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EF-X2 - Echo Fix

EF-X2 - Echo Fix

by Ellison Wolf

In 1996 I walked into Advance Music in Burlington, Vermont to try and acquire some reverb to go along with my Music Man guitar amp. Back then options for reverb were as limited as my funds. This was pre-internet shopping; there was no plethora of boutique pedal makers like there is now, and for the most part you would only spy a Boss RV-something on pedal boards, if that. My favorite part of Advance was a marginally finished room in the back where they sold all of their used gear, which mostly consisted of amps and guitars. It’s where I bought all of my gear during the six years I lived in Burlington. I was never really a gearhead back then, and a lot of the time I didn’t know what I was looking at, but when I went back there and spotted a used Roland RE-201 Space Echo, with the word REVERB on it, I picked it up. Of course nobody gets a Space Echo for the spring reverb, but I did and I paid $90 for it. That was probably a lot for me back then, but I think it was the least expensive reverb option they had for sale, and of course in retrospect, it was a great deal.
I’ve carried that Space Echo around with me ever since, from apartment to house and makeshift “home” studio to less makeshift home studio; and while I haven’t used it for guitar in decades, it’s become one of my favorite pieces of equipment for nearly everything else. I love it on background vocals, snare, and synth, and it’s been on practically every single recording I’ve made ever since acquiring it.
Having it for such a long time, it’s inevitably needed fixing, which I’ve done myself. Shredded tape, bad caps, loose jacks, dead felts…it’s all part of the deal with vintage Space Echos. Back in the day it was hard to source parts and find information about repairs and maintenance, but then the internet got better and one amazing day Australia-based Echo Fix came along. If you’ve ever sweated being able to get parts for anything, dreaded the day you’d have to dig deep to find them, fabricate them yourself, or find a donor unit—one you could sacrifice without feeling guilty about it—then you know that when I came upon Echo Fix, it felt like the heavens opening up. Salvation. It was no small thing.
I’ve been ordering from Echo Fix since then for all of my Space Echo needs, but I’m still wary of taking the RE-201 out of the studio, and sometimes the sound isn’t exactly what I’m looking for. Heck, sometimes it’s just too stubborn to work the way I need it to. It is 40+ years old, after all. So as much as I love my Space Echo, reliability is key when performing and recording, and when Echo Fix announced they were coming out with their own tape echo machine, and a little bit later, a newer model, the EF-X2, I knew I had to get one in my possession.
It was love at first sight; It's a beautiful-looking machine and the size and style of the enclosure is a spitting image of my beloved RE-201, with the sleek black tolex and shiny chrome latches. Lifting up the lid is a near religious experience with a certain restraint to the design that imbues an obvious confidence. It has a crystal clear tape covering with which to gaze at the movement of the tape as it makes its circuitous snake through the felts and rollers, with more shiny chrome parts, and everything else jet black...it’s an absolutely gorgeous piece of art and machinery. The only thing cosmetically that is vastly different from the RE-201 is the front plate, as with various color options—I got the black and gold model—the EF-X2 deviates from its vintage predecessor with its own layout, though it is still reminiscent. It’s well designed, with a spacious, clutter free look and a VU meter, and all of the labeling is clear.
While there’s no mistaking the ancestry of this machine, the EF-X2 is definitely a 21st century tape echo. It shares many of the same features as a Space Echo; Bass, treble, input, reverb, echo, and speed [for chorus!] controls, but it’s got both a spring reverb and an excellent sounding digital reverb as well, and you can switch between the two or use them both simultaneously. There are inputs for both guitar and line as well as balanced XLR ins and outs—which make it so much better for live and studio use than the original. The cherries on top are the ¼” inputs to CV control the tape speed and feedback amount [!], and a digital chorus, which is nice.
Most of the controls are familiar and expected; Speed, Feedback, EQ, Sound on Sound on/off, etc. The Echo Mode selector knob is LED backlit to indicate input strength, and changes color from green to red if the signal is too hot, and this visual indication is a nice touch.
I admit to being so precious, so in love with my Space Echo, that it carried over a bit to the EF-X2 and rather than tear open the box and plug it in right away, I wanted to make sure I was in a certain headspace and had blocked off a decent part of my schedule to take it all in. It might sound a bit ridiculous, but when I finally laid ears on what this has to offer I was happy I had.
The sound is as rich and magical as I’ve ever heard from a tape echo. I used it while adding vocals on a song collaboration and with a longer delay setting [Mode 5] the background vocals I added were luscious and mysterious, clear without losing a sort of timeless mystique. Using a short delay [Mode 1] and with the mix just right, the vocals sat on top of the instruments clearly, and with authority. I explored the EF-X2 a lot with vocals, and in each case it sounded great and was pretty easy to dial in what I was looking for. Background vocals are what I love using my Space Echo for the most, and EF-X2 passed [rather, surpassed] this test with flying colors.
Using it with my Sequential Pro 3 was a dream pairing. I tried all manner of delays + reverb—spring, digital, and both—and was lost in the ether for days. Arpeggios, pads…you can do almost anything and get it to sound however you want; ethereal, out of control, stark, whatever, and get it to sit great in a mix.
Using it on modular was great as well—no surprise here—and being able to modulate the tape speed and feedback via external CV was really fun. I alternated patching in some LFOs and a couple of expression pedals, freeing up my hands for other tweaking duties while still controlling the tape speed myself, something an original Space Echo couldn’t do unless it was modified. Using the EF-X2 with a KARP 2600 was regal, and a somewhat surreal experience. In issue #4 of Waveform we interviewed Michael Lehman Boddicker and something he said—about needing only an Arp 2600, a Mini Moog, and a Space Echo and he could do just about anything—has stuck with me ever since. With the Pro 3, the KARP, and the EF-X2, I had a modern version of what he was talking about, and indeed, it was pretty impressive trio.
I am really pleased with the overall sound of the EF-X2. The noise floor is way lower than I’ve ever heard my RE-201, and while I do love some of the fuzziness and rounded softness of the Space Echo, it’s so much easier to add that if desired than it is to clear it up. It’s fun to be hands [or feet] on with it, and unlike practically every other tape machine I’ve ever owned, I’m not spending half of my time dialing in the sounds I want, and the other half on edge waiting for the motor to seize up, the tape to stick, or any of the other myriad ways in which vintage tape machines can go wonky or stop altogether.
Echo Fix spent a lot of time on this, getting everything just right, and it shows. The EF-X2 is the culmination of years of pure passion and love. On their quest to create the perfect tape echo, they built their own motors, had custom tape heads made to their specs, probably went through oceans of tape finding the right one, and who knows what else. Let us rejoice and reap the rewards of their hard work. Let us reap, I say.
Throughout the years I’ve lost count of how many tape delays, echo pedals, software simulations, etc., that I’ve auditioned looking for the right sound with the perfect amount of warmth, durability, and tweakability. The EF-X2 has it all, plus all of the charm, mojo, and etherealness I could ever hope for, with some killer features not found on most tape machines of this sort. EF-X2 is now the standard that all other tape echoes will be measured against.
I still have my Space Echo—for now—but the EF-X2 has taken its place. I know I’m going to be carrying it around with me wherever my recording [and live!] journeys take me, and I’m looking forward to it. Now if only Echo Fix would take on the Binson Echorec…
 
Price: $2250

Echofix.com