As a starting point I'd check the TEAC 2300 series (I have the Dolbyized A2300SD). I also have a Teac X1000R and the technician who services them both thinks more highly of the 2300 despite its much lower original cost. The downside is that you're unlikely to find one -- ANY tape deck -- that doesn't need maintenance and/or service by a knowledgable technician. But it's worth the effort, IMHO. Dave
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Tandberg built some excellent R-to-R recorders. Some years back, I owned a Tandberg 6000 (7.5" reels), and while it lacked some of the "bells and whistles" found on Japanese units, it was easy to use and made excellent recordings. Tandberg also made larger recorders which handled 12" reels, and they were highly regarded in their day. Since Tandberg is still in business, it's relatively easy to find a repair service for them.
Tandberg not only made nice reel Machines, but made some really killer sounding units, with many very unique features, and were also very beautiful looking units, but I can also remember back, that many were reknown to be problematic, and very finnicky also.
Sony was another machine that had looks, features, but my personal finding that they too, were a basket of problems, picking up RFI, rewinding like washing machines, and had a tendency to be unreliable.
Some of the old Roberts were great, but at this stage of the game, it won't be easy finding a worthy unit.
As another mentions, the TEAC 2300 Series, and its bigger brother, the 3300 Seies would be a good place to start, have really good sound, generally held up very well, their prices for a very clean unit won't set you back too many dinero, and some parts can be found.
If you have no plans, or desires to run the larger 10" reels, nor record, or playback at 15ips, then the 2300 series machines should fit the bill nicely.
No doubt, many of the tapes you are seeing at the shops are only 3-3/4ips speed, and some may be 7-1/2ips.
You'll need to make sure the machine you wish will utilize both these speeds.
Some of the better 3300 series machines had 7-1/2ips, and also 15ips, and could use either 7", or 10" reels.
Virtually all were four track-two channel stereo machines, some had auto-reverse, and even one of the 3300 machines was a two track, meaning generally, that no pre-recorded tapes could be used on such a machine, and although the two-track was no doubt the best sounding of the 3300 series, this machine will have limited use due to its two-track play-record only feature. Fine for dubbing from CD, or LP, but won't play pre-recorded tapes you find. Mark
I'd second a Teac. I also own a 2300SD, and think it's a fine deck - and any decent local tech should be able to lube it up & adjust it for you. You can also do it yourself if you want to try - e-mail me for a great source for Teac belts, pinch rollers & lube kits. There is no doubt that a Revox A-77 will sound better, but they're a lot more expensive to buy and maintain. You first have to decide what you're going to play back. If you are buying 7 inch pre-recorded tapes at tag sales, a 7 inch deck like the Teac 2300 series - or even a clean A-1230 - will do fine. Most 7 inch tapes available are recorded at 3 3/4 or 7 1/2 inch per second, and a small Teac deck will do a fine job at playback. If you find some 10 inch reels, or want that capability, then you're in the Teac 3300 series or Revox A77/B77 territory. If you go looking for a Teac, be careful of the models that end in "40" 2340, 3340, etc. Those are 4 channel deck, and although they will do what you want, they're overly complex for simple playback. I've owned & used quite a few Reel-toReels in my time, and would be happy to answer specific questions if you want to e-mail me.
Good luck in your search, Ed
From my experienc most of the decks that utilized one motor and hence rubber belts to activate takeup reel and other functions do not have a good chance of working properly with the correct speeds. Almost all need complete lubrication of drive parts as well as belt replacement. This goes even for the early Tandbergs and the Ampex models designed and manufactured by their home products division.
You have a better chance of success purchasing recorders with three motors. The Teac recorders fall into this category as do the Revox and the later Tandberg recorders which could utilize the large 10-1/2 inch reels. If you find a 3-motor recorder which you can see by examination to have low mileage because of its clean overall condition, you stand a good chance that it will work properly. If you find one in a garage sale or Thrift Store and can try its operation, even if it cannot be hooked up to a system, if the tape movement appears normal and the vu metters read signal, there is a good possibility that you have a preperly working recorder.
You have ambarked on an interesting challenge which can provide great satisfaction but requires a lot of time as well as patience. Good equipment with a library of tapes makes an interesting collection of appreciating collectibles. The tapes recorded at 7-1/2 ips are also sonically superior because they produce a very wide dynamic range.
I've seen several Tascams at local junk shops and have always had the best luck with them. Badluck with Revox. I've never used a Tandberg or Akai, although I have heard good things about the latter. The TEAC's are ok as far as reliability, but they don't sound so great. Many of the Tascam's are quartz clocked. You should do a little research in the pro-audio world though - some of the reel to reels record stripes on the wrong side, and play back that way as well - carry over from the mono era. So basically you would only get half you music (as in: out of one speaker with some analogue bleed). It is also not possible to say that one company designed this way and another never did. If you were to pay top dollar, this would not be a problem, but if you are going for curiosity and cheap, you have to worry about it.
Teac A3340 is a mid-1970s' high end deck that they made 100,000's of. I found mine for $250. The 2006 Orion Blue book is $414 > $244 depending on condidtion (DoC). Also don't forget Teacs' professional division Tascam, I found a Tascam A22-4 (Early 80s') for $225 that blew the doors off the A3340S sound quality wise (2006 Orion Blue Book = $354 > $207 DoC). However; the A3340S is a far prettier machine and also handles the 10"reels which the 22-4 doesn't. I own one of each, even though my vynal may sound better, I seem to can't part with these machanical works of art.
I sold R2R tape decks back in the mid-'70s, and our store carried Teac, Sony, Tandberg, Pioneer, and Revox. I myself owned a single-motor Tandberg 6400 (and wish I still had it), and sold a Pioneer to my sis & bro-in-law. My brother had a Sony 6300, so I'm pretty familiar with the sound of the Tandbergs, Revoxes (had one in the demo room), Sonys, Pioneer, and Teac.
Mechanically, the Teacs were good, and they sounded OK, but not spectacular. Not too quiet or dynamic. The single-motor Tandbergs sounded great; I met the late John Iverson at an audio clinic we were hosting for him. When I mentioned that I had the 6400, he said it was about the sweetest-sounding R2R made for the consumer market. It even had a high quality built-in MM phono preamp, so you could record directly from the turntable, which made some really fine-sounding tapes.
The first generation Tandberg 3-motor machines had some teething problems, but their single-motor machines were golden, if a little clunky in the operation dep't. They were simple to work on and good engineering and close tolerance mfg. yielded wow & flutter figures that approached 3-motor machines from Teac and Sony.
Tandberg invented the cross-field recording head design and technique (also used by Akai/Roberts), but Tandberg's implementation was superior. Most Japanese decks of the time had an s/n (at 7.5 ips) of around 55-58 dB. The Revox was around 62. The Revox with Dolby was rated at 66 dB. But the Tandberg without Dolby was rated at 64.
The Tandbergs also had superior frequency response. I took mine (which weighed all of about 24 lbs) to a tape deck clinic hosted by Pacific Stereo and the tech spec'ed out my deck for free. The results: frequency response at 1-7/8 was 45-11,700 Hz (plenty good for recording FM), 3-3/4: 45-20,500 Hz ('way better than Teac/Sony/Akai), and 7-1/2 ips: 35-27,000 Hz. With HO/low noise tape I could easily record albums at 3-3/4 ips with no discernible loss of fidelity. I used 7-1/2 ips only for live or direct-to-disks.
There were some later Sonys (late '70s) that could use their own Ferrichrome tape that were linear out to 45-50 KHz.
Mechanically, some audio repair techs told me that Teacs were relatively easy to work on and that Akais were complicated and difficult.
How do you intend to use the open reel tape machine? If changing speeds and splice-editing aren't important, you could start with a REAL CHEAP experiment: any old VHS Hi-Fi machine (which is any of 'em built in the last 7-10 years or so).
You can pick up a used one for $5-25. They all have a flat frequency response of 20-20KHz and a S/N around 90-96 dB, which holds for all 3 speeds. That's better than you'll get with any open reel home recorder and many studio ones as well. In my experience, the only limiting factor on using the slower speeds is tape dropout. Use a good enough tape and you can put 6 hours of stereo on a single cassette.
1) There may be some considerations about machine-to-machine compatibility, but the tracking adjustment (whether manual or auto) should take care of that.
2) Most of the later and cheaper VHS Hi-Fi machines have automatic level control; I used to have a 1st gen. Sony VHS that actually had recording level controls for each channel, plus a headphone jack. Still, with a dynamic range of 90-96 dB to play with, the auto-level control shouldn't be *too* obtrusive.
At least, at $5-20 it wouldn't cost much to experiment.
You can still get VHS blanks at the local grocery store. Where ya gonna get open reel tape?
At the store I worked at, we also carried Nakamichi. I did an A/B record/playback comparison of the Nakamichi 1000 ($1600 in late 1975) vs. the 3-head Tandberg 330 ($550, I think) cassette deck. In that experiment, the Tandberg sounded much more like an open reel deck. The Nak still sounded like a cassette--sort of thin and threadbare through the upper bass and midrange. I played the comparison for my co-workers for a sanity check, and they agreed. And yes, I did azimuth alignment on both decks before recording.
I have several Naks including the 480, 550, and 680ZX, which was the baby Dragon. I have also owned the 700 and 500. All in all Nak made some excellent decks in the day, right up to the very end. However, one of my favorites is the Tandberg A440 which easily held its own against the 680ZX. It may not have had the fancy features, but it certainly made excellent recordings and sounded great during playback.
I just re-read your original post--your intention is to play pre-recorded reel-to-reel tapes you find at garages sales, thrift stores, etc.
From that standpoint, the ultimate quality of the playback machine is a bit less important because you're interested in playback, not how they sound when playing back what they recorded.
I still rate Tandberg and Revox the best sonically; I rate Tandberg one-motor machines highly for reliability and (relatively) uncomplicated maintenance. Mechanically I always liked 3-motor Teacs, and for playing back pre-recorded tapes they should be fine.
If you find a Sony in good condition, those were good too. Hell, even those single-motor Sonys sounded good and were reliable. The Akais sounded good and were generally reliable, but harder to work on. I heard a professional engineer's portable Aiwa plugged into a mobile recording/playback signal chain that sounded incredible. Of course, he was playing back a master tape, but the Aiwa was up to the task.
You may want to google or scan about to see if anyone carries playback heads for any of these. If they got much use, they could well need a head replacement.
i own 5 reel to reel tape recorders. why? i like to record vinyl and do alot of editing (choosing only the tracks i like). secondly, you can plug in microphones, even really cheap ones, and have an absolute blast recording music or even voices. my 1st machine was a concord, and the whole family gathered around and took turns reciting poetry or singing songs into the little microphone. we acted like idiots and had more fun than you can imagine. later i alligator-clipped wires to our blaupunkt am/fm/sw radio speaker and recorded classical and broadway shows.
these days you're better off with a hard-drive (alesis) recorder unless you can really play an instrument pretty well and have some decent mikes. if only more places would fix reel-recorders (and do it right) it would make me VERY happy indeed! as for old pre-recorded tapes, i just wouldn't want to take a chance with them shedding and possibly ruining a nice clean tape deck. but if you really want a tape deck in 2007, TEAC/TASCAM sells many of the (mechanical) parts you would need to get them to run like new again if they needed work. AND i strongly prefer decks WITHOUT AUTO REVERSE. pro-decks run in one direction and the reason is all too obvious. reliability, tape alignment, fewer heads/better quality.
of course, if by some miracle you find a nagra or stellavox in perfect shape that a neighbor will let you have for $500, you might want to make a quick run to the bank...!
Johnnyb53, have you or others here ever made a comparison between the Tandberg and Technics 1520 (balanced) open reel machines?
I have the Technics, which mechanically is excellent. It wraps tape so perfectly it looks like a block of machined plastic.
It records half track and plays quarter or half track at 3.75, 7.5 and 15 IPS which covers all prerecorded and even the "master dubs" that show up at Ebay.
The Tape project has a tube preamp for the Technics and being a fan of tubes I'm seriously considering that for my machine.
Your interest in a reel to reel machine can lead you to some of the best sound you will ever glean from the audio spectrum.
Albert is right on regarding the Technics machine-- if you can find one.
I was lucky; bought a 1500 machine for $600, the asking price, 3 hours after it was listed on Audiogon. $120 shipping from Utah and the unit was pristine. 2 weeks later another showed up on Audiogon for $600. I saw it at 6 am, a few hours after it had been listed. I bought it without realizing that it was to be shipped from Mexico. The shipping cost was almost equal to the purchase price.
When you decide to go reel to reel you need a back up. I have no regreats. I bought them both because of The Tape Project.
Purchasing the Technics VS1500 machine doesn't grant you a path to audio nirvana, there are costs to upgrade to present standards. Not necesary unless you get crazy about audio. Check the posting for Albert Porter, and see what the love of music can do to you.
Relax, Listen, and enjoy the evening. Ken
I have 3 machines 2 Teac's and one Sony. The Teac is very reliable.I was told from technicians that the Tandberg is a nightmare to keep up and running and very unreliable.
From my memory in the good old days the Technics was a very smooth fine running machine.Such a perfect tape path in its direct drive motors.Wow What A Machine.