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The Sunday Papers

The Comeback of the Binson Echorec

By Andy Perrin | December 15, 2017

Riff City Sunday Papers Vol.1 No.19

Few effects embody the versatility of analog sounds as fully as delay. Of course, the tale of tape delays is well-told: a sound is recorded and cycled back through the tape as it warmly warbles into the distance. Then there’s the oil can delays of old. These drum-based echo machines created repeats awash with an almost chorus-like feel. The brilliant simplicity of bucket-brigade circuits too adds their own character of shadowy echoes lurking in the background. Alongside these analog technologies, however, is a fourth old school tactic to achieving delay. Enter the Echorec.

Dr. Bonfiglio Bini was a young Italian entrepreneur and engineer with a knack manufacturing radios and television sets in the mid-1940s. The brand was aptly called the “Binson HiFi Company.” Bini’s engineering interests extended into musical gear in the late-1940s with a foray into guitar amplifiers. The most memorable and sought after sound of Bini’s innovation, however, came in the form of his delay units.

Bini’s earliest analog delay machines emerged in 1953/54 as the Ecorec. (Yep, you read that right, no “h”). After an initial run of approximately thirty builds, the definitive model, the Echorec (with an “h”) came out in 1955, with some other variations and models in the years that followed. Beyond the quibbles in how to spell the name of the effect, what makes these analog machines so unique?

At the time, delay technology meant tape. With the Echorec, however, Bini ventured into unknown engineering territory by utilizing a rotating memory disc to achieve the delay. If you pop the top of an Echorec you’ll find a disc wound tight with steel wire that is then flat and flush with the exterior. With multiple heads positioned for recording and playback around the disc, the Echorec not only made for a purer sounding delay than tape due to the material stability of the steel, it also had a few more options on board, such as “swell” which rang repeats into spacey oscillation. Add to this a seriously captivating preamp, and Bini had himself a classic effect that defined sounds of now iconic records and performances by the likes of David Gilmour and Jimmy Page. More recent Echorec enthusiasts include the Chemical Brothers.

While the physical movement of the Echorec is understandably a challenge to distill and recreate by other means, a few modern builders have taken up the gauntlet. In stompbox form, some of the more successful takes inspired by the sounds of Bini include the Catalinbread Echorec, Gurus Echosex 2, or TC Electronic Flashback II via Toneprint. At NAMM 2017, T-Rex founder Sebastian Jensen announced the company had acquired the Binson brand name and showcased a prototype rebuild of a new Echorec system aimed at bringing the spinning disc of vintage delay back for a new generation. With a few modern appointments and rethought engineering features, this new rendition of the Echorec promises to capture the old while pressing into the new.

There’s indeed something poetic about the reemergence of old drum-based delay technology. Just when you think you’ve heard the last of it, it comes round again to inspire your ears.