Price - free
Format - Vst, AU & universal binary for Mac intel
Platform -Windows xp, vista & Mac OSX 10.4 or higher
Manufacturer - GSI
Type - Watkins copicat tape delay emulation
What is a Watkins copicat?
The Watkins copicat is probably the most well known tape echo in Britain and the first to be constructed in a compact, portable unit. In 1958 Charlie Watkins designed and built the first copicat after being inspired by the use of two tape machines to create an echo effect. The first copicat’s were valve, which are now sort after collectors items but the most popular model was the Custom copicat. The reason the custom copicat was so popular was because of its superior stability, bias, transport controls and frequency response over the older tube copicat’s and other leading tape echo’s. Watkins had improved on his original tube copicat’s by using transistors instead of valves, which at the time were breaking technology.
The GSI Watkat is a emulation of the classic Watkins custom copicat but in software format. The Watkat is available in VST, AU and universal binary for intel Macs and power PC’s plus it works with windows XP, vista and Mac OSX 10.4. Best of all it’s free, there’s a download link at the bottom of the article..
The sound of the Watkat is very lo-fi and gritty. As far as delay times go,there’s only three and there not particularly long and go from slap back to straight 4/4 repeats, but you would expect this from a tape delay. One plus side to this is that you can select different combinations of the delay times to get some cool layered delays. The feedback (swell) on this plugin is very sensitive and starts to feedback easily, i really like this but it might annoy some people.
The plugin faithfully reproduces the sound of the original Wem copicat’s including all the little quirks you would expect from an analog tape delay. This thing is noisy, even when not in use you can hear the motor running and it hum gently. This gets worse the longer the plugin runs, just like the original. You can also hear the tape speed fluctuating naturally, which is really nice. One strange thing is that the tape it’s self never gets wiped properly so you get a build up of sound from previous echo’s but you can easily stop it by turning the plugin on and off. One other unique thing about the sound of this plugin is the capstan rod stressing, basically you can slow the motor of down which makes the delays detune and sound fluctuate. This would happen on the original too and is a really cool feature. These lo-fi traits might be too extreme for everyone but i think it breathes a bit of life into a digital sound.
The parameters of the Watkat are true to the original copicat and are kept very simple. First of all there’s three square buttons at the bottom of the panel which select which tape head is used. These basically select the delay time, a cool thing though is that they can be selected at the same time, for example all three, which creates complex layered delay sounds. Next up is the swell which changes the volume of the repeats, a little bit like a mix control on a normal delay. The sustain parameter is the equivalent of a feedback parameter on a normal delay but the Watkat’s is very sensitive. Too much and it starts to feedback. There are two gain parameters which control the gain of the left and right channels being fed into the copicat. Although you might think these are a little pointless there not, you can create some cool pan delays and overload the Watkat so it distorts.
There’s one last parameter which is probably a first for a software delay, it’s called don’t touch the capstan, you’ll break it. Strange i know but its cool, basically the capstan is a little rod that the tape loop goes round and the capstan maintains the speed of the tape loop. When you click on the capstan, the tape loop starts to slow and the delays detune and fluctuate, just like in real life if you touched the capstan rod. Only in real life you’d probably break the motor or the tape loop.
All the parameters can be assigned to a midi controller using #CC and there’s also a midi learn function.
One of the greatest things about this plugin is that it uses super low CPU processing power which makes it very useful for live performance. Installing the plugin couldn’t be easier simply copy the DLL over to your vst plugins folder and away you go. You could even take it to a gig on a memory stick and load it onto someone else’s laptop if yours goes down.
This plugin is a really faithful replication of the original Wem copicat, including all its inaccuracies. The sound is gritty, lo-fi and dirty, which i like but not everyone will. The delay times might also be too short for some but hey it’s supposed to be an exact replication, which it is! If your looking for the real sound of a tape echo, lo-fi delay or Wem copicat then the Watkat is for you but if your not then you won’t be impressed. It’s still worth the download as it’s free. Many thanks to Guido Scognamiglio and the GSI team for this great plugin. Keep them coming guys