Outer Space is a faithful emulation of the famous Roland RE201 Space Echo from the 1970s. It is available from Audio Thing in Windows and OSX versions, 32 and 64 bit priced at 49 Euros. It’s also worth noting that registration of Audio Thing products is very easy, simply download the registration key file and load this into the plugin.

Roland manufactured Space Echos between 1973 and 1988 and they are still sought after units, selling for around £1000. When introduced, the effect was somewhat of a revolution. Roland had only been trading for a couple of years when ‘Space Echo’ products RE100 and RE200 were introduced, quickly followed by the RE101 and RE202 a year later in 1974. They were popular for many reasons, including that they were solid units and affordable.

In essence it’s quite a simple system – a loop of tape records the input signal and immediately plays the recorded sound back over play heads before being erased by new incoming audio.

It’s a true analog system and each one tends to sound a bit different due to the quality of components used, the distance / position of tape heads which varies (albeit only a very small amount) between units and the condition of the tape. They offer a warm and somewhat unpredictable sound but they also require quite a lot of maintenance – the tape heads need regular cleaning and the tape needs periodically replacing.

Creating a digital equivalent is therefore no mean feat. The good news is that Audio Thing have done an excellent job. Being faithful to the original, Audio Thing’s Outer Space features an echo section with 3 playback heads and a spring reverb tank. They’ve also modelled 3 different tape frequency responses and saturations along with all the analog imperfections of tape recording / playback. Another essential feature is the modelling of the ballistic response of the delay (repeat) rate which creates unusual pitch shifts due to the doppler effect and is a key feature of tape based echo effects.

Outer Space looks very cool just like the original unit design. It can be described in 5 sections:

The top section contains the preset list – Outer Space comes with 40. There are also save, delete, a very handy random feature and advanced options to enable/disable HQ mode; enable/disable soft clip limiter; apply EQ to reverb (by default only affects the Echo section); oversample to avoid some aliasing when automating the rate of the heads.

The input / output section contains a VU meter, input volume (which can be used to add saturation) and output volume.

The mode selector faithfully reproduces the original 12 combinations of echo playback and reverb. There are 4 echo only, 7 echo and reverb and 1 reverb only.

The main controls are on the right hand side, bass and treble for the echo and short/long decay and volume for the reverb. The delay controls are repeat rate (emulates changes in tape speed); intensity (feedback); wow/flutter (pitch and volume imperfections) and echo volume.

The bottom section contains a number of switches and tape head controls. The send switch is known as the dub switch. When set to off, no input is received into the echo section but any repetition or self-oscillating sounds will continue to play. Wet only disables the dry signal. Stereo enables a 15ms delay on the right channel (off by default). Noise controls the volume of background noise and the envelope control enables/disables the envelope to activate noise only when a signal passes through. Sync enables the delay time to be set to the host BPM and there’s a selectable drop down list for each tape head. When sync is off, the tape head delay can be adjusted manually. The maximum delay lengths vary for each tape head – head 1 is 175ms; head 2 is 340ms and head 3 is 500ms.

The selector switch for different tapes has the orignal RT-1L, a more modern replacement and an older worn out tape.

The presets are an excellent place to get started. There’s a great range showing the potential of the effect and these can easily be tweaked to your own requirements. As with most delays, you’ll get the most out of it by adjusting settings to meet your own requirements, for instance a delay just out of sync creates a really interesting effect. The sound is very warm and captures the analog imperfections really well. Changing the tape type has a noticeable effect on sound quality as each has its own characteristics. You can adjust sound quality further using the wow/flutter, noise controls and saturation to the input signal.

Changing the repeat rate has some unexpected and unusual effects, especially in combination with adjusting the intensity setting. This takes a bit of practice with different input sounds to get a perfect effect, anything from dub type delays to rising pitch effects to psychedelic sounds and feedback loops.

I’ve used Outer Space extensively on the album ‘fading transmissions from a lost satellite’ embedded at the top of this post. I’ve used a range of effects from straightforward reverbs and echos to dub delays, pitched delays and more extreme effects resulting from changing settings during the recording. It was recorded live so there are some imperfections but I’m really pleased with the overall result which includes analog ‘wobbles’ and some really interesting delay effects.

Overall it is an excellent and very interesting delay effect. If you want a clean, precise digital delay then this is not for you but if you like a rich, warm analog sound with all the imperfections of tape and a bit of unpredictability then I would highly recommend it.

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