The echo has been colouring music since audio engineering pioneers first routed signal from one tape machine to another, and sent that audio back to the main mix at a slightly slower speed, thus creating what we now know simply as ‘delay’.
In the ensuing decades, delay units evolved in a number of ways, from dedicated tape echo machines to analog units, and of course, into the digital domain. Now that the DAW is the dominant environment for recording and mixing, plugin companies are in arms race to create innovative delay options, ones that both modernise the effect and also provide a link to the past – echoes that emulate the old classics.
With the suite of Soundtoys plugins comes two stellar delay options: the EchoBoy and Primal Tap, faithfully emulating and augmenting time-honoured tape echoes, analog hardware units and vintage digital delays. Let’s get spacious and dive into both.
We get spacious with two of Soundtoys’ brilliant delay plug-ins: the tape inspired EchoBoy and the Primal Tap, which echoes the digital brilliance of the Lexicon Prime Time Model 93.
Aside from the actual echo provided by the previously mentioned manual technique, the use of tape greatly affects the tonal characteristics of the delayed sound. For example, hitting the tape with a loud signal results in slight compression and sometimes saturation.
The bucket brigade analog delay pedals that were popularised in the late 70’s and 80’s were easier to use and maintain, and had a sonic signature of their own, slicing off top end as the echoes poured out. The EchoBoy provides controllable parameters based on classics from these early eras of delay, as well a providing perfectly transparent space-making options.
Soundtoys have earned a formidable reputation for the quality and musicality of their products, yet are possibly equally admired for the practicality and clever design of the user interfaces. For a plugin as deep potentially complex as EchoBoy, the speed at which you can dial in a fantastic sound is incredible.
The important particulars are laid out on an uncluttered single panel, with essentials like mix, echo time (which can be sync’d to the temp of a session or set manually to a musical rhythm or time value) and feedback are easily accessed.
Echo modes vary from single, dual echo (independent stereo channel control), ping-pong (bouncing from left to right) and rhythm echo (multi-tap delay with independently controllable rhythms). The front panel also contains the echo style selector, which will show a list of tape echo units – selecting one will provide an emulation of the a particular tape echo, analog delay, digital modulation and too many more to mention!
The Primal Tap is a beast unto itself. Inspired by a digital delay (the Lexicon Prime Time Model 93), it offers an extended feature set entirely different to that of the EchoBoy. For instance, the Multiply control that featured on the Lexicon, halved the sample rate on each echo, thus the echoes petered out into super lo-fi territory indeed. There was also a Repeat Hold control (reincarnated as Freeze on the Primal Tap), which replicates whatever sound was being delayed at the time, creating a virtually endless tape loop.
As you can imagine, the Primal Tap picks up on these attributes, expands on them and adds many more original details.
On the front panel, it’s well worth familiarising yourself with the red and yellow A and B lines. They can be thought of two independently operative taps, where you can sync to tempo, or note length, or link them together, then control their feedback and output volume with the mini faders located to the right of the panel. As you can imagine, with that much intuitive command at your fingertips, seriously fascinating rhythmic textures can be conjured up with ease. And that’s even before you’ve uncovered the LFO and reverb options when you hit the “tweak” button (did I mention these plugins were deep?).
The problem with many plugins is that they present a bewildering array of choices simultaneously; perhaps the greatest virtue of the Echo Boy and Primal Tap is that they instead offer a drip-feed of profound and highly musical options – never confusing or intimidating. Both of these echo machines sound great off the bat, but they invite you dig further and further into the intriguing architectures, sounding better and better after continued exploration, all the while paying homage to their influential ancestors.