When I first got an original Roland RE-201 Space Echo, it required a lot of love to restore it to its former glory, so Echo Fix is who I turned to first. This Australian company has been providing parts for and servicing Space Echo delays and Maestro Echoplex units for over a decade. Fast forward many years (and some tape loops) later; I am now holding the Australian company’s own EF-X2; a brand new tape delay machine that includes all the accouterments one might think of. Echo Fix has taken their years of experience in repair and service to design a modern tape delay that is as reliable as possible, sounds fantastic, and is equally as perfect in a studio or performance setting.
The build quality here is outstanding. The first time you open the cover, viewing the tape freely dancing under a clear window is a beautiful sight. The front faceplate is easy to navigate and houses almost all the controls. The backlit Echo Mode knob sets a combination of echo heads while also serving as a handsome peak indicator, illuminating green to amber to red. The EF-X2 has a custom motor that’s balanced in-house at the Echo Fix facility. The quality of the motor is impressive, as it changes speed more consistently than any tape delay I’ve used to date. Echo Fix wasn’t able to source tape heads up to their specifications, so they went ahead and had custom heads built. Inarguably, a major component in a tape delay is the tape itself, and the formula Echo Fix has come up with is stellar. Using the incorrect tape can wreak all sorts of havoc on a tape delay. Fortunately, Echo Fix offers discounted tape loops for EF-X2 users.
There is definitely an ode to the original Space Echo’s look, as the form factor is near identical, with a similar feature set, and in how the delay mechanism essentially works. But let me tell you about how the EF-X2 is different: The custom tape heads are spread further apart (resulting in longer delay times), the motor can be turned off to minimize tape wear (or creating slow down/tape stop effects), and both the direct sound and echo outputs can be independently switched off. The 1/4-inch Hi-Z input has an Echoplex-style FET preamp, and can be used simultaneously with the FET line amp, which also has a 1 meg impedance. Using an A/B/Y pedal allows you to switch between these inputs, each with their own tone. There is an extra fourth playback head at the very end which is controlled by the S. on S. (sound on sound) switch, getting us into classic RE-501 territory. Not only does this unit have a real spring reverb, but it also hosts onboard DSP-powered reverb and chorus. These are selected under the lid via two switches, and you can blend the real spring and DSP effects. Muting the reverb or echo is accommodated via the front panel, or with a dual footswitch. There is CV/expression pedal control over feedback and speed. And, oh yeah... the EF-X2 also has balanced XLR I/O!
So how does it sound? Full and lush with a bit of fairy dust, as a tape delay should sound (in my head). In comparison to the other tape delays I have on hand, the EF-X2 was not as gritty or dirty sounding, yet still dark and decaying but with more focus and definition. Normally, I wouldn’t use tape delay for vocals (except as a special effect), but the EF-X2 was hi-fi enough to use as a vocal sound by itself. Maybe it was the new tape and unused heads, but I believe it is the culmination of all the details Echo Fix has gotten right. The spring reverb sounds way less tinny than the RE-201, due to a custom tank and new driver/recovery circuit. I was pleasantly surprised by the DSP section, especially the chorus on guitar – coupled with the extra boost from the FET preamp, it totally nails that classic sound. Using a highly attenuated LFO (the EF-X2 is capable of receiving 0 to 5V) from a modular system gave me a controllable wow and flutter modulation. While tracking drums, a close mic’d snare through the EF-X2 oozed dub and helped to inspire newfound grooves. Echo Fix recommends to consistently hit on or above zero on the VU meter to achieve the best signal-to-noise ratio, which I found to be fruitful. There are still the slight artifacts you get from a tape delay; however, the noise floor was never an issue for me.
The fact that this is a new tape delay is a big deal, as the upkeep and/or restoration of an old tape delay can come with a bill and some headaches. Echo Fix includes two additional tape loops, gloves, and cotton tips in a handy carrying case to help maintain the delay unit. In addition to nailing the tone of a classic tape echo, the sheer amount of options on this machine makes the EF-X2 a useful tool. If you’re in the market for a vintage tape echo, I would recommend considering the new Echo Fix instead.