2017: The Year of Epic Delays in Small Packages

In 2017, I can honestly say that I paid more attention to new delay pedal launches than I did to my favorite bands’ new releases. It was a big year for fans of pings and pangs, with the delay lineups of boutique builders and big brands alike expanding in both depth and diversity.

One noteworthy trend was that many pedal designers minimized the physical footprint of their standard-format stompboxes, yet somehow distilled incredible amounts of functions and delay types into that smaller package. Though these aren’t your large-format delays, in many cases, that’s how they behave.

At a time when I was curating a new pedalboard, these new options meant a lot of detail-digging, spec research, and possibility exploring. To that end, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned about the delays released this year in the following rundown.

Multi-Function Delays from Walrus, JHS, and TC Electronic

Economy of space without compromising onboard options seems to have been the design philosophy behind these items in the arms race against large-format delay pedals.

Walrus Audio Arp-87 Multi-Function Delay

The Arp-87 launches with four new delay algorithms that provide the full range of delay sounds, from looming analog echoes to pristine digital repeats to hazy lo-fi delays and snappy slapback. Not only are subdivisions selectable with the turn of a knob, but the madmen at Walrus included a tap tempo switch that, when pinned down, crescendos the feedback up to the max.

Plus, any pedal that has a knob simply labelled "X" is a win in my book. In this case, the knob changes different parameters, depending on which delay setting is selected.

JHS Pink Panther

Every pedalboard looks better when it’s sporting a little hot pink. Conjuring up the best of JHS’s earlier version from a decade ago, the new Pink Panther is more than just good looks. The side-mounted switch for selecting between tape and digital delays provides instant access to either modern clean echoes or vintage warbly tape tones.

In addition to knobs controlling time, repeat, and mix of the delay signal, your crystallized delay can loiter on the dark side with just a twist of the dark knob. Finally, JHS dipped into its supply of tiny switches and included one here for selecting between light, heavy, or no modulation.

TC Electronic Flashback II and EHX Canyon

p>TC Electronic’s second take on the already popular Flashback was more than just an update to the original design. With redesigned algorithms and expansions, including a crystal delay algorithm based on TC’s Sub N’ Up octave pedal, and the introduction of three slots for user-loaded tone-prints, the pedal is not shy on delay types.

The big splash TC made this year was due to its proprietary "Mash" technology, which evolved the humble footswitch into a pressure-sensitive expression pedal. For the Flashback 2, this aspect of the hardware provides real-time control over various parameters like hold function, modulation intensity, and feedback ratios for self-oscillation.

The shared brilliance of these three designs is that they’ll take a single strip of Velcro on their back and can squeeze onto your board in place of any regular-format stompbox you’re switching out.

Electro-Harmonix also released its own take on the small-footprint combination delay-looper this year in the form of the Canyon. While quite similar to the Flashback in its layout, the pedal certainly earned major points for its sound quality, ranking as the most popular new pedal of 2017 on Reverb.

A Fresh Take on Tape: The Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe

No matter how far technology takes us, the sound of tape will never get old. The much-anticipated Belle Epoch Deluxe builds on the success of the Belle Epoch pedal by extending the feature set. The result is an expert emulation of the 1970s Maestro Echoplex EP-3, with modern appointments.

Catalinbread went to unreal lengths to recreate the circuitry of the EP-3, swapping out only the tape heads and cartridge for an expertly crafted digital delay line. The circuitry also includes that built-in analog preamp that is arguably a lead reason for the EP-3’s success and staying power.

Recreation quickly gives way to innovation with this pedal, and with a click of the echo oscillation switch it goes from momentary madness to colliding soundscapes that honestly make me wish I was in a Radiohead cover band. With a switch and jack enabling an expression pedal, the Belle Epoch Deluxe also has prospects for live performance manipulation of delay time, filter sweep, volume of playback, and rotary speeds.

Innovating Analog: The Carbon Copy Deluxe

The MXR Carbon Copy family grew again this year, with the addition of the Deluxe model. It’s still all-analog and bucket-brigade through and through, but its feature set establishes the pedal as a top contender in the analog domain.

For starters, the Deluxe comes stock with a whopping 1.2 seconds of high-fidelity delay time. With a switch to select between classic, shadowy delays of the original or articulated clarity reminiscent of the Carbon Copy Bright, it’s your choice to decide on how to spend that time.

In addition to this hybridity, MXR enhanced the original with a broad feature set for versatility and functionality. At the top of the list, you’ll find a tap tempo switch, greater control over subdivisions (which are visualized on a backlit display that can be read from a mile up), and chorus/vibrato modulations that are now tweakable on the front face of the pedal.

The Deluxe also plays well with an expression pedal for added creativity or can be linked up with MXR’s external tap tempo footswitch for selecting between two favorite delay presets.

Off the Beaten Path: The EarthQuaker Space Spiral

The addition of the Space Spiral to the EQD catalog offers up diverse delay textures fit for scoring a soundtrack to your happiest daydream or worst nightmare and everything in between.

With inspiration drawn from early technology for delays, such as oil can and tape systems, the Space Spiral’s modulation character puts you in touch with a full range of patterns, from warm flutters to distant shudders.

The pedal, however, strikes just the right balance between familiarity of functions typical of delays (mix, depth, time, repeats, and rate) and otherworldly features (like a shape control that morphs the signal’s waveform in real-time) that render the Space Spiral an ideal invitation into otherworldly effects that stray beyond the traditional.

The Expansion of the "Do-It-All" and "Tag-Team" Categories

While my quest for a new delay in 2017 was for a big sound in a small(ish) package, it would be unbecoming of a gearhead to overlook some major releases this year in the mid-size category. Sure, these pedals might require an extra strip of Velcro to plug them onto your board, but if you have the space and want even more features, they’re definitely worth checking out.

Of course, I’m thinking of the Empress Echosystem and Seymour Duncan Andromeda delays. Likewise, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the growing collection of delay-reverb pedals that were released, such as the Wampler Ethereal, Keeley Caverns II, or GFI System Specular Tempus. Options, options, options.

In short, 2017 was undoubtedly the year of delays. No matter what genres and sounds you’re into—from crisp and clean digital domains to ambient tidal washes to descents into darkness with analog—the year had something in store for you. Do you have a favorite delay release from 2017? Let us know below in the comments.

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