Delay plugins are bread-and-butter effects every producer needs, and in this article, we list and review the 10 best free delay plugins that stand strong among the commercial ones.
Ever since its popularization, the delay effect has been used extensively over the past. John Lenon and Yoko Ono’s 1980 album Double Fantasy springs up in mind whenever anyone mentions delays. And even today, delays remain as one of the most used effect plugins in music production.
Nowadays, you will find delay plugins that tend to remain simpler or emulate vintage tape delays or those that endeavor to become complex experimental behemoths. Whichever is your need, our list covers both of these kinds and everything in-between to help you find the perfect match.
Without further ado, let’s have a look at the plugins:
The 10 Best FREE Delay Plugins 2021
1. Voxengo Tempo Delay
Create mystical spaces with this highly configurable stereo delay plugin.
Tempo Delay is a feature-rich stereo delay plugin designed for use in professional music production. It is a tempo-based delay effect with independent controls for each stereo channel. Compared to regular delay plugins, you’ll find that the controls in this one are a little different.
This plugin focuses on being highly flexible, so instead of the conventional parameters, you get separate “delay”, “repetition period”, and “delay panning” controls. Together, they provide better control over your delay’s stereo separation and timing.
In addition, the bottom section has a handy filter and a tremolo per channel for even greater sound variety.
- Deeper Delay Controls
Instead of a regular delay time parameter, you get three parameters. First, Delay controls the time of the initial feedback, in percent of the tempo. Think of it like a latency control for the actual delay tail. Second, Rep Period determines how many times the delay should repeat in percent of the tempo. And finally, Feedback controls the level of the delay tail. As a side note, try using percentages that make sense, like 25 or 50 (or 33.3 for triplets) for coherent delays.
- Stereo Processing
Most traditional delays offer a ping-pong option or, at best, a channel offset parameter to inspire esoteric sounds. However, Tempo Delay employs a separate delay per channel to give you complete control over the stereo delay sound. Furthermore, you also get a pan parameter for creating adjustable ping-pong effects or other creative results.
- Effects Section
At the bottom of the interface, you will find the following for each stereo channel: a tremolo effect and a filter. The tremolo section is self-explanatory, and the filter effect has high-pass, low-pass, band-pass, notch, and peak filters. It also has a drive knob to make the delay effect sound rawer and warmer.
Tempo Delay is available for Windows XP or higher 32-bit or 64-bit and macOS 10.11 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
While the user interface takes a bit of getting used to, it does offer a unique way to control your delay effect. Deep control over the delay timing per channel isn’t readily available in conventional plugins unless you use complicated routings. In addition, the filter and tremolo sections are a nice touch to help sculpt your effect further.
2. Full Bucket Brigade Delay
Full Bucket Music is one of the most renowned developers in the free plugins market, and for very good reason too.
Brigade Delay is a classic analog delay emulation, which sounds and behaves like one. It features a classic time range and millisecond-based delay time control, without a sync feature, just like the original units. In addition, to help you get started, it has ten handy presets. We recommend trying this delay as a slap-back on vocals.
- Analog Behavior
Brigade Delay uses an analog “clocking” system to generate its delays. We could explain at length how it all works, but suffice it to say that the analog device doesn’t have perfect memory and results in a slightly varied (usually getting faster over time) delay effect and somewhat saturated sound. Furthermore, just like in analog delays, you can automate or dial the Time parameter in the middle of a song without causing artifacts.
Brigade Delay employs an LFO section, which modulates the delay to give you chorus, flanger, and trippy slap-back effects. Generally, its combination with a very short delay time gives the most pleasant results.
- Quality Control
The plugin also has a Quality parameter on the output, which simulates the audio degrading behavior of vintage delay devices. Dial it down to around 30% to get the most authentic experience.
Brigade Delay is available for Windows and macOS, 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2 and AU formats.
This plugin is truly faithful to the old analog delay units and sounds fabulous on vocals and mid-range instruments. An analog delay is particularly useful if you intend to automate the parameters. And while a tempo sync feature would’ve been nice, keep in mind that analog delays aren’t exactly known for their perfect timing. But that’s the beauty of these devices.
3. Valhalla Supermassive
Designed for lush reverb and grand delays, this plugin can make sonic spaces unlike anything else you know.
Supermassive offers truly massive effects with a relatively simple set of controls. Of course, you’d expect typical controls from any delay plugin, but it also has Warp and Modes. Warp affects the lengths of the delay feedbacks to transform the effect from simple echoes to blurry repeats, all the way to luscious reverbs.
Likewise, we also have Density, Mod, and Width, all of which are meant for a smooth transition between pure delay and huge reverb. It’s very satisfying to hear your delay sound halfway smeared and modulated into a reverb. Furthermore, another thing worth noting is the stereo width, which lets you dial back to -100%, reversing the effect output’s stereo image.
Supermassive uses complex techniques involving feedback and feedforward in its delay network, resulting in unconventional but luscious sounds. Various chains and settings have been set as “modes” in the plugin that changes the way the feedback sounds. Some of the modes are suitable for long, lush reverbs, whereas some work better for short delays. However, trying out each mode and tweaking the warp and density parameters is bound to produce interesting results.
- Modulation and Filters
The plugin features a modulator for adding chorus and ensemble effect to the delay/reverb. It offers rate and depth parameters for controlling the sound. In addition, there is a low-pass and high-pass filter, which helps clean up the sound.
- Handy Presets
There are plenty of presets categorized neatly into Echoes, Mod, Reverbs, and SFX categories. There are even more under the Designer Presets section. In addition, you can also copy/paste your preset parameters from one instance of Supermassive to another or even share your preset with a friend by sending the copied text.
Supermassive is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.8 or higher, 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
This plugin isn’t your bread-and-butter delay plugin. Instead, it is designed to sound other-worldly and enormous. However, for what it is meant to do, Supermassive delivers brilliantly.
4. HY-Plugins HY Delay4 (Free Version)
This offering by HY-Plugins feels like an instant classic.
HY-Delay4 is a stereo delay that gives a very simplistic set of controls, but there are tiny nuances that set this plugin apart and help you get the job done quicker. You will find a delay section, amp section, EQ section, and a ducker section on the interface.
Most of the sections are quite self-explanatory, but we like the three buttons labeled Short, Med, and Long, which change the time range (in milliseconds) you can set with the TimeL/R knobs. This seemingly insignificant feature helps you adjust the delay time precisely to the amount you want.
You also get a cross feedback (XFB) parameter and an invert toggle on the feedback section. The first one gets you complex delay effects, whereas the second can be helpful if you are dealing with phasing issues.
- Filters and EQs
There is a low-pass and a high-pass filter on the delay section, which are crucial for cleaner delays. Similarly, you also get a three-band EQ for the delay effect, which is a nice touch. While you can’t do much with the EQ, they are great for quickly adjusting the tone of your delays without having to close the plugin.
The ducker section is a sidechain compressor. By default, any input signal crossing a threshold (set by the Sensitivity knob) attenuates the wet signal. However, if you enable the small chain-link icon there, you can have an external sidechain input control your delay signal as well.
At the bottom left of the interface, you will find the Randomizer section, where you can click on a dice icon for various sections to randomize them. They produce interesting results for experimentation.
HY-Delay4 is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit or 64-bit and macOS 10.11 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3 and AU formats.
HY-Delay4 is a stripped-down version of a paid delay plugin, which is also worth checking out if you are open to purchasing one. However, that certainly doesn’t make the free version worthless. On the contrary, Hy-Delay4 feels like a very well-thought-out piece of software, designed to be as convenient as possible.
5. Chowdhury DSP ChowMatrix
ChowMatrix is a unique take on multitap delays, which offers extensive experimental possibilities.
The philosophy behind this plugin is that you can create a tree of delay nodes, where each node has a parent node and potentially one or more child nodes. This tree has two root nodes, which represent the stereo channels going into the plugin.
This flexibility allows you to create a wide variety of delay effects, from simple multi-tap echoes to complex reverberant spaces. There’s also an “insanity” slider that adds modulation to the delay effect and creates even wilder results.
- Node-Based Workflow
ChowMatrix lets you create a new child node using any other node as a parent. This new child node will echo the sound created by the parent node. Furthermore, the child node doesn’t have to be limited to a single stereo channel either; you could set the pan for each node to any side you want. So, while it can get a little confusing to grasp at first, the level of complexity you can achieve with this plugin makes it worth learning.
- Node Pitch
You can set any node to re-pitch its delay effect. Note that any child node of a re-pitched parent node will result in a re-pitched delay. So, instead, you could create a node alongside the parent node to make nodes have both re-pitched and normal pitched nodes simultaneously.
- Multiple Interpolation Modes
The Mode parameter controls how smooth you want the delay when you modulate or change the delay times. It can range from glitch to analog with 8 total options.
ChowMatrix is available for Windows 7 or higher, macOS 10 or higher, and Linux (Debian), both 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and LV2 formats.
The workflow ChowMatrix provides is unlike anything available in the market. So, we think this plugin deserves a spot in your effects library, even if you own an extensive collection of delay plugins.
6. Cocoa Delay
A simplistic delay with tone controls, which is often exactly what you want.
Cocoa Delay is an open-source project, and it serves as a super easy-to-use delay, still with plenty of optional controls to sculpt the sound. For example, there’s an LFO section to add some oscillation to your delay effect and a Drift section, which fluctuates your delay length randomly.
There are some more interesting controls. One of them is the Feedback Amount, which does exactly what you’d expect it to, except the parameter can also be turned to the left. It causes the delay effect to be inverted to avoid phasing issues. Similarly, you also get a filter section, which has multiple types of low-pass and high-pass filters.
- Pan Modes
There are three modes for panning the feedback: static, ping pong, and circular. The first two are self-explanatory, but the Circular option is intriguing. It literally spins the delay effect around in the stereo field to create a circular effect. Not something easy to come by, for sure.
The ducking is a type of internal sidechain compressor, and we liked the thoughtfulness of this feature. So, for example, if you have some vocals and you’d like the delay effect to be turned down whenever the vocals come back in, the Ducking section will do the trick.
The Drive section of this plugin adds a subtle to heavy saturation to the delay effect. The Iteration parameter sets the number of times to run the signal through the drive section. Of course, higher values give a thicker, lusher distortion but at the cost of higher CPU usage.
Cocoa Delay is available for Windows XP or higher, 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2 format only.
Several delay plugins offer complete control and otherworldly sounds, but only a few manage to balance flexibility and simplicity. And we think Cocoa Delay is one of the later ones. But, unfortunately, it’s only available for Windows, so macOS users are left out of this one.
7. UrsaDSP Lagrange
Utilizing granular technology to get its delay effect, Legrange never empties of inspiration.
It is a little difficult to describe Lagrange in short. However, it’s enough to understand that it selects small “bits” of audio (random time and frequency) of your dry input using various algorithms and repeats them. The result is a cluster of echoes that can create both natural and otherworldly sounds.
The grain section lets you choose how Lagrange should select and switch the grains of your audio. The Fixed Delay parameter controls the minimum time each grain should be delayed, while the Variable Delay adds random delays.
Similarly, the feedback section lets you control your delay effect itself. You could have the feedback gain and crosstalk set high to create a luscious wash of stereo delay effect.
- Granular Sound
Lagrange uses a highly sophisticated granular sampling technology to generate its delay effect. It means you could feed it just about any kind of sound for the shortest amount of time, and it will generate an infinitely long drone-like cluster of repeats. In fact, this trick is exactly what Lagrange is famous for. If you want some weird drone sounds in your project, experimenting with this plugin might give you the best results.
- Peak and RMS Limiter
Since granular delays can add up to become extremely loud, Lagrange features both an RMS limiter and a peak limiter. You could use the RMS limiter to tame the overall loudness, whereas the peak limiter would catch any sudden spikes in volume. Another cool feature is the bright red ring that lights up around each knob to indicate when the limiter is engaged.
- Internal Sidechain
Lagrange also features an internal sidechain compressor to tame the wet signal whenever there is a dry signal. This feature is particularly helpful because granular delays can be highly unpredictable. So, an automatic gain reduction will help you have a level of coherence in your effect.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, 64-bit only. It comes in VST 3 and AU formats.
Probably the most experimental delay we have on this list, Lagrange is an excellent delay plugin that supports creativity. We wouldn’t recommend nor think you would use it for every track in your song, but if you are a fan of other-worldly sounds like we are, this plugin is a playing field.
8 Baby Audio KEYLAY
Based on the award-winning Comeback Kid paid delay plugin, Keylay has some fun sounds to offer.
This plugin employs a simple delay engine, controlled by the parameters at the center of the user interface. However, what sets it apart are the four toggles on the left that add “flavors.” They mostly affect the stereo image by adding enhancements, chorus, and other modulations.
- Set Delay And Pick A Flavor
You can choose to have a regular delay effect, synced or otherwise. Or, you could also enable Ping-Pong mode to get things more interesting. Once you’re done, try activating the various toggles on the left to add more movement to your sound. Generally, you’d have to put a delay on a send bus with a chorus/ensemble effect to get these results, so you might as well give them a shot.
A single knob labeled Ducker introduces a side-chained compression to apply gain reduction on the wet signal using the dry signal as a reference.
Keylay is available for Windows 7 or higher 32-bit and 64-bit or macOS 10.7 or higher 64-bit. It comes in VST 2 and AU formats.
It’s amazing how feature-packed this plugin is despite having such a simple interface. While its flavoring features may not work for every song, there are cases when you want exactly what’s offered. And that’s when Keylay can truly shine.
9. Musical Entropy Spaceship Delay
Spaceship Delay was the winner of the KVR Developer’s Challenge in 2016, and it’s easy to see why.
Spaceship Delay is a delay audio effect that features both modern and vintage sound. While you could easily use it as a standard delay for adding depth to vocals and instruments, you will find it a highly creative effect for adding spring-reverb type sounds and saturated goodness.
Furthermore, you will also find modulation and even more post-effects like filters, a tremolo, and a phaser. If you are used to classic delay plugins, you will find this a breeze to use and pleasantly surprising for its idiosyncrasies.
- Multiple Modes
Spaceship Delay has three delay modes: single, ping pong, and dual/stereo. Single is generally used for mono signals or simplistic delays. And the Dual/Stereo mode lets you change the delay length per channel and send cross-feedback between the two delays.
The Attack parameter lets you only have the delay when the input signal crosses a threshold. This feature is particularly useful for vocals and live instruments where you want the delay to kick in when some intense parts are going on.
- Sonic Emulation
In the “Modeling” section, you can have saturation and delay unit type emulations. The saturation dropdown has a hard clip, soft clip, bit-crusher, and tube. You can also change the tone and drive of your selected saturation type. Similarly, there are old classic, tape, and modern delay types under the second dropdown menu.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
Spaceship Delay is a convenient package that delivers complex results with a simple interface. We particularly like its saturation, tape delay emulation, and spring reverb capabilities for adding warm, vintage sounds to an overly digital audio signal.
ReaDelay offers detailed delay sculpting with its unlimited multi-taps and feature-rich controls.
Hailing from the minds that developed REAPER, ReaDelay is a simplistic multi-tap delay with a couple of twists: you get unlimited taps, and each tap can have its own feedback. You can also control the tone of each tap by using a low-pass and high-pass filter.
On the interface, the first two sliders are for controlling the delay time. Similarly, you can change the pan of each tap and also bit-crush each tap. Therefore, you could make a 6-tap ping-pong delay that starts nice and clean but ends with bit-crushed digital chaos.
- Unlimited Taps
ReaDelay can have as many taps as you want. You could create interesting, unconventional delay effects by tailoring each tap to how and when you want it to sound. For example, you could create a regular 1/8 delay that slowly turns into a wide ping-pong with ease.
- Dual Length
There are two faders to control the delay time. The “Length (musical)” is synced to your tempo, and the Length (time) is not. You can also use both of them together to get a delay time like ‘1/8 + 25 ms’. Combine that with the other features, and you get amazing flexibility out of this plugin.
- Detailed Controls
ReaDelay lets you control the tonality of each tap you create by using a low-pass and high-pass filter. In addition, you have a “Resolution” parameter to add bit-crushing, a “Stereo width” parameter for controlling the spatial image, and finally, a pan for each tap. We have even used the bit-crusher alone without any delay effect activated because it’s extremely light and convenient.
ReaDelay is available for Windows XP or higher, both 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2 format only.
Note: You will need to download the entire ReaPlugs bundle to get this delay. However, each plugin in the bundle is extremely useful, so we highly recommend it.
As with most REAPER plugins, a lot of people get disappointed with the user interface. However, we think the functionality, in-depth control, and flexibility it offers outweigh the coarse look by a considerable margin. We recommend experimenting with its various controls and seeing if it works well for you.
TAL Dub’s Collection
Togu Audio Line’s delay plugins help add some vintage vibes to a modern mix.
The DUB collection features three delay plugins: TAL Dub I, II, and III. Each of them focuses on being a vintage-looking and sounding delay with a saturation stage. If you happen to be making a retro track, you might find that using this plugin helps add to the LoFi feel.
The first two plugins are somewhat related in that they are both stereo delays. However, the third one provides a completely new engine and a different sound.
- TAL Dub
TAL Dub is a vintage-style delay plugin with a delay per stereo channel. It features a resonance parameter to create an infinitely long, heavily distorted delay effect.
- TAL Dub II
The Dub II adds to the previous plugin with a brand new sound engine. Along with the clean delay, you can add vintage distortion to the wet signal using a 4x oversampled distortion stage. The delay time and low pass filter cutoff can both be modulated with an LFO. In addition, there’s also a stereo-width-modulating LFO.
- TAL Dub III
The Dub III is a simple delay plugin with a few tricks to boot – it has a deliberately unique tone. In addition, the plugin’s feedback path includes an alias-free saturation stage, a low-pass, and a high-pass filter. You can adjust the saturation level using the input drive knob.
These plugins are available for Windows XP or higher 32-bit or 64-bit and macOS 10.6 and 10.10 or higher 32-bit. It comes in VST and AU formats.
TAL’s emulations have always provided excellent authentic sounds, and these plugins are no different, despite appearing a little long in the tooth. You could use the delays on vocals to get a nice grit on the delays, or you could stay completely clean as well. Either way, they are worth a try.
Selecting a delay plugin, like any other, should be done based on your needs. If you are after a simplistic delay plugin just to add an echo effect, you should consider something like HY-Delay4 or Voxengo Tempo Delay. Similarly, if you are looking for a be-all delay plugin to let you achieve every renowned sound, perhaps Spaceship Delay or Cocoa Delay is better suited for you.
And if you are an adventurous producer and enjoy experimenting with your sounds, have a look at ChowMatrix, Lagrange, and ReaDelay. There is certainly a delay for every kind of person and project in our list; you just need to find out which. And the best part is they’re all free.
K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica.