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Classic Gear: The Roland Space Echo RE-201


Space Echo RE-201  · 

Source:
Roland

What’s it like to own and use an original Roland Space Echo RE-201? In this post, we discuss its quirks, features, and how to use it today.

Designed by Roland founder, Ikutaro Kakehashi, the Space Echo RE-201 originated from the Ace Tone EC-1 Echo Chamber which then evolved into the EC-10 and EC-20 echo units.

An interesting fact is that these Ace Tone tape echos used the same primary features as the Roland successors. Noteably, the ability to choose from a combination of different tape heads with a mode selector control.

Roland Space Echo RE-201

Introduced in 1974, the Space Echo RE-201 would go on to become the most popular tape echo unit of all time. Not only is it an inspiring creative tool that can sound good on virtually anything, but it’s also a stable unit that can handle life on the road.

How does the Space Echo work?

The RE-201 combines an echo effect that uses a continuous tape transport system with three reply heads and a built-in spring reverb. With its main Mode Selector knob in the center of the front panel, you can select one or several of the tape heads with or without the reverb.

Roland Space Echo RE-201
Space Echo RE-201

For starters, there are several inputs, including two mic inputs and an instrument input with individual-level control. Moreover, a “From P.A.” input for using the Space Echo as a parallel send effect from a mixer.

Meanwhile, the instrument input has a switch to bypass the tape echo, and there’s a footswitch input to engage the echo effect from your pedal board. Also, the output has a switch with low, medium, and high gain settings, so you can match it to your workflow. This switch affects the noise floor too, so bear this in mind, especially when recording.

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The Mode Selector Control

The Mode Selector represents the heart of the Space Echo’s operations. With this big knob, you can choose between using the tape echo exclusively (Modes 1-4), using the echo and spring reverb together (Modes 5-11), or using only the spring reverb (the 6 o’clock position).

Space Echo Mode Selector
Mode Selector presets

Each numbered mode utilizes a different tape head (or combination of tape heads). For instance, Modes 1, 2, and 3 select each of the three tape heads individually, while Mode 4 uses both head 2 and head 3 to create a more complex rhythmic echo effect.

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Using the Tape Echo

To manipulate the tape echo, there are three primary controls:

  • Repeat Rate: This knob allows you the change the echo repeat speed. Most importantly, this can be done live which creates the pitch-shifting effects used by Portishead and many other artists.
  • Intensity: With the echo intensity control, you can adjust the amount of echo repeats. Here, you can change the sound from a simple slapback to a drone of continuous feedback, or anything in between.
  • Echo Volume: The echo volume acts as a wet/dry mix control. If you’re using the Space Echo as an in-line effect, you’ll create a balance somewhere left or right of 12 o’clock. Furthermore, if you’re working in parallel, you’ll set this all the way to the right.

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Using the Spring Reverb

Although there are EQ controls positioned just left of the Reverb Volume knob, these only change the echo signal tonally. Therefore, they have no connection to the reverb section at all.

The spring reverb can be accessed on the Mode Selector at positions 5-12. This simply allows the user to adjust how much reverb signal is blended with the dry signal via the Reverb Volume knob.

That being said, the Space Echo’s spring reverb is both unique and warm-sounding on drums, guitars, synths, or even vocals. In fact, the effect is even available as a dedicated spring reverb pedal from Echo Fix that adds EQ and drive controls, as well as a chorus pedal based on the RE-501.

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Replacing the Tape

Not only can the tape loop inside the Space Echo be replaced, but an extensive range of replacement parts and service kits are available from Echo Fix. If you’re planning to replace the tape in your Space Echo, ensure to use only a recommended brand like Echo Fix.

Space Echo Tape Transport Tray
Tape Transport Tray

Although the procedure is relatively simple, there are plenty of tips and pointers to keep in mind. So have your cotton gloves, earbuds, and isopropyl alcohol nearby before you go diving under the hood.

If you’ve never attempted something like this before, taking before photos can act like a “saved game”. Start by removing the old tape carefully, and remember to check the rollers and the capstan once you’ve finished with the head cleaning.

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Space Echo Alternatives

Modern recreations of the Space Echo are available in both software and hardware formats, some of which we’ve discussed in a previous article.

When it comes to Space Echo plug-ins, developers like Cherry Audio and AudioThing provide affordable solutions. Meanwhile, the Soundtoys EchoBoy takes the cake as a plug-in that innovates beyond the blueprints of a tape echo effect.

Equally, there is a range of formidable options in the form of both pedals and effects units that capture and evolve the Space Echo sound.

While digital effects pedals like the Boss RE-2 and RE-202 provide convenient access to the Space Echo’s features, the Echo Fix range caters to purists who want nothing less than the sound of the original unit with modern studio features.

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Image Sources:

  • Space Echo RE-201: Roland
  • Mode Selector presets: Roland
  • Tape Transport Tray: Roland / BOSS
  • SD_201_green_pluginboutique_(1): Plugin Boutique
  • pb: Plugin Boutique
  • Outer-Space-2-GUI-2x_plugin_boutique: Plugin Boutique
Classic Gear: The Roland Space Echo RE-201

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John Smith

My John Smith is a seasoned technology writer with a passion for unraveling the complexities of the digital world. With a background in computer science and a keen interest in emerging trends, John has become a sought-after voice in translating intricate technological concepts into accessible and engaging articles.

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