Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: PSP Echo

Product: Echo  Delay Plug-in
Developer: PSP Audioware
Format: PC (VST, RTAS, and AAX) and Mac (AU, VST, RTAS, and AAX)
Demo: Available on product page.
Price: $99 (introductory offer until September 17th, only $79)

PSP Audioware are no strangers to delay plug-ins, having previously released Lexicon PSP 42, PSP 85, and the PSP 608 Multi-delay, but until now they hadn't taken a swing at creating a tape delay.  That all changes with the newest member of the PSP family, the simply-named Echo.

PSP Echo is a feature-laden emulation of a tape echo unit.  If you're not familiar with this type of effect, back in the days before digital delays, echo effects were achieved with a unit that basically contained a specially modified tape recorder.  A record head would record the incoming signal to tape and an adjustable playhead would then play the signal back slightly later depending on the settings.  What made it special was that you could set it up so each successive delay either brightened or darkened in tone, which, with high feedback settings, could create some wonderfully degrading sounds.  This very warm, distinctive type of echo eventually became a hallmark of dub music.

Installation is simple as can be and authorization is performed by via use of an automatic authorization program downloaded from the PSP website.

Documentation consists of a 14-page illustrated PDF file.  It does a good job of explaining the function of each of the controls in a concise manner.  It does assume some degree of familiarity with how a delay works, but that's the sort of thing easily discoverable through some experimentation.  It's more fun that way, too.

Like all of PSP's plug-ins, Echo mimics the look of vintage hardware, right down to the wood panels.  Controls are laid out in an easy-to-read and logic manner, making tweaking easy and fun.

The top line of controls consists of settings for the virtual "tape" that creates the delays including "wow" frequency and depth to imitate the warping experienced on old machines with inconsistent tape speed.  You can even set the IPS (inches per second) that controls the quality of the sound recorded to tape.  Slower speeds result in a darker, less hi-fi sound, with high speeds providing the opposite.  There is also an input knob that lets you trim the input levels of the signal, and settings that allow you to manually set delay times or have them automatically sync to your hosts tempo.  You'll also find the Ping Pong knob which allows you to control the amount of stereo ping-pong in the delays from quite wide to mono.

On the very right side of the top row is the Ducker button.  Depressing this switches views from the tape settings to the settings for the built-in ducker.  This is useful for preventing the echos from clashing with the original input sound and is a nice luxury not usually found on these types of effects.  You'll find settings for the Threshold (the level at which the ducker kicks in), Range (amount of signal attenuation), Open (how long it takes the ducker to open), and Close (bet you can guess what that does).

The center panel consists of all the controls for the timing of your echoes.  As mentioned previously, these can automatically sync to note divisions of your DAW's host tempo, or can be set manually in milliseconds like we did in the bad old days.  As a third option, there is a Tap Tempo control to allow you to manually tap in the tempo you'd like the delays to occur in.  Finally, if your delays get a bit out of control due to high feedback settings, there is a panic button that will stop the effect.

On either side of the center panel are identical sets of controls for both the left and right channels.  These include knobs for Drive (adds a tape-like saturation to the delayed sound), highpass, lowpass, and combined filters for altering the tonal content of each successive echo, Feedback (the number of echos), and FB-Pan, which allows you to set the pan for the delayed signal.

Finally, at the bottom is the Output section.  Here you'll find settings for Linking channels (so both left and right channels have the same settings), Spread (controls the stereo spread of the dry signal), Dry Balance (balance between the left and right channels), and your standard Wet/Dry controls.

Echo is one of those plug-ins that clearly had a lot of thought put into it.  Sure, it does what you expect it to, but they throw in nice extras like the ducker or the tape speed selector that take it a step beyond.  It's easy enough to use for beginners, but there is plenty to be tweaked under the hood for more experienced users, so it's a plug-in that will grow with the user.

Soundwise, the quality is every bit as excellent as you would expect from PSP's rather sterling reputation.  The tape effects sound extremely convincing and exhibit all the artifacts of the real deal as you change settings on the fly.  In terms of flexibility, you can achieve just about any kind of delay effect you might need from short, rockabilly slapbacks for vocals and guitar, to trippy, evolving dub echoes.  The tape wow emulation also sounds great on pads and sustained sounds for making them sound like they're coming from a piece of gear on its last legs.

For many years, my tape echo plug-in of choice was the excellent one built in to Logic.  I think that all may change, though, now that Echo is on the scene.  [10/10]


MrNullDevice said...

Have you ever taken a look at SoundToys EchoBoy? It's a very deep delay modeller.

Anonymous said...

This review is spot-on, and so is the verdict score of a perfect 10. A brilliant little device from a really excellent company on top of their game. Echo will be getting plenty of use in my set-up, and is inspiring as a tool in its own right - it makes me write differently to show what it can do.

Tom said...

MrNullDevice - Nope, never used any of the SoundToys stuff. Dongle = no sale to me.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree, I would have bought SoundToys Echoboy a while back but the fact that they use a dongle makes it a definite no, no mater how good it is.. and it is really good.

Going to demo PSP Delay now.