What Is Lo-Fi Delay?

The delay pedal realm has never been more fantastic, because there are so many different types of units to choose from! But that might also produce some sort of confusion to the newcomer at the time of finally picking a delay box. Lo-fi delay pedals might probably be the new kids on the block on the delay industry, but they’re actually no that novel. To start with a straightforward answer, lo-fi stands for low-fidelity, which means exactly that: the signal is not super high quality.

Since we’re talking about delay, this means that the repetitions will sound more and more distorted and broken each time. This also intensifies when you extend the delay time applied.

By know I’m pretty sure what you’re thinking: “Wait I minute, I thought analog pedals we’re supposed to that! That’s why they’re so coveted! Does that mean lo-fi delay pedals are analog pedals but with less quality?”

Well… the answer is no; it is not exactly like that, and lo-fi delay pedals can be both analog and digital. I know it sounds confusing, but keep reading and you’ll (hopefully!) find the answer.

In The Beginning There Was Analog Delay…

We’ve already discussed about analog delay on this earlier post, but there’s always time for a quick review :). If you remember correctly, an analog delay processes the sound through bucket brigade chips (BBD). The way this works is that the signal has to move through a series of capacitors or “steps”, which is a method very similar to what old-school firefighters would use to pass along their bucket of waters.

Like any other old tech, BBD had limitations; every time the signal had to move from one step to the other, there was an increase in the loss of fidelity, plus, the more time applied to the pedal, this is, the more the delay time was lengthen, more steps had to added to the way, enhancing the loss of quality of the signal. This produced noise, distortion and the typical broken repetitions of analog delays. To deal with this, the signal had to be filtered to reduce the amount of issues generated. This helped to deal with the signal degradation but wasn’t enough to fix all the problems, so analog delays still produced dark and warm tones, just will less noise and other attached problems. As you can see, the limitations of this type of this technology actually created the sound most guitar players tend to like.

Connecting The Dots

What happened later is that players found an use for this type of sound and actually started preferring the lo-fi quality of some pedals; the degradation of the sound helped the guitar signal to blend naturally with other effects, and some pedals added other functions such as some sort of overdrive in the repeats as found in the Kilobyte Lo-Fi Delay from Caroline Guitar Company.

Pedal manufacturers noticed this trend and they basically started applying other filters to the signal or in many cases, just less filters in order to naturally create those warm, noisy, broken sounds; in essence, you can say a lo-fi delay exploits the limitations of the analog technology.

So, to wrap it all together, a lo-fi delay pedal is a type of delay unit that produces it sounds with more signal deterioration than usual analog units; this leads to have an even warmer and more broken type of repeats, and in some cases it is possible to apply different filters to the signal to enhance or modify the general outcome of the pedal.

So… Lo-Fi Delays Are Analog Delays After All?

As stated in the beginning of the post, it is possible to have both: analog and digital lo-fi versions of the pedal.

For instance, the LOFI EKKO 616 MKII from Malekko is an analog lo-fi delay pedal that can produce exceptional weird sounds! It has up to 650 milliseconds of delay time and was crafted with one thing in mind: creating the most imprecise analog echoes out there. I know it seems funny, but the pedal sounds weird, in a cool way :).

malekko lo-fi

To make this possible they basically selected the best components out there, leaving behind most of the filtering that’s necessary to make an analog delay of 500 and + milliseconds usable. So the more you stretch the delay time, the more weird and sci-fi this pedal sounds.

Just listen to this demo and judge it by yourself:

Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin, a digital lo-fi delay. We mentioned it earlier, the Kilobyte. To achieve the lo-fi type of outcome, Caroline Guitar Company decided to do things a little different. They used a PT2399 digital delay chip to create the repeats. In essence, this is a digital pedal.

kilobyte delay

The trick here is in the chip being incorporated; this type of low resolution component allows the pedal to generate the repeats in a similar way as the analog units (this chip was originally found in karaoke machines and toys from the 80’s). They also added a boost/preamp that “dirts” the sound of the repetitions.

Finally, you have a dedicated switch named Havoc, which takes the pedal almost instantly into self-oscillation mode, producing the spaceship sound from oscillation we all love :).

Take a listen to this very nice demo:

Fantastic, isn’t it?

One Final Thought

There are many more examples of lo-fi delay pedals, and perhaps this trend will keep going forward until most companies have at least one product around this technology.

I do believe it is curious how often times a limitation can be turned into something special, to the point of actually creating a product around it. Just picture this, in the early days, people just wanted to have clearer repeats and longer delay times. This was only made possible with digital chips; nowadays, you have a pedal that uses this technology to actually achieve the opposite, isn’t that curious?

Like with many other guitar effects, I think the logical conclusion looks something like this: do you have a use for this type of effect? If the answer is yes, I’m pretty sure a lo-fi delay pedal is for you; if the answer is no, I still think you can experiment and see if you can incorporate this boxes into your board.

If you’ve found the info helpful, leave a comment or just share your thoughts about what you think over lo-fi delay pedals.

Until the next time,

M.M

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