Gear Review: Catalinbread Belle Epoch

This article is part of The Month Of Delay at the Real World Worship blog. All throughout the month of March we will be looking at different aspects of the delay effect in worship music.

BRAND: Catalinbread

MODEL: Belle Epoch Tape Delay

COST: $199

DO I OWN IT?: No

WHAT IT IS: The Belle Epoch (Wonderful Era or something like that) is Catalinbread’s attempt to digitally recreate the vintage Maestro Echoplex (EP-3) that was used by many classic guitarists such as Jimmy Paige both for it’s delay effect, and it’s pre-amp circuit that acted as a light overdrive or tone booster. To that end the BE not only features delay, but an analog pre-amp circuit. It is also designed to be able to before your dirt pedal or a dirty amp setting just like the original EP-3 did. This is different from most delays who have a recommended placement after the gain pedals or in a dirty amp’s effects loop.

This is the first review that I will write which will be almost entirely negative. Up until now, every review has been positive. It’s not that I ignored a pedals flaws or that I didn’t acknowledge when a pedal had issues, but even then, even if a pedal didn’t work well for me, or a in most worship settings, it didn’t mean that it was a bad pedal. The BE is something different.

Let me start off by saying that it doesn’t sound bad per say. I wish it did sound bad because it would make the writing easier. But does it sound like a tape delay, specifically an Echoplex style one? Is it worth the high price point of $200 for a pedal that only does one trick, and in my opinion, doesn’t do it well? You be the judge.

PROS: Catalinbread designed the BE to go in front of a dirty amp or gain pedals just like the Echoplex would have back in the day. That’s a really useful design feature and one that I wish more delays would implement. It also has tried to capture the tone sweetening qualities of the EP-3, although if this was all you want, the Xotic EP booster is pedal for you.

One of the really great things about this pedal is that they made it in a size that is friendly to smaller pedalboards. You can put this pedal on your rig without kicking 3 other pedals off.

The final pro is that you can choose between running it at 9 or 18v.  I love that option. I’m a big fan of 18v in pedals. I run my plimsoul at 18v and my Moonshine, Superbolt and Deep Six all have internal charge pumps to get 18v which I think helps make those pedals. Admittedly I’ve only played the BE at 9v. I’ve heard from some that running at 18v makes a huge difference but none of the 18v demos I’ve seen on YouTube indicate that for me.

CONS: The biggest con with this pedal is the sound. It sounds like a digital delay that’s been voiced to sound and act like a Tape Delay. If it was the Tape setting on a multi feature delay pedal like the DL4 it wouldn’t be bad. But it’s not. This pedal only has one goal, to sound like a EP-3 tape delay. If the EP-3 is 3 dimensional, the Strymon El Cap is 2D and the BE is a 1 Dimensional digital tape delay in my estimation.

The other con is control. The BE’s controls are the same controls that you would find on an EP-3. The only problem is that other factors in the sound of a mechanical tape delay like how new or old the tape is, or the tension of the tape, etc can’t be controlled with the BE. It’s kind of unavoidable to compare the BE with the Strymon El Capistan because of a $100 you get several other types of Tape Delay, plus control over the mechanical factors like Tape Age and Bias.

HOW WOULD YOU USE IT FOR WORSHIP?: With 80-800ms of delay, there’s pretty much no way that I couldn’t set this pedal up for worship. Slapback, ambient, atmosphere, rhythmic, lead booster. I could probably set all these sounds up fairly easily. But if you want multiple sounds over the course of a worship set list you’ll have to redial each time because there are no presets, and you’ll only be guessing on the delay time because there is no tap tempo. Lack of features is understandable in a pedal that ‘s trying to emulate a vintage unit to the letter, but if you don’t get the sound right, you better have the features to cover and the BE does not.

FINAL VERDICT: The Belle Epoch is representative of how I feel about most Catalinbread pedals I’ve come across, in that while I like the concept, I’m not super big on the execution. It’s not personal, I want those guys to keep making pedals, especially attempts at vintage, out of production gear. One of these days they’re going to make something I want, but with the BE, today is not that day.

If you need a versatile delay for your worship guitar rig, the Belle Epoch is a one trick pony. If you really want a solid sounding tape delay, then pay the extra money and get the El Capistan. If you want something for Hillsong/U2 style delay you probably want something in the digital or analog categories. If you want something for atmosphere or ambience again, there are many other delays out there that will do a far better job. If you really love the sound of the Belle Epoch, and don’t get why I don’t like it, then please, by all means, ignore me and trust your ears. At the end of the day, if it works for you and it helps serve your church and God in music then that’s all that matters.

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8 thoughts on “Gear Review: Catalinbread Belle Epoch

  1. Ed Komasara

    I’m enjoying your delay series. I find a delay pedal in worship today without a tap tempo is pretty useless. I would love to see my team’s reaction if I asked them to play with the tempo I dialed in or if I fiddled aroung trying to guess it right on the fly. These are fine days, we have so many wonderful sounding options to get that big mountain top sound.

    1. Thanks Ed. I can imagine the set up you’re talking about where tap tempo is absolutely essential. I do ask the team to sync to my tempo at times but that’s usually when I’m doing the U2 stuff where my guitar is driving thing so they’d be following me anyway.

  2. Milo

    ” It sounds like a digital delay that’s been voiced to sound and act like a Tape Delay”
    maybe because that’s exactly what it is?

    This is the first (and only) negative review I’ve read about the Belle Epoch.
    I haven’t got a chance to try it myself yet, but I’ve been very impressed with 3rd party online demos.

    Sometimes it’s not the pedal, it could be your setup (guitar / amp / speakers / sound system)…

    Conversely I’ve played with the Catalinbread Echorec, and I’ve heard comparisons with the actual Binson Echorec. To my ears, it was 90% close, which if you ask me, is as close as you’ll get short of buying the real thing.

    The engineers behind Catalinbread are brilliant!
    So I have a hard time taking your review seriously.

    1. Hi Milo, thanks for commenting!

      Here’s some thoughts to reply to your comments.

      -When I said the BE sounds like digital delay voiced to sound and act like a Tape Delay, I might not have been as clear as I should be. Of course, on a base level that’s exactly what the BE is. But when you’ve claimed to “nail” the exact sound of a certain piece of gear, you better nail that sound. I didn’t think the BE did. It’s personal opinion to be sure, but what part of this isn’t 🙂

      -I didn’t see a lot of negative reviews out there either. That either adds or takes away from my credibility on this one. But here’s the thing, I’m an unbiased voice. I don’t gain anything by writing my review one way or the other so I’m free to give my honest opinion, unlike Tone Report, PGS, Brett Kingman, Curtis Kent (I like all those guys btw) who are trying to sell you something or paid by a company to do a demo. I’m free to say what I want, and if a company did send me free stuff to review (I’d be totally ok with that 😉 ) I would tell everyone up front and tell the company that I’m still gonna say whatever I want. take that for what it’s worth.

      -I have played the pedal. I went with an american deluxe tele into a Vox AC30HW, which is a pretty decent rig.

      Hope that helps give you a feel for where I’m coming from. Thanks for reading!

      1. Milo

        I’m not saying you should like the pedal just because everyone else seems to. It was actually refreshing to see a negative review for a change, but it wasn’t what I expected.

        Just like you, I’m not affiliated to Catalinbread or any store, and I gain nothing by praising or blasting their products -and yes I would say my honest opinion too if I were receiving these pedals for review-
        I do however have a completely different experience with their pedals: I’ve never tried anything by them that I didn’t like.

        I’ve always thought that no matter how good an imitation (emulation) is, it’s never as good as the original.
        That said, would I rather have the real thing? yes, but…
        do I want the hassle and the repair costs of the real thing? I don’t think so.

        I’ve tried the Strymon Timeline, Eventide TimeFactor and the Line 6 DL4. They all have their take on what a Tape delay should sound like. You could say that they all offer a pleasing (musical) warbly delay sound.

        However, if you really want to be critical about it, none of them “nails the exact sound” of the real thing (as you say).
        How could they? when Tape delays were so temperamental you could almost say they had a mind of their own! Even two units of the same model didn’t sound the same.

        In my opinion, we’ll never get true Tape delay with software algorithms, just different flavors of it I guess.

        PS. Regarding your setup, I didn’t mean that the gear you used is not good enough, but sometimes something might sound amazing on one thing and terrible on the other… it could be one or a combination of things you have.

        An alternative way is to plug the pedal directly into a mixer / soundcard, and use headphones / studio monitors to listen (but most people want to hear the pedal with their current amp-pedals setup..)

  3. I am surprised to hear a mostly negative review of this pedal, but to each their own! There are more than a handful of delays out there that claim to sound like tape echo; funny thing is they all sound somewhat different. To some extent, people have different expectations of what tape echo should sound like so it can be very subjective. Some reviewers have commented the Catalinbread Montavillian sounds more “tape like” when to my ears it sounds like just a nicely voiced analog delay (even though its not analog), and the EQD Disaster Transport doesn’t sound like tape echo to me either.

    I have read some reviews on Amazon from EP-3 owners which give Catalinbread a LOT of credit for getting scary close to emulating the repeats and preamp function of an original EP-3 with their Belle Epoch.

    I would give the El Cap credit for more functionality and tweakability; if I HAD to have tap tempo I would have sucked it up and bought one (and kicked another pedal out of the lineup so it would fit), but I have heard them A/B’d and its hard to hear much sound difference at all other than the El Cap having more range in terms of being “pristine” or “aged” depending on how it was tweaked.

    You are correct that the Belle Epoch does not do rhythmic delay; I would not attempt to do U2 like delays with it as it’s just not suited for it. Slapback is easy to dial in though, as well as ambient repeats.

    1. Hey, thanks for commenting.

      I know I’m in the minority on this one.

      I like Catalinbread. I think their Topanga reverb is fantastic. But I didn’t gel with the Belle Epoch and reviewed it accordingly. That’s what you get on this blog, just my opinion. But i’m also not worried about sponsors, etc. When was the last time you saw a really bad review in Primier Guitar, Tone Report, etc? It’s because they have business relationships with these companies. I don’t. There are some companies that are “friends of the blog” who’ve been really cool to me, but even then I’ll tell you about it and keep my opinions honest.

      Hope that helps.

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