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Catalinbread Echorec

Binson Echorec Emulation By Paul White
Published January 2017

Named after Binson’s Echorec magnetic-drum echo machine, the Echorec aims to squeeze all that unit’s essential character into a standard-sized pedal.

Just a couple of years ago, I knew nothing of Catalinbread — when I first head the name I thought perhaps it referred to the ingredients of a beef burger! Since then, however, the company have earned an enviable reputation for building excellent effects units that are just a little out of the ordinary. Their Echorec is named after Binson’s Echorec magnetic-drum echo machine, and aims to squeeze all that unit’s essential character into a standard-sized pedal. Original Binsons are very collectable, especially by those looking to recreate vintage Shadows or Pink Floyd guitar sounds, but they’re difficult to maintain and increasingly rare. As with some other old delays, early models used valve circuitry but later on the manufacturer switched to a solid-state design — Catalinbread based their emulation on the sound of a valve model that they had restored to its original working condition.

Catalinbread's Binson Echorec Emulation pedal.The original hardware had a very organic-sounding preamp section that some companies have duplicated and made available as a separate ‘flavoured booster’ type of pedal, but here its touch-sensitive character is emulated in a discrete analogue input stage. This is followed by a detailed digital emulation of the Binson’s four-playback-head magnetic-drum system, and a 12-way switch selects between different head combinations to provide rhythmic repeat patterns. Program 1 is a single-tap delay that’s adjustable over the full delay range, while Program 12 uses all four heads. In-between are various combinations that produce rhythmic delay patterns. The 12-way dial has no detents, though, so making sure you are on the correct setting requires care. It’s also one of the knobs closest to the footswitch, so you have to be careful not to nudge it with your foot when operating the pedal. That and the rather small panel legend are the only downsides though — for me, everything else adds up to a very big plus!

The clean portion of the sound remains in the analogue domain and is ‘flavoured’ by the preamp. Bypass behaviour can be set internally to be either true bypass or active bypass, allowing the delay repeats to fade naturally. Catalinbread call the active bypass (the default setting) Trails mode, and this also keeps the preamp in the signal chain during bypass. It’s recommended that the feed into the Echorec should not be buffered if possible, as this detracts from the character of the preamp, but I don’t think you need worry too much if that isn’t possible, as the delay part of the pedal won’t be compromised.

Other than the head selector, the panel controls address the expected delay time, wet/dry blend, tone and feedback (Swell), though Catalinbread have added trimmers inside the case that vary the amount of wow and flutter, to emulate a nicely aged (or wrecked!) Echorec. Another internal trimmer sets the preamp gain from unity to seriously overdriven. There’s no battery option, so a 9-18 Volt centre-negative supply is needed — the greater the voltage, the greater the headroom, though I had no issues running from a 9V supply. The wet/dry mix control can go up to 100-percent wet, which means you could use the pedal in an effects send/return loop if you wished. For normal in-line use, all the practical wet/dry balance settings seem to be in the first quarter of the control’s travel, though, which can make precise setting a little fiddly.

While we take delay time controls for granted, the original Echorec didn’t actually have one! You only had the different head combinations to rely on for selecting different fixed delay times, and the maximum delay time was around 300ms for head number four. Using feedback with a multi-head echo unit enables especially complex and dense echo patterns to be set up, some of which stray almost into reverb territory. Catalinbread gave their delay time control a range from 40ms slapback to 1s, and this can be adjusted in real time to produce reasonably smooth dub-style delay/pitch changes. I don’t think there will be many complaints regarding this departure from authenticity.

The Tone control adopts a classic ‘tilt’ design, which can brighten or darken the sound, with the flat setting being in the centre. As the sound is brightened, it also loses some low end while anticlockwise from centre the control adds bass, simultaneously shaving off some treble, which really comes across in the character of decaying repeats.

My first test was with the Echorec running from a 9V stabilised PSU and plugged directly into my amp with no other pedals in line. The preamp section produces a very natural playing feel which is retained when the pedal is bypassed in Trails mode. This being the case, the Echorec could be beneficial when recording guitar directly into a DAW, as its preamp has more of a musical character than typical audio interface instrument input stages.

While the gain and modulation can be adjusted internally, I found the default modulation to sound extremely natural and had no desire to change it. The gain adjustment could be useful to add a little boost when you kick in the delay, depending on how you use your effects of course, and if wound to extremes it can produce a very fuzz-like sound. However, as you have to get into the pedal to change this, the fuzz end of the spectrum is something you’re only likely to visit for the odd recording task rather than for everyday use.

Next, I tested the pedal placed after a buffer, and though the preamp character seemed to change slightly, the general echo sound was still excellent. Comparing the delay sound of the Echorec with the more basic (but still perfectly good) tape-emulated delay built into my amplifier, the difference was very noticeable, though to describe exactly how I can only really direct to records that have a similar sound. The Echorec really nails the ’60s-era Shadows sound, in which the echoes have warmth and just enough blurring to integrate with the dry sound in a very supportive way, and with just the right amount of modulation to add interest and complexity without being too obvious. If you’re not a Shadows fan, try a few of your favourite Pink Floyd songs — the echo sound is right there, from vintage Syd Barrett-era psychedelia to Shine On.

What really impresses is the way the pedal mimics the evolving tonality of an old-school tape or drum echo as the repeats decay, and this is most evident when you use higher feedback settings. What’s more, the Echorec really does seem to respond to playing dynamics: if you play a quiet passage the delays don’t overwhelm the sound, but dig in and you’ll be rewarded with echoes that somehow seem more pronounced.

My formative musical years coincided with the era of tape and drum echo devices and though we all loved the sound, they were unreliable, they were noisy, they were bulky, and they were expensive. Catalinbread’s Echorec successfully recreates the evocative character of those vintage units in a pedal that is both compact and quiet. Though you can buy cheaper delay pedals, the Echorec is still safely in the ‘affordable’ category, and it really does offer something a little more sophisticated than most. As pedal emulations of electro-mechanical echo boxes go, Catalinbread’s Echorec is up there with the best of them.

£185 including VAT.