translates to a digital version that replicates the features of the hardware but also adds a variety of new settings and features.
Erica Synths Zen Delay Virtual: Performance and verdict
On the whole, the emulated elements sound pretty faithful to the hardware. Naturally, the DSP delay is ported over seamlessly, while the filter and drive make the transition to the digital realm with satisfying heft and grit intact.
A certain amount of the tactile, hands-on ethos of the original is obviously lost in the transition from hardware to plugin; the joy of the original came from manually cranking the drive, feedback and tweaking the unsynced delay time, which is less satisfying using a mouse/keyboard.
Fortunately, the main controls can be controlled via MIDI, CV, and it’s worth trying this to replicate that hardware experience.
Any shortcomings are, however, made up for by the added features. Most significant is the addition of onboard modulation via a pair of LFOs routed to delay time and filter cutoff.
The lack of modulation was one of our few criticisms of the original hardware, and being able to create evolving patches adds considerably to the flexibility here. Along with the expected rate, level and waveform parameters, each LFO is also equipped with cross-modulation of both its frequency and amplitude.
Combined, these allow for a broad range of effects, from subtly shifting dub delays to extreme and gnarly resonant freakouts.
The digital delay function has been significantly enhanced for the plugin version too. This gains a variety of new settings allowing users to change the bit rate, sample rate and white noise level. This is great for creating hard, crunchy digital effects and adding lo-fi character to a mix.
There are other functions added for the plugin version. There are more options for synced delay timings, including dotted and triplet timings. You can also alter the routing of the delay and filter, allowing for the filter to be placed in the feedback loop.
Beyond this, Zen Core Virtual also benefits from the ability to save and access presets, with a varied selection of interesting treatments included from Erica’s sound designers.
On the negative side, the plugin UI feels slightly dated and is lacking the slick convenience of rival creative delays from the likes of Arturia or FabFilter without features like in-built tutorials or visualisation for the LFOs.
This aside though, the virtual version of Zen Core is a worthy counterpart to a killer creative effect.
MusicRadar verdict: One of our favourite hardware effects gets a worthy plugin counterpart that’s great for creative sound shaping.
Erica Synths Zen Delay Virtual: The web says
"It’s not especially cheap, but it sounds superb and expands on the hardware in meaningful and useful ways that maximise its sound design credentials."
Erica Synths Zen Delay Virtual: Hands-on demos
Alberto Rizzo Schettino
Erica Synths Zen Delay Virtual: Specifications
- KEY FEATURES: Virtual delay plugin with five delay modes, analogue-style low pass filter and various modulation tools.
- CONTACT: Erica Synths