The Hughes & Kettner products as we all know are aimed for the professional or rich musicians out there. They don’t kid around when it comes to tone, durability, and looks. I will be the first to admit that before I even took this item out of the box, I had extremely high expectations based on the price.
The Hughes and Kettner Replex Tape Delay Simulator is a tube-driven Digital Analog tape delay simulator. What does that mean? The overall delay is a digital signal, but it is "warmed up" with a simple 12AX7 pre-amp tube. "Simulator" means that this unit has no actual analog or tape delay to it, but rather the inconsistencies of an analog tape delay are simulated digitally.
The Hughes and Kettner (which I will now casually refer to as H&K) Replex is fitted with two jacks, one being the input and one being the output, as well as a DC connector for power. Speaking of DC jack for power, that is the only way that this unit can be operated. Sorry, but there is no convenience of batter operation with this unit. This is a big consideration to take when thinking about gigging with this unit on a regular basis. Not only will you have to shell out around 400 bones for this guy, but you’ll also have to invest in a dedicated extension chord. Anyway, there are also 9 knobs and 4 foot switches. I will go from left to right, starting with the knobs.
The first is the Input, which is what controls the incoming signal from the guitar into the unit. When this is cranked, there is a little break up in tube distortion. Don’t get your hopes up though, this is a rather sterile and lame-sounding distortion, and wouldn’t really be anything practical for acquiring great overdrive tone.
The second is the output. This is just the overall signal that will go to your amp. An additional output would have been a nice addition to the Replex but none is provided. On many delay units with two outputs, the first output can be used as a dry signal only and the second for a wet signal only. In other words, true stereo operation.
The third is the Reverb Volume. This controls the level of saturation on the reverb function. Just as the reverb operates on an amp, the more you turn this up, the more wetness you will ad to the reverb. As far as quality of reverb on the Replex, I did not have any complaints. I plugged this unit into a 1953 Wide Panel Pro Tweed Amp that had no built-in reverb and the built-in reverb of the Replex held its own. It is by no means anything close to the sexy reverb of Fender Twin Reverb or anything, but it gets the job done.
The fourth knob on the Replex is for the control of volume for the delay function. This controls the ‘level of delay’ in your mix.
The fifth knob is the Feedback control. If you think in terms of ‘repeat’ or ‘slapback’, this controls how long your repeats and slapbacks will occur. More feedback will prolong the decay of the delay.
The sixth knob is the "Vintage Factor" function. To quote the H&K website: "The VINTAGE FACTOR knob in the Delay section. Spin this knob to take a trip through time. Go back 40 years, or stop anywhere along the way. Set to the far left, it delivers uncolored digital delay. As the knob is turned clockwise, it delivers more and more of the three-dimensional "wow, flutter and spin" that made vintage tape delays so desirable." Basically the "Vintage Factor" knobs moves the coloration on the delay from sterile-sounding digital delay to vintage, inconsistent analog tape delay tone. I wouldn’t say that when you turn this knob all the way one direction to the other that there is an obviously noticeable difference that will pop right out at you, but there is some subtle differences, and I would have to say that the ‘all the way to the right’ position on the "Vintage Factor" knob is where it made the Replex sound best.
The seventh knob is the Single Head Time control. This controls the delay time variables from 10ms-900ms. The single head time control gives the standard characteristics of any delay unit.
The eighth knob controls the Double Head Time. This is a second layer to the delay, almost like 2 delays at once. When I went over to Dual Head Delay, I started to accomplish Brian Setzer-esque delay tones. Sort of a delay stacked on top of a slap back. The Double Head Delay was definitely where this unit started to sound good.
Finally the ninth knob simply controlled the Double Head Time volume. Just as with the single head volume, this controls the level of double head delay.
As far as the switches went, the first foot switch was for the ‘Bypass’. The bypass function is something that H & K is very proud of, in that it is a TRUE BYBASS, in that the signal bypasses all of the delay circuitry, rather than just being a delay ‘on/off’ switch. This helps with line levels and the cleanliness of your signal. (Editors Note: While marketed as a "true bypass" unit, the signal still needs power when it is off and will not allow a guitar signal to go through it when not powered up. This indicates that while the signal may be bypassed from the "loading condition" of the effect, it is still going through the circuitry in some respects. Sonically, the circuit will be true bypass to a certain degree, but it is not being accomplished in the same manner as the Fulltone products which are completely bypassed from the circuit and are done through a direct signal from the input jack to the DPDT footswitch, then finally to the output jack. This in my definition is "True Bypass." DS)
The second foot switch is for the Reverb on or off function. This is a nice feature in that you don’t have to bend over and turn up or down a reverb level, but rather you can have it either on or off, depending on if it is necessary or not.
The third foot switch is for the Single Head Delay on or off. Respectively, the fourth Foot Switch is for the Dual Head Delay on or off.
Construction and Visual Aesthetics:
Overall the construction of this K&K unit is very typical of H&K products. DURABLE! The case that this unit is housed in is extremely durable, and looks very road ready. Unlike other effects pedals that are made of cheap-o plastic, this unit is very well built. In addition, this top plate (as seen in photos) is a cool polished aluminum sheet. The knobs and input/output jacks are of very high quality. There is no shortage of quality when it comes to the components of this unit that is for sure! Even the clear portion on the top that makes the tube visible appears to be very strong. I did not get a chance to weigh the unit, but it’s also hefty in mass.
Visually this unit has a cool vibe to it. When I showed it to buddies whom are both musicians and non-musicians, generally the first thing out of there mouth was "wow, that’s cool looking. It must be expensive". I would have to say that this unit definitely has a classier appeal to it than the butt-rocker units put out by zoom and digitech, etc. The glow of the tube lights up the "Hughes & Kettner" logo very nicely, and each foot switch has its own LED to signify whether that function is on or off.
I would not worry about damaging this unit on the road. Any working guitarist can count on this unit to always be there in any situation (provided you can supply is with an extension chord!)
Tone and Sound Quality:
I’m going to be completely honest in this part. I’m not going to sugar coat the next few sentences. Overall, I was not really very impressed with this unit in regards to tone with respect to the price. I felt that for the amount of money that this unit was, it was going to just do something extremely spectacular and blow me away. It didn’t really do that. This was the first K&K Product that I had plugged into and tested, and I wasn’t really impressed. I showed it to a few fellow musician buddies who are just as gear savvy as the rest of us, and they were not too impressed overall either. At first when I saw this unit in the box I got an initial excitement of "Wow, a cool H&K product… I wonder how this will compare to my other delay units??"
I messed around with the unit for about 20 minutes or so and was kind of scratching my head wondering if I wasn’t doing something right, because it didn’t sound that much better than my other delay units. I was running my ’65 Gretsch 6120 into the Replex, and then into my Line 6 Flextone XL. I assumed maybe it was my gear or my ear, so I again took the unit over to a fellow musician friend and had him evaluate the unit on his setup (a Rickenbacker 360 through a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe Tube Amp). I did not tell him how much the unit cost. His initial reaction was that it was "a cool delay…" and that the need for 112AC was "inconvenient". This reassured me that I wasn’t out of my mind for thinking that this unit wasn’t really what it was cracked up to be. I then proceeded to inform him of the cost and he was really disappointed. He said and I will quote "For that kind of money this unit should wipe my ass too!" That’s quite a far fetch, but it illustrates that unless you are an extreme delay gear head, or a musician with nothing better to do than drop almost half a grand on a delay pedal, this unit does not realistically suit the average broke musician. I agree that in a recording situation where ‘quietness’ is important with regard to effects, this unit would provide satisfaction in that category, but when one simply compares the H&K Replex against any given delay pedal in a band rehearsal type situation, it is difficult to distinguish which is which.
If I would have any last comments on this unit it would be this: Unless you’re rich and only want what others tell you is ‘the best’, save your money and get one of those cheapie Dan Electro or some other affordable delay and put the money towards a better guitar or better amp, or studio time, or something other than an accessory unit that costs way too much money for what it is (or isn’t).
However, don’t let my comments on this unit sway you away from testing this unit out. If you are someone who is in the market for a new delay pedal, by all means try this unit out, but just keep in mind how expensive it is compared to other units on the market.
Bottom Line: I was not very impressed. This is an expensive unit. The construction is top notch, very good quality as far as that goes. The tone is good, but nothing that justifies $450+ dollars. The looks are impressive. The weight/mass of the unit is comforting. The need for AC power to run this unit is a potential pain in the butt. The tube preamp is nice for ‘warming up’ the overall sound, but it sucks for trying to get any kind of cool overdrive tones to base your overall tone on. The knobs and jacks are sturdy and will last for the lifetime of the unit.
Overall rating: 7 out of 10.
A Note from LT Editor-in-Chief, David Szabados:
Before passing the Replex over to Contributing Editor Nick Bearden, I had the opportunity to try out the Replex for myself and tested it for a week. I certainly enjoyed its diversity and having a footswitchable reverb as well as two delay modes is a genuine benefit. As a unit designed to emulate tape delays, the Replex does a nice job and its effects which simulate the wow and flutters of tape delays which translate into mild and random choral and phasing effects were pleasing to the ear.
I just couldn’t get over the price.
I decided the best option would be to give Hughes and Kettner a call and talk with them about that. Some interesting discussion resulted and then ultimately I better understood the Replex’ position in the market.
The first point that Hughes and Kettner made about the Replex is that the company makes sure that it builds to the best levels of quality it feels it should and therefore the price does reflect that. True enough I thought, but I was especially perplexed when the Hughes and Kettner rep then talked about how the Replex had strong overall value AND a low price. I was puzzled. "What do you mean a low price??"
The Hughes and Kettner rep replied that as a tape delay emulator, the Replex is a real alternative to true tape delays. A vintage tape delay would obviously be high priced, but even if someone wants to purchase one of the new tape delays available on the market, they would cost approximately $1000. For several hundred dollars less, the Replex could be purchased and then on top of just having delay, one would also get reverb. On top of that, you eliminate the mechanical issues inherent with tape delays themselves.
The bottom line is that if you compare the Replex to an ordinary stomp box, it indeed seems very high-priced. The Replex isn’t positioned as a competitor to a stomp box delay, but rather the buyer interested in purchasing a tape delay. From this perspective, and for the person seeking a good simulation of a tape delay effect, the Replex certainly makes a compelling choice.