How the Binson Echorec Became the Most Revered Delay Unit of All

The Binson Echorec is one of those magical, mystical, and undeniably beautiful–sounding devices. It's the kind of gear that makes you appreciate its existence — the mere fact that some genius was able to design something so absolutely inspiring. It almost hurts me to write this now, knowing that I don't have one of my own.

Made famous by legends like David Gilmour and Jimmy Page, the Echorec has steadily climbed into the title–holding position of the holy grail of all guitar and delay effects units. But before reaching the pinnacle of fame, it all started as the brainchild of Dr. Bonfiglio Bini.

Dr. Bini’s Beginnings

Dr. Bini was an Italian engineer and the founder of the Binson HiFi Company. For Dr. Bini, quality was of utmost importance, and every single component for every single unit was made in–house. When asked if it would be cheaper to use a third party for cases, Dr. Bini replied, “Sure, it would be cheaper, but then it would not be Binson stuff anymore.”

Dr. Bonfiglio Bini

Dr. Bini began manufacturing tube radios in 1940 in his first factory in Milan, Italy. He later moved on to building television sets and then to guitar amplifiers. His first big seller was the Binson 3° guitar amplifier.

Over the years, Binson made many different items, from mixers to reverbs to microphones and PA speakers. Binson even made an organ called the Binsonett, although it's hard to find much more than a few pictures of it.

In fact, most of these early Binson products are difficult to find today, especially if you live in the United States.

The Birth of the Innovative Echorec

Without a doubt, though, Binson is most famous for their Echorec delay units. During a time when studio effects were limited to tape delays and plate and room reverbs, the Echorec was a revolutionary invention that utilized new technology that Dr. Bini and Binson’s principal engineer, Scarano Gaetano, developed together.

The pair undertook a large research effort in order to find a better medium than magnetic tape for storing delay signals. What they came up with for the Echorec was what is called memory disc technology.

1957 Binson Echorec T5E

Memory disc technology was innovative in that it used a drum recorder instead of a tape loop, which allowed for a better frequency response and did not leave the negative artifacts of tape, such as wow and flutter.

The drum was meticulously wound with a steel wire and then milled flat. It was driven by an AC motor, and the heads were arranged around the drum. Dr. Bini put a lot of thought into the exact positioning of the heads, and each position was chosen so that the delay times were extremely musical.

The new and unique memory disc technology was definitely the main reason these units were capable of such lush delays, but the preamp and electronics were contributing factors, too. The Echorec was so well–made that just running it through the preamp without the delay engaged would still enhance the tone of any guitar.

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Echorecs and Their Famous Users

Echorecs were first built and marketed around 1955. There were many different models made, from a Baby Binson to the most sought after 2°. They even developed a rackmount version to go with their PA system in 1967 and '68.

The Binson 2 uses six 12AX7 tubes and has three input and output jacks. On the other side, there is a voltage selector, a footswitch input, and a power outlet. The front of the unit has six control knobs and a three–button channel selector with a level VU meter.

1960s Binson Echorec B2

Echorecs were extremely expensive, with some costing as much as a Fender Stratocaster and more than a Vox AC30. Think about that… Buying a Baby Binson meant you wouldn't be able to afford a new guitar.

All Echorec units were mono, except for a rare batch of 50 stereo units that used two drums to accomplish the stereo effect. Dr. Bini stressed never putting a noise gate on any of his units for fear of killing the last audible tail of the delay, which he thought was a vital part of the sound.

Dr. Bini's work building audio devices was truly labor of love. Although he stopped production in 1986, Bini still stuck around the factory after retirement and would give tours in his free time. Dr. Bini even sold off all of the leftover stock of the Echorecs, amplifiers, and mixers that remained in his factory to ensure that they wouldn't go to waste. He wanted them in the hands of musicians who would use them well.

Binson Echorec 2

David Gilmour is the most famous user of the Echorec, and it was arguably the thing that defined his sound the most. But Syd Barrett, the original singer of Pink Floyd, was actually the first to use an Echorec.

The story goes that Syd went to watch an experimental electronic band named AMM and saw them using one. Enamored by the syncopated delay patterns and mystical warm sound, he began to use one himself.

When Gilmour joined the band, he took Syd’s setup and expanded on the use of the device. The most famous song you can hear utilizing the Echorec is Pink Floyd’s “Time.” Gilmour toured with multiple Echorecs for years, but they were delicate and weren't the most practical choice for the rough life on the road. Each unit requires frequent maintenance and many even included a special holder right on the case for lubricant.

Pink Floyd - "Time" (2011 Remastered)

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Emulation Pedals and Echorecs Today

These days, vintage Echorecs are understandably hard to find. Prices are generally on the higher end of the scale all around but do vary based on which model you come across. The Echorec 2° is the most popular, in–demand model and fetches the highest price, usually averaging around $3,000.

Beyond ticket price, though, Echorecs are very difficult and expensive to maintain due to the ever–dwindling supply of parts and the expertise required to work on the machines competently.

Original machines are usually owned by the hardcore, dedicated collectors who will stop at nothing to achieve the ultimate guitar tone and are willing to put in the time and money necessary to get there. And frankly, I can't blame them. If you have the time and the money, I think we can all agree that chasing the Echorec is a worthwhile pursuit.

But for the rest of us, many pedal companies have built stompbox emulations based around the vintage original. My favorite examples are the Catalinbread Echorec and Gurus Amps Echosex 2. Though approximations, these pedals are closest most of us are able to get to the sacred Echorec sound.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Silverstein is an audio engineer who works at Sabella Studios, in Long Island, New York. You can find more of his writing on his blog, AudioHertz.

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