journalist, musician, guitar geek

Marshall Echohead Review

That there are so many different delay pedals on the market demonstrates not only the effect’s popularity, but also its supreme influence on modern music. With such a wealth of options available to guitarists it’s easy to overlook any number of underrated gems, something that is certainly the case with the Echohead, one of the standout products in Marshall Amplication’s most recent foray into the stompbox arena. First released in 2002, the Echohead has never achieved the same kind of fanfare that has greeted similar offerings from Boss and Digitech, although it has been developing a steady following thanks to its low price, particularly on the used market. Faced with an unending deluge of new delay units, can the Echohead still hold its head above an ocean of competitors?

On The Surface

Whatever you think of Marshall’s pedal design, there’s no denying its sleekness. In fact, most everything about the Echohead screams quality; whether it’s the unit’s comforting weight, the sturdy metal jacks or the recessed metal knobs, the pedal’s build quality belies its Chinese origin. And while the on-off switch feels suspiciously light to the touch, it still gives a satisfying click upon operation. In fact, if there are any complaints to be had, they lie with the robust, yet much-maligned, control knobs, as their thin black setting markers fail to show up under harsh lighting. Indeed, Marshall would be advised to cut back on the shine factor as users may end up feeling their way if their live set requires a lot of delay tweaks.

Feature-wise, there’s a lot on offer: external tap tempo, up to 2 seconds of delay time and six usable, and not so usable, delay modes (hifi, analogue, tape echo, multi tap, reverse and mod filter). In fact, this advanced feature set may account for the pedal’s fairly high current draw (80mA), so try to avoid using batteries: they’re unlikely to last more than an hour or two.

The Echohead still has plenty more tricks hidden beneath that space-age exterior. For one, it not only works in stereo but also provides two options for mono outputs: a passive bypass or a high-quality buffered bypass with trails. The former doesn’t offer the much sought-after “true bypass” but is a useful option if your ‘board is already overrun with buffers or if you simply don’t want your delay to continue when you turn the pedal off, as is the case with the buffered trails option. The pedal also features a true analogue signal path, ensuring that both your delayed and non-delayed tone will remain the same, without the audio path crumbling under the weight of those evil digital converters. Sure, there may be no looper function or stereo inputs but for a digital delay of this build quality at this price point and with external tap tempo, their exclusion is understandable.

Sounds

As an obvious starting point, the Echohead’s default digital setting, or “hifi” as it’s labelled on the pedal, is faithful to the original input signal but without the harshness associated with, say, Boss’ recent efforts. In this respect, it melds well with the guitar’s tone, ensuring that the effect is present but without ever dominating what the guitar is actually playing. Indeed, anyone looking for a delay to mask their mistakes might want to look elsewhere, although the Echohead makes a good job of texture-thickening on spacious riffs.

In terms of retro appeal, the analogue setting (note the uncompromisingly British spelling) further supports the Echohead’s claim as a background effect. While it may not be quite as faithful as other compact digital offerings, it works well to add a subtle ambience without muddying a distorted tone. Similarly, the tape echo mode adds a pleasing “flutter” and degradation to its repeats and is capable of anything from slapback to psychedelica. Looking back, it’s a shame Marshall never expanded upon this pedal range because, with a few extra controls, the Echohead’s tape mode could have been a real force to be reckoned with in the modern tape echo simulation stakes.

The pedal’s last three settings are where things start to get a little weird. The reverse mode, in particular, is probably the least usable of all, but the same can be said about its inclusion in the majority of other delays. In a time of need reversing a melody can serve as an impetus for songwriting but don’t expect to use it too often. Similarly, mod filter may be a bit too wacky for some tastes as it adds a uni-vibe-esque swirl to the repeats, something which can be a tad overbearing in more subtle moments; more usable would have been a chorus or vibrato effect setting, along the lines of the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man.

More usable is the multi tap setting, which allows for some interesting rhythmic interplay ala The Edge or for more subtle cascading delays, as seen in Joe Satriani’s staggered delay use in live settings. Again, this isn’t likely to form your bread-and-butter, all-purpose setting but it’s always fun to have additional options, particularly when recording. Another interesting quirk is that the Echohead will repeat forever when the feedback is set to full and, if the trails output is used, the pedal will repeat indefinitely when off. While this can be useful for songwriting, it also means that the pedal won’t self-oscillate so if you’re an aspiring spaceship pilot, this may not be the delay for you.

Overall

Even in today’s oversaturated delay market, the Marshall Echohead can still fight its corner. The sheer quality of the sounds on offer, as well as the construction of the unit itself, means that, at least as a basic external-tap-tempo-equipped delay (one of very few at this price point), the Echohead is an option to be considered. However, some of the mode choices are a tad overambitious and more controllable parameters are required to make them truly useful in an everyday setting; a few tweaks here and there and Marshall would have an unquestionable winner on their hands, particularly if they include a looping function to compete with some of delay’s big boys. Still, any quibbles about functionality are easily dispelled by the Echohead’s ease of use and pristine sound quality, making this an ideal entry-level or secondary delay on your pedalboard.

5 responses

  1. Stefan

    Hey, do you know if this pedal accepts tap tempo input whilst bypassed?

    November 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    • Hi Stefan,

      From what I can recall, yes, the Echohead does accept tap tempo input while bypassed, although the LED doesn’t flash in time so the only way of knowing the tempo is by using your ears when the delay is switched back on. Hope that helps!

      November 13, 2011 at 3:51 pm

  2. Hi, Your review helped me a lot. Thanks!

    March 15, 2012 at 7:00 am

    • Thanks! I’m glad to hear it.

      March 15, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      • Now I’m wondering where to place it in my pedalboard :)

        March 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm

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