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Which is the Best Tape to Use in a Roland Echo?

Tape: The Never-Ending Quest… Is At An End.
All tape is not equal. Many (most?) tapes available online do not perform well in Roland echoes… Based on our experience working on hundreds of tape echoes and trying many tapes, this is the answer to the question: Which is the best tape loop for my Roland (or Korg!) tape echo?

Roland Space Echo tape close up

IMPORTANT: All tape is not equal. One of the conditions of our guarantee on all the tape echoes we sell is that you only use the loops we recommend. Currently the only loops available to buy online that we recommend are our own, or those from Echo Fix in Australia.

SPACE-ECHO-TAPE-TRAY

Repeat Offender

A couple of years ago, we suddenly had around a dozen of our machines stop working 2-5 weeks after we sent them out. We weren’t selling as many back then and this occurred over the course of about 3 months. The cost of return shipping, re-servicing and re-sending hit us hard. By a process of elimination we narrowed the culprit down to sub-standard tape loops – they worked fine for a few weeks before they shed their coating, clogging everything up. At the time we were supplied by a well-known online tape echo supplier; I contacted them to explain that they appeared to have a bad batch of tape, but received a reply that they’d had no other complaints. Needless to say, that was the end of our association. Fortunately, Dr Huw was able to recommend a good source of loops and we were soon up and running again.

BASF LGR-50 for Roland Echoes?

This is not our only caveat regarding tape loops – many online ‘experts’ (including another European supplier whose loops also caused us great trouble) will assert that BASF LGR-50 is the best tape to use in a Space Echo. LGR-50 is a broadcast quality formulation and does sound very good however, the tape is much thicker than original Roland tape, and we have experienced problems with loops made using LGR-50 (it is possible for some LGR-50 loops to work well in a Space Echo, but we neither recommend it nor does our warranty cover its use). It will also require your machine to be set up correctly for it to sound as it should (which in turn will mean other loops will not perform as well).

Roland-RT-1L-tape-loops

Roland RT-1L

We also sell original NOS Roland RT-1L tapes, when we can find stock, and they do sound great, but we do not guarantee our machines if RT-1L tapes are used. This may seem odd, but tape stock is very susceptible to atmospheric conditions – unless it is stored in a cool dry stable environment, it can degrade over time. Given that the Roland loops are in some cases approaching 40 years old, we cannot be sure how well they have been stored and therefore cannot guarantee their performance.

What tape did Roland use?

This is a question that until recently remained unanswered: the individuals who may have known are in many cases no longer with us. Tony asked the CEO of Roland, Jun-Ichi Miki (who started his career on the RE-201 assembly line), when they met some years ago but Roland no longer hold that information. One interesting fact that did come out of that meeting (when we were part of the Boss Cause & Effects exhibition in Sept 2017) was that Roland do not even know for sure who designed the RE-201. So the quest continued.

reel-to-reel-tape_grid_large

A Spool And His Money…

At first, we’d simply bought batches of assorted vintage reels in the hope of finding one that matched the Roland RT-1L in appearance, but it soon became apparent that we were in the realm of needles in haystacks. The only person who claimed to know the formulation was Shane at Echo Fix who resolutely refused to share that knowledge and advised us that he’d bought the remaining Roland stock some years ago. While he was happy to supply us loops in bulk, we had no reason to continue our quest, but last year that changed so we were once more on the hunt.

Amazingly, this time the answer came quickly. Dr Huw felt certain he knew which manufacturer supplied Roland and from there we began a process of elimination narrowing things down to several possible contenders. At this point, Tony found a supply of a mixture of used and unused dry-stored reels in the USA. We ordered and crossed our fingers. When they landed, they were what appeared to be a perfect match. We consider this to be as close to original RT-1L tape formulation as possible, but feel that without conclusive confirmation from Roland themselves we cannot describe it as being an exact match. Since then we’ve acquired a significant supply of unused stock that we feel fairly certain was destined for Roland or one of the other Japanese tape echo manufacturers. The tape we’ve found works as a drop-in replacement for our machines without the need for further calibration or rebiasing.

The Splice Of Life

The final piece of the puzzle, and one many loop suppliers get very wrong, is the splicing tape – most are too thick and cause the tape to drag excessively as the splice passes over the heads. If the splice tape is old, it’ll allow the splice to come apart, slowly depositing adhesive gunk on the heads and guides with ultimately disastrous results. Max has spent some time experimenting to get the right splicing tape and has now trained up our newest member of the team, Ollie, as our in-house loop-maker extraordinaire. We’ve been quietly testing these new loops for some time now and are now fitting them in all Soundgas machines. They are now available to purchase in limited quantities at a discounted price for more widespread testing: we welcome your feedback.

 

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Thanks for reading. This post is one of a series on Roland tape echoes that we are compiling into an online resource for tape delay fans and users. Other instalments include tips and tricks to get the best out of your machine, talking about reliability of tape echoes, how to choose the right tape delay, care and maintenance of your tape echo – find them all here.

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