REVIEW: TC Electronic Alter Ego Vintage Echo X4

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TC Electronic’s TonePrint line of pedals is a great innovation: when it was first launched, various rock stars and industry pros were handed the keys to a special program which allowed them to design custom effects which could then be loaded into the pedal by everybody (via USB or a handy mobile app). But then the program was made available for everyone, and now anybody who wants to tweak their tone and then share it with the world can do so. The Alter Ego Vintage Echo X4 Delay is related to the smaller Alter Ego delay, which was born when Andy and Aaron of ProGuitarShop got their paws on the TonePrint software for the Flashback Delay and created two exclusive new delay modes worthy of their own pedal. Now the Alter Ego X4 Vintage Echo takes this pedal and blows it out, in a similar way to the awesome Flashback X4 Delay.

ProGuitarShop’s influence doesn’t stop at the tones; the graphics of this pedal are also designed by them, with an elegant script logo and baby blue accents based on the Tel Ray Super Organ Tone unit (more on that later). But where the compact Alter Ego pedal has two ProGuitarShop sounds, the X4 version blows it out to a whopping twelve exclusive, hand-selected sounds ranging from a tribute to the classic Binson Echorec to a salute to the sweet Roland Space Echo, the venerable Echoplex and – naturally – a custom version of TC Electronic’s own 2290. The sounds are accessed via a 16-position dial, where four positions are reserved for the TonePrints of your choice. The stock sounds include a few variations on particular modes (two Echorec-inspired and two Echoplex-based settings, for instance).

There are pots for Time, subdivision (quarter notes, dotted eighths or a mixture of both), feedback, delay level and looper level (with a looper/delay switch). The looper gives you up to 40 seconds of playback with an undo function; the four footswitches double as looper switches for record, play, once and undo. In delay mode those switches let you select three presets, while the fourth switch is tap tempo, for synching your delay times up using your foot. As for the connections, there are stereo inputs and outputs (left jack is mono), an expression pedal jack, 9V DC power jack, USB port, and MIDI In and Thru so you can synch the delay times or change presets.

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The sounds are heavily focused on vintage echo tones, going much deeper into ‘old-tone’ than the Flashback X4 does. The Echorec modes in particular are beautifully dirty, funky and expressive like the real thing; the first mode is the same one found in the original Alter Ego while the second adds a twist. In the case of the second Echoplex mode, the repeats get brighter – the opposite of an analog delay, really – as they fade out. It’s a very cool sound that works great with ringing chords. The Space Echo nails the classic chorus shimmer of that legendary unit. The Memory Man-inspired unit has updated chorus and vibrato modes and more of an 80s Andy Summers feel than the vintage weirdness of the Echorec and Echoplex. The Copykat mode is great for short, slapback delays as well as adding a little grit to the input signal. But the real surprise here is the brilliant TR Organ setting, which mimics an oil can delay (these use an actual can of oil in combination with a motor for an electrostatic recording process. It creates a distant, murky, part-reverb/part-delay sound unlike anything else, great for rockabilly and blues, and especially awesome for organ-type likes. There’s also a model inspired by the BOSS DM-2 analog delay, with short delay lengths and darker repeats. It sounds so much like my childhood guitar teacher’s DM-2 that it’s kinda eerie! There’s also a great Echo Flange mode which brings out the weird (based on the Electro-Harmonix Echoflanger). And the Reverse mode from the Flashback is featured here with the addition of modulation for freaky psychedelic tones.

This is an incredibly nuanced pedal which doesn’t just mimic classic delay tones; it full-on reproduces them. It creates many truly beautiful sounds and quite a lot of ‘ugly but beautiful’ ones too. And if you love the vintage vibe but you wish you had access to some modern sounds too, FlashBack TonePrints work in this pedal, so you could have a whole four presets of whatever modern sounds you like, in addition to all of these world-class vintage recreations.