The advent of electrical amplification in the mid twentieth century brought with it a desire to augment its dry, sometimes harsh amplified sounds with reverberation. This was mainly achieved through the use of reverberation chambers, metal plates, and spring reverbs for portability. These technologies provide shimmering, hall-type echoes, but cannot produce sharp early reflections or clear echo repeats.
Magnetic tape, which became widely available in the sixties, made it possible to emulate clear, well-defined echoes, that could be repeated numerous times, by using a combination of read and write heads to physically delay the signal along a tape. For years, tape and other magnetic supports were the only available technology widely available to achieve this. Thousands of tape delay machines were built throughout the sixties, seventies and early eighties. Such devices could be seen on stage and in studios all over the world.
During the eighties, most of these heavy, bulky and sometimes unreliable units were replaced by smaller, tougher machines requiring less maintenance: analog bucket brigade (BBD) delays, followed later on by digital delays. Nevertheless, due to the sheer amount of units manufactured, the market is still full of vintage tape delays, which many people prefer to other echo devices. In fact, new tape delays are still manufactured even today, albeit in much smaller quantities than forty years ago. The imperfections and unpredictability of tape delays is what makes them so interesting and so difficult to emulate digitally.
Most units presented on this site were designed and built in Japan, where ESTECHO is based. A good amount of them were also sold in Europe and North America, licensed to various companies and marketed under different names, a common practice at the time. (In most cases, only the front panel is different.) Often, not much is known about the companies that built these units, except for those that still exist to this day, such as Roland and Korg.
Magnetic Support Types
Although tape is by far the most common support used in magnetic-based delays over the years, various other technologies and supports have also been developed, more or less successfully. Furthermore, tape delay transports come in different styles, with pros and cons for each. Below is a short description of various magnetic support types found in delay units.
Endless loop tape cartridge
These come in various formats, from the common 8-track tape to more obscure cassette and cartridge formats such as the Sony RE-4/RE-5 spherical cartridges used in early Roland Space Echos. Custom cartridges also exist, for example in Echoplex units. More information on these cartridge formats can be found on this page.
8-tracks and cassettes are usually part of small, low-budget units. They provide limited features, mostly due to their short delay time and single repeat head. Cartridges such as the Sony RE type can be fitted on more complex transports, making full featured, multi-head units possible.
Tension tape loop
This technology uses a short loop of tape kept under tension by a spring-tensioned roller. This is one of the most common tape transport types for delay units, and can be found on countless machines around the world, especially in earlier units from the sixties and early seventies. Perhaps the most famous devices in this category are the Watkins Copycats.
Although units based on this design can provide high-quality, stable echo repeats, they also have major drawbacks, the biggest of which are short tape length (leading to rapid degradation of the delay signal unless replaced frequently) and high sensitivity to the amount of tension applied on the tape loop (creating wow and flutter when out of spec).
Considered the most “sophisticated” tape transport system, it can hold a longer length of tape for increased fidelity, is more reliable than cassettes or cartridges, and less susceptible to wow and flutter caused by tape tension issues. Perhaps the most famous tape delay, the Roland RE-201, uses such a system. The tape is encased in a closed space, out of which it comes out, goes past the tape heads, and then back in; inside this space, the tape is free to move as it pleases, which reduces friction considerably, increases tape life and makes tape replacement much easier.
This magnetic support was developed for one unit, the Melos Disk-Echo EM-200 (known as the Univox Echo-Tech in North America, and under other names as well). Whether this was considered for other units as well is unknown, but despite a few advantages, the design didn’t catch on.
The tape heads are riding on top of a magnetic disc similar to an old style computer floppy disc. This provides very steady delays and minimal wow and flutter. Drawbacks are rapid wear of the magnetic surface, and replacement discs that have become extremely rare over the years. More information can be found on the Melos page.
A technology used in Binson units only. The tape heads are positioned around a rotating metal disc whose circumference is magnetic. Binson claims that this magnetic drum has a ‘permanent guarantee’. Although the magnetic support is very durable, playback and write heads positioned around the drum need to be positioned very precisely, which can sometimes lead to problems such as noisy operation, or low delay signal. Furthermore, these heads are very difficult to adjust properly. More info on Binson units here.
Another rare and obsolete magnetic support consists of a special, electrically conductive oil spinning in a can-type container, with read and write heads swishing around in the liquid. This is said to produce very wobbly, organic sounding delays. Unfortunately, these are very difficult to maintain in working condition, and nowadays the specific type of oil needed for their operation is very hard, if not impossible, to source.
I have a Univox EC-80A unit. Unfortunately, It does not have the tape cartridge. Could you tell me where I might obtain one, and the instructions on how to install? Any help is appreciated!
Do you have a manual for the Guyatone EM-77?
Do you know if it’s supposed to self oscillate?
A guy I know has one for sale, and I’m keen to buy it, except that it doesn’t seem to work properly (surprise surprise!)…
The delays are quite short, and I’m unclear how the “1,2,3,4” mode-select knob should work. It doesn’t work in a way that really makes sense to me! Mode “2” seems to have the longest echo time. Mode “4” is wet-only. Strange…
Would love to know a bit more about the unit, as it looks promising. Mainly because it’s varispeed.
Unfortunately I don’t have any documentation on the EM 77. I’ve just put an EM 77 page online (see gallery above) with the information I have so far.
I seem to have the same problem as you, because I get no feedback from my unit… But I haven’t had time to service it, so I don’t know the cause yet.
Hope this helps!
I just bought a Solton E-2000 Cathedral Echo ( cheap).
It has a Sony RE4 endless tape in it. Do you sell this type of tape, or do you know where to find it and is there any better tape for this unit or some kind of replacement?
Many thanks in advance,
Thanks for visiting the site. Unfortunately, I don’t have any source for RE-4,5 or 6 endless tapes. If you have the cartridge, though, you may be able to respool it, although I’ve never done the procedure myself. I suspect that it might also be possible to modify an 8-track cartridge, but that would probably be a lot of work.
I checked out the Ivancica studio web site. You are obviously a professional engineer, so here’s my advice to you: unless you REALLY want that Solton echo, and no other model, you should probably get another tape echo for your studio, with a free-running tape, such as the Roland Space Echos, Korg Stage Echo, Multivox MX-312/Evans SE-780… They are much easier to maintain and service, and you don’t have to worry about obsolete tape media failing in the middle of a recording session…
Any guesses what a Hohner Echo Plus would go for these days? From the sounds of it the tape cartridges may be worth more than the unit itself though….
I have a rare Semprini ETR 600 echo machine and desperatly need some info and a suitable tape. Any one know anything about it.
Thanks and kind regards.
jonathan d barret!! I have two semprini´s tape echo. Similar problem. Email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi, i’m looking to buy a Sony endless tape cartridge (RE-4/5/6) for my Roland RE-200, any tape condition. If anyone wants to sell one please email me email@example.com.
Great site you have here. I stumbled in looking for info on an Evans SE820 which I’ve just bought and fell in love with the array of goodies you have here.Fantastic selection but no Melos cassette or H&H Multiecho?!? Hardly surprising as they were awfyl!
Keep on keeping on, Robz
I’ve got a Simms-Watts Echo Dek, missing it’s catridge, has anyone got photo’s or diagrams showing a mod for it?
I have a vintage Echo Chamber NE100 made in Japan, It uses
an 8 track cartridge could by any chance some one have the
schematics for this. I was told by a technican that the
IC was blown I managed to get one, now the sound is heard
when the tape head is tapped with a metal object but when connected to the guitar the sound does not go through, appreciate
I have a Multivox MX-201 that I love dearly. The motor quit on it last year and i’ve searched everywhere for a replacement but have had no luck. Can anyone help me? Any info would be greatly appreciated. Schematics, motor info, anything. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you
Does anyone out there have a Swiss Echo?
i have an EVANS VE 80 VOCAL PA SYSTEM It is broken were can i find spares like the power amp ect I AM FROM SOUTH AFRICA Thanks Vic Burns
Hi friends, someone has to echo Binson magnetic disc echorec 2? thanks Sergio
I stumbled across your site while looking for info on the MX-312 that I just got. Thanks for making this available. I ended up getting your music too. Nice ambience.
hello i just got Univox ec-100 stage and I have two problems and one that is recorded on the tape of the other music and I play even if I put in the other sounds. and the other problem is that the knobs on the echo delay and echo, repeat do not work. Can you give me some info? thank you very much
Looking for Univox EC-100 replacement tape. I know, “stand in line ” 🙂
Would you by any chance know where to acquire a service manual(pdf) for an RE-200 ?
I don’t have a service manual, only the owner’s manual. If you do manage to find one, please send it this way, I’ll make it available for everyone free of charge.
Service manual for an RE-201 should cover many aspects of an RE-200. Obviously not tape transport, although our advice is swap the RE-200 transport for that out of a 201 anyway – makes your 200 much easier to use! All the service manuals we have are here: https://soundgas.com/pages/roland-tape-echo-service-manuals
Hi everyone, if I could supply OEM RE4 tape loops how many would be interested buying?
Are you offering to respool RE4 cartridges or to sell actual cartridges?
I just picked up a tape echo in need of work. Name on it is flexion. Has a Sony re4 tape in it. Any info on this make?