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?
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. The only loops that we recommend/warranty are our own, made from unused/dry-stored stock of the formulation supplied to Roland in Japan.
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.
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).
We also sell original NOS Roland RT-1L tapes, when we can find stock, and they can 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.
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 he advised that 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.
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. We persevered: Dr Huw felt certain he knew which manufacturer supplied Roland and from there we began a process of elimination, scouring the manufacturer’s spec sheets and narrowing it down to several possible contenders.
Tony found a supply of a mixture of used and unused dry-stored reels in the USA, some of which matched one formulation we wanted to examine. We ordered and crossed our fingers. When the reels landed, the tape was a perfect match, and some reels were unused. We now had the formulation (this has been confirmed by a source in Japan) but we really wanted stock from Japan, as supplied to Roland. Tony had been advised that all remaining unused stock had been sold some time ago, but this year he hit the jackpot and we were able to secure a significant quantity of unused, dry-stored tape in bulk packaging (rather than on reels): we are 99% certain that this is as supplied to Roland for their RT-1L loops.
This is as close to the original RT-1L tapes as it’s possible to get, but we also feel that without conclusive confirmation from Roland themselves we have to leave that 1% uncertainty. Maybe someone reading this can confirm. Our supply of unused stock may well have been destined for Roland or one of the other Japanese tape echo manufacturers. This tape works as a drop-in replacement for our machines without the need for further calibration or rebiasing. In our listening tests we’ve found it often exceeds the performance of original RT-1L tapes (which can be of uncertain quality).
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.
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.
from around the site:
Info & video showing you how to change the tape loop on a Roland Space Echo RE-201.
Links below for manuals for all models of Roland tape echo available to use and download.
Links below for service manuals for all models of Roland Tape Echo - available to use and download.
Some of the nuggets of wisdom we've picked up as we've overhauled, tested & sold hundreds of tape echoes, as well as using them in our...
(Spoiler: Yes, but...) We often get asked if we consider Roland Space and Chorus Echoes to be reliable; a reasonable question, given that they're 30 to...
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...
The story of how we sold Space Echoes to Roland, our trip to London to bring the vintage gear noise to the Boss exhibition launch and...
We stand behind our gear with a guarantee of your satisfaction - see the FAQ section above for full details and buy with complete confidence.
When buying more than one item you only pay the shipping on the item with the highest shipping cost. Calculated automatically at checkout.
Get in touch via the contact page. We know & love our gear and we want to ensure you get something that matches your needs (that, and we just like talking gear).