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Old September 3rd, 2013, 02:25 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Catalinbread Belle Epoch

Well, it's finally here... If you've been following Catalinbread, you know that they've been working on the Belle Epoch - their Echoplex pedal - for quite a while now. There have been lots of photos, lots of commentary and a lone SoundCloud demo.

https://soundcloud.com/catalinbread/betestlong

I have a thing for old-school echo devices, probably because they were all way beyond my financial means as a young guitarist in the late `60s and early `70s. I rocked a Silvertone amp and a Kent guitar back then...

Catalinbread is a Portland company. I live in Portland. So when Catalinbread announced a Belle Epoch release party, I RSVP'd pronto!

Mrs. TDD and I arrived for the final hour-and-a-half of the party. There was a good-sized crowd for a Sunday afternoon; lots of guitar enthusiasts, many of the Catalinbread people (including Boris, the guy who programmed the Belle Epoch's DSP) and a contingent from Pro Guitar Shop. There was a small pile of Belle Epochs available for purchase during the event.

When we arrived, PGS Andy (you know, the guy who does the demos that make you want to buy all the pedals... ) was putting the Belle Epoch through its paces, playing a Strat and a Bassman. As always, Andy knew just how to highlight the strengths of the pedal: some nice ambient chord progressions, some early James Gang riffs, some Zeppelin... all things that kind of defined the sound of the Echoplex. I half expected Andy to launch into Neil Young's Dead Man theme at some point...

When Andy finished putting the Belle Epoch through its paces, I took a turn. I spent about fifteen minutes playing and grinning, finished my beer and whipped out my credit card...

http://instagram.com/p/dvYvwuve8C/

The Belle Epoch... yes, it sounds just like an Echoplex. A real Echoplex; not one of the half-baked sims that get passed off as "tape delay". How can you tell the difference...? How about:

1) They captured the sound of the EP preamp. Even with the echoes turned all the way down, the preamp adds a nice bit of warmth and fullness to the guitar sound. I've read that, like the Catalinbread Echorec, there's an internal switch to select either true-bypass or always active mode; the latter allows echoes to trail off naturally after you disengage the pedal, and keeps the preamp in the chain all the time. My Belle Epoch came out of the box in true-bypass mode.

2) If you've ever heard a real Echoplex with a less-than-perfect tape, you'd notice that there's a periodicity to the wobble, but also a lot of randomness. Lesser emulations punt and add a bit of perfectly-regular modulation to the speed. Slightly better emulations combine a low-frequency wobble ("wow") and a higher-frequency wobble ("flutter") which is a nice try, but really more of a tape-recorder thing. A real Echoplex is a finicky beast with lots of random sticks and slips to the tape motion. Catalinbread got this right.

3) The "record level" control is an essential part of the Echoplex sound. Turn it up and you can saturate the tape and even overdrive the recording preamp, adding a nice touch-sensitive grit to the echoes while leaving the direct sound clean. Catalinbread got this right, too.

4) Another characteristic behavior of the Echoplex (and other tape echo units) is that the echoes change character slightly each time they're recycled through the feedback loop. There's not only a progressive loss of low-end energy in the echoes (which is great because there's more "room" for your guitar sound even if you crank up the mix and repeats), but there's also some tape distortion that creeps in to give the repeats a nice warmth. This is all spot-on in the Belle Epoch.

6) The playback head on an Echoplex is mounted on a slider. To change the delay time, you move the head. Because the head is moving relative to the already-moving tape, the speed at which you move the head creates some very specific sounds. When you move the head slowly, there's a slight pitch modulation. When you move the head quickly, you get a higher-pitched modulation. Most emulations punt on this: some don't even bother with the modulation; some attempt it; some create a horrible "digital zipper" noise while you're changing the delay time. Catalinbread seems to take great pride in having nailed the behavior of the real Echoplex; listen to their SoundCloud demo and you'll hear what I mean...

The mix range goes from completely dry all the way to completely wet. Near the upper end of that range you can have the echo be louder than the dry guitar. Cool for Jimmy Page fans...

Of course the Belle Epoch can do runaway feedback. What's really cool, though, is to set the feedback just below the point where it runs away and turn the record level control up a bit. When you play louder, the repeats swell and get denser. When you play softer, the repeats mellow out. When you stop, the repeats gradually fade to nothing. I don't know whether this is an Echoplex thing or something specific to the Belle Epoch. Regardless, it's very cool. It's one of those things that elevates the Belle Epoch to more of an "instrument" rather than just an "effect".

Bottom line: I highly recommend the Belle Epoch to anyone who really appreciates the idiosyncracies of old-school tape delays. I play every such effect I can get my hands on; the Belle Epoch - with its careful attention to nuance and detail - redefines this category.

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Old September 3rd, 2013, 02:39 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Thanks for review! Ordered one. And new catalinbread Formula 5F6. It would be interesting to compare it with my El Cap. They sure would be pretty different, since El Cap does not into all that preamp and overdriven repeats, but still it would be interesting. But I am expecting, that Belle Epoch would be nice for my slapback, Neil Young tone and some psych experiments.
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Old September 3rd, 2013, 02:40 PM   #3 (permalink)
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This just up:

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Old September 3rd, 2013, 03:09 PM   #4 (permalink)
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The new PGS vids really does sound A LOT like the EP-3 I had for a while, at least in character. That sound, without the cost and cleaning and tape messing up or wearing out is giving me some gas. I use a good bit of delay so it wouldn't be a useless purchase. My only current delay too is a Mallekko 616 Lo-Fi. I think they would compliment each other well, the EP-3 sure did.

The only thing it seems to be missing is the "awful things I forgot I recorded" knob.
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Old September 3rd, 2013, 03:56 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Catalinbread just put 2 demos on their youtube channel. However, they are working intermittently.... I finally got to see the tele one. Sounds reeeeeeeeeealy good. I won't buy one until I've read some reviews here, I've been the guinea pig on more than a couple "new delays"...

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Old September 7th, 2013, 03:18 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Here are two live improvised trio recordings from this past week. The Belle Epoch is on the guitar in both tracks. It's subtle on the first track, and very pronounced on the second.

https://soundcloud.com/davidlamkins/...cycle-20130905
https://soundcloud.com/davidlamkins/...stone-varykino

The more pronounced, patterned echo that you hear on certain short passages of the first track is the Echorec.

[These'll be up only for a few weeks. I'll eventually delete them to make room for other recordings.]

Last edited by TieDyedDevil; September 7th, 2013 at 04:20 PM.
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Old September 7th, 2013, 03:50 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I just saw Andy's demo yesterday and was very impressed. Lots of great ambient sounds in that box. WANT (but I'll just have to be happy with my DD-7 for now.)
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Old September 7th, 2013, 04:06 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Very impressive. Gonna have to try one out when I get a chance, looks like a blast for laying down some crazy experimental tracks. Price is reasonable too.
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Old September 7th, 2013, 04:56 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Another PGS Andy demo:

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Old September 7th, 2013, 08:56 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Cool, review, thanks. Seems like everyone (by "everyone" I mean TGP) is saying pretty much the same things... and all good.

I've really been getting into delay recently, and have no need for bells and whistles. I've never liked modulation on delay, don't even really need beyond 400ms and actually prefer digital to analog, but want something with a little 'texture' to the tone, so this seems perfect for me. I love that it has a genuinely tape-like modulation to it, and not just vibrato/chorus, which I really don't like. Plus it's great to see C'bread applying their "amp-in-a-box" approach to a different kind of pedal. Digital modelling but with the warmth and tone of a dirt pedal due to the preamp and such.

While it's being hyped, I'm genuinely impressed and interested, and despite the price buying new I'm really, really tempted to buy one when they land over here in the UK, as I'm pretty much done with pedals and just need to settle on a delay. (At least that's how I'm justifying it to myself!) I might even go to my local store and try it out in person next to my Deep Blue Delay to see which one I prefer.
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Old September 7th, 2013, 11:00 PM   #11 (permalink)
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If you're going to get "just one" delay pedal and have the opportunity to try before you buy, consider both the Belle Epoch and the Echorec. Each has its own very distinctive vibe.
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Old September 7th, 2013, 11:45 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Geeze, I'm going to need a delay and keep hearing all the good stuff about this pedal. There's a few other pedals on the list before I can get this one, but it sounds like just what the tone doctor ordered. Thanks for the review!

It's my understanding that "Belle Epoch" means "Beautiful Pig" in Italian. Why did they pick that as the name?
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Old September 8th, 2013, 02:47 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Geeze, I'm going to need a delay and keep hearing all the good stuff about this pedal. There's a few other pedals on the list before I can get this one, but it sounds like just what the tone doctor ordered. Thanks for the review!

It's my understanding that "Belle Epoch" means "Beautiful Pig" in Italian. Why did they pick that as the name?
It's actually French for "beautiful era".
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Old September 8th, 2013, 03:30 AM   #14 (permalink)
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Well, close enough to "Belle Époque" to sound French, at least... ;)
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Old September 9th, 2013, 05:53 AM   #15 (permalink)
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It's actually French for "beautiful era".
No, that's the two decades in France before the First World War.
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Old September 9th, 2013, 01:03 PM   #16 (permalink)
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No, that's the two decades in France before the First World War.
Wow, I didn't know they had Echo-Plexes in France in 1890.
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Old September 10th, 2013, 03:18 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Catalinabread is really producing great stuff right now. I have really loved my Wampler FTE but both the Belle and the Echorec are lurking in my periphery. I've only got one slot for a delay available so it has to be diverse and I've worried that both pedals are too specific to one set of sounds, albeit really amazing ones.
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Old September 11th, 2013, 07:36 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Just pulled the trigger on the Belle Epoch. I'll wait and see if it makes me put my MXR CC up on Craig's List.
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Old September 11th, 2013, 09:32 AM   #19 (permalink)
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I've had the MXR Carbon Copy for quite a while and find it to be a worthy pedal. After reading about the Strymon Timeline, I decided to get that. It was an awesome pedal that has every imaginable and some beyond imagination delays, with pre-sets and tons of features. It proved to be too much for me in complication and needs, so I sold it.

I was very close to pulling the trigger on the Fulltone Tape Echo for an authentic delay but it has such a massive footprint, price tag and maintenance required that I got talked into getting a T-Rex Replica. That's a very good sounding delay.

But, it didn't stop. I wound up getting the Catlainbread EchoRec and that is an outstanding delay. I will also get the Belle Epoch.

I have a board at the office and one at home, and I'm putting together a mini for when I go out to jam. If I sell one it would be the Carbon Copy.

I like the simplicity of the delays that replaced the Timeline.
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Old September 11th, 2013, 11:14 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Guys, I have a Mad Prof Deep Blue Delay.

The guy who traded it with me wants it back so I told him if he buys a CB belle epoch ill trade it for the MP. What do you guys think? I mainly use delay to add some depth and warmth, ambience kind of sounds.

Do you think it will be a good only delay? I'm still on the fence.
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