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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?

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 recalibrated to run reliably and sound as it should (which in turn may mean other loops will not perform as well).

A Spool And His Money…

For some time, we’d blindly bought batches of assorted vintage reels in the hope of finding something 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 eventually sourced 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 found to be unused.  We now had the formulation (this has since been confirmed by a source in Japan) but we really wanted stock from Japan, as supplied to Roland. Tony had been advised by another loop manufacturer that he had acquired all the remaining unused stock some time ago. However we continued our quest, undaunted by such bold claims. Eventually our dogged persistence paid off when we discovered a significant quantity of unused, dry-stored tape in bulk packaging (rather than on regular reels). We are 99% certain that this is exactly the same stock as supplied to Roland for their RT-1L Space Echo loops.

After extensive testing, we can confirm that our loops are as close to original RT-1L tapes as it’s possible to get today, but we also feel that without absolute concrete confirmation from Roland themselves it is correct to leave the remaining 1% uncertainty. We consider this supply of unused stock to be almost priceless and it is dry-stored (with special moisture absorbers) in three separate locations to mitigate any chance of it all being lost at once. Given where it was sourced, we believe it was originally destined for Roland (or another Japanese tape echo manufacturer). The 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 Splice Of Life

The final piece of the puzzle, and one many loop suppliers get very wrong indeed, is the splice. Many suppliers use thick splicing tape which causes the tape to drag excessively as the splice passes over the heads. If the splice tape is old, the splice will gradually come apart, slowly depositing adhesive gunk on the heads and guides with ultimately disastrous results. Max has spent considerable time experimenting to get the right splicing tape and we have now trained up our newest member of the team, Ollie, as our in-house loop-maker extraordinaire. We’ve been using these new loops exclusively for some years now and fit them as standard in all Soundgas machines. They are available to purchase now in limited quantities on the site.

 

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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 Рfind them all here.

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