Roland Space Echo
When it comes to tape-based echo units, the Roland Space Echo series is the undisputed champion. Sure, there are other notable offerings (we certainly wouldn’t turn our noses up at an Echoplex, a Fulltone or a Copicat) but there’s something uniquely appealing about the Space Echo.
The concept is simple: a loop of tape passes a record head and then runs across one or more playback heads. The incoming signal is recorded onto the tape, then played back shortly afterwards by the playback heads. When the signal from the playback heads is mixed with the original source, you get a uniquely charming result: not quite like any real-life echo or reverberation but instantly recognisable and, more importantly, incredibly effective in a mix.
Roland’s first tape echo units were released in 1972, but it was with 1973’s Roland Space Echo RE201 that they really hit the winning formula. Some might argue that tape echo units should be thought of as delays rather than reverbs, but the Space Echo in particular sits in the grey area between the two (and not just because most models also feature a built in spring reverb). Yes, it can do longer delays, but when the delay time gets shorter it can hold its own with any reverb you could name. Warm, gritty and unmistakeably analogue, the Space Echo feels somehow organic. It’s a true cult classic in countless genres, from dub through to house.
Later models offer slightly cleaner sound and, in the cases of the RE-301 and RE-501, additional chorus circuits. They’re all winners. Despite its apparent simplicity, the Space Echo is incredibly versatile. It’s amazing on vocals, great on synths and excellent for individual drum hits such as snares and claps, but for dubby spot effects it’s virtually unbeatable.
The original Space Echo series has been out of production since 1990, when the RE-201 was finally discontinued. Roland now makes the Boss RE-20, a digital pedal based on the classic sound, but we’d probably go for a software version instead. SoundToys’ Echoboy does a pretty good impression and GSi’s GS-201 is a reasonable option at a very low price, but the best of all is Universal Audio’s officially licensed emulation.