Tone Tips

The Delay Renaissance at NAMM 2017

  • By Nick Rambo @tonereport
  • February 07, 2017

Like most years, Winter NAMM 2017 delivered a flood of new guitars, amps and effects that we’re excited to try out. But as we look back at this year’s show, what stands out is the tidal wave of tantalizing new delay pedals that will soon hit the market. Here’s a rundown of five that fully captured our attention.

Alexander Sky Fi

Just when you thought the team at Alexander Pedals couldn’t possibly create a cooler compact delay—we’re looking at you, History Lesson Vol. 2—out rolls the Sky Fi.

Part reverb, part delay, the Sky Fi was inspired by a certain old-school rack unit that, due to some hardware quirks, has a legacy of slowly building the intensity of the reverb effects over time. That’s the experience you get in the Sky Fi. And in typical Alexander Pedals fashion, there are a few new tricks and innovations involved that didn’t exist back in 1990.

The Sky Fi has three modes that combine varying delay times with a unique reverb tag team partner. Whether it’s a washed out reverb, a touch of shimmer or that slow-blooming reverb combined with echo, we’re very excited about the possibilities here.

Especially considering the extra functionality that’s been integrated into the stomp switch.

On top of all the delay and reverb combinations, Sky Fi offers a selectable press-and-hold Infinite or Freeze feature. So, while playing, if you hold down the stomp switch with the pedal engaged, you can shift the delay and reverb engine into sustaining feedback that takes any new notes you play and layers them all together in a cacophonous swirl, or you can freeze a certain set of notes without changing their harmonic content as you continue to play.

And the good news is that we won’t have to wait long to try it out. The Sky Fi is live on the Alexander Pedals website for $199.99.

Plus, as always, Alexander Pedals is committed to doing good—so a portion of the profit from every pedal goes to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital to help bring an end to childhood cancer.


Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe

One day, Catalinbread’s chief designer, Howard Gee, was sitting in the shop, playing through an array of vintage outboard delays when a thought struck him: Why do all these things that plug directly into the wall sound so big, warm and expansive??

Such curiosity led him to open up some of the units for a closer look. Upon review, he made a few key observations—specifically, that compared to the stompboxes of today, the plug-into-the-wall units used higher voltages, more complex power supplies and larger components to create bigger, warmer and more dimensional tones.

In an effort to apply some of those techniques to an existing Catalinbread pedal, Howard took on the Belle Epoch Tape Echo—a fine pedal in its own right—and did so with a take-no-prisoners mentality.

The challenge to get the sound right would require big components, a bigger enclosure, more power and a truckload of authenticity, but the new Belle Epoch Deluxe, he says, is “dead nuts 1970s technology in all its glory.”

After months of fine tuning, based on what we heard at NAMM, the Belle Epoch Deluxe achieves those big, high headroom Echoplex tones—and does so without a hint of surface-mount componentry anywhere in the circuit. (The gutshot is a thing of beauty.) 

Of course though, since the original EP-3 is a tape delay, certain modern adaptations had to be made and come in the form of 800 minimally processed milliseconds of digital delay (instead of pricey tape cartridges). And, thanks to an internal voltage tripler (and a shunt-regular like the one found in the original Echoplex), the Belle Epoch Deluxe can run off of nine-volt power and still maintain 22-volt headroom.

We could go on and tell you about the expression options, the press-and-hold oscillation engine or the six new modes featuring different voicings, filters and Deluxe Memory Man-style modulations—but we’ll leave that for the forthcoming product spotlight.


DOD Rubberneck

There was a time when the DOD brand was a bit of a punchline. But things have changed—and they’ve changed drastically. In fact, the name that’s been around since 1973 is back with a vengeance and is once again turning heads with solid pedal release after solid pedal release.

The company’s biggest unveiling at Winter NAMM was the Rubberneck—an analog delay with features you’d expect from a pedal twice its price.

Loaded with a quartet of MN3205 BBD chips, the Rubberneck serves up a full 1.5 seconds of warm, analog delay. Top that off with sub-dividable tap tempo, independent modulation controls, optional tails and the ability to get as dark and dirty or as bright and clean as you want—thanks to concentric Gain and Tone controls—and it’s got us rubbernecking for sure.

But the name isn’t just a clever play on words—it’s also a feature.

You’ve no doubt heard the elastic bounce of an analog delay where the repeats are cranked up and the speed is altered. Well, the Rubberneck does that, only in a wildly creative way that you’ve never heard before.

By holding down the pedal’s bypass switch, you’ll engage the Rubberneck feature, which modifies the delay time up or down at different rates, depending on where that rate is set on a transparent, LED-loaded micro-pot that flanks the on/off switch.

And there’s a mirrored setup on the other side. Only, instead of a dizzying pitch sweep, you can engage a secondary regen setting by holding down the tap tempo and setting the micro-pot to your desired number of repeats—perfect for those oscillating cloudscapes.

When the Rubberneck hits the market, it’ll be priced at a stunning $249.95.


Empress Echosystem 

Okay, so—this one was an absolute showstopper. We already have a soft spot for the Empress Superdelay, so the new Echosystem has us straight-up drooling.

Let’s run this down: stereo ins and outs, MIDI implementation, a dozen different delay modes, presets, expression options and get this—two stereo delay engines.

What that means is that you can run the Echosystem in mono, dual parallel, dual serial or mono left/right. And the best part? Independent engines. So you can run multiple delay types simultaneously in any stereo configuration you want. 

Are you drooling, too? Yeah... we thought so.

Like the Empress Reverb that preceded it, the Echosystem is updatable via SD card and comes with a “Whisky” mode (like the Reverb’s “Beer” mode) for new types of delays that can be added later—based on fan feedback and voting on the Empress forum—and don’t really fit anywhere else. 

And there are a number of other improvements from the Superdelay, including soft touch switches, trails and two-way preset cycling. 

Other features include an analog dry path, sub-modes for each delay type, a cabinet simulator for practicing or recording without an amp and an isolated output to kill ground loop issues if and when you’re running two amps. (Also, though not available in the prototype Empress showed at NAMM, there are also plans to add a looper that’s independent of the delay—so you can have both running simultaneously—to the mix as well.)

An official release date for the Echosystem is still pending, but it’s expected to hit the market at $449. 


EarthQuaker Devices Space Spiral

If you’re looking for a delay that’s a little ways off the beaten path, then the new Space Spiral—from the good Midwestern folks at Ohio-based EarthQuaker Devices—could scratch that itch.

Or, if for some reason you’ve ever wondered what a delay pedal with the heart of a cheap karaoke machine might sound like, then, well, this would satisfy that particular curiosity, as well. 

Dark and dreamy, the Space Spiral is a decidedly vintage sounding delay that brings to mind tones of the old-school oil-can and tape units of yesteryear. And it’s aptly named, too, with plenty of space and lots of swirl to go around.

The Space Spiral features the usual cast of characters on the control panel with knobs for Time, Repeats and Mix. Delay times range from 80-600 milliseconds and self-oscillation is possible (if not encouraged) with the Repeats knob up past 3:00. (Word to the wise: that’s where the spaceships live.)

The interesting stuff happens in the modulation section of the pedal though. There you have controls for Depth, Shape and Rate. The Shape knob morphs the wave shape from a soothing triangle shape to a choppy square wave and by adjusting the Rate and Depth controls, relative to the speed of the delay, all sorts of interesting textures abound. From subtle undulations and pitch bends to seasick warbles and pseudo whammy bar action, there’s a lot to be found by the more adventurous among us. 

Overall, we think the Space Spiral is right at home in an EQD lineup that also features the Arpanoid, Rainbow Machine and Bit Commander—a little weirdness with a lot of heart.

And yes—you can get a Space Spiral right now for only $195.

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If 2017 Winter NAMM was any indication, this might just be the best year for delay pedals on record. The five above were the ones that really caught our eye here at TRW, but there were several other delay pedals announced, displayed or rumored at the show that we’ll definitely keep an eye on, such as the Mooer Ocean Machine, Xvive E1 Echoman, Seymour Duncan Andromeda and GFI System Specular Eclipse reverb-delay.

Check back through the year for product spotlights on these pedals and many others from NAMM 2017.