SoundToys EchoBoy 3.01

February 26, 2008

Although EchoBoy is capable of producing nearly any delay sound imaginable, its greatest claim to fame may be its uncanny ability to simulate classic analog and digital units. The SoundToys team examined dozens of vintage devices, but rather than literally modeling them, they instead created an effects architecture with enough essential building blocks and programming flexibility to not only mimic those sounds, but to mix and match them in various ways, and even warp them into entirely new creations.

There are 31 Echo Styles that serve as launching pads for EchoBoy’s ambient excursions, nine of which attempt to nail particular vintage units, including a solid-state EchoPlex EP-3, a Roland RE-301 Space Echo, an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man, Boss DM-2 and CE-1 pedals, the infamous Tel-Ray “oil can” echo, and an Ampex ATR-102 reel-to-reel (remember that the earliest studio delay effects were created using tape recorders). Other Echo Styles—such as Cheap Tape, Fat, and Splattered—are less specific, and you can also devise entirely new Echo Styles using the Style Editor, which provides a powerful 3-band EQ, nine types of Saturation, and various shades of Diffusion and Wobble.

Echo Styles may be configured in any of four Modes: Single Echo, Dual Echo, Ping Pong Echo, and Rhythm Echo. Rhythm Echo—an extremely versatile multi-tap delay line with up to 16 taps—goes light years beyond conventional multi-tap delays by allowing you to program rhythm patterns via its ingenious interactive grid display and manifold controls. And, no matter which of the four Modes you choose, you can make EchoBoy sound more musical by engaging Groove (which sweeps a range from Shuffle to Swing) and/or Feel (which offsets the timing across a range from Rushin’ to Draggin’). Naturally, tap-tempo and MIDI sync are also available.

The ability to mix and match Echo Styles with the four Modes means that you can, say, conjure wild Eventide H3000 multi-tap effects from an EchoPlex, pluck ping-pong stereo delays out of Tel-Ray’s viscous depths, or funnel Diffused’s myriad reflections into mono. Here’s another example of the fun you can have: Based on its preset name, the Binsonette Echo Style appears to be the lovechild of a Binson Echorec and a Klemt Echolette, but the program utilizes the Ping-Pong mode, which bounces between the right and left outputs. Those two vintage units actually had multiple heads, so by switching to Rhythm Echo mode, and activating six taps, I was able to simulate the sound of multi-head playback and sync the delays to MIDI.

EchoBoy’s user interface—which varies slightly depending on which of the four Modes is selected—is relatively intuitive and uncluttered. Controls for the main echo parameters—Echo Time, Feedback, Mix, etc.—are located on the left, with additional controls available by clicking the Tweak button. The Mode selector and rhythm-oriented controls, such as Tap-Tempo, MIDI sync, Groove, and Feel are located in the center. And on the right are the Style selector, and controls for Saturation, Input level, and Output level. The latter two affect the effect levels only—not the dry signal—allowing you to overdrive them like you might on an analog unit.

In case all of this programmability induces option anxiety, EchoBoy comes loaded with more than 300 presets, logically organized into 14 groups: Bass, Chorus, Classics, Drums, Effects, Extreme, Feedbackers, Guitar, Reverbs, Rhythmic, Solo, Style Tour, Vocal, and Vocal FX. Most of the presets are so good that you can easily use them as they are, but they also make great starting points for creating your own.

I tested the Audio Units version of EchoBoy within MOTU Digital Performer 5.12 on an Apple G5 2.7 Dual with 4.5GB of RAM. Although I occasionally played through the plug-in when tracking guitar, I mostly employed it during mixing. In the same way that the tube circuitry of an early-’60s Copicat or Echoplex can impart magic to your sound—whether the tape delay is engaged or not—even the simplest effects endowed my tracks with such a fat, round, and wonderful vibe that I continually found myself wanting to use EchoBoy on everything.

In addition to the Echoplex, Space Echo, Tel-Ray, and Binsonette presets, the other programs I used on recent sessions included: WarmCrispyTape (an all-purpose Tube Tape echo), 15 isp Tape Echo (a Studio Tape Elvis-style slapback), ResOnAndOn (an Analog Delay “feedbacker” that creates an ocean of delays), Tape Flange Eighths (a Studio Tape old-school tape flange), and Warm Density (a huge-sounding, resonant Custom “reverb”).

My only complaint is that currently loaded presets are not indicated anywhere on the interface, or in the menu when using the Audio Units version, so there’s no way to know where you are should you fail to remember for some reason. (Note that preset names do appear when using the TDM and RTAS versions, and SoundToys is currently looking into a preset management system that works for all. Additionally, at press time the company was days away from releasing version 3.02, which increases native performance and considerably reduces CPU usage.)

That quibble notwithstanding, I am completely enamored with EchoBoy, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Also, while EchoBoy is already a steal, for less than a hundred dollars more you can get the entire SoundToys Native Effects 3.0 bundle ($495 retail/$395 street), which also includes FilterFreak (a pair of plugs packed with hundreds of vintage-style filter effects), PhaseMistress (myriad analog-like phaser effects under extensive digital control), Tremolator (ditto for tremolo), and EchoBoy’s crazy sister Crystallizer (an amazing granular echo based on the Crystal Echoes preset in the classic Eventide H3000). Pro Tools native users also get Speed, a simple yet highly versatile pitch/ tempo converter.

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