Note: this entry was already published in my old Spanish version of this blog, around August / 2011. I am just revisiting it here.
Delays are time effects, where the input signal is being split in two paths. In one of them, the signal remains pure (with some remarks here!), while in the other the original signal is cloned one or more times with a certain delay (from some miliseconds to some seconds) respect of the original signal. Additinonaly, the delayed signal can be mixed again at lower volumes with new echoes, in a feedback loop of a certain length.
Some units have also some kind of modulation module (vibrato, tremolo, chorus) to modify (modulate) the delayed signal,
Early delay units where tape delays. They were recording the signal on a magnetic tape and, read again with a certain delay. Then, tape units went more sophisticated, including several heads that allowed them to runaway from sterile simple echoes and to produce a complexer ambient.
Probably, the most famous unit was the Echoplex and, you can still see those in some Studios and, even in some stage (Brian May uses a couple in his performances).
Roland (lately Boss) started also its own steps with the Space Echo, also a tape delay.
As the electronics evoluted, one more delay type was included: the analog delay. Instead of using a magnetic tape, a network of filters was used to delay the wet signal. The rise of solid state components, as certain integrated circuits, allowed to increase the available delay times, that were very short in the beginning.
One of the early analog units was the Boss DM-2 but, some of the first ones still have place in some pedalboards, as Electro-Harmonix' Memory Man (used by David Gilmour, by example) or some delays from Ibanez (and lately, Maxon).
With more evoluted designs, practically every pedal maker has some analog delay pedal in its catalog.
With the evolution of digital electronics, more Integrated Digital Signal Processors were available and, Digital Delays started to flood the market. The first digital delay was the Boss DD-2.
In digital delays, the analog signal is being sampled and converted to binary values. That set of zeros and ones is being internally processed, generating new sets of zeros and ones that would be converted again to an analog signal on its output.
Therefore, the quality of a digital delay will depend on the quality of its Analog/Digital and Digital/Analog converters and, about the resolution and precision of the Digital Audio Processors, inside the unit. The best the components, the more close to an analog unit it will sound.
Analog delays are more organic, warm, natural and musicals. However, because of technical reasons, they are very limited in the range of delay they can offer and, they have just one "voice", independently of speed and repetition controls.
Digital Delays tend to sound cooler, accurate and clear. But, quality of components is key to avoid "digititis" (digital artifacts). Delay times are often way longer than in analog units and, additionally, Digital Delays often include several different algorithms that bring several "voices" (delay types) and, usually one of those emulations is just an analog delay emulation.
Digital Delays, in rack format, are often seen in Recording Studios, because of their versatility. TC Electronics has very famous delay and reverberation algorithms, specially in their System 6000.
TC Electronics already delivered a set of excellent quality pedals, in their series Nova. Price, complexity and size of such a series of pedals is what made me to discard them.
One more modern delay with good press is the T.Rex Alberta but, its price is even higher than the TC unit.
Sure, Boss delays (as the DD-3) are always a reference but, I particularly like more the sounds of the T.Rex or TC.
Since I've already got an analog delay (Maxon AD-999 Analog Delay), I wanted to try a digital delay and, fill the gap of certain features I am missing, as the tap temp, subdivisions of the primary delay time, etc.
Luckily, TC Electronics is delivering now a series of pedals named Toneprint, with a pedalboard friendly size and, with an operation way more easy than in their series Nova and, with an attractive price, less options but still a bunch.
The TC Electronics Flashback seemed to me a good compromise between price / function / quality / versatility / easy to use. So, that's all about this blog entry; to share with you my experience with this pedal.
TC Electronic Flashback Delay and Looper
The pedal comes inside a cardboard box of small dimensions, very "marketed". Inside, the pedal, the user's manual (a paper sheet type DIN A2, in several languages), a triptych with information about rest of TC Electronics offer, a sticker of TC Electronics and, an USB cable.
Inside the pedal there is a battery (unconnected), therefore, if you want to use it, you should open the pedal. To open the pedal is darn easy, just a big screw where you can insert a coin.
You cannot see the guts. Just the battery is visible and, a couple of micro-switches. Rest of circuitry is being hidden with a metallic tap, fixed with 4 screws.
On left and right sides, a couple of input and output jacks. That is, it works in true stereo.
In the upper side, we have an USB port that will allow us to update the user bank with some downloaded Toneprint and, a jack for a 9V adaptor.
Rest of controls are in the front side of the unit and, are as follows:
This is the volume of the wet signal in the mix.
Determines the delay time, rolling it on clockwise increases the delay time.
Every delay type can work with a delay range between 20 ms and 7000 ms (7 seconds), just the Slapback is an exception, allowing a maximum of 300 ms.
Controls the number of repetitions that are being summed to the original input signal.
Delay Type Selector
It allows you to choose between 10 different delay algorithms (we will describe them below) and a Looper function.
A three positions microswitch allows you to choose 3 different divisions of the primary time. The primary time is being established with the Delay pot or, with the Tap Delay pedal switch (to be explained below).
The switch up corresponds to a subdivision of 1/4. On Middle position to 1/8. And, on down position corresponds to 1/4 AND 1/8.
Apart of being the switch that activates / deactivates the effect, is the switch used to enter and exit from Tap Delay and Looper modes.
This unit comes with 10 different delay types and, an additional Looper mode. Following the order of the delay type selector, these are the available algorithms.
Digital Delay based on the legendary TC 2290. There is no processing of repetitions. A very pure and crystalline delay effect.
Emulates a typical Analog Delay, where there is a certain roll back in high frequencies and, where repetitions sound smoother and more natural blend with original signal, even if they are lots of repetitions at a high volume.
Emulates a Tape Echo unit. Tends to deteriorate a bit the recorded material, with some flute effect and, all this combined with a significative roll out of high frequencies and, even part of low frequencies. But, this kind of imperfection and rawness is what makes this type of delay more musical than others.
Digital delay with less precision bits that creates "teeth" in repetitions. You can notice very clear the attack and release of the sound.
An emulation of the legendary Dynamic Delay, that was introduced initially in the TC 2290. The delay loudness is actively altered with the dynamics of the input level. While we are playing, the delay level is being attenuated and, between riffs, the delay level increases. This allows to play long riffs without masking the sound.
Repetitions are being modulated with a vibrato effect.
The delay is being panoramized alternatively to left and rigth side, while the input remains in the original stereo position. Of course, it makes sense to use this one just in stereo.
A very short delay, with one or very few repetitions. Is usually applied to "doubling" the guitar, making the sound bigger. Short slap delays are usual in Funky and, a bit longer in Rockabilly.
Reverse delay. The signal is being sampled and then reproduced in a reverse way. Nice to give some mystery atmosphere to the sound.
Looper function. It allows you to record a loop of 40 seconds (mono) or 20 seconds (stereo).
The recording is continuous so, we are overwriting the previously recorded material.
To start recording, we step over the pedal switch (light blinks).
To stop recording, we step over the pedal switch once more and, the pedal begins to reproduce the recorded loop.
To erase the loop, we should step twice in a row the switch.
This is an user bank. You can use a downloadable software, available in TC Electronics site, and the USB cable delivered with the pedal to change the parameters of the algorithm of this bank. Therefore, you can create from scratch your own delay type.
In TC Electronics site you can download also some Toneprint files already prepared by well known guitarists.
Once you've selected the delay type, you can choose to select the time (half, 1/4 note) and set up the main time with the Delay pot or, you can select the main time with pedal' switch (tap).
If we leave the switch pushed down, we can define the time just strumming (strong and dry) our guitar' strings, around 2 seconds. When we released the switch, the average time is being calculated and selected.
This way of do the tap delay sets this pedal apart other delay pedals.
Once the main time was established, you can subdivide it, with the micro-switch Subdivision, to add more repetitions.
Bypass and Kill-Dry modes
As we've mentioned, by opening the rear cover you will access to a little microswitch, with two slide switches.
First one controls if this pedal should work in True Bypass mode or in Buffered Bypass mode.
When Buffered Bypass mode is being selected, we can remove the original input (dry) signal in the output. This is useful if the pedal is being inserted in a Parallel FX Loop of your amp.
My interest for delays is just to give some ambient and to push back the guitar a bit in the right mix depth.
I am not a delay enthusiast so, I am not used to creative uses of the delay effect itself. Because of this reason and, since there are good demos available in Youtube I am not going to do some video for this pedal.
I went just checking every delay type to finally leave there the one it worked the best for my needs.
I can hear a certain level of digititis, more notable where you play the guitar alone. Some settings, where the effect level is high and there are a lot of repetitions, show more clearly those digital artifacts, which are more evident in the attack and release phases.
As we discussed above, those artifacts depend on the quality of the converters and digital processors of any digital delay.
The sound, once blend in the mix, is excellent. I've tested it with several backing tracks and, the sensation of digititis disappears (to reduce the effect level or number of repetitions helps also) and, the sound is, overall, very satisfactory.
Of all those available delay types, I specially liked:
The 2290, because it sounds very clean, crystalline and pure, not masking the sound.
The ANA, that goes close to the sound I get with my Maxon AD-999.
The TAPE, who in the hell has money to buy a Tape Echo Unit? and, who wants to transport and integrate in his pedalboard such a big monster?. This one sounds very musical and, very decent.
Another interesting delay is the MOD, where the added vibrato gives a very special touch to the delay.
Mads for Delays will enjoy of a very user-friendly delay unit, versatile and with a set of emulations variate and distinctive. Each delay type sounds very differently from the rest so, it's very difficult to don't find an useful one for each situation. Maybe, one of the most rares is the DYN one, because tails increase their loudness when we stop playing and, the most exotic is the REV one.
I've easily integrated this pedal with rest of pedal board, achieving a nice sound and, it works very nicely together with the TC Electronics Hall of Fame reverb effect (which will be described in a next blog entry).
For my own needs, I've found more interesting the delay type TAPE, because it sounds more musical to my ears.