I remember borrowing a friend's Echoplex in 1983 in order to add echo sounds to the electronic recordings I was creating at home. I was in heaven to be able to create real tape regeneration and nice saturated delays-much more interesting than my homemade analog delay! Years ago, as my studio got rolling, I bought a Roland Space Echo RE-201. This tape delay was okay, but never as interesting to my ears as the Echoplex. Enter Fulltone now with their recreation and improvement on the Echoplex. The Tube Tape Echo (TTE) is exactly what its name implies: a tube-based tape-delay system. The beige Tolex and stainless steel unit is retro in look and would sit perfectly on top of a vintage guitar amp. Controls allow you to change the tape speed, adjust the amount of dry and wet signal individually, add regeneration (repeats), set tape record level, and change tape return tone. And there's a footswitch jack for hands-free use. If some of these features sound like requests you've had for a great tape delay unit, you're right. Delay time goes from a tiny slapback to over one second. The playback head slides along a rail, like old Echoplexes, allowing you to quickly set the delay time and also create some crazy wobble effects. Fulltone has the tape heads custom built; interestingly, the erase and record heads are mounted in the same body. They are also selling replacement tape cartridges that will work in the TTE or in an old Echoplex ($54 for two). There's a switch that allows different blends of the two outputs for use with two amps. There's even a nice Cordura bag for transport or storage.
Is it good? Why do you need a tape delay if you have some stompboxes or plug-ins? Well... this thing does stuff I cannot do with my trusty Line 6 Echo Pros. The ability to saturate tape and run at different speeds is one tone- shaping trick I imagine many DAW users will play with. Running a snare track in and listening to the tape return only, I was able to dial in a cool squashy Lee Perry tone that I could fly back into Pro Tools and line back up with the original track. Nice. Not to mention the crazy delay effects and regeneration I can create and mess with in real time. On vocal tracks the tape echo was perfect for many tracks on recent mixing sessions, and the ability to roll the highs off or change the overall drive or speed was a godsend. The TTE seemed to have no problem with +4 dBu signals in the studio, and its output is quieter than on most of my other effects-even supposedly superior digital delays. On guitar into a Fender tube amp, this box also excelled. Long delays sound great, creating cascades of sound. Short slaps sound totally retro rockabilly.
Problems? The tape cartridge makes a lot of noise as the tape winds through. This could be a problem if you were using it on quiet guitar passages with the TTE within earshot of the mic. Obviously, you can solve this problem by moving the unit. I tried putting my sweater over it but wouldn't recommend this as it gets rather warm when confined like this! The TTE also made too much noise to sit in the control room with me during mixing, so I placed it in an adjacent room. Mike Fuller's answer to this is, "Llike the old Echoplexes, if you don't like the cartridge noise, turn the unit on its side and it'll operate quietly." I'll have to try this out-makes total sense though! I wish the unit had balanced I/O (transformers?) but realize the biggest audience for the TTE will be guitar players who don't need this-and of course the price would go up a lot. Maybe I'll mod mine, but it'd be painful to start tearing it apart. The last complaint is that there's no footswitch included, and that there is talk of a Sound-On-Sound feature that is only accessible via a dual footswitch (the first switch is echo defeat). The manual never tells you how this SOS feature works, and without the switch handy, I was unable to check it out either! In spite of these complaints, what the TTE does, it does right and better than any tape delay device I've ever used. The TTE is well built, sounds great, and would be a perfect addition to any studio or guitar player's arsenal. I used mine the day it arrived and see no end in sight. ($1200 MSRP; www.fulltone.com)