Solid State Logic (SSL) is one of the leading brands in pro-audio. It made a name in the industry for its massive mixing desks and processors and continues to bring this technology to smaller-scale applications with its desktop audio interfaces and plugins.
The SSL Native X-Echo is one of the company’s plugins that intends to bring tape echo tones and more to music producers and sound engineers who might not have the resources to get a natural tape echo sound.
According to SSL, the X-Echo brings vintage tape characteristics to your recordings, including soft compression, hiss, and even tape degradation. This plugin is also capable of providing reverbs and other delay functionality. They based this plugin on the 1960s delay processors like the Echoplex.
It steers away from the traditional tape machine look, but the layout is easier to understand.
The X-Echo isn’t just an echo plugin; it can also add reverb and some light modulation.
It takes time to get used to the controls, especially for people unfamiliar with tape echo machines. There are useful sounds, but it’s not something you will use most of the time, unlike compressors and EQ plugins.
There aren’t too many knobs on the interface of the X-Echo. The interface layout doesn’t look cluttered, which doesn’t make it as overwhelming to look at. But for me, who often gets delay sounds from a pedal, it can get challenging to understand, especially with the other controls on board.
I had to download the user manual on the SSL website to understand what I was doing. Some parts of the interface were self-explanatory, like the gain and the mix controls, but I had to read the user’s guide to understand the other switches and knobs.
If you’re unfamiliar with tape echoes in general, it would take a little time to get acquainted with this plugin, even with the neat layout of the X-Echo interface. You may get lost navigating this plugin, especially if you’ve never tried one. Those familiar with these machines may encounter some adjustments as it steers away from the traditional tape echo look.
The first thing you will notice about this plugin is its visualizer, which is practically dead-center on the interface. The visualizer lets you see the processing of up to four seconds of signal, showing waveforms and how they affect the overall movement.
You’ll notice two waveform colors, also. The orange waveform represents the delayed signal, and the green is the original signal. To see the whole waveform, you can click on the Fit button. You can capture the signal into the visualizer by moving the playhead of the DAW to where you want to process the signal and press play. You can clear this by clicking the clear button.
You can set the delay time of the X-Echo by adjusting the tape speed knob on the right beside the visualizer or by moving the puck in the visualizer. You can change delay times by the millisecond between each repeat to create interesting staccatos.
- Using the Snap Mode
The X-Echo has a Snap Mode, which you can activate through the magnet button under the visualizer. Using the Snap Mode will display the notes on the visualizer. You can click the notes to adjust the delay time. Snap Mode also allows the tape speed knob or puck to match the delay time.
- Setting the BPM
You can set the BPM of the X-Echo to follow your project settings. Disabling it lets you adjust the BPM as an independent plugin. You can edit the BPM by double-clicking it. There’s also a tap tempo, which you can click to set based on the tempo of a song, which is handy when adding overdubs to a live recording.
- Tape Head Emulation
You can toggle up to four tape heads in the signal path like in a real tape machine. These tape heads have intervals of 1/4,1/2, and 3/4. You can play around with the pitches by toggling the Wow/Flutter knob
On the bottom row of the X-Echo’s interface are 11 knobs and four switches, aside from the knob and switches you can find in the visualizer.
- Input Gain
You can increase the signal entering the plugin in case the signal recorded is too weak. This input gain is patterned after many tape machines that allow you to adjust gain levels. This control is on the leftmost side of the interface.
- Output gain
You can find another gain control on the rightmost side of the panel. You can use this to increase the gain of the overall affected signal. You can turn this into a gain boost, similar to the Echoplex.
The Feedback control lets you set the number of repeats the tape machine will make. Setting the Feedback knob above 100 percent will make your signal self-oscillate. Remember that a short delay time paired with maximized Feedback can create weird sounds, even without any signal being processed.
The Saturation control gives your signal that warmth is associated with tape machines. You’ll hear some soft clipping, evident when used on multiple repeats.
The Diffusion knob controls the signal’s reverb, letting you blend in different room characteristics. This single knob simplifies reverb controls, unlike other reverb plugins.
The X-Echo has a built-in de-esser that allows you to reduce the sibilance in the processed signal, as tape machine effects often emphasize them. Adding the de-esser helps improve the sound quality of your recording.
The width adjusts how wide your sound can get, ranging from mono on the left side to stereo in the middle and wide when set fully counterclockwise.
- Bass and Treble
Control the bass and treble with these two knobs. Some people like more pronounced low end on echo effects, and the X-Echo can adjust this to your liking.
The Mix control lets you blend the dry signal with the affected signal by the X-Echo. This knob is one of the essential controls to create something musical with this plugin. It allows you to tame the effects without sacrificing detail. The Mix knob has a Mix Lock switch that will enable you to preserve mix settings while you cycle between presets.
- Ping Pong
The Ping pong switch lets your signal pan from left to right. All stereo inputs processed are summed to a mono output.
This switch lets you freeze the signal in the tape loop, which mutes the input and repeats and fades slowly.
This switch mutes the input signal and creates trails for the signal to fade out slowly.
There’s also a Bypass switch just above the input, which lets you turn off the X-Echo, in case of latency problems. Other features on the X-Echo include Automation support and Built-in Presets.
The X-Echo also has a comparison feature that lets you compare plugin settings. Using the A/B Button, you can load different settings to compare how the X-Echo will affect your sound. By default, setting A is loaded. To compare different settings, click on the A/B button.
You can cycle through the built-in presets by toggling the left and right arrows in the preset section, just below the control panel of the X-Echo. Likewise, you can also save presets in this section. There’s also an Undo and Redo button that allows you to reverse or return to a previous parameter change.
I dedicated a section of this article to tackle the built-in presets due to the number of available presets. For people unfamiliar with using such plugins, the presets that come with the X-Echo are a good starting point to use this plugin (or even other plugins in general).
There are 30 presets that come with the X-Echo. I applied the X-Echo plugin to the drum stems I created using Hydrogen. The kick drum sounded full and less harsh when I used the Sky Drum Room preset on the X-Echo. What was a dull-sounding kick became bigger with the help of the preset.
Now, your mileage may vary here when you hear the kick alone. It may or may not sound good, depending on what you are after. But I believe these sound better with the whole drum kit is in the mix. I applied the Sky Drum Room Preset on the snare stem, backed off the mix knob to around 30 percent, and got decent-sounding drums despite using a drum sample.
I’d say using the X-Echo plugin made the drum sample sound more massive by adding some reverb from the plugin. It’s a good tool to enhance drums, specially programmed kits from drum packs.
Of course, I can’t let this demo go without testing it on guitars. Using the Dreamy Guitar Delay preset, the X-Echo made my overdriven guitar sound wider, as if I recorded the guitar in a vast concert hall. I’d say this is a good counterpart to the Sky Drums preset. Taming the Mix control allowed me to dial back the effect to give it a hint of reverb and delay.
Considering the sound of the stock preset, the X-Echo plugin has a lot of potential in a shoegaze track, wherein you can record with the plugin and reamp it to a fuzz pedal and amp for a massive wall of sound.
Using X-Echo also allowed me to adjust the volume of my signal since it was already clipping at a low volume on my interface. The added input and output gain controls bumped up the signal level during an initial test.
I’ll be honest about this plugin at this point. It performs as it should, but if you’re unfamiliar with tape echo machines, you may get frustrated using this plugin. I admit I am one of those people, as I’m used to getting most of my sounds through pedals.
That said, the X-Echo does more than I expected compared to tape echo pedals and even some plugins that offer tape echo effects. It enhanced the signal levels of my guitar, considering the volume was low due to clipping, It’s a good plugin to have to increase volume from the source while reducing clipping. I could record using this plugin actively and did not encounter any dropouts. That alone shows that the plugin isn’t a resource hog regarding memory usage.
The presets that come with the X-Echo are a good starting point for anyone looking to explore this plugin. If you’re looking for trails that go on when the signal ends, the X-Echo delivers it also quite well. You can say that this plugin works also in live scenarios, given how well it trails. Likewise, the Mix knob allowed me to create more musical sounds, which made the effects linger toward the back of the mix while still making the recording more lively with the feeling of proper spacing.
Now, don’t let the echo name fool you; the X-Echo is more than just a tape echo. You can also get reverb and some modulation effects with this plugin. And with the Mix knob, you can tame these sounds to match what the song calls for.
Part of the performance of this plugin is also due to its interface. The design shows how the echoes interact using the simulated tape heads on the visualizer. They make a good extension of your instrument when appropriately tweaked. I wouldn’t say it’s a crutch, but rather an excellent supplement to your effects library, whether live or in the studio.
Speaking of live applications, the X-Echo could make an excellent addition to any live rig, although it doesn’t have a standalone app. That said, you could use your DAW as an extension of your rig, connect your guitars or keyboards to your DAW through an audio interface, and route the signal to your amp or front-of-house for a more surround experience.
The X-Echo is a lightweight plugin to use. It only needs a 2.4 GHz Dual Core processor for Mac and a 2.4 Ghz for PC users. It also recommends having 8 GB of RAM, which is why this plugin performed smoothly, despite other tests conducted where I stacked other VSTs into the mix.
You will also need an iLok account to activate the X-Echo, which is common nowadays for music software. The X-Echo also has a 14-day free trial if you want to try it before buying. It costs $199.99, but you may also subscribe to SSL’s plugins, at around $15 a month, with a month’s free trial.
I must admit that I did encounter a learning curve with this plugin. For one, I’ve never really used tape echo plugins, and the closest I’ve come to using a tape echo is preset on my delay pedal. But I must say that this plugin got me curious about the possibilities I can make with tape echo VSTs.
I am more open to exploring tape echo plugins because of the X-Echo. I now better appreciate the possibilities with tape echo plugins, especially with how you can alter delays with the X-Echo.
I would love to have this plugin if given a chance, although I probably won’t be using it often. Considering the costs, the subscription service is a good alternative, as you also get other SSL plugins in the package, along with the X-Echo. Nonetheless, the X-Echo is a feasible alternative to buying an actual tape echo machine, which can cost thousands of dollars.
I believe that what I have placed here isn’t the full potential of the X-Echo. There are so much more possibilities, considering what the presets can do. But that said, I continue to explore other sounds I can get from this plugin.
John Narciso is a guitar player and music technology hobbyist. He loves exploring guitar effects processors in pedal and plugin format and free music applications. His music preferences tend to be diverse, listening to genres spanning from metal to alternative rock and a little hip-hop.