Last Updated on February 04, 2021
Please Note: only dedicated tape echo pedals are covered here!
The Beloved, Flawed Sound of “Warmth”
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There’s something funny about sonic artifacts created by recording gear. All evidence seems to confirm that human ears tend to dislike them at first, but then slowly grow fond of them, just like an acquired taste.
How else would you explain the resurgence of vintage analog-style emulation in the delay pedal niche in an era when pristine digital delays are available? Or digital audio plugins emulating the noise and imperfections of tape or vinyl? Hiss on recordings was despised back in the analog days, but now we use plugins to sneak that noise bauck in on our tracks to add that special “je ne sais quoi” to our music!
Perhaps, just like a brand new pair of snickers, the sparkling clean sound of pure digital rings a little clinical (or not very musical) to most. Dirt, the right amount of it, adds character, and character is valued by all the best artists and most refined art lovers. Also to be considered as a cause for this renaissance: some of the machines developed during the “analog era” were so successful that, from a business perspective, it makes perfect sense to keep them alive in a new, more portable and less finicky format.
For this and other reasons, in the new millennium, several pedal manufacturers have been using the possibilities opened by the ever-expanding computing power of digital and DSP chips to churn out emulations of vintage delay models dating anywhere from the ’60s to the early ’90s.
In this article, we’ll do our best to list the best pedals emulating a tape echo effect. For a history of tape delay, we’d like to recommend this video by Mr. JHS.
What’s the sound of Tape?
Compared to a pure high-quality digital recording, audiotape machines feature the following qualities:
- A subtle wow and flutter due to the unavoidable imprecision of the rolling of the tape
- A pleasant to the ear saturation when pushed beyond 0 dbs
- A certain amount of hiss often referred to as “noise.”
- A slight high-end frequency cut, often referred to as “warmth”
- Degradation due to age or prolonged use of both tape and magnetic heads
The pedals in this article try to mimic this list of artifacts mostly through digital programming. Some do it more comprehensively than others, and that’s how we decided to organize our list.
TOP TAPE ECHO PEDALS WITH REAL TAPE
All the other pedals listed in this article use digital or analog circuitry to emulate the character of tape machines, an approach that has the undeniable advantage of saving a lot of space and maintenance costs. However, for the “tape purists” out there, we can’t omit that there are some pricey echo pedals by Danish manufacturer T-Rex that use actual tape!
T-Rex is the only manufacturer that has designed delay pedals with a real tape circuit. The first release, dated 2016, was the $1,200 Replicator, an echo pedal with an easily replaceable cartridge that replicates the sound of the vintage tape echo units but surpasses them in features through tap tempo functionality, two playback heads and three output modes, chorus mode, two expression pedal inputs for delay time and feedback. – Buy it New on Amazon – Look for deals on Reverb.com
A few years later the Danish company unveiled the Replicator Junior, a streamlined version of the same circuit with three knobs on the front panel (Level, Feedback, Time), Tap Tempo footswitch, and Saturation knob and Kill Dry switch on the back panel, featuring the same basic circuit and tape cartridge as its bigger brother. – Buy it New on Amazon – Look for deals on Reverb.com
TOP DSP-BASED MULTI-MODE TAPE ECHO PEDALS
In this list, you will find comprehensive (and rather pricey) DSP-based effects pedals that thoroughly emulate the behavior of the tape echo machines of yesteryear, featuring several modes and in most cases allowing control of several aspects of the virtual tape’s character, from the sound degradation to the wow and flutter factor.
- Strymon Volante
- BOSS RE-20
- Strymon El Capistan
- Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe
- Strymon Deco
- Empress Tape Delay
BEST TAPE DELAY PEDALS WITH LO-FI CONTROLS
The devices in this list are not DSP-based (featuring in most – if not all – cases a digital PT233 chip) but nonetheless offer dedicated controls for both wow and flutter (aka warble or modulation) and other lo-fi qualities of tape like noise and signal degradation. In this list, you’ll find some pedals inspired by the sonic character of VHS tape.
- Jam Pedals Delay Lama Xtreme
- Demedash T-120 V2 Videotape Echo
- Recovery Cutting Room
- Pladask Elektrisk Taken
- Industrialectric Echo Degrader
- Zander Tape Deck
- MI Audio Lo-Fi Delay
- Asheville Music Tools Analoger ADG-1
- Lone Wolf VHS
BEST TAPE DELAY PEDALS WITH MODULATION AND FIXED CHARACTER
This is a rather popular category of tape echo-style effects that allow control over the modulation of the repeats but offer no tweakable setting for lo-fi character. Many boast extra features like presets, tap tempo and subdivisions, though, and some also have a traditional tone knob.
- Catalinbread Belle Epoch
- Wampler Faux Tape Echo
- EarthQuaker Space Spiral V2
- Keeley Eccos
- JHS Lucky Cat
- Pigtronix Constellator
- Diamond Memory Lane DLX
- Skreddy Echo
- Hungry Robot Moby Dick V2
- Emma Navigator
- MojoHandFX Mirror Ball
- Keeley Mag Echo
- Anasounds Utopia
- Mile End Effects MTHRFCKR=RPTR
- TEFI Vintage Lab Ms. Delayette
- Dedalo MDT6
BEST THREE-KNOB TAPE ECHO EMULATIONS
For the “less is more” kind of players, here are a few three-knob options that cut to the chase, delivering quality, no brainer tape echo-style repeats. None of these have a built-in Tap Tempo footswitch.
- Dunlop Echoplex
- TC Electronic Gauss Tape Echo
- Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay
- Orbit / Stiff Psychoplex
- Tone City Tape Machine
- Death By Audio Micro Dream
- Tsakalis Tilay
BEST CREATIVE PT2399-BASED ECHO PEDALS
The pedals in this list aren’t necessarily focused on creating the exact tone offered by echo tape machines, but use tape echo as a pretext for more sonically adventurous and expansive effects, and share the use of the digital chip PT2399.
- Earthquaker Devices Disaster Transport SR
- Death By Audio Echo Dream 2
- SolidGoldFX Electroman MKII
- Crazy Tube Circuits Echotopia
- NUX Tape Core
- Adventure Augio Again
- Polarbear Effects Young Hearts
- JPTR FX Ferweh
- Haunted Labs & Dirty Haggard Audio
Here are a few video shoot-outs!