Pedal Review: Empress Tape Delay
Review by Ian Garrett
The Pedal: Empress Tape Delay
The Point: Simulated Tape Delay
The Cost: $249
Find the Empress Tape Delay at Pro Guitar Shop
A number of years ago, Empress Effects came out with the Superdelay, one of the baddest delays to hit pedal boards since, well, in a long time. It quickly put Empress on the map as one of the premier boutique pedal builders. It was also a sign, if you will that the small-shop effects builders were becoming a force to be reckoned with.
For a while there wasn’t much competition for the Superdelay, but its hefty price tag of $450 put it out of reach of many. Much has changed in the last few years like increased competition from other top-notch builders, as well as more mainstream companies offering a wide array of features in compact and not- so- compact delays. But one thing remains with the Superdelay – while the original may seem a bit dated next to a Strymon Timeline for example, the tape delay mode is still a favorite for many seeking that wonderful vintage tape sound, and remains one of the best tape emulators in the business. In fact, for many users of the Superdelay, this is often the only mode used (guilty as charged).
Empress has now done what many of us had been hoping. They created a stripped- down version utilizing only the essential features of the tape setting of the Superdelay. It features a smaller box with an all analog dry path, up to three presets, and a more wallet-friendly price of $249.
Knobs, Switches and Toggles – How They Interact
The Tape Delay has two footswitches, four knobs, and four toggles that control various parameters. Let’s take a quick look at the four toggle switches, as these little things can make a big difference. There are four different switches, from left to right: the type of tape delay; the choice of tap tempo or slow/fast option; a filter option; and finally the modulation choices. The tap tempo switch doesn’t really affect the tone, so I’ll focus on the other three:
· Type: Choose from a pristine new tape machine, a vintage unit, or an old unit. There is a significant difference to each option, the most dramatic between the new unit, which gives you very clean repeats with no tape warble or wow and flutter noise, to the old unit. With the old unit, it has the high end rolled off some with more tape warble present - emulating a tape machine that has had better days, yet still maintains that warm analog goodness we all love.
· Filter: The filter acts like a tone control in a way. In the middle position you bypass the filter and your signal remains unaltered. In the HP (high pass) filter, it filters out the lower end of the spectrum, leaving you with only the upper midrange and treble with each repeat. The repeats sounds almost like an old AM station. The LP (low pass) filters out the upper end of the audio spectrum, keeping the low end and midrange mostly intact. The high end roll-off isn’t overly dramatic, but it cuts just enough to give you a nice warm feel to your repeats, without sounding like mush. Some tape delay emulators can sound overly dark, which some enjoy, but I find the repeats can get lost in the mix too easily, with the sound being very murky. Not the case here.
· Modulation: Again, you have the middle position that adds no modulation. Little modulation adds some subtle modulation, like a slight tape warble. It is not over the top at all, but you notice it more when you turn it off. The Lots of modulation option gives you more wow and flutter, and with longer delays that are longer in nature, you’ll hear the effect last longer and become more prevalent.
I was surprised by how dramatic the different tones could be, depending on how I tweaked the settings. For example, set the unit to New, with no filter engaged and no added modulation. In this mode you get very clean, consistent repeats. Not pristine, but close. It works great with a fast slapback setting too.
In contrast, set the Tape Delay to Old>LP filter on> Lots of modulation. Your repeats are instantly darker, with less clarity on every repeat, and an increased amount of wow and flutter as the delays trail off. This sounds like an older, somewhat dilapidated tape delay unit that has seen better days, but has that magical tone you don’t want to give up.
Features aside, the Tape Delay has another special quality. It will inspire you. You can get lost for hours playing just about anything that comes to mind, and you can set the delays to fade away quickly in the background, or to be front in center. It mixes with your clean tone in a way few delays can, and I’ve owned a lot – it just sounds right. In the end, a pedal that gives you numerous different tones, yet is simple and thoughtfully laid out – and most importantly it makes you want to play and is relatively affordable, this is about as good as it gets. It receives my first five star rating and a permanent place on my pedal board.
5 – Tremendous product; among the very best
4 – Great value overall; exceeds expectations
3 – Definite contender, but look closely at the competition too
2 – Average at best; probably better choices exist
1 – Not ready for prime time