Delay (music)

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The term delay refers to various methods of creating acoustic delay effects . These include reverb , echo, and other effects . Delay effects are created using room acoustics , electro-acoustic or software-based processes and are used for various purposes, including the creation of sounds , the mixing of sound recordings or the sound reinforcement for live events .

Various digital delays ( 19-inch devices above) and analog tape echoes (case devices below)


The discovery of the delay can be traced back to numerous scientific, technical and artistic developments. The delay effect, as it is known today in music technology, was mainly used from the 1950s and is still being developed today.

Areas of application

A distinction can be made between two areas of application for delays.

  1. as a sound effect in music production
  2. as a running time effect in event technology

Use in music production

Delays are used in music production to create various effects. These can sometimes have an echo-like effect, but also in various other ways.

Use in sound engineering

In sound engineering, a delay is used to correct the propagation delay of loudspeakers that are located at different distances from the listener. Here the delay is used to generate a homogeneous sound field. No major event today would be imaginable without the use of delay lines . Digital sound mixers have outputs with built-in delays that can correct for a delay .

In this context, the delay arises from the fact that the direct sound is delayed in relation to the audio signal picked up by the microphone, amplified and reproduced via loudspeakers . This phenomenon only occurs in larger rooms with distributed speakers. The result is a localization deficit , as the human brain locates the sound source from where the sound comes from first (direct sound), see precedence effect . Since this is the loudspeaker and not the sound source in this case, corresponding delays must be set. The various delays are often matched to the respective loudspeaker groups in such a way that the (natural) sound of the loudspeaker near the stage arrives in the rear audience area as much as 20 ms earlier. The necessary Haas effect with a delay of 20 ms ± 10 ms and the echo perception threshold of around 50 ms with the same level of direct signal and reflection must be observed. In video-supported events, too, the transmitted image is provided with a corresponding delay in order to ensure that visual and hearing perception are synchronized

Method for creating delays

The delay of sound (delay) can be generated by room acoustic measures, by analog and digital circuits or algorithms .

Tape delays

Tape delay is the use of the time differences of the tape between the recording and playback heads for reverb and echo effects. The signal from the playback head of the tape machine is fed back to the recording head ( feedback ), then an echo-like repetition of the previously recorded sound event takes place with a time offset corresponding to the distance covered by the tape between the recording head and the playback head located after it. In addition, the feedback signal is constantly changing or "worsened" in terms of its quality in terms of frequency linearity and degree of distortion due to the multiple generation loss and copy effects.

The proceedings were first heard in 1951 by Les Paul in How High the Moon, recorded at home with Mary Ford on January 4, 1951 . Guitarist Les Paul was also an innovative recording technician who helped develop the sound effects . The slapback echo is first heard on Little Walter's harmonica instrumental track Juke , recorded on May 12, 1952 at Universal Recording in Chicago. From 1954 on, Sam Phillips made it a trademark of his record label Sun Records in Memphis, which not least gave the early recordings of Elvis Presley made here their inimitable character. He owned two Ampex 350 tape machines, the interaction of which produced this echo with the same recording due to a slight time delay. The music genre “ Dub ” was also significantly influenced by the use of delays.

Delay effects (selection)

Audio example: voice recording with different feedback values
Audio sample: recordings with and without delay

The effect devices found in racks , recording studios, rigs and software contain numerous effect combinations with a wide variety of names. These include:

  • Stereo delay
  • Ping-pong delay
  • Multi-tap delay

The main parameters for delays are:

  • Delay (ms): Delay time in milliseconds
  • Feedback (%): Feedback of the output signal to the input in percent
  • Mix: Ratio between original and effect signal

Audio samples

See also


  • Roland Enders: The home recording manual. The way to optimal recordings . 3rd, revised edition. Carstensen, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-910098-25-8 .
  • Hubert Henle: The recording studio manual. Practical introduction to professional recording technology . 5th, completely revised edition. Carstensen, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-910098-19-3 .
  • Christoph Borbach: Save as Transfer - Transfer as Save. On the early technical history of acoustic 'delay lines' and their interlinking of two media functions . In: Technikgeschichte, Vol. 86 (2019), H. 2, pp. 101–129.
  • Thomas Sandmann: Effects & Dynamics - Professional know-how for mix and mastering . 9th edition. PPV Medien, 2019, ISBN 978-3-932275-57-9 .
  • Felix Urban: DELAY. Diabolical game with the time machines. Technology. Music production. Reception. 1st edition. Scientific articles from Tectum Verlag: Medienwissenschaft, No. 37 . Tectum Verlag, Baden-Baden 2020, ISBN 978-3-8288-4395-0 , p. 276 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Felix Urban: Delay . 2020, ISBN 978-3-8288-4395-0 .
  2. ^ Felix Urban: Delay . 2020, ISBN 978-3-8288-4395-0 , pp. 119-240 .
  3. ^ Felix Urban: Delay . 2020, ISBN 978-3-8288-4395-0 , pp. 37-40 .
  4. Producer & Engineer: Les Paul , SoundonSound, January 2007
  5. Glen Jeanssonne, David Luhrssen: Elvis Presley: Reluctant Rebel . 2011, p. 69