Roland Chorus Echo 555
When you think about it (and we here at One Two drink about it all the time), there can't be another race in the world that has such a strange attitude towards technology as the musician (that's you).
On one hand you demand the latest in hardware... if it's not digital it don't get on the bus... yet you're ready to defend the old, battered and hopelessly out-of-date machine because it has THE sound that a floppy of computer operators couldn't equal if they had three years and a brewery at their disposal.
Such is the Roland 555 Chorus Echo... NOT to say that it's an old, battered and hopelessly out-of-date machine. Oh no, I only dropped it down the stairs once. But it does use tapes which are about as welcome among the all-knowing echo fraternity as last night's chewing gum in this morning's coffee.
Even so, many players who are surrounded by state of the art instruments have stayed loyal to past Chorus Echoes and are becoming equally as dedicated to the 555. Take Stuart Neale of Kajagoogoo, on this month's centre spread — a Jupiter 8, a PPG Wave 2.2 and a Yamaha piano, but they all go through a 555.
Echoplexes (old ones) have a similar following and it's all to do with the way tape treats an echo. Somehow it seems warmer and wider than an I.C. even though tape is certain to introduce extra distortion, hiss and wow.
Keyboard players in particular swear by the 555 or its predecessor, the 301. One of the major attractions is that it can produce chorus, echo and reverb all at once. Unlike a digital delay line, you don't have to choose one of the three and set the controls accordingly.
Okay, so you could go out and buy a chorus pedal, an echo box and a reverb spring, and link them together, but the 555 saves you the job. If you're looking not for pristine repetition, but for a Grand Canyon sound, the 555 does the trick.
It's a heavy so-and-so, and is designed to be rack-mounted though can be left free standing, providing you watch out for the sharp corners. There is a boxed version, should you prefer. All the sockets and controls are at the front — none of this peering round the back with a torch, trying to identify the DDL's input.
A line of red LEDs indicates the input signal strength (I found the old two colour meters easier to understand) and below them are two balanced XLR sockets acting as input and output. Immediately to the right is a further jack socket input with volume control and a three position level switch to take mike or line signals. A similar switch nestles alongside the jack outputs that provide a mix of dry and delayed signals on socket A, or isolate the two components when you also plug into socket B.
Three white push buttons select the effects — chorus, echo and sound-on-sound. The last disconnects the tape deck's erase mechanism so you can continue overlaying new notes, building up a complex pattern. The longest delay time is 1.8 seconds, the shortest is 0.55 seconds.
The chorus unit has its own intensity control and is best when set around half way, otherwise it tends to be over muddy.
The reverb doesn't possess an on/off switch (ah) but has a level control which will reduce to zero. Again, half way is more than enough for most ears, unless you make a habit of playing at the bottom of wells.
A rotary click stop control offers six basic echo times — short, medium and long then short, medium and long again, but this time with a double echo, presumably introduced by an extra head. Finer tuning of the delay time is via another knob that slows or speeds the motor. It's adequate for most purposes, but obviously not as accurate or detailed as the CDEs.
There's a volume knob for the echoed half of the signal to establish the right mix, an intensity (feedback) control which determines how long the echoes continue, and one more switch which cuts any intensity setting to a single, repeat.
The panel is topped-off by bass and treble eq and a power switch. The chorus, echo and sound-on-sound can all be selected remotely by footswitches plugging into a row of sockets near the bottom of the panel.
Having destined the 555 for rack mounting, Roland have equipped it with a new sliding system for changing the cartridges of 'endless tape' — a long loop which wriggles around inside a shallow, clear-topped container. Two screws can be removed (with a coin if needs be) and the 555 rolls out so a fresh cartridge can be dropped into place. THAT'S the 'endless' draw back, of course. Tapes do wear, they do stretch and they do need to be replaced at about £45 for a box of ten. You never have to reach into the back of a DDL to pull out a worn chip.
Review by Paul Colbert
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