Binson Echorec Varispeed Modification

Guide to Binson Echorec Varispeed Modifications

We now offer varispeed modification on most of the Binson Echorecs we we sell. But, if a standard Echorec was considered adequate for Barrett, Gilmour, and Page, why would you modify a vintage Echorec with a variable speed motor? This article covers some of the “why” and also takes a look at the “how” of augmenting vintage Binsons…

Binson Echorecs were all manufactured with a fixed speed motor and Binson founder, Dr Bonfiglio Bini, together with his principal engineer, Scarano Gaetano, created something very special with their considerations for the fixed head spacings of the Binson Echorec.

The four playback heads on an Echorec 2 offer delay times of approximately 75ms, 150ms, 225ms, and 300ms. Dr Bini chose these spacings to create musically-related delay times: if the longest delay tap is a quarter note, then head three is a dotted eighth note, head two is an eight note, and the first head a sixteenth note. The shorter repeats are perfect for classic slapback delays, as heard on countless rock’n’roll and rockabilly records (and much beloved of John Lennon for his vocal sound). U2’s The Edge created his signature sound using patterns akin to the longer two heads on the Echorec 2.

The longer rhythmic delay intervals are extremely inspiring and can be heard on many classic Pink Floyd recordings from the early days with Syd Barrett, through to Dark Side Of The Moon and beyond. Pete Townshend told me how he’d wanted an Echorec ever since he saw Syd play with the Floyd at the UFO Club in 1967. According to Pete, Syd played one chord into two Echorecs and the band jammed along for half an hour to the resulting oscillations…

Here’s how a good Echorec T7E should sound:

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Watching Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii, you witness Echorecs employed by David Gilmour on guitar, Roger Waters on bass (‘One Of These Days’ owes it’s opening bass riff to the Echorec) and Richard Wright on keyboards. Indeed this film is essential viewing for anyone asking themselves why they want to buy a vintage Binson Echorec. Many of Gilmour’s guitar parts, and Pink Floyd’s songs rely heavily on the rhythms created by the fixed-head repeats of their Binson Echorecs.

This caused some trouble when, on arriving in the USA to tour, they found running European Binsons at a US mains frequency of 60hz resulted in significantly-shorter delay times and thus faster tempos. Phil Taylor (David Gilmour and Pink Floyd’s long-serving guitar tech and curator of Floyd gear) told me how he had to stay up all night after the first rehearsal modifying the head spacings on all their Binsons so they’d play at the correct tempo for the American tour!

Echorecs manufactured for the US export market (under the Guild name) had motors with smaller diameter spindles which altered gearing ratio to retain the signature Binson tempo. A European Binson will play around 20% faster in the USA, and a US export machine about 20% slower in Europe.

It’s not just guitarists who found inspiration in those distinctive Binson Echorec echoes: Jimmy Page employed one on John Bonham’s drum kit when recording Led Zeppelin IV at Headley Grange. While that now-legendary stairwell played a big part in the epic drum sound on ‘When The Levee Breaks’, it was a Binson’s repeats that inspired and contributed to Bonzo’s famous rhythm.

Why Modify A Binson Echorec With Varispeed?

If a standard Echorec was considered adequate for Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Pink Floyd, Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin, why would you wish to modify a vintage Echorec with a variable speed motor?

While in the fifties, sixties and seventies, it was quite normal for an echo to have a fixed repeat rate, today’s musicians are used to being able to ‘tune’ their delay repeats to the song tempo. Indeed a variable speed motor opens up the potential of these machines – enabling them to lend their distinctive sound to songs played at a wider range of tempos.

Put simply, it widens the scope of what’s possible from a Binson Echorec, and with the significant cost of buying a well-restored example, it makes sense to not be limited by a fixed speed motor.

Below are a couple of our demos with modified machines. Scroll to the bottom of this article for more.

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A very special head on a very special Binson. This Baby is a rebuild project Dr Huw has been working on. This is the wet-only output (some of the original signal remains – we need to add a buffer amp circuit to remove all traces, which is the next step) on the slowest setting on the super-slow varispeed (see how slowly the disc is turning). For some reason (to be investigated), head four adds a great metallic clanging tone to the repeats that I just love. Looks like this one will have to join the Soundgas Studio collection, but don’t worry – Dr Huw has a couple more Baby rebuilds coming soon.

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Dr Huw’s favourite super-slow Baby Binson Echorec is about to go on a long journey. Here @declan_kitts and @joel_kidd bid a fond farewell with the input cranked for that unmistakeable saturated Binson sound. Using a slower disc speed setting means a loss of fidelity, but there’s magic down in those depths… Take good care of our Baby, @_jeremyt

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A couple of clips of the MPC-1 and varispeed Binson (swipe for the second clip). The MPC-1 is working, but needs a service – should sound much better. The Binson is just undergoing final testing – super slow varispeed is sounding good.

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How Do You Varispeed A Binson Echorec?

I’ve been researching varispeeding Echorecs for almost as long as I’ve had one of my own. The late, great, Eric Snowball of ESE Music used to use a (now unavailable) Trident motor for his varispeed conversions, but at the time I couldn’t afford that option. I’ve worked with several Binson engineers over the years, a couple of whom had their own solutions, but who were not prepared to share that knowledge further.

One simple solution is if you own a machine with a DC motor – many of the later solid state models had these fitted as standard. These motors can be fitted with a variable speed control with very minimal additional work and run very well.

However, it’s the classic valve machines which are of the most interest to many people and these are fitted with AC motors: varispeed conversion requires the fitting of a new motor and varispeed control. This is a not-inconsiderable operation and many factors have to be taken into account when designing an appropriate solution, for example torque, motor noise, size and reliability.

Some engineers’ solutions involve modifying the Echorec chassis to fit a new motor – our standard varispeed option uses a motor that requires some chassis modification. Some time ago, I asked our in-house echo guru, Dr Huw, to investigate the definitive Binson varispeed solution. We knew we wanted a reliable and stable motor that did not require any modification to the chassis of the Echorec, and that it needed to run reasonably-quietly as well as performing well at very low speeds.

After a great deal of experimentation and much time spent trying and discarding various potential motors, Dr Huw came to me with what is now our Super-Slow Binson Varispeed Motor. This motor runs stably down to a virtual standstill. Naturally at greatly-reduced speeds, the bias changes to the point of significant loss of fidelity and ability to oscillate. In other words, it gets properly gnarly when pushed into distortion at slow speed and should be viewed as being for experimental sound design rather than extremely laid-back Shadows covers. This is precisely why I pushed for a super-slow motor: regular users don’t need to venture that low down the dial – it offers the full functionality of a standard varispeed – but has the added appeal of the super-slow speeds for longer, darker, dirtier repeats.

At seriously slow speeds, you get to hear the individual nuances of each head and preamp – heads that appear very well-matched at regular speeds reveal their character at the low speeds – on some machines this can result in strange metallic resonances. Anything that adds an extra flavour option into the mix.

So if you’re a guitarist wanting to use your Binson Echorec in the more traditional manner, you may find our regular varispeed serves you perfectly well, but if you occasionally veer off onto darker, stranger musical paths, maybe the Super-Slow option makes more sense for you. And if you’re into sound design, electronic or experimental music, then it’s a no-brainer: pair it with our wet-only output modification and marvel at the dark sound of a wire-wrapped drum passing the heads ponderously.

If you want to know more or discuss which machine is best for your needs then get in touch. See some of our Echorecs for sale here, however many of our Binson machines are serviced and modified to order – contact us to find out what we have in the Doctor’s waiting room now.

More Super-Slow demos below. For more background and information – check out our other Binson Echorec Resources.

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Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.

 

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The quest for (im)perfection continues… We’ve been working through some new varispeed options for Binson Echorecs. Many users expect something that adds flexibility without significantly degrading the sound quality, and most of our conversions keep things firmly in that territory. However, some recent machines have featured motors that run at lower speeds. Naturally this results in less fidelity and fewer repeats as the speed reduces. This certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for those who want a wider palette of options, then an ultra slow motor could be interesting. Dr Huw called me into his workshop just before we headed home for the weekend to show me this: a very exciting development. This Sound City Echomaster should be ready to go soon – we need to run some tests, but I think it’ll be a lot of fun and capable of taking things into very dark and dirty territory …

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Can you make #techno with just two pieces of gear and one finger? What would be your choices for a minimal set-up? Baby Binson and Korg 700S works for me…

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Proper weird and wonky beats with the MPC-1 and a gnarly super-slow varispeed Binson Echorec 2.

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Which Binson Echorec?

Looking to buy a Binson? At the time of writing many of the machines that feature in the image above, and in the demos below, are available on the site. You can see the Echorecs we have listed for sale here, but if you can’t find what you need then please get in touch; most of the valve T7E and PE 603T machines sell on a pre-order basis and rarely make it to the site.

Binson Echorec Mountain

Which Binson Echorec?

I’ve been a Binson head for approaching a quarter of a century now, and have owned and used many examples from all eras of production: from a stunningly over-engineered early T5E dating from the late fifties, to the less iconic (but still very useful) solid state echoes produced in the late seventies/early eighties. All have their place as inspiring recording, mixing and performance devices.

I can’t remember a time when we’ve ever had such a large selection of restored Binson Echorecs for sale on the site. A customer recently contacted me to say “I’ve wanted a Binson for years, but which Echorec model should I buy?”. Here’s a brief guide and a few personal thoughts.

Echorecs were primarily designed for guitars, vocals and keyboards, and were much more stable than contemporary tape echoes. They can sound stunning on a wide variety of sources, and it’s fair to say that our Binson customers span a very wide range of musical styles and genres. Below is a brief clip (and below that the full YouTube track in stereo) of Matt Morton making great use of his Soundgas Echorec 2…

Yes. @mattmortonmusic promised us some video of the killer valve Binson Echorec that he just got from us. Think it’s fair to say he delivered. Wow. 

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In The Beginning…

Echorec T5E

These early machines are very often badly worn and require a good deal of work and parts to become truly useful again; in my early days I must’ve bought nearly half a dozen before giving them up as a bad idea. It’s a different story today: with access to replacement parts and talented Binson engineers, we’ve had several superb examples – the last of which went to the legendary Blackbird Studios in Nashville.

Binson Echorec T5E. Stunning-sounding early valve machine with varispeed mod. Joel, our resident guitarist, is off, so you get my hamfisted efforts. Enough for you to hear how good this machine sounds.

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A good T5E is stunning for guitar – warm and thick with tone for days – but it’s also a strong contender for anyone looking for a smoother vintage echo sound, as the demo below demonstrates perfectly.

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Echorec Baby

I love Baby Binsons. There, I’ve said it. I had two for years, with serial numbers that were exactly 100 apart. I recorded much of an album by a singer songwriter friend through my Baby Binson and it sounded amazing on everything.

Syd Barrett used and abused an Echorec Baby in psychedelic era Pink Floyd. Pete Townshend told me about wanting an Echorec ever since seeing Syd play at the UFO Club in 1967. According to Pete, Syd played one chord into two Echorecs and the band jammed for half an hour to the oscillating repeats…

But it’s not just guitars that sound epic with a Baby. Jimmy Page employed one on John Bonham’s drum kit when recording Led Zeppelin IV at Headley Grange. It wasn’t just the sound of the famous stairwell in When The Levee Breaks, the Baby’s repeats not only inspiring Bonzo to play that legendary beat, but also adding to the ambience and feel.

Big Baby. Proof that you really can’t beat old analogue gear for sheer levels of filth that never get harsh. Here I’m brutally overdriving the input of this Baby Binson while the MPC-1 undergoes final pre-shipping testing (it’s fine and shipping out to its new home in NYC). The Baby is just back from a service with our in house echo specialist, Dr Huw and is sounding very good indeed…

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I can recommend a Baby Binson to anyone: cheaper and simpler than the bigger machines, with shorter repeats (down to a smaller diameter drum), but with masses of vibe and character. Whether you’re a guitar player, electronic musician or studio engineer, a fully-functioning Baby is always going to bring you great joy.

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Echorec B1/B2

Updated versions of the Baby in a larger case and with the bigger wheel, also used in the Echorec 2, these machines can be a more economic route to the valve Binson sound. Hank Marvin used one in The Shadows for many years, as well as his long-serving Baby. They can sound truly immense on drums/beats and with added varispeed, they’re a monster proposition.

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Echorec 2 T7E

The daddy. Stunning-sounding valve preamps, plus the fluttery reverb-like Swell function, all housed in that iconic case. If, like me, you were raised on a diet of Pink Floyd ‘Live At Pompeii’, ‘Meddle’ and ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, then the sound and look of this machine will be very familiar. This is the model everyone wants, and the one seen in many top recording studios around the world. Also later produced as a solid state unit, which while still very good (and capable of some immense overdrive), is not as desirable as the valve version.

A good valve Echorec 2 is a thing of magnificence and wonder, as composer Matt Morton recently discovered: “The echo sounds absolutely stunning, and it’s extremely inspiring to work with – within a few days of receiving it, I had already used it on several cues.”

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Dan and Mick of That Pedal Show used one of our Echorec 2s (currently for sale) for their epic Wet/Dry/Wet episode: ‘It just makes the guitar sound BIG’. here’s Mick testing/getting lost in the same Binson in our studio:

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Echorec PE 603-T

An Echorec 2 in a larger, more road-ready metal case, with individual buttons to switch the initial echo and repeats for each head. The valve version is every bit as desirable as the Echorec 2, but more solid state units were made (by which time quality was starting to slip – they can require a lot of work to be right); some 603 variants look very similar to the 603 T, but with reduced functionality. However a good valve 603 is a monster.

Another stunner of ours that wowed That Pedal Show the first time they borrowed one of our machines for their Echorec pedal shoot out:

Sound City Echomaster

A solid state B1/2 – capable of some awesome distortion and great effects, especially useable with varispeed mod. Good introduction to the Echorec.

Dec and Joel are getting set up for their Wednesday afternoon office jam, when they dig out various pieces from the Soundgas Stock Room and make noises (office perks). Love the sound of the Sound City Echorec and Small Stone…

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Echorec EC-3

A later solid state machine that can be tricky unless well-serviced, but like the Echomaster above, a great introduction to the Binson sound.

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Binson EC-3, Stix Drum machine and mystery effect. The Stix isn’t 100% right, but we’re loving the crackle from the sliders here. The Binson sound fantastic with beats. But what’s the mystery effect?

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Echorec EC-6; PE 603T-6; A 605 TR-6

These six head solid state machines offer a wide range of echo rhythms and effects, again overdriving like demons when pushed. Seriously cool devices for electronic adventurers. Add varispeed and they’re in another realm of creativity and sonic skulduggery.

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Echorec PE 603 STEREO

We’ve only ever had one of these rare beasts, and restoring it nearly broke our Binson tech at the time. Two memory systems and twice the circuitry squeezed into the same space normally filled by a single channel, circuits made from cut down pieces of boards from a regular 603, and no schematic available! It sounded amazing, but sold before we even had the chance to become properly acquainted. Not for the faint of heart.

And that’s it for now. I could (and no doubt will) go on and on about these machines. And, with so many machines sold, we have an almost endless supply of demos. If you want to see them as they appear then our instagram feed is the place to be. And if you have comments, questions or Binson war stories then they are more than welcome.

For more information about buying vintage Echorecs (and the modern pedal emulations), please see my earlier blog, ‘Why Buy An Original Binson Echorec?’.

Are you looking to buy a fully-restored and guaranteed Binson Echorec? At the time of writing many of the machines that feature in the demos above are for sale. You can see the Echorecs we have listed for sale here, but if you don’t see what you need then please get in touch; most valve T7E and PE 603-T machines sell on a pre-order basis and rarely make it to the site.

And we also have a growing Binson Resources section on the site which includes links to further useful resources for on these machines.

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Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.

Buying a Binson Echorec – Modern Pedal or Vintage Machine?

Why buy an original Binson Echorec?

Original Binson Echorecs are the classic Ferrari of electro-mechanical delays. They’re rare, expensive, require specialist restoration and servicing, parts are scarce, and they need to be cared for and run regularly to remain in top condition.

 

Binson Echorec 2º T7E and Ferrari

Once the preserve of the lucky few – in 1962 a Baby Binson cost around £140 (£20 less than a Fender Stratocaster, £20 more than a Vox AC-30) and most of those British guitarists wishing to replicate the sound of Hank Marvin and the Shadows, Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (and latterly David Gilmour) had to make do with a Watkins Copicat (the Mini of echoes?) rather than such costly Italian exotica.

Today, guitarists, keyboard players and electronic musicians have a choice of comparatively inexpensive options for recreating the Binson sound that would make them the envy of sixties musicians. 

Binson Echorec Effect Pedals

What pedals recreate the Binson sound?

The guitar pedal market is saturated with overdrives, fuzzes and a myriad versions of classic circuits, but perhaps unsurprisingly, there are only a few pedals that can approximate the sound of a Binson.

From the USA, Catalinbread were the first into the fray – by quite some margin – with their Echorec. Next came Gurus with a pedal that could only have come from Italy – the Echosex 2º – which, though only offering single head repeats, got very close to the sound of a valve Binson. Hot on their heels were Dawner Prince Electronics with the uniquely-monikered Boonar (nope, me neither) which crammed full Echorec 2 functionality into its diminutive form factor. Gurus followed the original Echosex with the Echosex 2º Ltd which sported a fancy gold paint job, was optimised for guitar, and limited to only 500 units. Foxpedal’s versatile delay, The Wave, features a single head Binson emulation alongside Echoplex EP-3 and Roland RE-201 options. Gurus have recently released the Echosex 2º T7E which shares the multihead functionality with its namesake Binson Echorec 2 T7E and Dawner Prince are rumoured to be working on a valve version of the Boonar.

Which is the best Binson pedal?

Undoubtedly, there are many answers to this question: potential buyers have many different requirements/tastes and each pedal has advantages and disadvantages with the result that no single pedal thus far released can be said to be the outright winner. I intend to cover this question in more detail in a forthcoming blog. 

Binson Echorec Super Special

What about a modern Binson?

Those who yearn for a true electro-mechanical modern Echorec, have for some years been well-served by Marcello Patruno’s Special Binsons. These superb machines are the ultimate modern interpretation of Dr Bonfiglio Bini’s original Echorec. Signore Patruno has steadily improved the design and engineering to a point where it’s quite fair to suggest that his valve machines are what Binson would be building today if they were still in business. The technical performance could be said to be almost too good – the lack of noise and modulation on the repeats takes some acclimatising to for those raised on vintage Echorecs – but they represent the pinnacle of Echorec engineering. As you would expect, this level of quality does not come cheap and, like the original Binsons of the 60s, the valve machines are the sole preserve of the well-heeled musician. They perform so flawlessly that those seeking to replicate the warm modulated repeats of Marvin, Barrett, Gilmour, Waters and Wright, may find them a touch too clean. Indeed, it is precisely those flaws and foibles that make a vintage Binson so special, though I think it fair to say that the valve Special Binsons deserve their place at the top table as one of the most technically-advanced electro-mechanical echoes ever produced.

Then there’s Phil Taylor at Effectrode: he’s been working on his Echorec 3 for some years – that’s one I would love to see come to fruition. His latest news on the subject is here:

http://www.effectrode.com/echorec-3/

T-Rex Binson Echorec

Denmark’s T-Rex Effects set everyone’s hearts racing with their teaser at 2017’s NAMM showing a mock-up of the new compact Binson Echorec that they are developing. Read more about this on my previous blog post here. This is undoubtedly an exciting prospect as T-Rex have an unerring eye for detail and high quality engineering. Their Replicator is a personal favourite – it’s never going to challenge a well-maintained vintage quarter inch tape echo for echo fidelity, but as a colourful and creative tone machine, it’s a winner. I anticipate the joys of a T-Rex Binson, but I would expect it to be (as with the Replicator) an addition to the armoury rather than a direct replacement for a vintage Echorec.

Stop Press! Just found their latest update – they’re working on how to make the heads stable so they can be adjusted for factory calibration yet not move once shipped/gigged. That’s a tough gig, but they’ll figure it out for sure. This is a very exciting project.

T-Rex Replicator Tape Echo Pedal

So, given the choices outlined above, why would I recommend that someone buy an original vintage Binson Echorec?

Firstly, there’s the sound. A well-restored valve Echorec, especially with added varispeed control, is sonically peerless. I’ve heard many Binsons and all of the available above-mentioned alternatives, and I’d take an imperfect well-used original over them all, as long as it’d been well-serviced and came from a reliable source.

My first Binson is still in our studio – it’s very worn and for many years only made strange noises, the like of which I’ve never heard before or since – but I’ve kept it all these years because of its character. The Baby Binson I chose to keep is not the best example I’ve had, but it has a sweetness and sound that I couldn’t bear to part with: I recorded most instrumental parts of an entire album through that preamp.

My Echorec 2 is one of the best half dozen Echorec 2s I’ve heard in over twenty years and, together with the Baby, is one of a handful of pieces I’d grab if our studio was on fire (God forbid).

For some people, it’s simply a case of authenticity – we prefer vintage guitars to new ones – and there’s no denying the presence a fine Echorec exudes in a studio with the backlit plexiglass panel and glowing magic eye level indicator.

That authenticity of course goes well beyond the physical: as I mentioned above, for those of us more inclined to abusing our Binsons, there really is nothing else that sounds like a valve Echorec’s self oscillation. And nothing can come close to the joyful noise you make overdriving the inputs of any Binson – valve or solid state – and cranking up the feedback.  

Then there’s the preamps: a guitar just sounds so good through a valve Binson – real valves running hot at full voltage (rather than backlit with a green led for effect!). The valve preamp in a Binson is a thing of great joy as Dan and Mick found when we lent them one of our restored 603s for their Echorec edition of ‘That Pedal Show’.

Then there’s the engineering, and the joy of using a piece of equipment built with love and care in an era when quality was of paramount importance (this doesn’t necessarily apply to all Binsons of the seventies!) – before bean-counters predominated designers. Marvel at the delicate pressure of the jockey wheel on the drum, the heads set perfectly to barely touch the drum, the beauty of the backlit front face.

For me it’s combination of all of the above factors, but also because I’m in the midst of a lifelong love for and appreciation of Binson Echorecs, and nothing but the real thing will float my boat. Going back to the car analogy at the start of this article, I’d choose a vintage Ferrari over a modern one every time: the feel and smell of old gear is intoxicating, and while it may not always be as reliable as a modern version (though very often it turns out to be so), the joy of using the real thing is undeniable.

What should I watch out for when buying a Binson?

Binson Echorec Bad Wiring

I’ve been using and buying Binsons for nearly a quarter of a century and it’s probable that I’ve bought and heard more Echorecs than any other living person in the English-speaking world. I’ve seen and heard many explanations as to their functionality. I will focus on what to watch out for when buying a Binson, and what questions to ask of the seller, in a forthcoming blog, but for now, be very, very wary of buying a used Binson.

The most important thing to be aware of is that many Echorecs, produced after the mid-sixties and possibly into the seventies, can be extremely dangerous due to the use of wiring with insulation that degrades over time – it can result in bare wires carrying mains voltage that come into contact with the metal case! This is potentially lethal in a machine with no earthed mains cable. I’ve had my share of shocks – the most recent from an otherwise immaculate 603 that the seller had bought serviced and rewired. A visual inspection of the wiring suggested all was well, but the tech had missed a cable hidden behind the transformer whose insulation had finally dropped off by the time I received it. The seller had been using the machine for some years without incident so had no reason to suspect there was anything wrong.

See below for a similar issue found in a restored Echorec 2 – a wire carrying HT voltage with all insulation missing – invisible as the transformer is contained in a metal case. Fortunately, it was accidentally plugged into  240v (it was set up for 110v) which immediately blew the fuse – and fried the transformer which revealed this horror.

Binson Echorec Bad Insulation on Wiring

Unless the seller can prove their knowledge and offer you concrete evidence that the machine has been serviced by one of a very small number of qualified engineers, and unless you can hear the exact machine being sold – clearly hear the quality of repeats and any mechanical noise – my advice would be to avoid like the plague, unless you access to a tech with extensive knowledge of electronics, mechanics, and valve/tape theory. And always get a new machine checked over by a qualified engineer before use.

“A cheap Binson is rarely a bargain, and an expensive one with uncertain provenance can prove very costly indeed.”

A couple of further points regarding ‘serviced’ Binsons: not all restored machines are equal, even though the asking price would suggest so. Nor are all techs equal (see my experience with the otherwise perfect-looking 603 above). I have seen many examples of Echorecs that appear to be advertised as serviced and working well, but when you dig down into the detail of the description, photos or demos, it becomes very clear that they are a long way from right. And those machines advertised with barely any detail? My advice is that you should consider them to be very much for spares or repair only (and remember that a full restoration is a time-consuming and expensive job).

I’ve bought machines serviced by supposed experts, by ‘ex-Binson’ techs, by otherwise experienced engineers. Barely any have performed as I would expect from a good Echorec; many have been sorely-lacking and often dangerous. From my experience of the past twenty years with Binsons, it’s become very clear that there are very few people alive today who know how a good Binson should sound, and far fewer who know how to service and restore these incredible machines to reach their potential.

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Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.

Down To Earth: Korg Stage Echo SE-300 & SE-500

Soundgas head honcho, Tony Miln, digs into some of the history and features of superb Korg’s tape echoes, and also some useful information if you are asking yourself “Should I get a Korg Stage Echo or a Roland Space Echo?”.

Comments are on! Let us know which echo you use and how/why. Interesting tales and useful tips may be used (with credit) in future articles.

Korg Stage Echo SE-300 SE-500 Roland RE-301 RE-201 Space Echo

Roland’s black, green and silver (and later black and orange) Space/Chorus Echo units are familiar to nearly everyone who’s been involved in music-making over the past four decades – they are iconic and ubiquitous. Korg’s echoes are more down to earth – in livery as well as name. Swapping Space for Stage and jazzy colours for the muted – almost gothic – dark grey/black contemporary to their synths, Korg Stage Echoes are much less common than their cosmic cousins and, as a result, there are many yet to encounter them.

Korg started out as beatbox pioneers Keio, later developing their first MiniKorg synth at the same time as Roland were working on the SH-1000 (the latter securing its place in history as Japan’s first synth in 1973 – Roland had the drop on Korg’s 700 only by a matter of weeks). The MiniKorg’s success spawned a long line of unusual and groundbreaking synths under the Korg banner, many of which are rightly regarded as classics, while some remain comparatively well-kept secrets.

Given Korg’s deserved reputation for innovation, it may come as a surprise to many that the Korg Stage Echo SE-500 was only launched in 1977 – a full four years after Roland’s first Space Echo, the RE-100. Korg was certainly playing catch up when they entered the echo market; the mighty RE-201 had been in production for three years and was proving a very successful and profitable product for Roland.

One advantage of following in Ikutaro Kakehashi’s footsteps was that Korg were able to marry many successful elements of the Space Echo with features that would please both their synthesizer customers as well as guitarists and studio users.

Korg Stage Echo SE-500

For the synth and studio heads, there was CV control of the delay time – this allows users of Korg’s flexible semi-modular MS series synths (and others with CV out) to get creative with their repeats with suitably freaky results. Guitarists and keyboard players could have fun layering their instrument using the Sound On Sound feature (Brian May anyone?). Mike Battle’s Echoplex EP-2 was the first tape echo to feature Sound On Sound back in 1970; coincidentally, Roland only added SOS to their tape echo range in the same year as the SE-500’s debut with the RE-301 Chorus Echo.

In addition, the SE-500 had a long delay feature with repeats up to a whopping 1500ms – impressive for a tape echo at the time (remaining so to this day). The long delay and three other playback heads could be switched in and out independently or in combination for a range of patterns. The Stage Echo’s compander-based noise reduction system made for a cleaner-sounding tape echo – certainly more HiFi than those that had gone before. The addition of balanced inputs/outputs on XLR sockets reinforced the SE-500’s position as a serious studio machine for the professional user.

Korg Stage Echo SE-300

The SE-300 launched a year later, in 1978, offering spring reverb and very flexible mixing and routing options between dry/delayed signal and the reverb tank. This was also the year that saw Roland launch their first BBD chip-based analogue echoes (the DC-30 and DC-50), whose maintenance-free reliability and portability were the beginning of the end for tape echoes. Given the fateful timing of their release, it’s hardly surprising that Korg’s Stage Echoes are harder to track down than their celestial Roland cousins, having been produced in much smaller quantities.

However, scarcity is far from the only reason to seek out one of Korg’s Stage Echoes; their alternative approach to Roland’s staple fare offers the discerning echo enthusiast additional menu options to whet the appetite.

They are highly-regarded by those looking for a cleaner, more hifi echo sound than the earlier Space Echoes (while remaining distinct from Roland’s own cleaner-sounding RE-501/SRE-555). Personally, I love the flexible mixing options between on the SE-300: three uncomplicated balance knobs make this machine unique. The controls are:

They offer immediate and complete control over the balance of the dry/echo/reverb signals enabling you to position the signal in the soundfield; as gratifying in use as it is simple in concept. If you want to push the repeats further into the distance, add some reverb to the echo signal only; or add reverb to dry/wet signals and adjust the balance to taste. Clumsy to describe in writing, simplicity itself in practice!

So why would I choose a Stage Echo over a Space Echo, and what are the main differences between the Korg and Roland machines? Below I list a few questions that point towards which machine might be most suitable for you.

Korg Stage Echo SE-500 Roland RE-301

Do you want a classic delay/reverb that’s been heard on countless recordings from the early seventies onwards?

If yes, you most likely want a Roland RE-201 Space Echo (or if your budget is tighter and you can live without the spring reverb, the RE-101). The RE-150 has no spring reverb and only two replay heads (as opposed to the 201/101’s three), but they have a great sound and are a good option to get the Roland Space Echo sound on a tighter budget.

If you want a classic delay/reverb, but also yearn for Roland Chorus and the sound on sound (but are not looking for classic dub delay patterns), then the Roland RE-301 could be for you. The head spacings are different on the 301 (compared to to the 201), so while dub aficionados may find it less-gratifying, guitarists and keyboard players love the less-common 301. I bought my 301 from Dave Formula of Magazine: it was used on several of their albums (and on the Visage albums) – you can see it behind Dave on the cover of Magazine’s live album, ‘Play’.

Are you looking for a cleaner, more high fidelity sound to your repeats? If you are, then the choice is between the Korg Stage Echoes or a Roland RE-501 Chorus Echo (or SRE-555 which is simply a 501 in rack format). The later Rolands incorporated a noise reduction system (as well as chorus, sound on sound and of course spring reverb) which made them sound a good deal cleaner. I’ve always thought of them as being the Roland Echo to buy if you like the sound of the late seventies or early eighties (a strat through an RE-501 gets you pretty close to the sound of Andy Summers of The Police or David Gilmour on Pink Floyd’s The Wall). I used two very clean 501s in my studio for many years as my main go-to guitar/synth echoes, partially because they worked faultlessly, but also because they seemed to just sound ‘right’ whenever we used them. I’ve latterly grown more fond of RE-201s (and eventually sold my last 501 when I bought Dave’s 301); this is down to just how good they sound when they’re less-worn and well-serviced. The Roland RE-501/SRE-555 and the Korg SE-500 also feature balanced inputs/outputs for studio use.

If you are after a cleaner sound (and chorus/spring reverb aren’t essential), and you also want longer delay times, and the ability to control the delay time via control voltage (CV) from your synth, modular system, or a control pedal, then the Korg SE-500 is your machine. Or for a cleaner sound with spring reverb (but no sound on sound), then you want to try the SE-300 (which is my personal favourite of the two due to the flexible mixing options discussed earlier).

While researching information for writing this piece, I was struck by just how little information there is about Korg’s two fine echo machines. Like some of their contemporary synths, they seem to be for the cognoscenti only. I hope this article helps set the record straight to some extent, and we would welcome any additional information or comment from Stage Echo users.

See our current stock of Korg Stage Echoes now – if we don’t have what you need on that page please get in touch as we try to have machines coming through as often as possible.

Comments are on! Let us know which echo you use and how/why. Interesting tales and useful tips may be used (with credit) in future articles.

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Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.

Are Roland Tape Echoes Reliable? (Spoiler: yes, ours are…)

A quick run through some of the reasons that we are happy to call out the idea that Roland Space and Chorus Echoes are not reliable. We’re confident that this is a myth brought into being by too many people spending time with neglected and abused machines. However, like many things, it’s about arming yourself with knowledge, and realising you get what you pay for…

Note that this blog has now been repurposed in our Roland resources section.

Oh, and yes – the same applies to Korg Stage Echoes – they can and should sound superb and run reliably.

But before we get into that here’s a time-lapse video showing our tech Doctor Huw servicing one of our RE-201 Space Echoes:

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Are you experienced?

So we sell a lot of Space Echoes. So what? An immediate advantage to you when buying from a business selling as many as us is we are constantly refining our processes and systems. We never stop learning from and about the machines, and from our customers’ experiences with them. And we guarantee everything we sell, so it costs us a great deal if something goes wrong with one of our echoes after worldwide shipping – that really focuses us on making them perfect and rock solid and our return rate due to faults is very low indeed.

We only buy in machines which appear to have had below average use and are in good cosmetic condition: this is an immediate advantage from both sonic and reliability perspectives. Low hours means less head/motor wear; good cosmetics suggests easy lives not spent in sweaty studios heavy with smoke or being kicked around on tour. Tape echoes that have had 40 years of hard use are increasingly difficult to restore to a high standard. Many people (myself included) wrote RE-201s off for so long – the experience was only of abused machines that rarely performed well (if at all) and languished in studio corners looking iconic, but sounding pretty bad (I swapped my first one for a pristine 501 that ran beautifully and didn’t hum).

Over the years, we’ve seen just about every possible issue arise and have improved our service schedule to iron out preventable faults before they leave our hands. Huw’s experience keeping echoes performing at their best on the road and our extensive knowledge of the pitfalls of sourcing and sending gear all over the world – combined with our shared studio experience – means our machines not only work well on arrival with our customers, but that they should continue doing so for many years to come. We also guarantee that our Roland echoes sound as good as can be achieved with 40+ year-old machines – as close to factory spec as possible.

Roland Space Echo RE-100 RE-101 RE-150 RE-201

The Doctor will see you now

Doctor Huw, our main in-house echo tech, is a living legend who’s repaired and cared for these machines for nearly 25 years (often upside down, in the dark and with a torch in his mouth onstage in the middle of a gig). Initially BBC-trained, Huw’s skills and knowledge have been tested and honed out on the battlefield as a live tech with many years on the road with the likes of Portishead, Massive Attack and Robert Plant. His wide experience and knowledge of repairing and improving old gear has seen our Roland tape echoes go from strength to strength in recent years, culminating in us supplying Roland themselves with machines for their recent Cause And Effects show in London.

Finally, we have info on the site about other related matters including care of your Roland echo, and more about our journeys into which tape is best

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Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.