One of the more annoyingly common claims bandied about online these days is that such and such “broke” the Internet. Usually, it’s a picture of a cat, or a group of cats doing something cute and particular to cats. Well, dear readers, this reviewer is about to annoy someone, because Strymon’s new El Capistan dTape Echo pedal has broken the Tone Report. Why? Because El Capistan provides, hands down, the best-sounding tape echo simulation in a pedal that this writer has yet heard.
This pedal is also featured in Strymon’s TimeLine, a mind-bogglingly comprehensive delay pedal that boasts simulations of nearly every sort of imaginable delay. Strymon, perhaps because of the sheer quality of the company’s technology, decided to integrate the dTape technology into the Timeline. Strymon’s decision is excellent news for echo and delay enthusiasts, because the dTape Echo simulation that El Capistan offers might very well be the closest that most working musicians will get to authentic tape echo and delay.
Whatever algorithms or black magic Strymon has conjured give the dTape Echo an astonishingly warm, surprisingly analog sound. What were most impressive were the little details: the fact that El Capistan offers a “tape crinkle” option, and that the crinkle actually sounds like a crinkle. Even better, the Tape Age knob can add just a little or a lot of wear and tear to the fake tape. The best part is that none of the Wow & Flutter, none of the Aging effects—none of it—gave the impression of being a digital recreation. In fact, this writer was tempted to peek inside El Capistan just to make sure that it didn’t contain a shrunken Echoplex, courtesy of Wayne Szalinski.
For a sense of the pedal’s accuracy with respect to genuine tape machines, consider the “Sound on Sound” mode. By selecting the “Single Head” option with one toggle switch, and Mode C with the other toggle switch, users can both add sounds to and play back from a virtual loop of tape. The Sound on Sound mode differs from the others because this latter mode isn’t meant for slapback echo or delay. Rather, a person can construct a sound collage from small pieces of sound, thereby using El Capistan as a sort of loop station. Here’s the thing: the Sound on Sound mode produces an eerily accurate “lo-fi” sound. Each pass of the tape degrades the signal just a bit. A person can play a chord, let it ring out, and wait for perhaps five minutes as the sound made its way to and from the virtual tape head. Each time, the chord would repeat, but with just a bit less fidelity than the previous pass.
Perhaps much of this review reads as hyperbole, yet do not be fooled: El Capistan sets a high standard for all other tape loop emulators. True, a person could invest hundreds of dollars in a vintage tape echo machine. Yet such an aging device would likely require expensive upkeep. Strymon offers a serious alternative for the working musician in need of tape echo. Give this one a try and you’ll be sure to be hooked.
What we like: Hands-down the best sounding tape echo effect this reviewer has yet heard. A variety of echo effects, a Tap Tempo, stereo output, and an expression pedal jack add to its usefulness.
Concerns: Your bandmates might want to “borrow” this little thing and not give it back.