Reel to reel can be fun to play around with. I was recently given an Otari 5050 pro deck. But RTR makes playing records seem as easy a playing a CD.
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Professional Reel-to-Reel tape recordings combined with Tube amplifiers were, and still are, the pinnacle of audio reproduction. All of the media innovations that have followed have attempted to imitate the sound that professionally mastered tape recordings are capable of reproducing. Compare a professional tape recording to a CD of the same title and you may think they are two entirely different recordings. Mastering for the CD market essentially "washed" the original recordings to the point where there is little or no dynamics, headroom or ambience. In many cases the resulting CD sound is sterile, without any sense of realism. Many audiophile recording labels have abandoned digital and reverted to reel-to-reel recording, and mastering, in an effort to win back consumers. The same applies to commercial recording studios. Neumann microphones from the 1950's, Ampex 350/351 Tape Decks from the 1950's, tube amplifiers, all play an essential roll in producing the best sound possible. In fact, many artists will refuse to record without this equipment in the studio.
Let's see . . . I had a Stellavox TD-9 I used for live recording, and as a mixdown recorder for recording projects in small or home studios. I also had a modified Teac 3300 that I used as a playback deck for Stella's recordings on my home system.
But that was many years ago, and I sold both machines when I stopped doing that line of work. I still have a handful of master tapes - but an analog tape machine REALLY goes to pot when they sit around unused, and I can't justify the expense (and the space) of having one around to use once a year or less.
Now the whole Tape Project thing is a great idea, and if I was much wealthier might be a great reason to have a 1/4" machine again . . . but for the money, I'd personally get much more enjoyment out of a whole pile of CDs than one Tape Project release.
Commcat hit it right on the nose, there's not much more one can say about the sound quality of RTR recordings.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to buy back the Ampex 351-2 I bought new in 1958. The friend to whom I sold it, put it in his closet and never used it. The Neumann U 67 mikes I also bought new at that time, I sold for $600 for the pair. It was a little less than what I paid; now they go for around 7 or 8 grand each!
The sound of a master tape is addictive. Once your exposed to it you want to hear more. The Tape Project tapes are $200 a set, about the same you'll pay for a copy of a master tape from the few sources out there that sell them.
Tomorrow I be getting an 800 lb shipment 200 master tapes that came from a Memphis studio that shut down in the late 90's, over one hundred are 1/2 inch 2 track mixdowns at 15 and 30 ips. The remaining are 1/2 inch 8 track masters that need to be mixed down to two tracks; here comes another machine and a need for DBX and Dolby noise reduction that some were recorded with.
Hearing these tapes for the first time will be like going on a blind date and I'm sure some may be dogs. On the bright side of things, some might also be great. It will be an experience!
I use my Crown 822 to record live with, small venues. It is amazing the quality of playback that it provides. I am NOT a fan of CD, so I also use either my Crown or Sony 755 to record CD's that are not available in vinyl. You won't believe how listenable a CD becomes when you record it on reel to reel. I also enjoy making mixed tapes of my favorite jazz and rock recordings. I literally play reel to reel three or four times a weeks. It seems we are always listening to it. I can't imagine not having one. Buy a quality unit that is made to last. Sony's, Teac, Crown, Revox, Pioneer, Ampex.. When taken care of, these machines will last for decades to come. You will not regret open reel.
Kipdent-I don't think your A80 will last any longer than a properly maintained C-37. The C-37 is built like a battle ship and was designed with maintenance in mind. The tapes that Dertonarm is referring to are the early 2 track tapes that were made at a time when the record labels actually thought that tape might overtake LPs as they were a superior sonic medium. But like many things in audio, tapes were dumbed down over the years to cater to lazy people. Tapes went from 7 1/2 ips 2 track to 7 1/2 ips 4 track so you could save half the tape and if you had auto reverse, you didn't have to get up to change reel sides. And then tapes went to 3 3/4 ips 4 track so the record labels could save 50% of the tape used. Reel to Reels were always fairly expensive, harder to use than record players, and wives didn't know how to use them which was the real deal killer for most married men. Combine all of those factors and you can see why R2R tape died off as a commercial medium to release music on. And sure, 15 ips sounds better than 7 1/2 ips, but Dertonarm was referring to tapes that still sound damn good and were commerically available. There is a very large library of R2R tapes out there on the used market. The number of tapes available from the TP are a pimple on an elepant's ass in comparison to the number of 7 1/2 ips tapes you could buy on the used market. We could even debate how good the TP tapes really sound but I don't want to go there now.
Do you know something?! :-) Actually, I'm very excited about acquiring an RTR for location recording - I know...digital is astoundingly more convenient.
Regrettably, the C-37 may be just a bit too cumbersome for the field - Hmm...perhaps, another RTR for the home?:-)
p.s. Kipdent, how're you doing?
C1ferrari--I'm doing, fine, thanks! It looks like you are really enjoying your R2R, too.
Mepearson--All the prerecorded 7.5 ips tapes I own are from the early days (1950s) and are 2-track only. As I said, they are very, very nice, but not as nice as either the TP tapes or other 15 ips tapes I have lucked into. Sadly (and no doubt in part because of the resurgence in interest in R2R that forums like Audiogon have ignited), the "large library" of these early 2-track prerecorded tapes are soaring in price. Some I have tracked on ebay recently have fetched over $300 each, a huge increase from six months ago. My original post had this "value" issue in mind--I think a newly released, 15 ips / IEC tape from the Tape Project is a far better value at $300 than a lovely RCA 7.5 ips 2-track from the 1950s that costs nearly the same. But, as you said, our opinions are debatable!
A tape machine that is a bit of a sleeper is the Magnacord. They were made in 7 1/2 and 15 ips versions, although seems to me the 7 1/2 ips (with 3 3/4 as the slow speed) is a bit harder to find. There was the 724 and 1024; like any older machine they will need to be refurbished, but are capable of exceptional quality and are useful as field recorders, as its actually possible to pick them up with one hand.
They have a beefy chassis and 3-motor design, not unlike a compact Ampex 350 transport, but with the all-tube electronics built into the same case. If you have the input transformers, a balanced input for microphone is available. I've refurbished a few of these over the years and they will take a Studer A-80 to the mat with ease. While not as feature-laden, the transport is actually more solid and the tube electronics simply out-perform the A-80 (BTW, the A-80 is no slouch and is one of the better transistor units I've heard, despite its clunky appearance; we have one in our studio that we use quite a lot).
i saw your response to my post over on the 'Absolute' best cartridge' thread regarding my reel to reel comments. i had asked....
have you investigated newer RTR transports with improved ss output electronics?
I am pretty accustomed to the younger generation Studers too.
your answer did not really speak to my question....have you heard newer transports with improved output electronics (such as the Cello circuit)?
i thought that making that point on that thread was not the right thing to do (as you noted) but maybe here on this thread you could more specifically answer my question.
my opinion is that the very best transports combined with improved output electronics can be every bit as good and likely better than the most 'loved' and 'revered' 60's RTR decks. they would have more dimentionality and low level dynamics.
I've only managed to listen to a half dozen or so 1/2 inch two track tapes; all at 30 ips. Recorded at Sounds Unreel studio in Memphis in the mid 80s, without dolby, the dynamics are as good as anything I've heard. Steve Horton and his band never quite made it big but the Memphis rock he put out should have gone somewhere other than clubs in Memphis.
There are a bunch of 1/2 inch 8 channel tapes that will have to wait a while before I can get to them. Since they'll need to be mixed down to two track it'll take time to get familiar enough with the songs to do a decent job; it will be fun but creepy mixing music from dead guys! Ken
Wow...what a thread!
Kip, I look forward to hearing your tapes and system as we both live in SoCal. It will be informative to compare/contrast the different Studers...
Ralph, thanks for sharing your extensive analogue tape experience with us! I'm learning more about the diverse possibilities of tape and machine; albeit, other than a Studer :-)
Mike, please keep us informed of any mods/customization of your Studer...as you know, I'm very enamored of your particular unit - alright, you all know what I mean! As a matter of fact, I've recently had a direct feed from the A820 to the monoblocks...excellent sound, thus far; however, I don't have fine control over the volume. I'm contemplating customizing the Studer's electronics...probably valves...maybe Tim dP? :-) Have you ever run your RTR directly to your Dart/Evolution combo?
Ken, there you've done it, again! ...spreading my molecules all over the joint to coalesce in Memphis during the 80's :-) You can now add recording engineer, mastering engineer, and producer to the liner notes of your Steve Horton tribute!
In awe of all of you,
Sam and Miles,
currently i have switch wired into the heads on my Studer A-820 (by Ki Choi) which allowed me to try Charlie King's Cello circuit a few weeks back. Rich Brown brought it over. it sounded wonderful thru RCA's.....and i'll likely purchase it when i can afford to. the Cello compared to the stock circuit revealed a layer of grunge in the stock circuit. the Cello had a lower noise floor and better micro-dynamics. the mids openned up more and more bloom and decay.
it was also set up for XLR but it lost something of the purity in that mode. it's also probable that i'll have my Cello set up for the 50 ohm 'darTZeel' BNC output, as that will allow me to have any length interconnects.
i do highly recommend the Cello circuit. it is critical that someone quite capable do your head mods. i would not want just anyone messing around those heads.
i owned a Technics RS-1700 with the deParavicini mods (dPv-EAR) which was also very very good. obviously, Tim deParavicini wrote the book on tape deck mods as almost every good vinyl mastering studio (as well as the Tape Project) uses his circuits.
i've spoken to Tim dPv regarding modding the Studer A-820. he was not too keen on it since he's never done one. it's quite a beast inside. we did speak about him doing my ATR-102 which he would be glad to to do as he's done quite a few of those.
my plan is to wire the ATR-102 so it can share the Cello circuit with the A-820. my only concern is whether the head EQ will be close enough to the Studer heads EQ to still work.
no; i have not run direct from the Studer into my dart amps. maybe i should try it. the battery powered dart preamp is about as 'not there' as is possible in a volume control.....and better than my Placette passive RVC.
last fall Rich Brown had brought the Cello over, Ki wired the switch into the Studer, and we listened. this was with an RCA connection. all was good but the bass impact was missing thru the Cello compared to the stock circuit. also; i desired an XLR connection since my RTR decks are huge and must be on the other side of my room....and i already own an 8 meter set of XLR interconnects.
Charlie made some improvements to the Cello and added an XLR output for me to try. in Feb Rich brought the Cello back. we tried the XLR; for whatever reason with the added transformer for the XLR 'in my particular system' sounded congested and lacking dynamics. we all preferred the stock circuit to the Cello with the XLR. you would have to ask Rich or Charlie why that was. when you are dealing with amplification of tiny head outputs everything matters.
OTOH thru the RCA all was now wonderful. and the lack of bass impact from last fall was gone. it was better everywhere than the stock circuit. my only agenda now is to substitute the darTZeel BNC connection for the RCA and then finding the do-re-me for the purchase.
hopefully that more clearly explains things.
You might want to look into replacing the stock 6DJ8 and EF86s in the Repro. The best I've found are the Tele EF806S and Tele E88CC. They'll give you a cleaner, more transparent sound with more sense of space and attack and a bit better bass. If you want a little warmer, not quite as extended, but with a little more mids, you might want to try an Amperex E188CC/7308 and Mullard 10M ECC88. There are a few other tube combos but despite having the tubes around, haven't tried them yet.
We've done tape EQ for a few customers, so they could run direct from the head to the preamp. So far it seems as if that works quite well. Its nice if you can get a new tape EQ unit, as often 3-motor transports may not need that much work, but the electronics might, especially if its an older tube unit.
BTW tape heads like cartridges are a balanced source.
Group, aside from ordering online from Quantegy, and ATR and RMGI (google is your friend here) you can also order it from your local Guitar Center in the 'Pro Audio' department. You have to ask them to 'look it up', because half of the staff their don't even know what reel to reel is.
I make compilations, record CD's, direct to disk albums and the most fun is getting a couple of good mikes and recording small venues of jazz, folk, and chamber music. UNBELIEVABLE how good these masters sound.
Everyone should have a reel to reel.
This week a friend sold me about 200 pre recorded tapes that look like they are from the 50's and 60's, mostly classical (most of them appear to be 7-1/2 ips 4 track, but meaning 2 tracks in 2 directions). They are good labels, everest, rca, mercury, columbia, vangaurd, some odd obscure labels etc). I've had some decks in the past but haven't had anything for some time, after reading this thread and the other thread on rtr I couldn't stand it and bought a nice tascam 34 locally (well maintained unit in a local home studio). With the tapes and the deck I'm into it about $360 which to me is a great deal considering what that breaks down to per tape (with the deck thrown in). I just set it up and it sounds wonderful and is a great to have this library of material to explore.
It turns out a good number of the tapes in the collection I bought are 2-track, so will have to upgrade the deck (after looking them over more carefully they are mostly 2 track from the 1950's). Should have waited to get a deck with 2 and 4 track heads (included with the tapes were a handful of 2 track tube decks..ampex 960, 936, viking, concertone, miranda, I might just try to get one going in the meantime).
I had passed on an otari mx5050 bii on craigslist (non-working for $60, after talking with the owner it sounded like he knew how to work the deck and it didn't work). So today decided to call again and buy the deck (thinking maybe I could fix it) and got it home and it works fine! Will clean it up and make or get some proper cables and probably get it aligned/biased etc.
I grew up on Reel to Reel, My old man had a concertone Deck. A friend of mine just gave Me a nice Teak R to R
deck, but it has a problem. It is almost like there is
a clutch inside that is not engaging when "Play" is hit.
opened it up & tried to figure it out but no dice.
Sure wish I knew of a place that could fix it without
breaking my bank account. I still have a bunch of old tapes from My Father stored away, as well as others that
were given to Me just going to waste.
Hi to all you RTR mavens.
If you're a Studer fan, I have a line on an A80 VU MK II 1/2 inch four track for about 2 grand. It's located out west. Email me if interested. I have no interest in this machine but can vouch for the seller as I purchased other gear from him and he's a straight up guy.