The Roland Space Echo. It’s a very evocative name for an effects unit. It conveys a feeling of depth and complexity, which is certainly how many players describe the sound of Roland’s legendary series of echo machines. The warm delay sound, distinctive reverb and subtle chorusing effect are all hallmarks of the unmistakable tone that thousands of guitar players and record producers have found so addictive over the years. Heard on countless recordings and live stages since the 1970s, the Roland Space Echo has the ability to act as the cornerstone of any gear setup, and is as imperative to some musicians as a guitar, drum kit or keyboard is for others.
As one of the most iconic tape delays ever designed, the RE-501 is the last child of Roland’s dynasty of electro-mechanical effect processors. With onboard chorus, spring reverb and noise reduction, this unit sounds so lush, it’s hard to go back to anything else once you’ve tried it.
This box of goodies contains a specialised tape recorder that can create delayed echo effects, together with a great spring reverb and a sweet chorus effect. To create the delay effects, incoming audio is recorded onto a loop of magnetic tape then replayed via one or more playback heads before being erased by incoming audio as the end of the loop is reached. The delay time between echo repeats is adjusted by varying the tape speed. The length or intensity of the echo effect is adjusted by changing the amount of echo signal fed back into the pre-echo signal.
A unique feature of the Roland tape echo devices is that the tape loop is contained in a special ‘tank’ or chamber where it is free to move around as the tape is moved across the record, playback and erase heads by a capstan drive – unlike other tape echo devices that use, for example, cassette-style tape cartridges with the tape wound onto spindles. Allowing the tape to move more freely produced less wow and flutter and reduced tape wear. This design also allowed for a much longer tape length making it possible to create echoes over three seconds in length. These features gave the Roland devices a distinct advantage over their competitors.
The RE-501/SRE-555 were essentially the exact same machine, but built into two different form factors; the RE-501 keeping the classic tolex-covered wooden box of the Space Echo machines before it, whilst the SRE-555 took the form of a large 19” rackmountable chassis. Cosmetically they departed from the classic green/silver colour scheme in favour of black/orange – to match Roland’s popular range of digital rackmounted processor units being produced at the time. A more modern LED display replaced the traditional VU meter. Functionally, the RE-501/SRE-555 contained all of the same features of the RE-301, but the new design reduced noise and also added a fourth playback head to provide the user with even more tonal variety. It was the most advanced (and quiet) Space Echo. The RE-501/SRE-555 proved to be the last tape-based design that Roland ever created.
This RE-501 is in great condition. It works as well today as the day it was let loose in the world sometime in the 1980s. It appears to be in unchanged original condition. All we have done is clean the tape heads and viola – crystal clear analogue tape echo goodness with lots of depth and a unique spaciousness that cannot be achieved with digital technology. You just have to hear it to understand.
The excellent spring reverb is a bonus, and the lush chorus is the signature sound of Roland in the 70s & 80s – it doesn’t get any better.
Apart from some wear on the corners the black tolex is in good condition, all the mechanics are solid and everything works as it should. This is a fine example of a studio and stage staple that has been well looked after, with lots of miles left on the clock.