The German-made Echomixer has been something of a secret studio weapon for some time. It features a simple, germanium-transistor drive circuit feeding a Gibbs tank and no recovery amp. Operating as a 3-channel mono mixer, the Echomixer is very suited to use with guitar whether you’re playing live, recording, or mixing. Given the vagaries of germanium-transistor aging, you’ll often find subtle—or stark—differences between the three channels, expanding what was an already-pleasing sonic palette. Channel A has no reverb, but channels B and C have low- and high-sensitivity inputs. Cream-colored wheels control input gain, allowing you to dial in overdrive, while the horizontal sliders below each channel mix in the reverb effect.
As with the Grampians, these units often require work to get up to spec—and also to interface with today’s users: The inputs are 5-pin DIN sockets rather than quarter-inch inputs. We modify them with a wet-only switch and quarter-inch input, and upgrade the trailing lead output jack to a more robust modern variety. The reverb sound is fuller and smoother than many of the other units on test here, and the added option of being able to dial in delicious warm germanium distortion makes this a firm favorite for guitar and mixdown use.
Roland RE-201 Space Echo
The Japanese-made Space Echo is included here as a benchmark due to its ubiquity. Most well-equipped studios have one in a corner somewhere, because even if the tape-echo section isn’t working well, the reverb is not to be ignored. We love RE-201s, and the spring tank is a big part of the appeal. The Space Echo’s discrete preamps can work very well with guitar and get wonderfully crunchy when pushed. Because they were made in four separate factories, RE-201s actually come in several circuit varieties, and they can have very different tonal characteristics. It’s always worth trying a 201 (or 301, 501, or 555) if you’re looking for another reverb flavor, as the Roland spring sound is very classy indeed.
Roland VX-55 Mixing Amplifier
I’m a big fan of the old Roland PA mixers from Japan. They have the same spring tank as the Space Echo range, but, unlike the discrete RE-201, their input amplifier uses a 4558 op-amp chip—which means you get the added bonus of gnarly distortion when you drive the inputs hard. (The 3-position switch by the input socket for each of the six channels yields instant access to a range of colorful options). Add to this the fact that each channel has a 2-band EQ and a switchable mono effect send/return (if you don’t want to use the onboard spring effect), and you have a potent stage and studio tool. Simply use the line out to go into your amp, mixing desk, or recording interface. And with so many channels available, you can get creative with mixing your other gear or bandmates, or use it as a submixer for your pedals. In all, the VX-55—as well as the similarly equipped VX-60 and VX-120, and the later PA-80, PA-150, and PA-250 mixers, all of which feature the same spring tank—constitutes a great option that you may just pick up at a thrift store or garage sale for a song. And they work as neat little PA amps, as well.
Korg Stage Echo SE-300
Another Japanese wonder comes in the form of Korg’s Stage Echo. It’s not as common as the Rolands, but well-maintained examples tend to sound clearer and cleaner as delays. The spring tank offers a longer decay and sounds great with guitar, possibly because of a slight 3kHz peak.