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Review of Zen Delay Virtual by Erica Synths

Introduction

The Zen Delay hardware unit was somewhat of a phenonemon, I’d go as far as saying it has legendary status on some forums.

Now Ninja Tune and Erica Synths have teamed up with VCV code wizard Raphael Hoffman to create a powerful effects plugin with extreme possibilities and playability.

Furthermore it’s not simply a digital replica,  It’s great to see that the possibilities of the virtual environment have been harnessed to provide modulation options that are not available on the hardware unit.

Zen Delay Virtual is available in VST2, VST3, AU and Standalone formats.  It is typically priced at £154.96 although Pluginboutique are running an introductory sale price of $106.96 (33% off) until 8th May, my affiliate link is above. 

It should also be mentioned that for every license sold, one five-year old oak tree is planted by the Liquid Sky artistcollective reforestation project in southern Portugal, cared for until the tree can survive by itself.

Installation / Activation

Zen Delay Virtual has a typical installation file for download and install, all formats are installed by default but you can customise the install to leave out any variants that you don’t need.

Note that Zen Delay Virtual uses iLok for activation so you will need to install the iLok licence manager software and create an account if you don’t already have one. 

Key Features

  • 5 Stereo delay algorithms – Tape, Digital, Tape Ping Pong, Digital Ping Pong and Vintage
  • 5000ms maximum delay time
  • LP / HP / BP stereo filter
  • Delay bypass for use of stereo filter alone
  • Simulated tube overdrive
  •  Can synchronise to host tempo (plugin) or incoming midi clock (standalone app)
  • Exclusive LFO options not available on the hardware unit
  • Library of presets created by producers and DJs 

Overview

The interface is quite similar to the hardware unit and offers the sort of controls that you’d expect – Delay Time, Feedback, Delay Mode, Drive, Filter Mode, Cutoff, Resonance as well as Input Level and Dry Wet mix.  You will also find Tap Tempo, BPM Sync Menu, Preset Manager, Modulation Controls, Information Screen and Bypass.

The preset screen has 56 presets covering a range of potential sounds that Zen Delay Virtual can produce from dub, tape modulation, rhythmic, evolving, drone to noise.

You can save, overwrite, delete and reset to factory defaults. 

The modulation and options screen has controls for delay and filter cutoff modulation as well as for customising characteristics of the digital delay modes and changing the routing between the delay and filter stages which are additional features to the hardware unit. 

In Use

Zen Delay Virtual is a flexible, extremely creative and great sounding delay effect.  I like how the GUI replicates the hardware unit, it is resizable and the controls are easy to adjust.

The sound quality is very good and it’s one of those effects that keeps surprising you with possibilities the more you use it.  The 56 presets give a very good idea of the type of sounds that can be produced and can form the starting point for your own sounds.

The digital and tape delay modes are excellent and the filter allows you to shape the sound considerably, there’s further potential for creative use of the filter by changing routing options on the modulation screen to insert the filter into the feedback loop. 

When you add modulation you can get a whole range of sounds from subtle shimmer to evolving, rhythmic and drone sounds that range from subtle to chaotic.  You can also use the drive control to add subtle saturation which can go all the way to ‘quite destruction madness’ – in Erica Synths’ own words. The vintage mode is a great feature that can produce a lo-fi / bit crushed type of sound.  

I really like the saturation effect, you wouldn’t buy this effect just for that but if you turn the delay effect off you can use it on its own.  Not something you’d specifically get this effect for but a very handy feature.

I’m very impressed with Zen Delay Virtual.  It’s a very capable delay effect and can produce a wide range of delay effects from digital to tape to lo-fi.  When you add in modulation it becomes a very creative effect that will easily create subtle or more chaotic effects.  

I’ve used Zen Delay Virtual to create ayama, embedded at the top of the post.

It’s a minimal, dub, experimental, ambient techno track that uses multiple instances of Zen Delay Virtual, no other modulation or time effects have been used.  I’ve used a variety of dub, tape modulation, rhythmic and noise effects on sample loops, Spitfire Audio libraries, Synthmaster One,  Synthmaster, Polygon 2 and Punch-BD.  It was arranged, mixed and mastered in Reaper.

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