The first tape delay emulations

Digital DelayFor a long time, the sound of a good tape delay is considered as the ideal delay for guitarists.
On the one hand the sound of a tape delay mostly is more warm and full than the sound of a digital delay on the other hand the tape delay sounds not as dull or wooly like an analog delay sometimes does.
But unfortunately tape delays need a lot of care, are big, heavy and expensive.

No wonder that several manufacturers tried to create the sound of a tape delay with the help of a digital emulation.

Here I would like to present some veterans of the first days of the digital tape delay emulation which regrettably have been somehow forgotten or overseen.

Akai Headrush

The Akai Headrush is more versatile than it seems at first glance.
Besides the tape delay sound, it also provides a digital delay and an integrated looper with a recording time of 35 seconds.

Beyond the usual pots for delay volume, repeats and delay time the Headrush also offers a tone pot by that you will be able to soften the repeats.
But you should keep in mind that a real tape delay is highlighted by the fact that it nearly replays the signal without any modification of sound (unlike an analog delay that makes the delayed signal sound duller). But its wow and flutter create a three-dimensional and vivid sound.
This is an important aspect that mostly is disregarded by emulations.
The Ratio pot of the Headrush supplements the repeat pot by controlling the way the repeats become quieter.

In combination with the “Head Gap” pot that controls the virtual distance between the playback heads of the emulated tape echo, you will be able to create rhythmical patterns that are unique and otherwise could only be produced by a multi head tape echo.

I really like the sound of the Headrush with the unique selling point of four additional outputs that enable the user to edit every virtual playback head separately.

Especially if you use a multi amp setup or for recording with a notably three-dimensional sound this aspect might be pretty interesting.
Unfortunately, this pedal is not produced anymore.
And I guess Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) will always be the most popular user of the Akai Headrush.

Ibanez DE7

Another beloved one is the Ibanez DE7 that appears some kind of futuristic and clumsy in its grey and chest-like enclosure.
The pedal is built up simple and therefore only offers pots to control the delay time, the repeats and the delay volume.

A switch allows the choice between a clear delay and echo.
Modulation is sought in vain. As well as tap tempo.
But: it is perfect in creating that one sound!

The echo mode runs the digital signal through an analog filter which shapes the bass and the treble and with the help of the JRC4558 also adds some analog “grid” to the signal.
The sound of the DE7 cuts through the mix just like a real tape delay and complements the sound of the guitar in a perfect way.
So far, no other digital delay has been able to create the unique sound of the Ibanez DE7- even if it had been offering a considerable number of setting options.

Regrettably the DE7 also is not produced anymore but you can get it pretty cheap in used condition.
In the songs of Dredg you will be able to find the unique sound of the Ibanez DE7.

Line6 Echo Park

If there was a price for the ugliest pedal, I would definitively nominate the Line6 Echo Park.
Honestly: It looks like a Transformer.

But therefor it offers some really interesting functions.
The tape echo emulation provides stereo in- and output, tap tempo, a pot for time, mix and repeats, a modulation, trails a switch to chose between tape, digital or analog delay.

In addition, you can choose between different ratios for the tap function and two different multi-head functions and you will get the option for swell, ducking, reverse and ping-pong delay.

Considering the small enclosure, the “Transformer” has a lot to offer.
The tape function on which I would like to concentrate in this article, works pretty well. The repeats are percussive, and the pedal adds some “grid” to the delay signal.

To me the modulation is very interesting.
Unlike many other pedals that only add a chorus/vibrato effect, the Echo Park creates wow and flutter. The intensity of this kind of modulation can be adjusted by one pot up to slightly pitch shifting effects.
By this the adventitious created wow and flutter sounds quite natural.

The algorithm is much more complex and sounds more interesting than the tape emulation of its big green brother – the Line6 DL4.

Not only because of the fact that former Line6- employees founded Strymon but also because of the well created modulation I would say that the Echo Park can be can be designated as the little brother of the Strymon El Capistan.
And this pedal also is not produced anymore. But if you can get one cheap it is worth it to try it out.

Boss RE-20

There is a reason why the Boss RE-20 is THE pedal of the Twin series that is still produced today.
It is emulating a very special tape echo: the Roland RE-201.
Thereby the RE-20 is based on a transistor tape echo.

It sounds much cleaner than other tape delays (or tape delay emulations) and in some settings it is able to create chorus-like sounds.
Those who search for the sound of the RE-201 will not pass this pedal.
The sound is a felicitous emulation of the striking sound of the original.
Recently I have seen a Boss RE-20 on the pedalboard of Tiger Lou.

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