Finding the best Boss delay pedal for your needs is not easy with all the different models on offer. Their line-up can be split into two camps: Digital and analog. Their only current analog offering is the Boss DM-2W Waza Craft, which is quite a pedal. Their current digital delays include the Boss DD-500, DD-20, DD-7 and DD-3. Except for the older DD-3, all the current Boss digital delays have respectable analog emulations. There’s several discontinued pedals that can be found on the second-hand market. However most have been either discontinued for a reason (DD-6 – lack of optional footswitch) or been superseded by similar pedals (DD-2, DD-5 and the DM-2). Some players prefer the discontinued delays but for the purposes of this article we’ll focus on the currently available models. All the Boss delay pedals have their advantages and disadvantages and it’s more a matter of finding which one suits your personal playing requirements.
Analog option: The DM-2W Waza Craft
The DM-2W Waza Craft is a modern take on the DM-2 delay, which was released back in 1977. The DM-2W is an all-analog pedal that produces beautiful tones with a vintage edge. Boss are most well-known for clean digital delays but this pedal is in a completely different ball-park. It has a distinct dark, warm sound. In terms of control scheme it’s almost identical to the DM-2. However the DM-2W adds a Mode switch that offers two voicings: Standard and Custom. Standard provides the original tones that the DM-2 offered and has a maximum of 300 ms of delay. The delay repeats audibly decay and produce a pleasantly lo-fi sound. Custom is brighter and has a touch more of a modern sound. It also increases the maximum delay time to 800 ms. It’s still not all that much, but if you want oodles of delay time, you can always pick up one of the digital delay pedals instead.
If you want Boss analog delay, the DM-2W is your only option unless you look on the second-hand market. Luckily it’s a beauty. It goes for $179 and it’s worth every cent. It doesn’t have the deep editing functions and customisation of some of the digital delays, or the multiple footswitches of the DD-500 and DD-20, but that’s not what Boss were going for with this model. The DM-2W can be paired with an optional expression pedal which extends the delay’s ability to be fine-tuned on the fly.
Boss DD-3 and DD-7 offer simple solution for digital delay
Next we’ll look at the digital delays. We can split those into two camps: Single footswitch and multiple footswitch. The Boss DD-3 and DD-7 are single footswitch pedals, and will appeal to people who want to preserve pedalboard real estate and who prefer a simple, straightforward design. The DD-3 in particular is a very simple delay. If you want plug-in and play, this is the way to go. It combines an analog feedback and mixing stage with a 12-bit digital delay chip. As a result of the 12-bit design, each progressive repeat degrades the signal, producing slightly dirtier repeats each time.
The Boss DD-3 has a limited delay time range of 12.5ms to 800ms. There’s a Hold function which can be used to create unusual effects but other than that there’s no additional modes or emulations. There’s also no tap tempo or support for external footswitches etc. If you don’t require any of that, then it would probably be a very appealing prospect. There’s a reason the DD-3 has been in continuous production since 1986.
The Boss DD-7 is similar in appearance to the DD-3, although it has a number of extra features. It’s also a slightly cleaner delay when used in standard mode. It offers 6.4 seconds of delay, tap tempo, stereo output, panning and a 40-second looper. There are four delay modes: Digital delay, Modulate, Analog and Reverse. All the modes sound good and are very usable.
The DD-7 has support for an optional footswitch and expression pedal. The former can be used to control the tap tempo. The latter can control delay time, feedback, and effect level on the fly. Obviously these extras cost more but they significantly expand the functionality of the pedal. If you want a single-footswitch design but require functions like tap tempo and multiple delay modes, then the DD-7 is a great solution.
Dual-footswitch Boss DD-20 still an option
Now we’ll look at the multiple footswitch designs. The DD-20 is a dual-footswitch digital delay which offers enhanced features over the DD-7. The DD-20 is now a bit outdated due to the release of the more modern DD-500. The DD-500 has a greater array of sounds as well as deeper editing and customisation functions. However the DD-20 pedal still has its fans. Personally I would go for the DD-500 if money was not an issue. However there’s plenty of DD-20s on the used market so picking up one of those could be a good option for the budget-conscious.
The DD-20 has 11 delay modes: Standard, Tape, Analog, SOS, Twist, Warp, Dual, Pan, Smooth, Modulate and Reverse. Most of the modes sound good although there are some that are unlikely to be used by most players, like Twist for example. Delay sounds can be saved although there’s only four custom presets available, which is pretty limited. The pedal offers 23 seconds of delay, which is more than any other Boss pedal. It also has a 23-second looping function (SOS mode). It has support for tap tempo as well as for an optional external footswitch.
Top of the line: The Boss DD-500
The triple-footswitch DD-500 was released in 2015 and has all the features you would expect from a high-end delay pedal. It seems Boss intended the pedal to compete with modern boutique delays like the Strymon Timeline. At $300, it is more expensive than other Boss delays, but compared to the Timeline (priced at $449), it’s a bargain. If you like a wide array of sounds, advanced customisation and can afford the outlay, the DD-500 will be right up your alley.
The pedal has 32-bit/96kHz digital sampling and be operated in buffered bypass or true bypass. It offers 10 seconds of delay and 12 delay modes. They are: Standard, Analog, Tape, Dual, Reverse, Vintage Digital, Pattern, Tera Echo, Slow Attack, Filter, Shimmer and SFX. Some perform better than others but as a general rule they sound great. The tones are clear when you want them to be clear and the pedal can also produce dirtier and more experimental sounds on demand.
There’s a huge potential for editing and storing custom presets in the DD-500. There’s a backlit graphic display to keep track of everything. The physical controls will keep most guitarists happy but there’s a user-friendly editing system if you wish to go deeper into creating unique presets. A total of 297 patches can be stored in the unit. The pedal is compatible with an optional expression pedal and single or dual external footswitches. Topping this all off, there’s also a MIDI I/O for advanced control options. There’s a dizzying array of features for the pedal, but Boss have packed it all into a straight-forward interface, so it won’t be a battle to get the sounds you want.
Finding the best Boss delay pedal
Your requirements as a player will dictate the best Boss delay pedal for your needs. The DM-2W Waza Craft produces stunning all-analog delay sounds, although it has limited features and only offers two delay modes. The DD-3 is a great single-pedal delay that is simple to operate. It’s also very light on in terms of features and tonal options. The DD-7 is a more modern single-footswitch design that offers four delay modes and a range of expanded features over the DD-3. The triple-footswitch DD-500 is the flagship Boss delay and has an enormous range of delay sounds and customisation options. The DD-20 is a dual-footswitch option with a wide range of sounds although some of its functions are dated compared to the DD-500.