Tips & Tricks: Tape delay sounds without a tape?

Tips & tricksThe charm of tape delays is unique, and their digital emulations are pretty popular.

But what makes this tape echo sound and is it possible to get this sound without a tape echo emulation?


Those who haven’t played a real tape echo jet may think that a tape delay produces a warm and analog sound.
And some manufacturers also muffle the signal of their tape echo emulations.
But the striking thing about a tape echo is that it reproduces the signal almost identically.
Surely, depending on the age of the tape, the bass can be cut somehow. But this happens very slowly and never abrupt with the first repeat.
Basically, the signal of a tape delay is closer to the signal of a good digital delay than to those of an analog delay.


This clear signal gets its typical character by the wow and flutter.
These are irregular and do not resemble the chorus or vibrato effect of some emulations in any way.
You must keep in mind that these modulations are caused by dust particles and slight soiling of the tape and the pinch roller.
By this the friction is increasing at some parts of the tape and it will not be lead evenly.
This kind of modulations are mostly they are so slightly that you barely notice them.


Because of the transistor or tube preamp the signal of a tape delay can be slightly distort, depending on the setting.
By this addition of harmonious overtones, the signal becomes more vivid. This character can hardly be emulated by a digital delay.


The preamp can also provide a volume boost.
Because of the fact, that the thereby the preamp of the amplifier will be pushed, this might be decisive for the sound.
Besides, louder signals always seem to be punchier.


But how can all this be emulated?
First, I would choose a good digital delay that is able to provide a repeat of the signal as exact as possible.
An old Boss DD-2 would be perfect for this.
To add some grid to the signal you could use an overdrive pedal with a low gain (for example the Klon Centaur, the Timmy or the Sweet Honey Overdrive).
Further, I recommend using a preamp or booster before or after the delay to boost the signal.
In this context the MXR Micro Amp or the Xotic EP are suitable.
It will be the hardest to emulate the subtle and coincidentally modulation.
If applicable you could do without this kind of modulation – if you want to emulate a well-maintained tape echo with a new tape.
But for coincidentally modulation the Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl is pretty suitable. The ramping function of this pedal offers options that are difficult to find elsewhere.
If your delay has an expression pedal output, you could also use the EHX 8 Step to vary the delay time minimally randomly.
By this you will be able to produce realistic wow and flutter.