Here's an Inexpensive Way to Get a True Analog Delay Sound
$133 MSRP, $99 street
By Craig Anderton
Let's start with a history lesson.
Before digital technology took over the world, analog delay chips - like the Reticon SAD1024 and Panasonic MN300x series - bridged the world of tape echo and digital delay. Of these, Electro-Harmonix's Deluxe Memory Man (which is still in production) was pretty much considered the box to beat. Due to the analog clocking technology, high frequencies diminished with longer delays; at the longest delays, you didn't get much response over 5kHz - just like a 2 x 12 speaker cabinet of that era, come to think of it.
Analog bucket brigades also had a certain grit to the sound that, combined with the high frequency limitations and a certain unavoidable amount of noise, created a warm, distinctive sound whose unique "grungy" character stands in stark contrast to the perfection of digital delays. You'll definitely notice this if you check out the accompanying audio examples. (A side story: Back in the mid-80s I was hired to consult on a digital effects processor. The digital delay was perfect, and I suggested putting a lowpass filter in the feedback path so successive delays would be duller, just like tape or analog delays. The engineer asked "Why would you want to reduce the frequency response?!?" To which I said "Just try it and see what you think." One listen, and he understood immediately that an engineer's idea of perfection isn't necessarily the same as a musician's.)
Electro-Harmonix revived analog delay chips with new versions made in China, and these new chips form the basis of their latest, lower-cost models. Knowing a good thing when they saw one, E-H came up with the Memory Boy, a little brother to the Memory Man, and now the Memory Toy - a little brother to the Memory Boy.
DELAYS IN TOYLAND
The Memory Toy is a Nano series box (Fig. 1), with diminutive dimensions: approximately 4-3/8" x 2-3/8" x 1-1/4" (not including the knobs or footswitch, which add about another 3/4" to the height).
Fig. 1: The Memory Toy is indeed tiny.
Power comes from a 9V battery (switched on via the input jack) or from an AC adapter jack on the back. The true bypass footswitch is suitably macho, and looks like it could handle a decent amount of stompage - as could the metal box. The input impedance is 1M, so it won't load down passive pickups.
Regarding the controls, you have Delay, Feedback, Blend, and a Modulation On/Off switch (more on this later). After seeing a review on the web where someone complained that the longest delay didn't meet the advertised spec of 550ms, I decided to measure it. The reviewer was right, but for the wrong reasons: The longest possible delay in my unit was actually 588ms (Fig. 2), a little longer than specified. While I had Sony Sound Forge up and running, I also decided to check the minimum delay, which was 33ms.
Fig. 2: The maximum available delay with my unit was 588ms.
The Feedback control goes up far enough to let the unit self-oscillate at longer delays, which is of course crucial if you're called upon to score a 1950s sci-fi flick where giant crickets eat substantial portions of Bayonne, New Jersey. Seriously, though, it's the "out of control" options of analog that appeal to many people, so I appreciate that the Memory Toy is not limited to the "correct" amount of feedback. Also, the Blend control is a true mix control, and doesn't just add in delay; when fully clockwise, you get delay sound only. This is helpful in the studio if you want to put the effect in parallel with something other than just the dry sound.
NOW, ABOUT THE MODULATION SWITCH
I feel one of the features that makes the Deluxe Memory Man such an iconic effect is the ability to add modulation with a modulation depth control. Being able to vary the amount is crucial, because the apparent effect of the modulation increases with longer delays - modulation that might sound like a smooth kind of chorus at a short delay can sound like a seriously warped record (a term that still has relevance to DJs!) at longer delays.
So I was seriously bummed to see that the modulation control had been reduced to an on/off switch, as it seemed optimized for shorter delays but I like adding the modulation at longer delays. Oh well.
Fortunately, though, in the process of taking the unit apart (four Philips head screws - it's easy) to check out the construction quality, I noticed that the trimpot labeled TRIM8 had an arrow pointing to it saying "Mod Depth" (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3: Here's where to find the modulation depth trimpot (circled in red).
Thanks, Electro-Harmonix! I grabbed a jeweler's screwdriver, set the delay to about 300ms, and adjusted the trimpot for the perfect amount of modulation. Granted, this isn't as good as having a dedicated control, but for 90\% of the time I'm set. For the other 10\%, I'll grab a screwdriver and deal with it.
Whether you're a guitar player who wants analog delay that doesn't take up much space on a pedalboard, or a studio cat who wants to add the classic analog delay sound to your roster of processors, the Memory Toy drips authenticity and doesn't mess with your budget any more than necessary.
Sure, if you can swing the bucks for the Deluxe Memory Man (which costs a bit over three times the price), go for it: You won't regret it. But if your budget's tight, the Memory Toy captures the classic sound of the Memory Man line - and after all, the sound is the important part, isn't it?
EH\_Chorus.mp3 The first figure has the modulation switch turned off. The second figure adds a subtle amount of modulation; the trimpot was trimmed to give just a hint of chorusing.
EH\_SelfOscillation.mp3 This shows off a long delay echo with a medium amount of feedback. Toward the end, the feedback goes to max, and then the delay gets shorter to raise the feedback pitch.
EH\_ShortDelay+Feedback.mp3 Setting delay to minimum with a ton of feedback gives a sound very much like spring reverb.
EH\_Slapback.mp3 A moderate delay with a fair amount of feedback gives a slapback echo effect.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.