Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe Review


Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On October 29, 2018
Last modified:March 17, 2019

Summary:

 

With unparalleled attention to detail and a perfectly executed design, the Belle Epoch Deluxe from Catalinbread is THE final word in Maestro Echoplex emulation pedals. From the 22 volt power rail, to the later spec JFET preamp, to the mixer stage, to the high gain silicon transistor based record and playback amplifiers, to the feedback loop, this pedal is the exact EP-3 circuitry. Add to that the all-discrete, through-hole construction with orange drop 225P capacitors, carbon composition resistors, germanium diodes, and other premium parts. Beyond the technical aspects of this pedal, none of which matter when you are actually using the thing, the idea was to create both the sound and the experience of the EP-3. Look no further. This pedal harnesses the delay tones and preamp characteristics that made the original a legend.

Just for the record, let me start by saying that I have never used a Maestro Echoplex EP-3 delay unit. Because of this, I make no claims to have an understanding of what that “Echoplex feel” is. However, I’m not alone on that. There are only so many of those units around. Certainly not enough to fulfill the demands of all of us seeking that unique tape delay and preamp circuit tone. I wish I owned one. Sorta. I mean, I guess I’d want to also know how to service it and be sure I had a lifetime supply of parts and tape. With all of that in mind, I think I’m with the majority of you when I say that I’ll just rely on modern technology and look for the next best thing. Possibly even something…. better?

 

What’s in a name?

“Belle Époque,” French for “Beautiful Era,” is a phrase referring to a time when things were significantly more wonderful than they are now. When everyone smoked cigarettes, drank lots of booze, and fearlessly lived life to the fullest. A time when imagination ran wild and skilled artisans crafted incredible things that were meant to inspire, and were built to last a lifetime. It could be argued that the Maestro Echoplex was one of those things built at a time when quality mattered and inspiration ran high. It inspired countless recordings and became a legendary piece of gear that has been copied again and again. Even to this day, the original units are coveted for their ability to create some of the finest delay tones of the modern era.

When I first heard about this pedal, I was super excited. I’ve owned a few of the other emulations of the EP-3, both in delay form and the isolated preamp circuits. The EP Booster (Xotic Effects), the Echoplex Delay (Jim Dunlop), and even I’ll even consider something loosely based on the EP-3 like the El Capistan (Strymon). I like all of these pedals, but they just don’t seem like they are doing all they can to bring that faithful sound. Not to blame the designers, I know the intention of these pedals was not an all-encompassing EP-3 emulation. And even if they come close, I am sure there is an element that goes further… that “vibe” I was referring to, that feeling where if you’ve used an EP-3 and you closed your eyes as you played the Belle Epoch Deluxe, maybe you’d struggle to detect a difference. The Belle Epoch Deluxe just has all the bells and whistles, and Howard’s attention to detail could not be more in focus for this pedal. This is truly his masterpiece, his Magnum Opus, and it really shines as the finest in EP-3 emulations.

 

 

Features:

 

Sound Design:

  • 6 modes or types of “tape” to choose from
  • Delay times ranging from 80ms to 800ms (exactly like an EP-3) (Sort of, more on that below)
  • Option for trails on or off via internal dip switch
  • Controls for program, depth, record level, echo volume, echo sustain, echo delay, expression control toggle, bypass switch, and a user-tunable latching runaway oscillation switch. (record level, echo volume, and echo sustain are all analog controls)
  • Expression control of delay time, delay playback volume, rotary speed, or filter sweep
  • Tons of self-oscillation and gritty long repeat goodness on tap
  • Painstakingly recreated circuit with vintage-correct components, and even the 22 volt power rail achieved by way of a voltage tripler and shunt regulator
  • All of this in a perfect size, road-worthy enclosure with, my personal favorite, top-mount jacks!

Ins and outs:

  • One 1/4” main input (top-mounted)
  • One 1/4” main output (top-mounted)
  • One 1/4” Expression Input (top-mounted)
  • 9v DC, center negative power jack drawing 150mA (top-mounted)

Knobs:

The up-front controls on the Belle Epoch Deluxe offer the same functionality of the original EP-3 bringing the familiarity of the experience directly to the user.

  • PROGRAM: Let’s you select one of six mode types (classic/bright, analog/dark, roto-swirl/leslie, resonant filter/wah, DMM chorus, DMM vibrato)
  • DEPTH: Controls the depth of the modulation
  • RECORD LEVEL: (analog) Sets the gain of the input signal hitting the record amplifier. (how hot the virtual “tape” is being hit) On the original EP-3 unit, this was a screwdriver-adjustable setting on the back of the unit. Essentially, it adds dirt or cleans up the repeats
  • ECHO VOLUME: (analog) Full-clockwise gives maximum echo volume, full counter-clockwise reduces the echo volume so that the instrument is the only thing you hear. Anything in between allows you to create the perfect balance between the two
  • ECHO SUSTAIN: (analog) Another word for “repeats.” Allows you to set the desired number of echo sustain. Anything beyond “5” and runaway oscillation will kick in
  • ECHO DELAY: This is your “time” knob. Anywhere from 80ms to 800ms (maybe, more on that below) On the original unit, this was a slider knob on the top of the unit. Fun to slide back and forth. Get that same experience here on the Belle Epoch in one of two ways. The knob is conveniently located in the top right edge of the pedal. This makes it easy for you to access it with your foot, rolling it up and down with ease. The other way would be an expression pedal. Plug it in and go crazy!

A more in-depth look at that PROGRAM knob:

Fairly straightforward “mode” knob, but it get’s pretty deep. Let’s take a look.

PROGRAM:

Here you can select one of six different modes, or as the manual refers to, “six types of tape.” They are really different-sounding delays with additional options for the modulation or filtering characteristics, as well as expression pedal options. Let’s look at each one in depth.

1. CLASSIC:

Description: Classic EP-3 Tape voicing. Slightly bright repeats. This is the main voice of the Belle Epoch Deluxe. You want that Maestro Echoplex in a box? This is the one.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the amount of tape warble. Start at “noon” for classic EP-3 tape characteristics.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

2. ANALOG:

Description: Dark voicing inspired by BBD delays. Darker repeats sit nicely under your dry signal.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the depth of a medium-rate chorus. Set to minimum for no chorus to emulate classic BBD delay units.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

3. LESLIE:

Description: Your repeats will have a nice “roto-swirl” as if running though a Leslie Speaker. (use the expression options to unlock the full capabilities of this feature)
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the depth of the rotary effect.
Expression Pedal: Classic Leslie Speaker controls. Toe-down for fast rotor, toe-up for slow rotor.

4. FILTER:

Description: This mode features a manually sweeping resonant filter. As if your repeats were running through a wah pedal. (use the expression options to unlock the full capabilities of this feature)
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the amount of tape warble. Start at “noon” for classic EP-3 tape characteristics.
Expression Pedal: Controls the sweeping filter. Go from wah-like tone at shorter delay times all the way to sweeping synth filter sounds at longer delay times. (because this is a resonant filter, you may need to turn down SUSTAIN slightly to avoid going into oscillation)

5. DMM CHORUS:

Description: Replicates the “chorus” sound on a classic Deluxe Memory Man.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the chorus depth. Just like the original, it’s capable of extreme settings at max.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

6. DMM VIBRATO:

Description: Replicates the “vibrato” sound on a classic Deluxe Memory Man.
Depth/Modulation: Adjusts the vibrato depth. Just like the original, it’s capable of extreme settings at max.
Expression Pedal: Controls volume of repeats from off to full.

Visit Catalinbread for more info about the Belle Epoch Deluxe.

 

 

Value, quality, and nitpicks:

 

The Belle Epoch Deluxe is simply fantastic. No other way around it. The strongest points are the attention to detail and the massive array of expression options available for the delay explorer. The bread and butter of this pedal is the classic EP-3 tone, captured by the seemingly magical hands of Howard Gee. What takes this pedal to the next level are the expression options, opening up possibilities of incredible sounds that you will struggle to find elsewhere.

Let’s talk about value. The street price on the BED is around $359.00. Right away, some of you are like “No. That’s too expensive.” But think about it… It’s $60 more than an El Capistan. One of the greatest delay pedals ever, yes, but the BED is hand-built with premium analog, through-hole parts. (I hear that it takes 90 minutes just to populate the board on these things.) You’re honestly getting the entire EP-3 experience (plus more) for less than half of the price of an actual EP-3. It’s definitely in the “you get what you pay for” category. Nothing about the entire user experience makes me feel like anything was left to chance on this thing. From the look of it, to the feel of it… from the beautifully-crafted insides, to the thoughtfully-designed outsides, to the incredible-sounding tones… Buying the Belle Epoch Deluxe will not make you feel like you got punched in the gut.

Let me get a few “nitpicks” off my chest. These aren’t my nitpicks… but I read forums from time to time, like when I need to research for a review. There are three concerns from the peanut gallery. Most of the ones who are expressing these concerns fall into one of the following groups: the ones who either just don’t like the concept of the EP-3 (whether the original, or this pedal) and those who are looking to buy the pedal and are out searching for all those reasons and opinions to help make that decision. In other words, neither of those groups are owners of the pedal. Those that actually have the thing, myself included, are far less likely to have the following concerns. I’m covering these issues below, not so much to bring them to light, but, rather, in hopes of debunking them.

Lack of TAP TEMPO switch. Ok. This is probably the most obvious thing to most of you. “A delay pedal that has two switches and one of them isn’t TAP TEMPO??” Get over it. The second switch is for latching self oscillation. “But it could have been momentary oscillation with TAP like all the other pedals!” No. This isn’t that pedal. And, if you haven’t used latching oscillation before… it’s killer. Tap it once and it creates sustaining feedback while your foot is now free to control that Echo Delay (time) knob function via expression pedal. This approach is like grabbing the slider on a real EP-3 and using it to create rising and falling pitched echo oscillations. And besides… it’s not like the original unit had tap tempo. Howard set out to make a faithful recreation. Period. I honor and respect that. Not all pedals are supposed to have all the things all the other pedals have. This pedal is based on a philosophy. You get it, or you don’t. Which brings me to the next point.

Faithful recreation to a fault? Some have argued about making this pedal so true to the original that you lose some of the technological advancements made in the decades since the original EP-3 came to market. Oh, jeez. Come on. There are plenty of delays out there that dive into the EP-3 tone and yet throw out all the quirky limitations of the original. If that’s what you need, then you know what to buy. When I set out in search of that original EP-3 vibe, that feel… I want the faithful reproduction. I want the classic experience of the original. I want the limitations. The same limitations that forced the musicians of the day to create some of the most powerful music ever recorded. The music we love now and sit around and wonder why no one else can pull that off anymore. Maybe you need a few limitations in your life? It makes you get more creative.

So, what kind of limitations am I referring to? Lack of TAP, quirky input gain trim, warble, thinned repeats, crazy oscillation, a delay range of 80ms-800ms. Now, some of you are thinking “But some of that is what makes this pedal cool!” No, all of that is what makes this pedal cool. If you look at a block diagram of the original EP-3 and a block diagram of the Belle Epoch Deluxe, they share the same architecture. There is no reason to be that faithful to the original and then ruin it with a bunch of flair.

Delay time range of 80ms-800ms. Ok, I’ve been waiting to talk about this one. First of all. The goal was to get it just like the original. If you look at the manual for the Belle Epoch Deluxe, you’ll see that it lists the delay times as follows: “80ms-800ms Exactly like an EP-3” Then you read a few things online and you find out that the actual delay range is more like 15ms to 666ms. Then you wonder if you’ve been cheated. Now it’s not like the original, right?? Then you find a video on Instagram where someone has an original EP-3 unit and a Belle Epoch Deluxe sitting side-by-side on a table. Both set to max delay times and they are going back and forth. Not only are you totally unable to tell the difference in tone (!) but the max delay times are exact copies of one another. I don’t understand where this leaves things, officially. The delay times of 80-800 are still on the Catalinbread website. I am satisfied with the fact that the BED is the same as the actual EP-3 and I’ll just leave it at that.

How about a few of my very own nitpicks? If you’ve read any of my other reviews, these nitpicks are always the same… I wasn’t even going to put this in here, since it runs counter to the BED philosophy of a “perfect emulation” that has everything you need, and nothing you don’t, but I’ll say this anyway. MIDI is always nice. In most cases, MIDI is literally the difference between “on my board” and “off my board.” That’s why it’s always worth mentioning, for me. You don’t really take anything away from the experience of the BED by having MIDI. It’s one of those things where it’s there when you need it, and is totally meant to be ignored when you’re not using it. Certainly with all the different sounds you can come up with on this thing, MIDI presets would have been HUGE for guys like me. Stereo ins and outs? Maybe. Many of us like to run a stereo board, but probably not enough of you out there to make it that big of a deal. But that may be something that would keep it off someone’s stereo board. For me, this pedal has been an indispensable tool in the studio. I’ve been working on a couple records kind of in the trip-hop genre. Think about Adrian Utley’s guitar work and how important that EP-3 sound is. It’s just got that cool, lo-fi tape vibe that I was looking for, and the Belle Epoch Deluxe sounds totally authentic. You’ll notice that my personal nitpicks have nothing to do with the experience or the sound. I don’t miss a tap tempo, I don’t care that the pedal has “narrowed specifications” to match the original EP-3. I don’t miss a full second of delay time. I feels good and sounds great. That’s what really matters here.

 

 

The pedal is what it is. If you honestly crave that EP-3 tone but don’t see yourself picking up one of the original units anytime soon, this is the pedal you want. If you already own an EP-3 but want something you can actually take on the road, look no further. I am sure you’ll be very satisfied with the characteristics of this pedal. And, not only did they bring us that faithful recreation, they took it a few steps further with the program options. Why just have the original EP-3 tape sound when you can also mix in a few additional tones? I’ve been using the BED in my studio now for the past 6 months. I know it very well at this point, and I feel like it has revealed to me what the true EP-3 experience is. I’ve mentioned a few times in this review that I don’t know what that true “EP-3 feel” is. But, maybe now I do. I just believe in this pedal so much that I am confident that it has just given me the experience from a different direction. It made me say “Ah, now I see why people love the EP-3 so much.” The real thing going on here is Howard’s design and how it directly translates right to the user experience. The expression options open up the other half of the pedal. When you put all that together you’ll be in preamp, tape loop, record head, modulation, and oscillation heaven. This thing is definitely its own beast. I love the beast just the way it is. There is nothing out there quite like it. To play it is to understand. I mean, why do you think the original EP-3 is one of the most emulated delays on earth? Pick up the Belle Epoch Deluxe from Catalinbread and you will know why.

This concludes our review of the Belle Epoch Deluxe from Catalinbread. Thanks for reading!

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