Catalinbread Echorec Review – Best “Binson Echorec” Delay Pedal?

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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.

Features

  • ‘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.

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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.

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Visit Catalinbread for more information about the Echorec.

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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.

Catalinbread-Echorec-Review-Best-Binson-Echorec-Delay-Pedal-07The 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.

Catalinbread-Echorec-Review-Best-Binson-Echorec-Delay-Pedal-04The 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.

Catalinbread-Echorec-Review-Best-Binson-Echorec-Delay-Pedal-05On 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.

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Overall-Rating-4.0

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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Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo Review – Best Tape Echo Delay Pedal?

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Echomatics, Echoplexes, Echorecs, Copycats, and Space Echos are a few of the legendary and highly sought-after machines synonymous with tape echo. While the lucky guitarists who’ve ever played through any of these units will surely attest to the amazing tones that can be coaxed from a well-maintained and serviced tape echo unit, many modern guitar players would benefit from a more practical and portable means to achieve similarly great tape echo effects. Many guitar pedals have attempted to emulate these classic delay effects with varying degrees of success. Fortunately, the wizards at Strymon took to the task of creating a worthy tape echo style delay in a convenient stompbox pedal enclosure. The result of their efforts is the El Capistan dTape Echo.

The El Capistan dTape Echo is quite possibly the most ambitious attempt at creating a faithful digital emulation of classic tape echo units in a dedicated compact pedal. Featuring 3 separate tape machine selections, each with 3 dedicated modes of operation, 10 knob adjustable parameters, tap tempo, an expression pedal input, and more, the El Capistan offers unparalleled control. Housed within the pedal’s humble enclosure lies an incredibly powerful SHARC DSP processor, ultra high quality 24-bit 96kHz A/D and D/A converters, and an all-analog dry signal path for blending the impeccable tape delay sounds with your pristine original dry audio signal. While not actually a real tape delay in the traditional sense, the El Capistan might just be the next best thing and perhaps and better in some ways. Is this the best tape echo delay pedal around? You’ll find out in our Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo review.

Features:

Sound Design:

  • Hand crafted dTape algorithms deliver meticulous and nuanced recreations of tape echo systems.
  • Three tape machines in one: Fixed (one fixed playback head), Multi (multiple playback heads), and Single (sliding record head)
  • Each tape machine has three modes for extremely flexible echo options
  • Five tape adjustment and tone shaping knobs: Time, Mix, Tape Age, Repeats, Wow & Flutter
  • Five “hidden” knobs for extensive tone tweaking: Tape Crinkle, Tape Bias, Low End Contour, Spring Reverb, +/- 3dB Boost/Cut
  • Sound on Sound mode with instant tape splice and bulk erase. A built-in tape-style looper!

Ins, Outs, Switches:

  • Stereo output
  • High impedance mono input (internal jumper enables selectable TRS stereo input) Please read this FAQ for more info on the TRS input.
  • Expression pedal input with selectable control over any knob parameter
  • Connect our optional Favorite switch to save a favorite preset
  • Tap Tempo and Bypass footswitches

Strymon-El-Capistan-dTape-Echo-Review-Best-Tape-Echo-Delay-Pedal-02Audio Quality:

  • Ultra low noise, high performance 24-bit 96kHz A/D and D/A converters
  • 115dB typical signal to noise
  • Analog dry path for a zero latency dry signal that is never converted to digital
  • Premium analog front end and output section
  • Super high performance DSP in a compact form factor

More:

  • True Bypass (electromechanical relay switching)
  • Selectable “trails” mode with high quality Analog Buffered Bypass
  • Press and hold Tap for instant infinite repeats
  • Powered with a standard 9V center negative DC supply. 250mA minimum
  • Strong and lightweight gunmetal gray anodized aluminum chassis
  • Crafted with love in the USA

Visit Strymon for more info about the El Capistan dTape Echo.

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Sound & Performance:

I’m going to cover my impressions of the El Capistan’s 3 different Tape Head settings along with their various Modes and then dive in for deeper explanations of how the pedal’s other functions affect the overall tone. My primary testing gear is a Fender American Standard Stratocaster and a Rivera Venus 5 amp.

The Fixed Tape head offers straight ahead delay echoes by simulating a playback head in fixed position with varying delay times from the Time knob and the 3 available modes. With the El Capistan’s Fixed Tape Head selected, Mode A provides shorter delays, great for dialing in a slap back delay that can be easily set to 1/16th notes via tap tempo. You’ll feel like you’re ready to board Elvis Presley’s Mystery Train. Mode B and C provide longer delays with dotted 1/8th notes and ¼ notes, respectively. Mode B is especially fun for creating percussive rhythmic patterns. Of course if rhythmic tape delays are what you’re after, the Multi Head setting might be your preferred destination.

The El Capistan’s Multi Tape Head function allows the selection of any 2 of the 3 available playback tape heads for rhythmic delays that will inspire an endless cascade of mesmerizing riffage. Leaving the Repeats low will allow you to create tighter rhythmic variations while cranking the Repeats to a moderately high level past noon will add some ethereal sounding trails beyond the initial waves of delay. Mode A uses heads 1 and 2 for a quick burst of two delay echoes that make it easy to dial in a triplet feel when setting delay time manually with the Time knob. Mode B triggers heads 2 and 3 while Mode C triggers heads 1 and 3, each mode offering interesting rhythm possibilities. (Be sure to watch the accompanying review video to hear these differences in action.)

The Single Tape Head simulates the effect of a machine with fixed tape speed. The delay time is changed by adjusting the position of a sliding record head via the Time knob. Mode A and B give you a choice between fast and slow tape speeds, Mode A being more hi-fi sounding and pristine as would be the case when recording at a higher tape speed with an analog tape machine. Mode C provides an additional treat worth checking out, a Sound on Sound tape delay recorder/looper. The first 2 presses of the Tap footswitch set the first and second splice points for the length of your loop, continuously recording and looping with each pass. A third press performs a bulk erase of the tape for an instant reset. The Time knob lets you select between normal and double speed settings. It’s also a blast taking a loop at double speed and switching to normal speed to drop it down an octave or doing the reverse to create some weird musicbox-like octave up effects.

One of the greatest miracles the El Capistan offers is being able to perfectly sync authentic sounding tape echoes to your music via tap tempo, an essential feature that ensures you’ll always be able to easily replicate precisely timed delays in a live situation. This feature works as expected and is one more feature that none of the classic echo units of old can contend with.

As for tonal tailoring of your delay, the El Capistan has several useful parameters that let you fine tune your sound. I’ll start with what’s plainly visible. The Tape Age knob sets the tone of your delay, simulating the effect of tape and the darkening of tone that come with age. Setting the knob all the way counterclockwise produces the clearest, most full range sounds, giving the El Capistan a more modern vibe. Turning the knob progressively clockwise darkens the sound for warmer and more vintage analog sounding delays. The Wow & Flutter knob produces natural sounding tape modulation that sounds great if you like a little movement in your delay. Subtle use of this knob produces pleasing results across all the El Capitstan’s modes of operation.

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The El Capistan’s surface knobs (left) and their alternate functions (right)

 

There are 5 more parameters available for shaping your sound accessible with the 5 surface knobs by pressing and holding both the Tap and Bypass footswitches. While it may require a bit of dexterity to tweak the “hidden” parameters in a live situation, these may be adjustments that you simply set and forget. The Low End Contour setting reduces the low frequencies, giving your dry tone a bit more punch, especially useful with longer Repeats settings when you’d still like to retain some note definition. At extreme settings you get high-passed, metallic sounding magnetic drum repeats. The Tape Bias parameter reduces headroom and echo volume when turned clockwise. I find the effect on the overall sound very subtle, but it’s worth experimenting with especially if you use it in conjunction with the Tape Age and Low End Contour for really precise tweaking of your preferred tape echo sound. Tape Crinkle adds various artifacts to your delay, giving you sounds of mangled tape. It combines well with the Wow & Flutter for adding imperfections to your sound, great for delays that aren’t perfect and pretty all the time. Of course, these imperfections are things of beauty in and of themselves. There’s also a Boost/Cut function that provides +/- 3dB of boost or cut when the pedal is engaged, especially useful if you’d like to make your guitar stand out just a little bit more when you activate the pedal. And finally, the Spring Reverb function sets the mix level of the integrated spring reverb tank in any of the delay modes.

Strymon-El-Capistan-dTape-Echo-Review-Best-Tape-Echo-Delay-Pedal-04The El Capistan’s Spring Reverb is one of my favorite features of this pedal, potentially negating the need for an extra reverb pedal on your pedalboard if you find yourself typically using reverb and delay at once. The Spring Reverb is brilliant at making your tape delay excursions that much more surreal and atmospheric. You can crank it to drown your delays with reverb or use it mildly to add a little more dimension to your echoes.

The El Capistan also has an expression pedal input for controlling any one of the surface control knobs in real-time, great for adding interest to your delays when used to modulate Time or Repeats. This input can also be used with Strymon’s “Favorite” footswitch for storing a preset for instant recall at any time. There are also 2 stereo outputs on the pedal as well as a TRS stereo input jack. My only initial concern about the feature set of the El Capistan was whether or not it had a stereo input. Thankfully, it does (Strymon added the stereo TRS input in May of 2012). The El Capistan’s stereo input is activated by flipping an internal jumper and requires a standard TRS cable to use. If you like to use stereo modulation effects in front of a stereo delay, the El Capistan has you covered.

The El Capistan has been around for a few years already and is still the tape echo delay pedal to beat. Also, check out the Strymon TimeLine and Strymon BigSky pedals for more tape echo inspired tones. The TimeLine has a dTape machine, and the BigSky has the cool multi-tap Magneto. Let’s see the final result.

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Overall-Rating-5.0

The Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo is one of the most outstanding delay pedals I’ve ever played and offers some of the most inspiring tape echo sounds you’ll ever find in a compact stompbox. This pedal is simply loaded with great delay effects and reveals an even greater treasure trove of tone to those who dig below the surface. If you’re looking for the best tape echo delay pedal around, the El Capistan should be at the top of your “must try” list.

That concludes our Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo review. Thanks for reading.

 

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