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The Roland RE-201 – The Infamous Space Echo!

More than a decade before Taito’s “Space Invaders” introduced aliens to earthly arcades, Roland’s RE-201 was already creating sounds that seemed to come from out of this world. Commonly known as the Space Echo, Roland’s tape echo machine launched in 1974. 

The design of the RE-201 is much simpler than rocket science. The machine is equipped with three inputs – one for an instrument and two for microphones. As the sound goes into the box, the incoming signal is recorded on a small loop of tape, which is fed in a serpentine pattern through the RE-201’s tape tank. As the magnetic tape comes into contact with playback heads, the sound is then replayed immediately before continuing its cycle through the tape chamber. This analog system of constantly running tape ensures that the recorded sound is slightly delayed upon playback before it is erased just in time to record new incoming signals. 

On top of the machine rests a plastic covering, meant to protect the fragile ribbon, prevent tangling, and muffle the noise as the tape weaves its way through the playheads. Although this added feature succeeds in slowing general wear and tear on the tape, breakage is at times unavoidable. Luckily, replacement tape, called RT-1L, is also available from Roland. 

Where Can I Buy A Roland RE-201?

Manipulating the control dials lined up on the front of the device gives users more control over the RE-201’s playback effects. A few twists and turns of the knobs change the speed of the tape, echo, reverb, intensity, repeat rate, and repeat pattern. Additional tweaking can be used to trigger the machine’s spring reverb and bass/treble controls.

For pure sound effects instantly indicative of sci-fi flicks, the RE-201 lives up to its nickname. Even without an input signal, the Space Echo can produce a variety of interstellar sounds if the intensity is turned up to the max and a user experiments with tape speed and oscillation.

Often described as gritty and unpredictable, the RE-201 nevertheless inspired a new generation of aural explorers to test the limits of musicality and sound. Whether attached to a keyboard, hooked up to a guitar, or going solo, the Space Echo’s enduring legacy and continued cult following has firmly established it as one of Roland’s shining stars.

How Much Does A Roland RE-201 Cost?

If you’re lucky enough to find a Roland RE-201 for sale they’ll normally* range anywhere between £1,100 and £2,000

*prices generally seen on auction sites. If you see them cheaper, you may be on to a bargain.

Who Uses Or Used The Roland RE-201?

Famous and not so famous users of the RE-201 are: Portishead, Flying Lotus, Jonny Greenwood, Kurt Cobain, Mathew Jonson, Moderat, Tycho, The Foals, Fatboy Slim, Jamie xx, Bob Marley, Mac DeMarco, Kraftwerk, Liam Howlett, Leftfield and many more!

Alternatives To The Roland RE-201?

There are many different alternatives to the 201 whether as hardware, software, analog or digital. These are as follows: Roland RE-20 Space Echo, Boss DD-200, Strymon Dig, Lovepedal Multi Tap 2, Boonar, Echorec, Nux Tape Core and the UAD Plugin.

However, when we compare it to the real thing it’s noticeable that the alternatives don’t quite stack up. They are a great option though for people with a lower budget.

Classic Roland RE-201 Videos, Tutorials & Demos

A playlist of videos showing you how to get the best out of a RE-201 and another one showing you how to carefully change the tape loop. Some great tips in here so be sure to check them out!

Classic Roland RE-201 Tracks

Some classic tracks using the RE-201 including: Portishead – Sour Times, Radiohead – Subterranean Homesick Alien and Oskar Offerman – Find Yourself.

Other Roland Products?

The famous Roland synths, drum machines and effects include: SH 101, MC 202, TB 303, TR 606, TR 707, TR 808, TR 909, Juno 60RE-201 Space Echo.

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