Line 6 has made a name for itself by using advanced physical-modeling technology to duplicate the sound of vintage gear. Line 6's Echo Farm plug-in ($495) for Pro Tools TDM systems emulates the sound of old analog, digital, and tape delays. Based on the Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler stompbox, Echo Farm brings simulations of such celebrated delays as the Oberheim Echoplex (tube and solid-state versions), Roland Space Echo, and Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man to your Pro Tools session.
Line 6's Echo Farm offers 12 basic delay models: 5 direct simulations of vintage gear and 7 other types, which include sweep echo, ping-pong delay, and reverse delay. Each model has adjustable delay time, feedback amount, time ramp, output level, and mix amount. An info screen provides historical information about the original equipment that Line 6 studied in creating its model. In addition, you get model-specific knobs, such as wow/flutter and drive controls in the Echoplex EP-1 model, and threshold and ducking settings for the Dynamic Delay.
You can set delay time in milliseconds or by using a bpm-based tempo display. Once you set the tempo, you can program delays as note values from 32nd to whole notes, including triplets and dotted notes. There is also a tap-tempo button. The Time Ramp control determines whether changes in delay time are executed immediately or ramped with a bit of pitch smearing. That smear is an integral part of the analog-delay sound and a nice touch.
Test for Echo
Line 6's Echo Farm is a breeze to use. Strap it across the insert point of a track or use it as an auxiliary track. Select mono- or stereo-output mode, grab a basic model, and start twirling knobs. Every feature supports automation, which gives you precise control of how the delays wobble and chatter within the track. The software is stable, and the graphics are retro and colorful.
I tried Line 6's Echo Farm on a variety of materials. In each case, I was able to enhance the sound with minimal effort. The Echoplex model created a convincing tape slap on voice, whereas the Sweep Echo model created a shimmery, phaselike delay well suited to acoustic guitar. The Memory Man model created chorused delays that sat in the background of an acoustic-piano track. I passed footsteps through the Roland Space Echo set with a short delay and high feedback time. It sounded like aliens walking through a resonant, vocoded tunnel. In general, the delays tend to roll off the brightness and clarity of the original material, just as an analog delay or tape echo would.
Some of the Echo Farm's delays felt a shade clean for my taste. I would have liked to have a global “grunge” knob that would add a bit more noise, round off the delays in unpredictable ways, and add more overall randomness to the way the algorithms perform.
Compare and Contrast
I'm a bit of a vintage purist, so I was curious about how Line 6's Echo Farm compared to my Echoplex and Deluxe Memory Man hardware units. The overall feel of Echo Farm is clearly in the ballpark — the echoes have a warm, filtered sound, and the way they tend to change shape as you manipulate the delay time is great. But I don't think Echo Farm is a perfect model of the original.
For example, one of the coolest aspects of the Deluxe Memory Man is its ability to overdrive the feedback, which creates a chaotic caterwaul that changes in unpredictable ways. Echo Farm's Memory Man model remained calm and polite despite my efforts to make it screech and howl. Moreover, each model offers a maximum delay time of 2,500 ms. That's plenty generous for most delay models, but it means that the long sound-on-sound loops for which Echoplex is famous are not duplicated here. Although it may not be a dead ringer for the originals, Line 6's Echo Farm is warm, malleable, and musical. The graphics are fun, the sound is retro, and the operation is clear, simple, and intuitive. Overall, Echo Farm makes a fine addition to any Pro Tools Mix system toolbox.