Evans SE-810 and MX-99
The Evans Super Echo differs from the other models examined this month in that it is a tape-based unit intended largely for live use in conjunction with a mixer send and PA system. The Evans SE-810 Creative Sound Super Echo, to use its full title, is clearly styled after the enormously popular Roland Space Echo and Chorus Echo, or the Korg Stage Echo, and although it does not have the full specification of these models it is considerably cheaper. While Roland's recent price rises have increased the cost of the RE-201 Space Echo to £550, the Evans comes in at a fraction over £330.
Echoes are produced by the tried and trusted Copicat method of one Record/Erase head and four replay heads. The tape comes in a loop about 15 feet long, of a standard ¼" format for good reproduction, and is moved at a variable speed by a rubber pinch wheel. Changing a tape is reasonably easy, with only a couple of pressure pads to slacken off and four finger-screws to remove from the protective perspex panel.
Variations in the echo sound are obtained by switching in different combinations of the playback heads, altering the tape speed and controlling the degree of feedback to the record head and thus the number of repeats. Since the physical layout of the tape playback mechanism — the fixed gap between record and playback heads for instance — proves a limit to the versatility of the system, other arrangements are generally made for producing reverberation.
Within the SE-810 there is a spring line unit to produce reverb. This consists of a metal-encased pair of standard 6" springs, which can be switched in using various combinations as described below. Disassembly of the echo to inspect the spring lines is far from easy, but once accomplished it becomes clear that the design is simple but reliable. The circuitry in the record section is entirely discrete, and the bulk and solidity of the unit comes from a design using overlapping metal panels, heavy wooden construction and large numbers of screws of different shapes and sizes. There's something old-fashioned about this type of design, but if it leads to reliability it's entirely justified.
A rotary switch connects the playback heads in the combinations 1+2+3, 2+3, 1+3, 1+2, 3, 2 or 1 alone. A pot balances dry and echo levels, while a further two pots select number of echo repeats (from one to feedback) and delay time (by adjusting the running speed of the tape loop).
The Reverb can be faded up to any level desired, and Treble and Bass equalisation are available on its output, although these are by no means vital since the line isn't particularly noisy. Two footswitch sockets are available for Echo and Reverb, and there are three outputs; PA out (echo only -20dB) Head Phone (mix out) and a variable Output for -14dB, -26dB or -30dB.
The remaining controls on the right hand panel are white pushbuttons which determine the order of connection of the echo facilities. The buttons cannot be used in combination; the first one gives Echo (tape echo only), the second gives Echo Reverb (a reverberated sound passed to the tape echo), the third gives Cathedral (a tape echosound passed to the reverb) and the fourth Reverb (spring line only). Using a combination of these controls gives a huge number of possible effects, as detailed below.
The versatile input stage has three channels and a VU meter with peak LED to indicate possible overload distortion. Each channel is intended to be Universal and has its own rotary fader, matched with a Mic/Line selector switch. Each channel also has an Effect On/Off switch, which means that the Evans alone can act as a mini-mixer, with echo being added to each instrument or not as desired.
All the controls and connections on the SE-810 are on the front panel, so there are no problems with accessibility even if the unit is used in a rackmounting format (for which it's not obviously intended). The input section is highly versatile, and the VU meter helps to avoid distortion.
The maximum echo length is about a second. When repeat is near maximum this extends into a very deep and sustained repeat echo, with a gradual degradation of tone which is the inevitable trademark of tape designs. Fading up a little reverb puts the input signal whether from guitar or keyboard far into the distance subjectively, while full use of Cathedral gives a very impressive sense of space. Considering the fairly ordinary springs used, this is quite praiseworthy.
As previously mentioned, the unit has a distinctive tape echo quality which can't be duplicated by a digital unit: neither can it produce the very clear effects, flanging and chorus at which digital echoes excel. Use of a unit such as the SE-810 would be very much a matter of choice, but its particular specification should appeal to the taste of many guitarists, rock musicians and synthesists of the mid-70's school.
The Evans SE-810 Super Echo is available price £333.72 from Blue Suede Music, (Contact Details).
The MX-99 is a budget BBD analogue design suitable as a first echo unit or as an effect for vocals on stage. It has four main controls: Input Volume, with a Peak indicating LED; Balance between Echo and Dry; Repeat, or number of echoes; and Delay Time, or echo speed. In addition there are two inputs, for Mic at -46dB and Instrument at -26dB; an On/Off footswitch socket; and a Mix Output at -20dB. The Power switch is a small toggle at the bottom right of the front panel, and there's also a Peak Level LED to indicate feedback in the echo circuit.
The Delay time is variable between about 20-200mS and the frequency response is up to 3 or 4 kHz. This is sufficient for vocals, but clearly not of studio recording quality. Signal to noise ratio is around 60dB, again not unacceptable for many applications but not quite up to recording standards. Construction is fairly simple, on a single inexpensive PCB which mounts all the components other than the mains transformer.
The MX-99 gives every indication of being reliable and hard-wearing, and within the limitations of sound quality described can give satisfyingly deep echoes, a hard metallic reverb on fast settings or a single slapback echo up to around a third of a second. Possibly its potential could be exhausted fairly quickly, but as an introduction to the use of echo and at the price quoted it could still be a useful purchase.
The Evans MX-99 Mini Echo is available price £77.11 from Blue Suede Music, (Contact Details).