Big players were: Crown (not best specs but built like a tank); Revox; Nagra (mostly pro use); and Techniques built a great deck I used in a Hollywood duplication studio in 1979.
6 responses Add your response
I am not an old timer mind you but did once owned an "old" Akai deck in the mid 70's that I purchased used that sounded oddly enough as good as my source which was a Thorens/Sure combo. I cannot remember the model number which does not help you much, but just to say that some of them do sound very good. This was not an auto reverse deck and it had tube line amps as part of the package. If you are familiar with the movie "Diva" they have a good shot of a Nagra deck in it, which is a deck that I would love to own today for its beauty as well as its sound. Another interesting tape deck (or decks) was a pro cassette deck made by Nakamichi that saturated a wider portion of the tape than a standard deck and therefore increased the fidelity. The only drawback is that you have to play the recorded tape back on this same type of deck and cannot for example play it in the car and get the same results as some of the signal will not be picked up by a standard tape head. I should also mention that I gave the Akai away after not being to locate pad replacements, but this before the days of PC's and the internet. The phone company was using huge main frame IBM punch ticket computers at the time. I assume that you should be able to locate parts today. I have also seen a lot of Crown, Revox and Nagra decks in recording studios, though the last one that I was in was using teenie little digital tapes the size of a Tic Tac container and this was over ten years ago.
My father was a recording engineer in the 50's-80's. He purchased a Revox A-77 in the 60's, which was the top machine around in those days. Later in the 70's, the Revox B-77 came out and, I am told, was considerably better. These were, for the most part, considered very high end consumer machines, but Revox sold professional versions which operated at 15 ips and 7 1/2 ips 1/2 track, instead of the consumer 7 1/2 ips, 3 3/4 ips 1/4 track consumer model. The higher speed 1/2 track model saw a lot of use in simple professional recording applications, including live and location recording. Revox is a division of Studer, which makes highly regarded professional recording equipment including the tape machines which used the 2 inch wide tape running at 15 ips which were typically used to lay down 32 tracks of a recording session. The Revox machines were the first portable machines, I believe, to offer "Sel-Sync", which allowed the recording head to also be used for playback simultaneous with its use during recording. This allowed a track to be laid down and an additional track to be added later. For example, adding a later vocal track to a previous rhythm track. The Nagra machines were also very highly regarded, sonically. They were used a lot for field recording, scientific and research location work. You often see them used in nature films and documentaries for example, to record wild animals in their own habitat. All the Nagra's that I have seen were quite small and only accepted a tape reel of 3-4 inches. The Revox's accepted up to the 10 1/2 inch professional reel of tape. Generally, consumer machines machines of the 60's and 70's accepted only up to the 7 inch reels. A notable acception were the Crown machines. Later came the Akai's and others which wanted to give a professional look to their products even if they didn't stand up specs-wise and sonically to the Revox's. To my knowledge, there were no professional cassette decks, since their relatively low signal to noise ratio, poorer high frequency extension, high distortion and wow and flutter characteristics simply prevented them from being used in professional recording applications. If they were ever used, it would likely only be to determine what a particular recording would sound like on consumer equipment of the time, never would it be involved in the process of making a recording. The concept of professional cassette deck was simply a way to market those machines to the public, but I doubt there actually were any. If I were interested in vintage recording equipment, I would consider either a Revox A-77 or B-77. A recording made on one of these machines sounded exactly like the original, and the Crown machines were far inferior.
I've used Ferrograph, Technics and Revox tape decks, and still have a Revox B77, a beautiful piece of machinery and a joy to see in its smooth operation. BUT ... I've done much better at archiving LP's using a Sony ES75 DAT deck, played bck through a Genesis Digital Lens--pretty poor compared to CD's on its own, but the Lens lifts it to near-elite status as a source. I've seen Revox B77's for around $800 used, but if you can use a Genesis Digital Lens otherwise, the DAT approach is what I'd go for, as an old-timer who still wants to move with the times. Good luck with it.
This question came up over on Audio Asylum a while back. I think the overall "winner" was the Technic's 1500. If i can remember correctly, even Victor Khomenko of BAT recommended this model over the ReVox's along with several others that had tried many different machines. I know that as far as "spec's" go, the Technics pretty much killed the competition. Sean >