Posted on21 September 2017 1:15 AM GMT

12 of the Best Tape Delay Pedals for your Consideration

Electric GuitarGuitar OwnershipGuitar PedalsEffects PedalsDelay PedalsTape DelayTape Delay Pedals+-
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There have been 3 legendary analogue tape-style delay engines that everyone agrees on:

  • Binson Echorec 2 (1961-79)
  • Maestro Echoplex EP-3 (1970 - 1991)
  • Roland RE-201 Space Echo (1974 - 1990)

All those 3 have a significant influence and impact on many if not most of those featured here - which are either direct simulations of those former classics, or pay some sort of lip-service to them. T-Rex have a full-size faithful modern reproduction of the Echorec in the works which is imminent for release. Fulltone also have the behemoth Solid State and Tube Tape Echos - and I am excluding all these 3 on practicality reasons. For sure they are lovely to have in the studio, but are not at all suitable for travel or pedalboard use.

 

The true original here - the Binson Echorec seems to be the most copied version with Catalinbread, Dawner Prince and Gurus all having their versions of that. The last mentioned is a little large and has a very limited feature set for its size, but does sound suitably lush. The Catalinbread Echorec and Dawner Prince Boonar provide you with their versions of all the flavours of the original, and the latter certainly offers more granularity of features, while the Catalinbread is really cleverly laid-out for simple set-up. I’m still torn as to which two of those I would get. We then have the Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe and Dunlop versions of the Echoplex where you have a trade-off between simplicity and granularity again. Finally, the Boss RE-20 is a modern replication of the Roland RE-201 Space Echo - which effect I already have courtesy of my superb RV-500.

 

The largest pedal here, which I would still question on pedalboard suitability is nonetheless the smaller Junior version of T-Rex’s replicator - which in itself is somewhat modelled on the Echoplex. The full-size Replicator has 2 tape heads and 6 parameter dials, while its Junior sibling has exactly half - 1 tape head and 3 dials. If you have to have real tape then this is obviously your pedal.

 

The remaining 5 pedals are all different degrees of complexity and granularity tape effects from the Keely Mag Echo at the simplest end, and EQD’s Disaster Transport SR at the more high-faluted edge. In between we have the extremely practical Empress Tape Delay, Strymon El Capistan and the Wampler Faux Tape Echo. The first two which have often featured on my wishlists, but have both sort of dropped off right now.

 

Pretty much without exception these are all great pedals, and you need to decided exactly what you want, how fussy, and how much you are willing to pay for it. It’s most definitely a difficult call, but I am increasingly intrigued and drawn towards the Boonar - which would be my most likely acquisition - that or the Catalinbread Echorec!

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand:

Boss RE-20 Space Echo - £209

I've touched on this one a couple of times already on different blog posts. This is a wonderful combination of delay and reverb, obviously based on the earlier Echorec and Echoplex technologies with some refinements and advances along the way. I don't really like the size of this pedal - I've always thought the Boss dual pedals were a little clunky. If you really want this effect you are better off paying a little more and getting the Boss RV-500 which has a slightly smaller and significantly more elegant enclosure. Although there will be some that prefer the direct hands-on access to all the parameter settings / dials.

Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe (Exhoplex) - £299

Catalinbread bill this as 'an exact reproduction of the iconic 1970’s Maestro Echoplex® EP-3' in solid state form (Everything-But-The-Tape) - it significantly improves on the still available compact version with additional modes (6-mode dial) and parameters and extra expression pedal functions. For what it does it is still significantly compact and worthy of your consideration.

Catalinbread Echorec - £185

Catalinbread's other tape pedal has yet to appear in deluxe format, but makes up for that with a really smart control layout - where just 5 dials give you everything you need - including of course the 12-mode rotary selector. There are 3 solid-state Echorec clones featured here, and it's interesting to see how differently they have each approached their own particular solution. In terms of really simple and yet warm and lush sound - this pedal does an amazing job. Every time I think I am leaning towards the Dawner Prince Boonar, I check out this video and then promptly swing back the other way - both are really good, and this one is more compact - which possibly gives it an edge.

Dawner Prince Boonar - £299

This is probably the neatest Echorec reproduction to date - with those 4 tape head buttons in a row - allowing you to use them in any and every combination - you also have input signal and drum age control dials on 2 sides of the pedal alongside the 4 key parameter dials - also with a separate footswitch to engage repeats feedback and swell. All this in essentially a landscape compact pedal enclosure. I really like the granularity of this pedal, while you could argue that the Catalinbread is a little simpler in handling. Yet this one does quite a bit more, possibly with a slightly more neutral core tone too. This is typically £100 more than the Catalinbread, so that will undoubtedly factor in too - I really to keep oscillating between the these two pedals, and right now I cannot make up my mind as to which to get!

Dunlop EP103 Echoplex - £219

Dunlop goes down the simple route with its version of the Echoplex - using just 3 dials - Sustain | Volume | Delay and a secondary push function on the Volume for tape age (modulation + warble + flutter + artefacts); there's also a separate socket for a remote tap-tempo switch. You can't really get more basic than this, and you get a pretty decent output - which can be stereo with TRS splitter cables, but I'm not sure this one is quite of the quality of most of the other's here, and the fact that Dunlop now owns the Echoplex trademark probably helps it maintain a slightly higher than warranted price. That said, there seem to be enough people who prefer this to the Belle Epoch, meaning more likely the equivalent compact one rather than the above Deluxe.

EarthQuaker Devices Disaster Transport SR - £299

EQD describes this as a lo-fi swirling tape styled echo which makes use of dual delays with added reverb and modulation. Delays can be run individually, in series or in parallel - depending on where you set the Bleed control. In some ways you could describe this as a 2-head tape machine delay, but with a little more control. It's a really smart devices, but a little large for my liking.

Empress Tape Delay - £249

I love Empress pedals, and have near enough featured the whole range on my various blog posts - they've kind of crept up steadily to make the best all-round delay pedal currently available - or the EchoSystem as it is called. This little brother to it concentrates solely on tape delay. It's a fairly vanilla device - but with lots of sound-sculpting options via 4 toggles and 4 dials. To fully keep pace with the high achievers listed here, it probably needs a couple more modes / play-heads as such. Empress pedals are so easy to use and set up - and you are always guaranteed the best quality components and highest fidelity output. Much like with the Empress Tremolo, I feel that there are other delays pedals here slightly better appointed overall in this area.

Gurus Echosex 2 - £319

In some ways this is the closest reproduction of the Echorec in terms of aesthetics and having a proper valve-driven pre-amp. Yet in one way it's significantly different in only having the sound of the single number 4 playback head versus the combination of all 4 - which is what you get with the Catalinbread Echorec and the Dawner Prince Boonar. Many believe this is the most authentic to the original in its overall soundstage even though it only gives you the single playback option. I think that on a given day, and depending what you're after you could quite happily go with any of those three - each has something to recommend it.

Keeley Magnetic Echo - £149

This is a more straightforward compact pedal with Time | Regen | Level dials and then Depth and Speed for Modulation, It provides a surprisingly diverse range of tones as ably demonstrated by Andy Martin in the above video. You can quickly and easily go from slow chorus-like spacey ambience to fluttery and warbly oscillation. This is the lowest cost pedal in this selection but well up to the task. Of course it does not do the more advanced multi-head textures of some of the more complex examples featured here. (note that enclosure in video has different graphics, but is the same pedal as picture above).

Strymon El Capistan - £299

Strymon of course is highly regarded for its various delay pedals, and this very authentic sounding tape delay is one of its most loved. It features 3 modes covering all the key tape delay types - Fixed | Multi | Single - and each has 3 sub-modes, for instance for Multi-Head you get to select 3 classic configurations of the 4 playback heads normally associated with a Binson Echorec. So you don't get all the different Echorec modes, but you get the key flavours of that alongside the key flavours of an Echoplex and more simple fixed playback position. As with all of these types of Strymon pedals there are a plethora of secondary functions to be accessed on each dial. If you want an all-rounder tape-style delay pedal - then this is probably your frontrunner, yet you may decide you have a particular preference for an Echorec, Exhoplex or Space Echo even, and may rather target those exclusively. The El Capisatn has been on my wishlist for a while now, and is second-in-line of the Strymons after the Flint!

T-Rex Replicator Junior - £550

I selected the still relatively large Replicator Junior over its briefcase-size brother for matters of pedalboard suitability. The larger original was not based on any specific original tape delay type, but was merely T-Rex's attempt at trying to build the very best modern real-tape delay using all analogue parts / components. The larger original has 2 playback heads, 6 dials and 4 footswitches, while the pictured / featured Junior version pretty much exactly halves that - having a single playback head, 3 dials and 2 footswitches. You obviously cannot get the more complex multi-head textures, but you get a lovely lush-sounding proper tape effect with tap-tempo - and smart replaceable tape cartridges. It also cuts about 1/3 off the price of its larger sibling. I still have a feeling that this can all be miniaturised further - let's not forget what Sony did with the Walkman after all. I still reckon this is a great solution if you are serious about getting as authentic a tape delay sound as possible - with real tape transport and true wow & flutter dynamics.

Wampler Faux Tape Echo V2 - £229

All of Brian Wampler's pedals sound excellent and have great picking dynamics, and of the various tape delays featured here - this one sits kind of between the Keeley Magnetic Echo, Empress Tape Delay and the Strymon El Capistan. The Wampler benefits from tap-tempo and sub-divisions, but does not have the more advanced variable tape-head settings of the Strymon. So it's more like the Echoplex and Replicator in its style of tape delay. The 'Depth' dial here is very useful in getting this pedal to fit in and around your playing - otherwise this is really very vanilla and straightforward.

Final Thoughts

If you watch the video for the Gurus Echosex above - which is taken from the That Pedal Show episode about the Binson Echorec, you quickly realise that none of these modern tape delay pedals have yet managed to fully approach the deep sound projection and richness of the 70's originals. Digital processing has come a long way, but I believe the perfect modern tape delay is still waiting to be built. As with all pedal acquisition decisions you will be deciding on a combination of price, tone, feature-set and size most likely - or at least that's typically what I do.

 

At one stage it was a dead cert that I would be getting the El Capistan - that one has really clever features and is fully stereo out (but mono in). Latterly though I have been drawn to the Catalinbread Echorec and the Dawner Prince Boonar - which are both mono out. With my stereo rig I really benefit from stereo signal processing for delay and reverb - all of these throw up all manner of quandaries about signal-chain placement etc. as the last 6 pedals in my chain are fully stereo and include modulations - meaning that it would be very tricky to place these in amongst those. I am fortunate that my Empress EchoSystem has 4 tape delay modes, and my Boss RV-500 has a great Space Echo algorithm. I think for now I will probably settle for just those - the EchoSystem also has the very useful Multi-Tap modes which can replicate very complex multi-tape-head combinations - sot that's a win too. What I would really like in some guise is the addition of an Echorec mode - so perhaps Boss or Empress could oblige with that!

Stefan
Posted by Stefan
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