Review – Late Replies from Blue Cat Audio
Late Replies from Blue Cat Audio is a delay … but before you move on because it’s just yet another delay, be aware it’s probably the most powerful delay you’ve ever seen.
by David Baer, Nov. 2017
Every now and then you encounter a new plug-in FX module that causes you to say to yourself “Holy [expletive-of-choice]” while reading each new page of the manual. Late Replies from Blue Cat Audio is absolutely one of those. If there were a best-FX-of-the-year award, Late Replies would be in serious competition for that prize, it’s that inspired, innovative, flexible, powerful and ground-breaking.
As a delay, it’s got more than enough of the requisite capabilities. But what makes it special is the ability to insert FX modules into key positions in the signal chain. It comes with 25 built-in effects, but you may also use any VST, VST 3 or AU plug-in you happen to have on your system. If that’s not enough, Late Replies can even host copies of itself for unbelievably complex delay patterns.
For all its sophistication, however, Late Replies has a very clean design that’s quite easy to understand. You can become a master delay designer in no time after just a single read through the clear and concise documentation.
First we have some basics to get out of the way. Late Replies is available in all major formats and is compatible with all modern mainline DAW systems. It sells for $129 USD, with occasional sales the norm for Blue Cat Audio. Authorization is very customer-friendly and the multi-machine license terms are even more so. A demo download is available that imposes only minor inconveniences.
While this review will not be particularly long (it’s really that easy to explain the functioning of Late Replies), for those curious to see it in action, a trio of videos by the respected tutorial author Eli Kranzberg may be found here:
The Basic Delay
We’ll get to the FX insert capabilities shortly, but for now let’s focus on just the delay mechanism itself. Here’s a diagram of the signal flow taken from the manual.
There are four major sections to the delay signal chain: input processing, delay taps, feedback loops and output processing. The image at the top of this page shows the UI in its compact form. The delay taps section and the feedback section can each be expanded, and we’ll see those when we get to that part of the discussion.
The input section is simple. We specify a Base Delay time which serves as the base time to which delay tap times and feedback times are relative. We can specify this as host-sync-based, absolute time or manually-specified tempo. The Inertia control governs how much tape-flutter-type distortion will be heard when tempo changes are encountered.
Next we have the Pattern section, which defines the number of taps, their temporal location and other attributes like individual level, panning, phase and more. The taps are called “replies” in Late Replies terminology. We may have one to eight of them, and the UI adjusts as appropriate to the number specified. A grid is displayed, the divisions for which can be set as desired. Visual positioning, snap-to-grid, and randomization are all supported.
All in all, it’s quite intuitive. You can easily understand its workings by reading the manual, but the video tutorials (link provided earlier) are also a great way to get up to speed rapidly.
Below the UI Pattern area is the Feedback Loops editor.
There are two independent feedback loops either of which may optionally cross-feed the other loop. Both loop predelay and loop delay interval are specified in a grid. Underneath the loop grid is another grid that attempts to graphically depict what the delayed audio will fully sound like. The timeline can be expanded to up to eight times the base delay duration. The dot images (filled circle, empty circle, etc.) and their locations (above or below the line) have specific meanings that are fully explained in the manual.
Below the grids are the actual controls, the ones in black control the general mixing settings of the loop output. The controls in blue are dedicated to what happens inside the feedback loop. Again, the documentation fully describes the various functions and I won’t elaborate further here.
The output section consists of a Width control that can be used to narrow (but not widen) the wet output. A dedicated ducker (a very useful thing to have in a delay) is present. It can be driven with the dry signal or an external side-chain signal. Finally, we have a limiter, which is another very good thing to include when dealing with feedback loops that can all-too-easily overload while experimenting.
FX Inserts and More
Now we come to the thing that makes Late Replies truly unique – the ability to insert various FX processing in various parts of the delay signal chain. Blue Cat has mastered the ability to have a hosted plug-in become the host for others, as is well-demonstrated in the multi-band host Blue Cat MB-7 and the indispensable Blue Cat Patchwork (if you acquire Patchwork, I predict it won’t be long before you start calling it “indispensable” as well).
There are four places into which FX can be inserted:
- Input to the delay signal chain
- Taps (on a per-tap basis)
- Loops (on a per-loop basis)
The composite image below shows each of the above possibilities.
There are 25 built-in effects: EQ, filters, modulation effects (chorus, flanger, etc.), pitch shifter, frequency shifter, dynamics (compressor, gate), distortion (bit crusher, wave shaper, etc.), utility (MS encode/decode), and more. Plus there are three delay inserts: echo, multi-tap and even inserted instances of Late Replies itself. Of course, with the hosted delays, you cannot benefit from the visual depiction of the expected sound that you see in the Loops UI section. Below are three of these 25 possibilities.
But the possibilities don’t end with the onboard FX modules. You can also insert any VST, VST 3 or AU plug-in you happen to have on hand as well. The possibilities are effectively limitless.
I have not yet mentioned the factory preset content. Would you consider 350 (or so) presets to be an adequate number? A number of them use the onboard FX insert capability to good effect, so there is plenty there to inspire you as to what might be done with your own favorite FX plug-ins, which obviously could not have been included in the factory preset content. There are many interesting ideas to be found in the presets, and exploring them may provide ample inspiration to anyone who finds sound design to be a worthwhile pursuit.
Is Late Replies for You?
I think you’ve probably gathered by now that I think Late Replies is a rather special piece of virtual gear. Because it’s so new to the marketplace, I cannot suggest what an expected sale price will be (however, Black Friday is just days away from the publication date of this review). But the list price of $129 USD is entirely reasonable for something as full of possibility as is this plug-in. Grab a demo version to check it out for yourself. Highest possible recommendation here! For more information, to download a demo version or to purchase, go here:
Blue Cat products are also available through third-party music software retailers.