Tape Delay

Tape delay is one of the oldest effects in the music universe. This effect gives a unique sense of warmness and character to any given sound. For this reason, it became a widely used and iconic effect.

Tape Delay: Where Does It Come From? 

The first time the term “echo” appeared was around 1950 when electronic devices became popular in recording studios. Producers tried to recreate the acoustic properties of different sound spaces by using echo machines. Les Paul used the time delay in his “How High is the Moon”. Sam Philips then popularized it by using it on Elvis Presley’s first recordings.

The first tape delay devices involved a rig with two reel-to-reel tape machines. One of them was used to record audio, while the other was used to playback. When engineers discovered that a short time echo occurs in setup, they started using the term slapback delay. Slapback delay is an effective dual-machine technique. After this method became popular, some other engineers started modifying a single reel-to-reel tape device to create similar effects.

The Tape Echo Machine

The tape echo machine worked by using three magnetic heads: erase, record, and playback. The tape moved from left to right: from the Supply Reed to the Take-up Reed. The erase head guarantees that the tape loop remains in a blank slate. The tape-recorded audio, which is located at the recorded head, quickly travels to the playback head. When this happens, it triggers a slight delay of the tape’s signal audio from the original real-time audio. The combination of the signal with the original input signal produces an iconic echo effect.

At the beginning, engineers used a technique that helped them guarantee that the tape would never run out by constantly making the tape loop on a specific device. Eventually, both the Echoplex and Roland’s Space Echo Seriesbecame popular. The reason was they had features and controls for achieving the same effect. These experts also used looped proprietary tapes in small cartridges.

Portable Machines

Portable machines were self-contained tape devices designed as echo machines. They involved a single infinite loop of tape with controls that allowed the user to manipulate the echo and create peculiar sounds. Portable machines were simple delay/echo devices. They were the first incursion into looping effects. Although early portable tape echo machines brought the echo effect onto live music stages worldwide, they were untrustworthy. These devices had frequent breakdowns and, additionally, they required constant maintenance. Differing from these, the first trustworthy tape echo machine was Roland’s RE-202 Space Echo.