The delay. One of the most important effects in any musician’s or mixing engineer’s toolbox – in fact, signal theory has it that it’s one of only two basic ones (the other being nonlinear dynamics).
Leaving non-manmade implementations aside, there have been three important technological implementations through the years: tape echoes, bucket brigade delays (BBD, which is electronic circuitry) and digital things. Of course during the 80s, practically all but the digital delays were discontinued. And in the wake of Line6’s DL4 Delay Modeler, digital devices started to emulate the old, crappy, analogue devices (be it tape- or BBD-based).
And then the BBDs returned.
In today’s market, there’s again a choice of several BBD-based (read: non-digital) effects (mostly stompboxes or eurorack devices). And interestingly, the cheapest offer at €26 is just such a BBD. With my quest for an all-analogue signal chain, I decided to take a look. Enter the Berhinger VD400.
The VD400 comes in a plastic housing reminiscent in size and form of the classic Boss pedals. There’s In on the right, and Out and a separate Direct Out on the left. The standard Boss 9V connector is placed on the left side, and there’s room for a 9V battery as well.
On the top, you have tree knobs called “Repeat Rate” (delay time, going to maximum delay for “min” to minimum delay for “max), “Echo”, which is the effect signal volume, and “Intensity” which is feedback. A footswitch and a power LED complete the lineup.
You get the thing in a small cardboard box together with instructions in English and what I assume to be Japanese and Mandarin, plus a note on EMC topics in most European languages. Batteries or power supply are not included – but then again, this thing is 26 bucks…
For a basic delay, the only relevant performance parameter is the maximum delay time. The VD400 offers 300ms of it. In musical time, this gives you an eight note for a Hiphop track (ca. 90 BPM), or a quarter note for a very fast Drum’n’Bass track. That plans the delay firmly in the “slapack/sound effect/short rhytm” category of the typical delay applications.
So this is an analogue thing, which most people associate with “warm”, but also “nicely lo-fi”. Let’s start with some measurements. I put the Intensity to minimum (read: single repeat) and the Rate to minimum (read: maximum delay time), connected the dry out so the out connector carried only the effected signal and fed it white noise:
First of all, the performance in the high frequency region is rather astonishing for a cheap analogue device: there’s a gentle rollof starting at ca. 14kHz with less than 3dB/octave, before it starts to drop at ca. 21kHz (most probably an intended filter).
More interesting is the low-frequency rollof happening below ca. 100Hz to a considerable degree of ca. 6dB/Oct. – which while perfectly ok for many applications (including typical guitar, synth lead or arpeggiator parts) might not make our bass guitar (or bass music) friends happy.
Of course, this will change for multiple repeats: as distortion establishes itself, those BBD delays tend to establish a strong bandpass filter tendency. So after running the white noise into the delay with Intensity turned to about 2 o’clock, things look like this:
As I said, we also get distortion, so let’s look at that as well: first, a short 300Hz sine bleep with single repeat:
As you can see (and hear, btw), there’s a lot of distortion. However, I hit this with a 0dBFS signal from the audio interface – and typical guitar thingies are oriented towards -20dB, so again the same brought down to that industry best practice:
The interesting thing is what happens in the 5kHz-8kHz region…don’t know what it is (maybe the clock of the BBD?), but it doesn’t sound bad – and that what should count.
We already had the infinite repeat scenario above. Next, I tried to set the intensity so that sine bleep would more or less be at 100% feedback – which is not precisely reproducible, as you might have guessed. An attempt looked like this:
The interesting thing here is that there seem to be repeating structures in the spectrogram – a deterministic chaos at its best.
But how does it sound – Practical Use?
For starters, I fed the VD400 with an Arturia MiniBrute, letting the arpeggiator run while I twisted knobs both on the Brute and the VD400. This is always a joyful endeavor, and the VD400 adds nicley to the joy factor here. Especially turning the VD400 into oscillation by bringing up Intensity at low delay times and then increasing delay time while gently bringing down Intensity is just what you’d expect of a BBD – nice! Interestingly, the delay did not work well with use of the Brute’s “Brute” knob – I assume because this tends to generate a big amount of low frequency content, which as we’ve seen does not work well with the VD400’s frequency response.
I decided next to use something with a sharp and aggressive sound and, lacking a TB303, I opted for Yamaha’s old SY85. This was one of the first synths with really nice digital filters. They weren’t made to sound like their analogue counterparts – but you can play them really musically, gently driving them into a very harsh and aggressive resonance.
With that combo, the VD400 had found its perfect counterpart: letting an arpeggio run on the SY85 and accenting individual notes by a short resonance boost, those would then be given the VD400’s treatment of its individual distortion characteristic and the bandpass behaviour of prolonged repeats.
Competition on the Market
I already mentioned that the VD400 is the cheapest delay pedal right now – but it’s also among those with the lowest delay time, which as I said is a key parameter. From the usual suspects, you can find a lot of competitors today: the Artec SE-ADL offers 440ms of delay, but at €39, is also 1.5 times as expensive (although only 13 bucks more…). Delay times of 500ms cost about €100 upwards, and 1-second-plus times tend to appear upwards of €200, with the Ibanez ES (1 second at €127) a noteworthy exception.
I haven’t played any of those, but simply from the data, the VD400 offers the best price/delay time ratio.
Should you get it?
First of all, getting this (like any other analogue delay) would only make sense if you know perfectly well that you need an analogue one (rather than a digital thing that also does good BBD emulations) – delays are typically more suited towards digital implementations as analogue delay time does cost money.
If that is the case, you can live with the rather short delay time and/or don’t want to spend more than absolutely necessary, you can’t go wrong with that thing – and I consider the combination of a really good audio quality for single repeats combined with a characteristic “BBD smear” for continued repeats really an added bonus here.
In a comparable price range, the Artec (which, as I said, I haven’t tested) might be a better option if you need quarter-note repeats for TecHouse mixes (or very slow Dub/Hiphop).
Otherwise: I’m going to keep mine. Heck, maybe I even get three further ones, connect them to my old 1202 VLZ Pro mixer and thus have a four-tap, 1.2 second delay – spending about 100 bucks for the delays…