A tape echo device records incoming audio to a loop of magnetic tape, then replays the audio over a series of several playback heads before it is erased again by new incoming audio. The tape used in the RE-201 is the standard 1/4" tape of the open-reel variety, but made as one, continuous loop. In the Roland 'RE' range there are no reels of any kind, the tape is transported via a capstan drive. The tape loop is contained in a loose, constantly moving jumble in the tape chamber (also known as the tape tank) under a plastic panel which protects the tape and keeps it from getting tangled. The replacement tapes were known as Roland RT-1L replacement tape loops and sold by Roland.
There are several control dials on the device that alter such aspects as tape speed, repeat pattern (an 11-position rotary switch), one instrument and two microphone inputs, a single analog backlit VU meter for all three inputs, wet/dry mix for both echo and reverb, and intensity (number of repeats, in a sense; it actually reduces how much the erase/record head erases the tape), that can be adjusted to a user's liking; and bass/treble controls to EQ the sound of the repeats (not the dry signal), as well as dry and effected "Echo" output jacks with a switch for output setting (-10, -20, -35db levels.)
Used as a delay/echo, the Roland RE-201 is said to produce an unpredictable delay that is warm and gritty sounding. It is also capable of producing a large variety of its own sound effects, even without an input signal (by turning the intensity control to maximum and allowing the unit to self-regenerate, or self-oscillate, while manipulating the tape speed and other controls).
Despite its age, the Roland RE-201 is widely sought after, and still used by many bands to this day, notably in the experimental work of Radiohead, and the rockabilly stylings of Brian Setzer, the latter using one recently to get the slapback sound sought after for rockabilly and such styles of music. The Roland RE-201 is also extensively used in modern electronic music.
Other Roland tape echo units
The Roland RE-100 Echo Chamber was one of the earliest models of tape delay that Roland produced being released in 1973. Roland had previously been releasing tape delays under the name Ace Tone, these units included the Ace Tone EC-1 (Echo Chamber 1). The Roland RE-100 was released alongside the Roland RE-200 which had the added addition of a spring reverb. The RE-100 was similar in styling to the later Roland tape delay units, house in a similar black wooden casing. The front panel had a mode selector dial with six different delay settings. For repeat sounds settings 1-3 were used and for more of a 'swelling' sound settings 4-6 could be selected. There were controls for intensity which when turned clockwise would increase the number of echoes. The repeat rate control was used for adjusting the repeat times of the echoes. Controls were also available for the echo volume, this would decide how much effected signal would be heard along with the original signal. There were two controls for the tone of the output signal, these were simple bass and treble controls. The difference that these early units had from later models was the standby switch. This switch controlled the tape movement. When the lever was pushed upwards the tape began moving to activate the echo sound. When the echo was not needed the switch was pushed downwards, the idea of the standby switch was to assure longer lives of the tape heads and the tape itself.
The Roland RE-200 was released with the addition of a spring reverb. This was the main difference between the RE-100 and the RE-200. The RE-200 was similar in styling to the later Roland tape delay units, house in a similar black wooden casing. The front panel had a mode selector dial with eleven different effect settings. For repeat sounds settings 1-4 were used and settings 5-11 were used for repeat and spring reverb effects. There were controls for intensity which when turned clockwise would increase the number of echoes. The repeat rate control was used for adjusting the repeat times of the echoes. Controls were also available for the echo volume, this would decide how much effected signal would be heard along with the original signal. There were two controls for the tone of the output signal, these were simple bass and treble controls. The difference that these early units had from later models was the standby switch. This switch controlled the tape movement. When the lever was pushed upwards the tape began moving to activate the echo sound. When the echo was not needed the switch was pushed downwards, the idea of the standby switch was to assure longer lives of the tape heads and the tape itself. The RE-100 and RE-200 were soon replaced by the Roland RE-101 and the Roland RE-201.
The RE-101 was released alongside the Roland RE-201 as part of the second ‘RE’ range. It replaced the earlier Roland RE-100 model and included improvements to build and quality. It was the basic model of the second range and did not include a spring reverb like the RE-201. Features included a new free running system that minimized noise, wow and flutter when the internal tape loop was running, this increased the tape life by 6-15 times (up to 300 hours of use). Other new improvements included lower noise levels that improved the sound quality.
The main differences in the RE-105 compared with the RE 101 are the following:
Two playback heads: According to this, the options of the rotary switch are different also, the first three ("repeat") options are: 1)first head 2)second head, 3)both heads. The three remaining ("single")options are the same but not affected by the Intensity control.
Two outputs: a direct and an echo only output. When only direct output is connected, it gives out dry+echo signal. When both are connected, the direct output gives only the dry signal, the echo only the echo signal, offering this way more options for channeling the signals.
The Roland RE-301 was a regular RE-201 Space Echo with two additional features: sound on sound recording, allowing it to be used as a looper as well as an echo, and an analog chorus circuit.
RE-501 / SRE-555
The Roland RE-501 was the last tape effect that Roland produced as the introduction of digital delay and reverb was quickly replacing the older style tape effects. It included a newer orange and black livery that fit in with the new range of Roland Rack products, such as the Roland SVC-350 vocoder. Roland also released a rackmount version of the RE-501 known as the SRE-555. The RE-501 was built using Roland's free running tape system that minimized wow and flutter and extended the life of the tape for more than 300 hours of use. It included dual outputs for a three dimensional sound. The outputs included unbalanced, and for the first time, balanced XLR outputs putting it into the professional range of studio effects.
The 501 and 555 both had chorus effects, which earlier models did not (see word "Chorus" in the photo). They also had noise reduction systems which gave a much cleaner sound than earlier models
- Brian Setzer of The Stray Cats and The Brian Setzer Orchestra
- Mick Jones of The Clash
- The Beastie Boys
- Nick McCabe of The Verve
- Hank Marvin of The Shadows
- Randy Rhoads of Ozzy Osbourne
- Yngwie Malmsteen
- Harry Dingman III of For Against
- Moritz von Oswald of Basic Channel
- Adam Pearson of The Sisters of Mercy
- Brian Eno
- Boards of Canada
- Bon Iver
- Nils Frahm
- Dave Fielding of The Chameleons UK
- Zachary Cole Smith of DIIV
- Jamie xx of The xx
- Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead
- Noel Gallagher of Oasis
- High Places
- Pink Floyd
- Paul Reynolds of A Flock of Seagulls
- Tim Simenon
- Sonic Youth
- Reggie Watts
- Zombie Nation
- Alan Vega of Suicide
- Wata of Boris
- Lee "Scratch" Perry
- King Tubby
- John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees
- John Mayer
- Tame Impala
- The Orb
- Throbbing Gristle
- The Larry Mondello Band
- Lockett Pundt of Deerhunter and Lotus Plaza
- Mike Mainieri of Steps Ahead
- Jimmy Nail
- Flying Lotus
- Stephen O'Malley
- Owl City
- Roland RE-501 Owners Manual, page 4
- RA: Echospace: In your face ambient - Feature / Interview
- Roland RE-100 & RE-200 Operation Manual, page 4
- Roland RE-201 Operation Manual
- Roland RE-101 Owners Manual, page 2
- Roland RE-501 Owners Manual