NAMM 2015: Although there's plenty of decent emulations out there, nothing quite beats the magic of a real magnetic tape delay.
Traditionally, their drawbacks have been almost as great as the benefits, however. With plenty of mechanical moving parts and a propensity for tape to wear out quickly, causing loss in the tonal fidelity of repeats, many vintage tape delays were simply too noisy and unreliable to survive in general use after the advent of compact analogue and, later, digital equivalents.
Until now, there hasn't really been an attainably priced genuine magnetic tape delay that solves the major drawbacks of tape, but keeps its magical tone. Danish effects makers T-Rex believe they may have cracked the problem with their brand-new Replicator tape delay unit, a prototype of which is on show at NAMM 2015. A production model is expected to be on sale in autumn.
T-Rex Production Director Sebastian Jensen talked us through its design evolution and key features:"What we wanted to do, is there's a lot of talk about those DSP delays that make the 'perfect' emulation of tape echoes. I don't want to hear that anymore, so I decided to build the real thing. The Replicator is a real tape delay - everything is pure analogue. Of course we had them in the old days with the Echoplex and stuff, but they were not sturdy enough to bring them on the stage.
"We built a new one"
"So we built a new one - we import the tape from the United States, and we use a very thick chrome tape so that the loop can last for a long, long time. We have trialled it at T-Rex and it has been running for three months continuously without significant loss of signal.
"So what we did was we have two heads for playback - you can switch the second head on and off or you can play with two heads that will have this rockabilly effect. And we have also added a chorus functionality to it, so if you speed up the time and you turn up the chorus it will speed up the motor and then you will have a very nice analogue chorus sound. Of course we do have a sustain function, so that if you turn it up you actually overload the heads and you get a natural sustain from it.
"It also comes with a tap-tempo circuit. What we did was to replace the old fashioned DC motor with a 'stepper' motor. Then you can control the speed by tapping the tempo with your foot. There can also be two expression pedals connected to it, so you can control your feedback and you can of course control your delay time - how fast the tape should turn. The faster the tape turns the faster an echo you have.
"The tape cassette itself is very, very easy to replace - when it's worn out you simply unscrew the cassette pull down a little lever, take off the cassette, put in a new one and you don't have to play around with tape or anything. We have chosen to have an external power supply, which is the easiest thing to do. So then we have one power supply that's approved for the whole world. It will be 24V DC.
"In US dollars it will be $799. It is affordable - but you must bear in mind there are many moving, expensive parts inside. so of course it will be a bit more money than a normal analogue overdrive pedal. And everything will be hand made in Denmark."
The effects maker was also showing off a new series of pedalboards and a new high-gain 'Nitros' drive pedal that Sebastian jokes is "for the guys with long hair".