Gear Review: Empress Tape Delay

BRAND: Empress

MODEL: Tape Delay

COST: $249

WHAT IT IS: The Empress Tape Delay (ETD) is an outgrowth of the Canadian Effects Company’s Superdelay unit. The ETD focus’s solely on the sounds and feel of Magnetic Tape Delay units of days gone by, with much more control and “tweakability” at your fingertips.

It’s hardly fair, but the ETD will live or die in it’s comparison to the Strymon El Capistan. In this regard it’s probably to say that this pedal will always be the “kid brother” for many people but I am not one of those people. I was very inclined towards apathy in regards to the ETD when I first borrowed it for a multi-church outreach, and I ended up falling in love with it and was very sad to give it back. My regard for the pedal is good enough for you, then stop reading and go buy it, but if it’s not (and why should it be) then keep reading to find out why.

PROS: The ETD sounds really good. I don’t think it’s better or worse than the El Cap or any other unit. An Echoplex, Space Echo and TTE are all different but are all definitely tape units. The same is true with dTape units. The ETD, El Cap or RE-20… all digital tape delays.

The ETD gives you a lot of control options, and unlike the El Cap, they are all clearly labeled and you don’t have to get into secondary controls to make changes. With a quick flip of the switch you can change the Tape age between New, Old and ‘Vintage’ settings. The same is true for delay time parameters, tone stack (high or low pass) and Modulation. Mix, delay time, feedback (repeats) and output are all controlled via knobs.

Probably my favorite thing about the ETD is how easy it was for me to dial in a useable setting. The pedal was incredibly intuitive and very functional. I loved the way the repeats sat in the mix: very present but never over powering. I also liked the Output control. I set it at unity gain, but you could use it to tame your volume or as a lead booster. I also found the Tone Stacks and Mod settings to be sonically pleasing. Finally, the ETD has 3 available presets. Compared to one on the El Cap (if you pay extra for the Favorite Switch), there is a lot of bang fro your back, especially when you consider that the ETD is $50 less than the Strymon ($100 if you factor in the Favorite Switch).

CONS: The best way to think of the ETD is as a single head Echo unit in the vein of the Fulltone Tube Tape Echo or the iconic Maestro Echoplex. That’s all well and good, but the Strymon can do that plus fixed and multi head settings. The Boss RE-20 can give you both fixed and multi-head options as well. Even Multi-delays like the Line 6 DL4 have more options than the ETD. Also, while it may have more presets than the El Cap, if you switch to the presets you loose the tap tempo function because the switch is how you scroll between presets.

HOW WOULD YOU USE IT FOR WORSHIP?: Like the classic Magnetic Tape Units it’s trying to emulate, the ETD is fantastic for worship music. I found that I left it on quite a bit more than my other delays because it sat so nicely in the mix. I got great lead boosts, ambient sounds and repeats that filled in the gaps nicely. I couldn’t use it for U2 style rhythmic delays but it covered all the other Hillsong type delay sounds nicely. The only time I used a different delay was for it’s momentary switch. I did find it odd that Empress didn’t include a way to easily throw the unit into self oscillation.

FINAL VERDICT: The Empress Tape Delay is a fantastic pedal. I have no hesitation in recommending it to you if you are in the market for a new delay pedal (not just tape delay). The question is really what you need. If you need U2 rhythmic settings or want multi-head tape delay ala the Space Echo then you’ll need to look elsewhere. If you just want a really solid delay that has tap tempo, presets and is easy to use then give the ETD a try.

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