Review: Ibanez ES2 Echo Shifter

In my recent review of the Behringer VD400 analogue delay, I already mentioned the Ibanez ES2 Echo Shifter. At slightly below 130 bucks, it’s the cheapest one-second analogue delay in the market today. By a margin. I decided to get it.

Appearance, Package, Connections

The ES2 comes together with a small kinda-manual (multi-language folded paper) in a simple but functional cardboard housing. A PSU (standard Boss-style) is not included, but a single 9V battery is.

At ca. 15x12cm surface area, the device is a bit larger than your run-of-the-mill small stompbox (but then, your delay is also a bit longer than that of your run-of-the-mill analogue delay pedal). In a sturdy-looking, cream-white sheet metal housing, you first get connection-wise input, output (1/4” obviously) and power on the rear. The sides are adorned with dark faux-wood panels (why?). As the top is slightly angled, this thing obviously looks well on a pedalboard as well as it does on a desktop.

ES2_Package

On the panel, you have on the top three rotaries for Feedback, Mix and Depth (more on that later). There’s a long slider in the center for the delay time, and toggle switches for Oscillation and Modulation. The bottom has footswitches for FX and Tap. There’s also a total of four LEDs for Oscillation, Modulation, FX and Tap respectively.

While the knobs, toggle switches and footswitches all appear sturdy, the same thing can’t be said about the slider: it feels wobbly right out of the box, and may very well be an issue with prolonged (pedal board) use.

With the connections being standard, I had the thing hooked up in no time and could start to play it.

Functionality

At the heart of it, the ES2 is a one-second BBD delay. Which means it’s analogue, and has, by analogue standards, a rather long delay time. In addition to that (and the controls that go with it, Feedback and Delay Time), three additional aspects catch the eye:

  • Tap Tempo: this is, for an analogue pedal, fairly fancy.  The only other competitors I know that have it are the EH Deluxe Memory Boy (550ms, 190 bucks) and the EH Deluxe Memory Man TT1100 (1.1s, 390 bucks). Which puts the ES2 even more at an advantage for milliseconds-per-buck.
  • Modulation: a modulation for the delay time. There’s on and off, and depth. Sadly no speed, though. This is a fairly slow modulation of the tape wow/slow vibrato realm.
  • Oscillation. This is simply a boost in the feedback chain.

In Use

I first connected an electric guitar to the input and fed the output to the mixer, cranked Mix up full, feedback about to 12 o’clock, set a longish (ca. 800ms?) delay time and disabled Oscillation and Modulation.

Two things immediately became clear: the wet signal is, even at Mix fully cranked, apparently below the dry signal in level. The second thing, even more interesting, is that already from the first repeat, the wet signal had the typical BBD-style bandpass/compressed/smeared quality to it. That happening is not a problem per se, but this happening already on the first repeat shows that you just can’t use it to let a signal degrade gradually through successive repeats – it’s mangled the first time around.

Checking the signal level issue somewhat later with semi-proper measurements, I found that the device really finds its limit at the -20dB “passive guitar pickup” standard, and above that, just starts to clip the wet signal. This makes the pedal’s usability quite limited, not only for integration with synths and mixers, but also in a pedal board signal chain, where the pedal before it may very well have peaks that are not compatible with this limitation.

The Oscillation feature, while I saw this at first as an unnecessary gimmick, is a very nice feature indeed: you know the fact that on a typical (analogue) delay it’s kinda hard to hit that 100% feedback mark (to just retain the signal without completely mangling it), then jump to a large feedback setting, to then quickly return to the 100% setting (or any other setting below that). Here, the Feedback knob only goes to 100% (and quite precisely so), and for that noise-buildup/oscillation effect, you quickly flip the switch, and then can return to normal again.

The Modulation feature is a nice addition to go from a controlled detune to a complete wobble in a controlled manner. As said before, it lacks modulation speed control, and with that, the uses of that feature (which consumes one switch, one knob and one LED) is somewhat limited.

We know that Tap Tempo is a great addition to any delay, at least if you sometimes play rhythmic music in the widest sense. The implementation here doesn’t leave anything to be desired, and gives it a true unique selling proposition in this price range.

Summary

While a nice offer on paper, I can’t find a proper use of it for me, and also have a hard time finding one for others.

The biggest point of critizism for me is the  gain structure – the fact that you can’t use it safely except when hitting it with a passive-pickup guitar or putting it right after a short-attack compressor. This is something I assume would limit usability for most.

The fact that even the first repeats get very much smeared is also something that limits this pedal’s use in most applications. Perhaps perfect for a short slapback delay, the question then arises why I would go for a one-second delay if its primary strength is with slapback delays.

The Modulation feature, while it does have its uses, isn’t something I’d be willing to pay for – but that may be different for some users.

Only good things can be said about Tap Tempo and Oscillation.  The former isn’t something new, not even in the analogue-pedal world, but makes this pedal one of a few, and the implementation is flawless. The Oscillation feature is a truly innovative idea, only limited in its use somewhat by the generally weak signal quality.

Closing this review, I sadly cannot recommend the Ibanez ES2 Echo Shifter. Having said that, I do not consider it a complete failure, but rather a missed opportunity.

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