Binson is a name I had come across a couple of times, but since it’s rare to encounter one of their legendary delay units in the wild, I must admit I didn’t know much about these until Catalinbread, a Portland based boutique company, released their Echorec inspired delay pedal, unsurprisingly called the ‘Echorec’.
The original Echorec is most famous for its use by Pink Floyd, mainly their epic (and one of my personal favorites) “Live at Pompeii”, recorded in 1972 at the amphitheater of the ancient Roman town which was frozen in time as a result of a volcano eruption in 79 AD. This is why the Catalinbread Echorec combines the black on gold color scheme of the original Bison Echorec with ancient Roman inspired graphics. I’m glad I finally get to experience the multi head, syncopated delay concept, and can find out how it compares to my regular non-pattern delays.
- ‘Swell’ control
- ‘Tone’ control
- ‘Delay Time’ control 40ms – 1000ms
- ‘Mix’ control
- ‘Program Select’ control to choose from any of the 12 delay patterns
- Internal True/Buffered Bypass switch
- Internal Modulation trimmer
- Internal Gain trimmer
- 9/18v DC input (standard center negative, no battery)
- ‘Matrix’ card included in box, manual available on Catalinbread website
The Binson Echorec, built in Italy between the 1950’s and 70’s, consisted of a rotating metal drum with four play heads positioned around it. The user was able to independently activate any number of these, creating an echo with a distinctive rhythmical pattern, created by the combination of active playheads. Like most electro-mechanical guitar effects it had plenty of reliability issues, but whenever it did work properly it was that same quirky unpredictability that was responsible for its unique sound, apparently so much so that Pink Floyd deemed it worth the hassle of integrating it into their live rig.
Catalinbread attempted to capture the sound of the Binson Echorec while obviously avoiding the practical downsides by going digital, as well as making some improvements by increasing the relatively short fixed 300ms maximum delay time to 1000ms and making the delay time itself variable as well.
Going over the controls, on the top left, ‘Swell’, as it was originally labeled, simply changes the amount of repeats, from a single repeat at minimum to oscillating repeats at higher settings. ‘Tone’ affects the overall frequency range of the repeats only, acting somewhat like a bandpass filter. Fully counter-clockwise it’s really dark, at maximum it is bright, and in the middle it’s neutral. The delay time ranges from 40ms at minimum to 1000ms at max, and the ‘Mix’ ranges from no delayed signal at all, up to 100% wet. The last control is the somewhat mysteriously labeled ‘Program Select’ knob, which is what the Echorec is all about, as it allows the user to choose between any of the 12 possible combinations of the four ‘virtual’ playheads. The included ‘Matrix’ card clarifies which setting relates to which combination of playheads.
On the inside is a switch to change the bypass mode from true bypass to buffered, allowing delay trails to spill over when the pedal is bypassed, and two trimmers, one to control modulation depth and another for the amount of gain in the buffer circuit. Like most Catalinbread offerings including the Dirty Little Secret & Talisman pedals among others, the Echorec is housed in a 1590b sized enclosure, featuring the aforementioned Binson/Pompeii inspired paint job.
Sound & Performance
The first thing I noticed when plugging in the Echorec is that it’s incredibly easy to just set the controls somewhat randomly and start making music with it. There isn’t much of a learning curve and it’s difficult to find a bad setting. But as suggested in the user guide found on the website, I started cycling through the patterns with the ‘Swell’ set to minimum and the other controls at noon, in order to get a feel for each of the 12 patterns.
The first pattern is the so called ‘single head mode’, and at this setting the Echorec functions like a regular tape echo style delay. The 11 settings that follow are where things get a lot more interesting, and some patterns are easier to play with than others, also depending on the ‘Delay Time’ setting, since at faster settings the more complex ‘programs’ almost sound like a reverb, which makes for some unique sounds.
The ‘Delay Time’ and ‘Mix’ controls function as you’d expect, are easy to tweak, and the pots have the right curve. With the ‘Mix’ knob maxed out, the signal is 100% wet, which is useful for more elaborate or experimental rigs (although it can be a little confusing rhythmically).
The tone control is very well executed and really adds a lot to the Echorec’s character, allowing the oscillations to develop into this chirpy sound at maximum or really and dark and bassy at minimum, so much so that the amount of low end causes the circuit to actually oscillate a little earlier and obviously pushes the amp into breakup sooner.
The modulation, with the trimmer set to the factory setting, is quite apparent but not obtrusive, and although I preferred it this way, it’s nice to have options, as I could imagine situations where a lighter modulation or maybe none at all, might be appropriate.
On the inside, apart from the modulation trimmer, the bottom of the circuit board houses the buffer circuitry. This is an important aspect of the Echorec, and Catalinbread recommend it to be set to buffered bypass as an overall tone enhancement, meaning the buffer and its adjustable gain setting are affecting the signal at all times. I did like the sound of the buffer after I tweaked it to be at unity gain. And of course this method keeps the trails intact after switching the pedal off, which is essential when going for smooth transitions, but again, it’s great to have the choice.
With the ‘Gain’ trimmer set to maximum it overloads the circuitry to the point of heavy clipping, turning it into a fuzz, or fuzz/delay with the Echorec engaged. I thought this was fun when pushing a somewhat dirty amp (to smooth out the highs), but it’s not for everyone as the volume boost is huge.
Running it any higher than 9v (up to 18v) does indeed increase the headroom, which is useful when running instruments or pedals with a higher dynamic range in front of it, which I did briefly when using it with a synth.
As with all Catalinbread guitar pedals, I dig the aesthetics and overall feel, and it wouldn’t be hard to justify having it occupy a small corner on any pedalboard.
The Echorec is not perfect, however, as for an effect that relies so heavily on it’s rhythmical aspect, it’s unfortunate there is no tap tempo. Although it’s understandable that there is no tap tempo foot-switch on the pedal itself, as it certainly wouldn’t have fit on this small enclosure, perhaps a tap input would have improved functionality for live use somewhat. Using it without any way to accurately sync the delays to the tempo of the music, a more old school approach is required of just dialing in the delay time until it sounds close enough. My other main concern is that the ‘Program Select’ control is a continuous, regular style pot, labeled with a rather unspecific white dot, so sometimes it’s difficult to see which pattern is selected. On top of that it is possible to set it exactly in between two settings, resulting in no repeats at all, which is rather frustrating. These aren’t deal breakers, and I certainly learned to work around them, but improving these minor faults would undoubtedly take the Echorec to another level performance-wise should Catalinbread ever decide to update this pedal.
The Catalinbread Echorec is a highly inspiring and musical piece of equipment, great for guitarists who are looking to add some ambience with a lot of character to their setup. Obviously some way to conveniently set the delay time would make it a lot more practical, and the ‘Program Select’ control is a bit of a compromise, but sonically it’s an absolute thrill. There isn’t much choice when it comes to pattern based delays in this format, especially with such a unique character, and the Echorec is certainly a no brainer pedal in that regard that uniquely recreates the style of tape echo made famous in the original Binson Echorec.
That concludes our Catalinbread Echorec review. Thanks for reading.
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