According to Wikipedia, the historical Belle Époque, French for “Beautiful Era”, is “characterised by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity… and technological, scientific, and cultural innovations.” It was the age before the beauty dropped out of modernity. Where there were narcotics in every medicinal remedy, the Moulin Rouge was the most popular spot in the world and we hadn’t yet seen the constant and full-scale destruction of everything as a result of the most devastating wars and political misdemeanours known to mankind. Harking back to this golden age in the name of one of their flagship designs was a fitting choice by the brains behind Catalinbread’s intoxicating and lush delay machine, aptly referred to as the Belle Epoch.
The idea of emulating echoing, delayed and repeating sounds finds its genesis in bulky, multi-headed tape machines like the Roland Space Echo or the now legendary Echoplex. These units utilised multitudinous readings of one piece of ¼” tape to mirror the reflections experienced by spelunkers on their cavernous subterranean adventures. While some of the more famous supergroups of the ‘60s and ‘70s were able to afford to take one of these machines, and the necessary service tech, on the road with them, the spaciousness and stereo image afforded to their players eluded your everyday schlub in a bar band. That is until d-Bucket and digital models enlightened modern players and spawned a new era in stompbox effects-based thinking. In spite of countless technological advancements over the ensuing decades, few variations on the theme have come close to approximating the honey thick saturation of the original until now.
Catalinbread released the original Belle Epoch a few years ago to broad critical acclaim. With its gunmetal grey housing and understated electric blue lettering, it became a firm favourite for its creamy, dreamy warmth as well as the boozy warble of the tails it produced. The Deluxe reprise presents everything its predecessor did and more. You have control over a similar set of dials to the old outboard units: sustain (or length), echo time, echo volume and the level your signal is recorded at. The last pot is where the magic happens as the record level heats up like old tubes the more you push into the ‘tape’ side of the machine in just the same way as the originals did. The other boon is your ability to control the depth of the six different styles of modulation that affect the echoes once they’ve left the ‘heads’. In this way you are able to simulate the drunken swerve of overly worn tape without having to leave it playing over night. The worm in the bottom of this bottle is the oscillation footswitch, which lovers of analogue units like the DM2 will spin out over. Engaged, it keeps repeats in an endless cycle, escalating to terrifying, dizzying and ear-piercing heights.
Long story short, Catalinbread’s Belle Epoch comes closer to a real tape echo machine than any existing unit has been able to. Not only that, the flexibility and tour-ready nature of this simple stompbox supersedes its ancestors where usability is concerned. With an expression pedal in the side, there’s no limit to the wild and wooly trips you and your guitar can go on.
Hits and Misses
Realistic tape saturated warmth as close to the original units as they come
The oscillation switch gets to an unlistenable volume too quickly, slower gradation would be great