Have you ever wondered why many audiophiles or top engineers still don’t seem able to admit that digital – in the audio realm – sounds better than analog? The answer is “character”: digital is pristine, boring precision, while analog – like a familiar-looking, slightly unpredictable, cigarette-puffing actor of the ’50s – is romanticized flaw. What analog lovers would have never imagined is that digital one day could become better than analog by being able to reproduce its flaws, while allowing more control over them.
At NAMM 2016 I stopped by the Catalinbread booth and had a chat with “Erksin” about his company’s new pedals. He introduced me to the Adineko, a digital emulation of an old “oil can delay,” a dark and lo-fi sounding effect design that perfectly fits the description of “romanticized, flawed, analog” item. Read its story here – you’ll be hard-pressed not to fall in love with it.
What is truly interesting about these old units (which were sold by many manufacturers including Fender, and came with an… oil can of course!) is that they were extremely temperamental, in particular, while they were warming up. Guitarists would get some amazing sounds out of them (a mix of delay, reverb and vibrato), but then would not be able to replicate them because of the unit’s inner capriciousness.
Getting the right sound from an oil can delay was an experience as sublime and ephemeral as it gets: the very definition of a “happy accident.” And if that can sounds beautiful and romantic to some, from a practical point of view it cannot help but being absolutely infuriating.
Enter Catalinbread’s Adineko, a pedal that makes the oil can delay reliable through a digital cure! In the pedal’s web page Catalinbread explains the process of recreating this effect, which was all about trying to crystallize those happy accidents:
We identified a number of very cool behaviors of the old units, though the differences could be dramatic from unit to unit and day to day (even hour to hour!). The positive behaviors were a cool, thin, but dark sounding echo with a vibrato modulation that lined up with the echo time, and a repeat quality, that had a fog which can hover before self-oscilation in a neat way.
After modeling the oil can delay’s “best behaviour” and the murky warble of the old units, which can be controlled through the Viscosity knob, the Catalinbread team then proceeded to expand on the original unit’s specs through a longer delay time (controlled through the Timing knob) and by offering a Balance knob, which favors one head over the other for interesting syncopation lobe feels.
The invasion of the “sound snatchers” continues – and wee love it! – Paolo De Gregorio
Oil can delay units were manufactured by a company named Tel-Ray who later became better known as Morley. Tel-Ray mostly focused on being the OEM utilizing their oil can technology (Patent US3530227 A), branding units for Gibson (GA-RE4), Fender (Dimension IV), Acoustic, etc. They employed an electro-static storage method where the signal is “recorded” to a spinning disk, a layer of oil (for years rumored to be a mysterious carcinogenic oil) prevented this signal from leaking into the air before a “pickup” moments later played back the signal recorded to the disk. Compared to the counterparts of the day (tape, drum, wire delay machines), their sound was more low fidelity, murky, often with a more consistent musical vibrato that correlated to the spinning disk speed. We like to describe the sound as mysterious. The Catalinbread ADINEKO pedal is an echo, reverb, vibrato pedal that faithfully models the sonic experience of these oil can units.