Slapback Delay For Vocals

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Slap delay (also known as “Slapback”) is a very simple, but efficient audio effect to add depth to your vocals. It has been around for many years and is widely used in various genres of music.

Here I’m going to explain how to make good use of slap delay and how you can implement it in your DAW if it’s not already present.

What is Slap Delay?

Slap delay is the use of a delay on your instruments or vocals, but the settings are particular to get the slap delay effect. It’s great for adding a degree of depth to your vocals and you can easily adjust how prominent the effect is.

Using Ableton, here is an example of a basic slap delay setting for a “simple delay” effect:


There’re a few important points here:

  • Left and Right sided delays are linked as you do not want the delays to be offset on each side.
  • The time of the delay is variable, but most commonly used within the 40-140ish ms range
  • The feedback should be at zero, the basic slap delay effect only wants there to be one repeat of the vocal.
  • Dry/Wet is at 100% because this effect is being placed on a return track. If you have the delay directly on the affected track then you may adjust this knob to change how much of the effect is mixing into the original vocals.

From these settings, you get one 100ms delayed repeat of your vocals from both L and R at the same time.

As you can hear, this effect is reminiscent of a short reverb effect but is different in the fact that it’s not a continuous release. Because of this, your track has a more open sound which reduces possible muddiness and creates some depth as a reverb would.

Another thing to note is that the delay timing may work best when synced to the main tempo of your song. Try factors such as ½, ¼, and ⅛ of your song tempo and see which mixes in rhythmically.

For example; at 100bpm, a quarter note works as a delay time of 600ms, you can then half or quarter this value a number of times to get delay times that are always on beat with your song.

To calculate these values for any BPM you have a quick formula to figure out the ms for 1 beat in milliseconds: 60,000 / BPM = 1 beat in milliseconds.

Here are some examples:

  • 60,000 / 150 = 400ms
  • 60,000 / 120 = 500ms
  • 60,000 / 100 = 600ms

Variations on the Basics

There’re multiple ways that you can shape and mold the basic slap delay effect to give it a distinct character and fit better in your songs mix. Depending on how full your mix is, these may or may not be necessary but are always great to experiment with later.

Sculpting the Delay Using Filters

Using high and low pass filters on the slap effect of your track is a great way to add separation and depth to your vocals.

 high and low pass filters for slap delay  high and low pass filters for slap delay

In general, these are the general rules in using both filter types on slap delays:

  • High-Pass filter – The clarity of the delay will be enhanced
  • Low-Pass filter – The depth of the delay will be enhanced

Of course, you must listen to the changes you make to your filters in the context of your entire mix to figure out what you need to change.

Stereo Slap for a Wider, Bigger Sound

In the basic version of the slap delay, we made sure to leave the Left and Right times synced which created one unison delay. However, you can differ the Left and Right outputs to create a bigger sound that covers more of the stereo field.

You want to have the delays between the Left and Right times only differing by a few ms. To find the best number you will have to experiment with it in your track.

Here is an example of a slap delay with the settings described above:

slap delay with settings


Here are the differences to make a note of:

  • The delay times of Left and Right are no longer forced to be synced together.
  • The delay times of Left and Right are offset by only 5ms from each other.

If your delay effect does not specifically have a Left and Right timing, then you can pan one delay left and one delay right instead.

Because of the delay and the Left and Right timings being different, your ears will pick up in the difference in the milliseconds of timing. As the times are only milliseconds apart they will easily be assumed to be the same audio, creating a wider stereo image.

Additional Slap Delay Effects

If the above effects are not doing your vocals justice, then you can add some further audio effects on top of the echo to give it extra flavor.

Some effects to try can be reverb or distortion. What is great about adding these effects to the slap delay itself is that you still have the natural feel of the dry vocal that comes through first, followed by the added effect slightly behind. This gives you the best of both worlds kinds of approach.

What If I Don’t Have a Delay Effect?

If you don’t have a delay effect, you don’t have to worry. There are a multitude of delay effect VSTs and pedals, some that are free and some for a cost, but they will all work the same. Some have added effects that may be of benefit.

Note that with these stomp pedals you will need an XLR to jack cable to go from the pedal to your audio interface. It’s also best to have a preamp. Because pedals may have high impedance, it can be hard to hear without the amplification.

Here are some great delay effects that are out there!

Pedal Delays

Donner’s Yellow Pure Analog Delay Pedal

The Donner Yellow Pure Analog Delay Pedal is a great beginner delay pedal which has a fully analog path and is exceptionally affordable.

It sports the three main variables for delay which is the time, feedback amount (F.BACK), and echo (level of the mix). Remember to have your time low, feedback amount to zero and echo to taste.

Highly suggested for those who are newly experimenting with pedal effects as it’s sturdy, light, and fast to set up.

BOSS’s DD-7 digital delay

If you have a bigger budget and would like a delay that is a bit more advanced, check out the reputable BOSS’s DD-7 digital delay.

This pedal sports the same three important variables that are time, echo, and feedback amount. This pedal also has a fourth variable that adds more functionality. Most importantly of the added features, it allows you to reverse your delay sound, emulate analog delay, and give the delay modulation. The last of these will give you a little movement to your delayed sound.

VST Delays

Voxengo’s Tempo Delay

 Voxengo Tempo Delay For Slap Delay

Voxengo has a great range of free VST plugins and their delay VST is no different.

You have the ability to all variables of both Left and Right outputs independently which gives a whole range of nuances and shapes you can add to your slap delay around your vocals. You even have tremolo and filters for each side to apply some of the interesting slap delay enhancements talked about above.

Waves’s Wanny Marroquin Delay

 Manny Marroquin delay

The Manny Marroquin delay is a great delay from Waves, loved by many.

Waves are known for their great quality VSTs. With their delay, you have some additional features that will give uniqueness to your vocals such as reverb, distortion, doubler, and phaser that affect your slap delay. The doubler and phaser can help add some fatness to your vocal sound if you feel it’s a little thin.

Slapback Delay For Vocals Conclusion

Slap delay is another simple yet powerful effect that can find its place in any vocal track. It ‘s up to you to figure out whether it will enhance your vocals or become too muddy, in which case you may choose to leave it out.

It’s a quick and easy way to add depth and width to your vocals whilst also preserving the upfront and natural sound of the audio, providing you don’t go too heavy on the delay!

The above pedals and VST’s are tried and trusted, they are great at what they do whatever the cost, but it’s important to experiment and find what works best for yourself and your needs. Interested in finding other methods to enhance your sound? Check out our professional mixing and mastering services.