Let’s talk a little bit about analog dry-through delay pedals vs fully digital delays. This is a hot topic. One that always comes up in forums and online discussions when comparing popular delay pedals.
Before we start, let’s define what analog dry-through delay pedals are. An analog dry-through delay is one is that mixes the delay repeats with a fully analog dry signal. Essentially, your analog signal is never converted to digital as it goes through the pedal. Some of these delay pedals include the Strymon El Capistan, Keeley Eccos, Meris Polymoon and Empress Echosystem.
Fully digital delays are those that regardless of the sound they try to emulate, such as a an analog tape delay simulation, they do a full analog to digital conversion of your signal. In other words, the dry signal is completely converted to digital to be processed, and then converted back to analog to continue its journey through the signal chain. This is often referred to as AD / DA conversion (or ADA conversion) as the signal goes from analog to 100% digital and then back to analog. The main takeaway with these is that the signal stops being analog for a fraction of time, before being converted back.
Which Is Best? Analog Dry-Through or Benchmark AD/DA Conversions
In general, analog dry-through delay pedals are usually preferred. At least, it’s used as a selling point and supposedly as being superior. I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of it because that would be above my pay grade. However, it’s pretty easy to understand why one would prefer a digital delay pedal with analog dry-through. You’d generally want your guitar’s dry sound to stay intact. Note that I’m not talking about full analog delays here, like the Chase Bliss Thermae. Those obviously never convert your signal and even the wet effect is analog.
Some guitarists also say that ADA conversion can introduce latency. While that it technically true, you would really only notice this if you chain a bunch of digital effects together. It may also be a problem on some wet-dry rigs where latency could potentially introduce phasing issues.
I do want to point out that you should not completely disregard a delay pedal for not having analog dry-through. There are many fantastic effects that convert your dry signal. Some of these include the Eventide H9 and H90, most digital modulation effects and even very popular delay pedals like the aforementioned Source Audio Nemesis.
Analog Dry-Through Delay Pedals. Is There a Difference in Sound Though?
My take it is that most of the time you will never notice the difference. I have only found two situations where I’ve noticed a difference between delays with analog dry through and those without it. Both situations deal with high gain.
I can notice a slight difference when running really high gain pedals on my pedalboard before a delay pedal with no analog dry-through. I can hear the sound gets more saturated and oftentimes a little brighter as well. To me, this appears even more obvious when I run these full ADA conversion delay pedals in the effects loop of a high-gain amp. I find it even more drastic in those situations. Anytime I’m playing really high-gain or high distortion music, I much prefer a delay an analog dry path.
I also notice that full AD/DA converting delay pedals ten to mix the delay signal a little “hotter.” What I mean by this is that I have to run the mix knob or delay level knob considerably lower to keep the delay trails under control and not too “up front.” This might just have to do with the way the algorithm is written and not necessarily because of the lack of analog-dry path. It’s just something that I’ve noticed when comparing my Source Audio Nemesis and Walrus D1 to my Strymon Volante or El Capistan.
So, What Do I Buy?
I’ll admit, like most other guitarists, I prefer delay pedals with analog dry-through. It just feels right. Additionally, based on my testing, I prefer them for high-gain music and for running them in the amp’s effects loop. However, I don’t completely disfavor delay pedals that convert your dry path. I’m a big fan of the Walrus Audio D1. It’s an amazing -sounding and useful delay pedal that I play very often. If it sounds right to you, don’t get too hung up on the whole analog dry through thing.