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Are Roland Tape Echoes Reliable?

(spoiler: yes, but…)

We often get asked if Roland Space and Chorus Echoes are reliable: a perfectly reasonable question, given that they’re around 40 years old.

See our range of serviced and warrantied Roland Echoes.

More experienced readers [You mean older? Ed] will have oft spied early Roland RE-series machines in the studio, looking iconic, but cast aside in favour of something more reliable/quieter/pedalboard-friendly. Poorly-maintained, heavily used/abused machines abound – usually with incorrect or decrepit tape loops. So for a great many musicians, old Roland tape echoes are synonymous with poor performance, noise and less than optimal reliability.

We at Soundgas service and test around two hundred machines a year and collectively have many decades’ experience with Roland echoes. Below are our thoughts on reliability and why, as with all tape echoes, it can be very much a case of you get what you pay for.

Want to get your Roland Echo serviced by us? We may have some slots available… find out more about servicing.

Are you experienced?

We service and sell a lot of Space Echoes. So what? A business selling as many as we do is that we are constantly refining and improving our processes and systems. We firmly believe that nobody can ever know all there is to know and we never stop learning: from the machines, from our customers’ experiences with them, and from each other. We guarantee everything we sell, so if something goes wrong with one of our echoes after worldwide shipping, it costs us a great deal to put right (this happens rarely). This is of course focuses our minds on making them as rock solid reliable as possible and our return rate due to faults is very low indeed.

Quiet Life

We only start with machines which have had much lower than average use and are in very good cosmetic condition – other machines are broken for parts. When you begin with a lightly used machine, you have an immediate advantage both sonically and from a reliability perspective. Low hours means less head/motor wear; good cosmetics demotes an easy life not spent in sweaty studios heavy with smoke (or being kicked around on stage). Tape echoes that have had 40 years of hard use can be extremely difficult (and often impossible) to restore to a high standard like ours. Many people (myself included) wrote RE-201s off for a long time – my experience was only of abused machines that rarely performed well (if at all) and languished in studio corners looking handsome, but sounding less than stellar (I swapped my first 201 for a pristine 501 that ran beautifully – and didn’t hum).

Heard It All Before

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. In addition we have developed many new service routines to restore our machines back to – or beyond – factory spec. Dr Huw’s experience keeping echoes performing at their best on tour, combined with our tech team’s continual quest for improvement and our extensive knowledge of the pitfalls of sourcing and sending gear all over the world – plus our shared studio experience – means our machines not only work well on arrival, but that they should continue doing so for many years to come. We guarantee that our Roland echoes will be the best you’ve heard, or you can have a full refund (or exchange).

Caveat Emptor

There are a great many Roland echoes for sale online at any one time – many are less expensive than ours (some are more expensive): ask yourself whether those machines have been worked on by a team of people dedicated to excellence and who will look after you in future should you need tech support. Most issues we see are the result of machines being badly worn or poorly maintained. Even freshly serviced examples can perform badly – we are regularly approached by owners who have bought ‘restored’ or ‘serviced’ machines that require attention.

“Only fit Soundgas or Echofix loops in your Roland Echo. This is all you need to know about tape.”

The Doctor will see you now

Doctor Huw, our original 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 on stage 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 saw our Roland tape echoes go from strength to strength after he joined Soundgas (we were even asked to supply Roland themselves with machines for their Cause And Effects show in London (read about it here).

Huw trained his first apprentice, Max Dawson – who is now senior tech and workshop manager – and together they trained the next generation of apprentices, Will Bateman and Ryan Hingley, who are both now experienced Soundgas techs. Will is our senior echo tech and has further developed our processes and techniques, routinely delivering jaw-droppingly good machines that are beyond anything I’ve experienced before. It’s fair to say that today’s Soundgas Space Echoes are the best they’ve ever been.

A thousand echoes…

Over the past ten years, we have serviced and sold approaching a thousand echoes. Today we rarely deal with any warranty repairs and requests for service support after the 12 month guarantee has expired are uncommon. We have many hundreds of happy customers whose machines continue to run reliably – some now nearly a decade after being serviced. By only refurbishing low use examples, and through our extensively refined restoration processes, we are producing machines of the highest quality. Our extensive experience and customer feedback means we can confidently say that yes, Soundgas Roland Space Echoes are indeed very reliable.

Of course once you get your perfect machine you need to look after it and we will deal with tape echo care in a separate post. And don’t forget that tape is crucial…

For now here’s the moment when Al Breadwinner got his Space Echo back into his wonderful set up after it had been tweaked and tuned by us. He’d had it for more than 10 years and said it had never sounded like this 🙂

"loving the echo, every unit has a different style and attack and space echos are one of the best for me. I have been using a mixture of copicat, a very old digital delay and various tape machines for a while, but think this will be the main delay now." Al Breadwinner / The Bakery Studio

Our extensive experience and customer feedback means we can confidently say that yes, Soundgas Roland Space Echoes are indeed very reliable.


Thanks for reading. This post is one of a series on the Roland tape echoes we are compiling into an online resource for tape delay fans and users. Other instalments include talking about tape, how to choose the right tape delay, care and maintenance, and some secret tips and tricks.

Want to get your Roland Echo serviced by us? We may have some slots available… find out more about servicing.

More Roland Resources:


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