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Review of Nembrini NA 501 Chorus Echo effect

Introduction

Nembrini have introduced the NA 501 Chorus Echo, their innovative digital reimagining of the classic Roland RE-501 Chorus Echo.  The plugin faithfully captures the essence of the original’s iconic sound, known for its rich, warm tape echo, versatile BBD chorus, and lush spring reverb. NA 501 Chorus Echo extends the original design with modern functionality to fit seamlessly into today’s digital audio workstations.

NA 501 Chorus Echo is available from Nembrini Audio in VST2, VST3 (64bit versions only) and AAX formats for Windows and macOS, typically priced at $99.

It is also available in AUv3 version for iOS from the app store, typically priced at $14.99.

Background

Roland introduced the RE-501 Chorus Echo in 1980, it was the last of their electro-mechanical effects units.  Roland introduced improvements on previous models, namely a second mono input and an additional mono output and noise reduction.

Tape echoes record incoming audio onto a loop of magnetic tape replayed via one or more playback heads and is subsequently erased by incoming audio as the end of the tape loop is reached. 

Roland tape echoes have a unique feature where the tape is contained in a tank where it is free to move around as it moves across the play/record/erase heads by a capstan drive compared to other tape echoes which tend to use a cassette-style arrangement with the tape wound on spindles.  This gave Roland several advantages over its competitors – less tape wear, less wow and flutter and a much longer tape length allowing echoes over 3 seconds in length.

The units retailed at $2,495 / £1,610.  If you take account of inflation, this is equivalent to around $9,300 / £6,965 today.  Used units are still really sought after, a quick look on Reverb shows these sell in the UK for between £1200 – £2400.

Overview

The NA 501 is an authentic emulation of the original Roland RE-501 tape echo, BBD chorus, and spring reverb, delivering the analog sounds that defined generations of music.  It has extended controls taking advantage of modern digital possibilities with features like DAW tempo synchronization for the Sound On Sound, wide parameter adjustment for chorus and tape delay and separate timing controls for left and right channels,

The plugin includes a meticulously modeled preamp section, providing the characteristic warmth of the original unit. When the linear option is off, the preamp volume control becomes active, offering additional tonal shaping.The interface has been designed with the user in mind, combining the look and feel of the original hardware with the convenience of a modern plugin, ensuring both ease of use and deep tweakability.

The NA 501 has a range of creative applications from thickening vocals and guitars with its chorus effect to crafting rhythmic delays and ambient textures with its echo and reverb, it’s a versatile tool for any producer or musician looking to add depth and character to their tracks.

Interface / controls

I really like the look of the interface, it has a very clean look that captures the essence of the hardware unit with very easy to use controls.

On the left hand side you have the level meter, link switch which links the left and right channels for stereo processing; direct switch which engages the direct signal path allowing the original sound to pass through unaffected; sync switch to sync delay time to host DAW tempo.  Underneath this you have switches to turn the chorus, echo and sound on sound (layered, overlapping playback) on and off, you can also do this by clicking the led light next to the effect name.

The preamp section has a linear switch which activates a linear response giving a cleaner sound, the volume control is activated when this is switched off giving the characteristic warmth and saturation of the non-linear preamp stage.

The chorus effect has intensity and width settings.

The echo effect has a 5 mode selector switch, modes 1, 2 and 3 are single slap echoes,  modes 4, 5 are double echoes and mode 6 is a triple echo. 

Volume controls the volume of the echo / sound on sound effect, there are controls for echo rate and width. There’s a toggle to switch between single and repeat echoes, an intensity control (will self oscillate when the setting is around 7 – 8) and a rate control for the sound on sound effect which can be independent for the left and right channels or they can be linked.

The reverb has a single volume control, there’s also an EQ with bass and treble settings.

There are also toolbars where you can scroll through presets, undo/redo, A / B banks to compare sounds and a handy copy feature that allows you to copy a preset, make changes and compare the differences.

In Use

What I love about the Chorus Echo is that it’s incredibly easy to use, has loads of character and a brilliant sound. One minute it’s thickening your guitar, the next it’s giving your vocals more presence, then it’s giving an ambient delay and the next it’s a kind of experimental looper with dub/pysch effects.

There are a number of presets shown below that give an idea of the sort of sounds that the NA 501 can produce but it’s very easy to start using and dial in your own sounds quickly.

The chorus can be quite subtle but you can also get really thick and lush sounds through to a Nirvana-esq vibrato chorus.  There aren’t really any pedals that give a similar sound, the original unit used the BBD chip for the chorus.

As an analog tape echo with 6 different modes, you can create a whole range of effects from slapback, traditional analog style delay to more complex ambience using sound on sound to produce a decaying looper kind of effect – the tape records and repeats what you’ve previously played, you can control the number of repeats and decay time.   You can also add an edge of saturation, push it towards self-oscillation and because it’s a tape delay, adjusting the settings can create dub or psychedelic type effects.

The reverb can give an ambience, small room to a larger room and the EQ is really useful to shape your sound darker or lighter as required. 

Individually these are superb sounding effects but combining them gives an amazing sound, it’s easy to see why the original hardware units were so popular in the 80s and remain so today.  

I’ve recorded the video below which uses the NA 501 on a guitar loop, vocals and drums.  I’ve typically started with the default setting and dialled in effects to give an idea of the sort of sounds that it can produce.

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