Reel to Reel decks

Is anyone out there using reel to reels anymore? I remember at one time(30 years ago), they were probably some of the best analog reproduction equipment out there. Of course, it doesn't matter much if you can't buy good prerecorded tapes. I've googled prerecorded tapes, but haven't found much out there. Anyone have a good source? Also, can anyone recommend a good deck?
about 3 years ago something called 'The Tape Project' was started and it caused a real RTR tape resurgence to occur.

i'd recommend going to The Tape Project Forum here.

there are also tape boards on many audiophile websites. do a search here on Audiogon for reel to reel tape and you can read some threads.
Hi Handymann,

Mike offers sage advice. I would respectfully advance that 15 and 30 ips reel is the acme of analogue reproduction.

I owned a reel to reel machine 35 years ago. I loved it. I kept it for about ten years. I never bought any pre-recorded tapes. The only tapes that I played on my machine were my LP's that I recorded to tape. When I went to record stores in the mid 70's and 80's, I never saw any open reel tapes for sale. I saw them advertised in magazines in those monthly music clubs, but I wouldn't be bothered with mail ordered music. I wouldn't be bothered with a reel to reel today. To me, it would be more trouble that it's worth.
I have a Technics reel to reel. I use it to record my vinyl. I recomend Revox because you can still get parts; although I have never had a problem with the Technics.
Hi, I've owned a lot of reel to reel decks from Revox {had 4 of these]Sony's, Vikings, and Tandbergs. Am useing 3 decks in my system now, and have 2 Pioneer decks that I love,one is a mint 707 and the other is a 1011-L, they are built beautiful and sound great and are a lot less trouble than most of the Revox's I owned, parts are available and so are the machines.Of course have a slew of tapes from the past and present. Just remember you need to run these decks quite often no matter which one you decide on, they don't like sitting idle for long periods..
Yes, 15 and 30 ips tapes are the ne plus ultra of tapedom. But let's get real,
folks, a would-be tape newbie will be totally turned off by the prices of tapes
(Handyman, would you believe $500 per Tape Project performance?) and the
machines capable of playing them.

I would recommend visiting the Ebay sites, as well as Audiogon of course, to
get a fix on prices of tapes and equipment. Buying used tapes (there are
precious few new ones) is pretty much of a crapshoot, and buying used tape
decks -- there are essentially NO new ones -- is dicey as well. The decks
need regular service and finding competent tape techs is no picnic either. I
know I've painted a gloomy picture, but there IS a plus side in terms of fidelity
and just the fun of watching those reels spin. It can be addictive but you do
need to know what you're getting into.

As a starter deck, I'd recommend a Teac in the 2300 or 3300 series or a
Pioneer 700 or 900 series, and avoid brands like Akai (very hard to find parts
and Akai is not alone in this respect). I've been into tape since the 1950s, but
if I were starting out today I'd think long and hard about it. Good luck, Dave

Actually the Tape Project tapes are $350 each for the series 2 if one gets a subscription for 6 or 10 tapes.
I know that, Myles. So you only have to invest $2000 or $3000 all at once, for music available at maybe $100 total, on CD. Figure it on a cost-per-music-minute some time. Yeah, I know the tapes sound better, but for a newbie starting out, I really can't justify that kind of expense. Glad you can :-)
Have many decks, technics, tascam, teac, sony. In addition to the commercial seven inch pre-recorded tapes, I have a large library of ten inch pre-recorded tapes that were used in radio stations. These latter tapes include Drake, Century, Media General, Radio Arts and AFRTS. The quality of the tapes are all over the lot. The AFRTS among the best, as the government spent big bucks to produce them, some of which have almost 55 cuts on a track, and with auto reverse cueing the tape can go for hours and hours. On the seven inch tapes the Barclay Crocker are the best. Analogue still lives.

I have heard the Tape Project tapes at the CES and they are truly great, sound wise but not value wise. So, to get started with a modified Technics 1500 and some software you are talking $5K plus.

I caution newbies that decks are expensive to maintain as parts are hard to find. My advice is skip reel to reel and invest in blu ray audio media, which I think is the future. The transfers from the original master tapes are being done by many labels now, including the soon to be release Miles/Blue which will be the original three track mono, without a mix. Given a listen to the latter blu ray and I think you will forget about reel to reel.
I grew up listening to my old man's concertone R2R deck.
We usually did Our own recording & very rarely purchased any pre recorded material.
I still have a bunch of tapes stored away & recently had
a friend give Me his old Teac deck which is in nice shape
except It has an issue, motors inside rotate but the reel
does not.
I am hoping I can get it repaired without going broke since I love spinning tape! (& miss it).
I realize new tape is hard to come buy, about a month ago
I snatched up a couple of brand new sealed Tapes (American Recording) at a yard sale for a buck each.
I had 2 diff. Teac RTR's in the 70's & 80's, & I was very happy with them, until the 2nd one broke the 2nd time. Like others have said, tape decks, RTR, or cassette, are gonna' need repairs every so often. And the better RTR decks tend to be hugely heavy, & where are you going to ship it/schlep it, when it breaks?

I'm not necessarily saying you shouldn't do it tho.....
Although I have two reels, I concur with others. Tape is expnsive, put your computer hardrive to work for recording.
I have to respectfully disagree with Buonero's repeated promotion of Blu-ray discs holding the promise of better sonics than tape. I own a few now and there is simply no contest. In my experience, the analog magic, depth, dynamics and wonderful musical nuances are all there in spades in 15 ips tapes--and not on Blu-ray.

respectfully i want to echo Kipdent's comments and strongly disagree with your perspective on Blue-ray disc music performance compared to 1/4" 15ips master tape dubs.

you wrote;

Given a listen to the latter blu ray and I think you will forget about reel to reel.

please help us understand why you feel this way and describe what Blue-ray music disc was better than a 1/4" 15ips master dub to the degree to suggest 'you will forget about reel to reel tape'.

repeatedly you jump on RTR threads with baseless claims of Blue-ray music superiority without one example of that ever happening.

thread from last year;

post 1

post 2

post 3

post 4

again; tell us where your claims come from besides thin air.

btw; i have no problem with you claiming 1/4" 15ips master dubs are expensive......they are. and value is a matter of opinion.
While I stated tape is expensive, I now realize, that is relative. There is no better quality of stereo reproduction than reel to reel tape. My tapes are better than the original source. But that comes at a price; my tapes are half track, which means one way on 1/4 inch tape.
I don't want to pick nits, but I will anyway...
There is no better quality of stereo reproduction than reel to reel tape.
A lot of people will agree with this.

My tapes are better than the original source.
I hope there are not a lot who will agree with this.
T_bone, I am very glad you picked that nit. A bumble bee aint supposed to be able to fly; it's "theoretically" impossible. What I stated is "theoretically" impossible. However, when I record a CD on my 2 track Technics reel to reel; it becomes the same as a perfect analog record, and sounds much better than the original. As a matter of fact, the playback even increases the apparent size of the speakers.

It is actually not theoretically impossible for a bumblebee to fly. It was simply bad physics (and myth) which said it couldn't. There have been numerous scientific papers which have 'proven' that bumblebees can fly.

That said, I admit that when I made my comment, I did not give enough weight to the idea that just because it was not a source with better fidelity to the music as played into the original microphone did not mean that it did not sound better.

Given that you are recording the CD from the analog outputs of your CD player, and putting them through more circuitry, before applying them to a medium, then playing back that medium through other analog outputs, right back through the input of the amplifier that would have been used for the CDP in the first place...

I suggest that either
1) the analog outputs of your CDP are mismatched to your pre or amp in a way that your CDP output is not mismatched to R2R or the R2R is not mismatched to your pre/amp, or
2) the R2R through the tape input on your pre is simply a better analog gain circuit than the gain circuit you are using for your CDP, or
3) you find the changes brought on by additional circuitry pleasing...

Nothing wrong with any of those answers I guess, and anyone of them could explain the perceived difference in speaker size.
Just because someone has a preference for one source over another doesn't mean the preferred source is a more accurate reproduction of the music. Tape decks are well know for adding a gentle compression to the signal which can be interpreted as added warmth or even making the sound "bigger". It's distortion and in some cases that distortion is quite pleasant. Not accurate, put pleasant.
First time I knew they were "well known" for that. Too bad tape decks were used for original recordings all those years :-)
T_bone, I have never read more "gobbledegook" in my life. You should have been a lawyer. I believe you wrote my last divorce papers.
When I had a reel to reel machine many years ago, I too felt the recordings that I made from my LP's were better than the LP used to record it. I never could understand that, but it sure sounded good. I got rid of the machine before I bought my first cd player. The only reason I bought a reel to reel in the first place was so that I wouldn't have to keep flipping over and changing LP's on the turntable. When 5 disc cd players came along, it rendered a reel to reel obsolete for my purposes. I could now have 5 hours of music without interruption and without having to record it myself.
Dopogue, if you don't know about the compression effect of tape heads, then you should read some of the following:

A tech explanation

A discussion of the variables involved

Tape compression can sound so good that several companies make effect processors to emulate the sound. Check out Crane Song, Rupert Neve or Empirical Lab's Fatso.
Handyman, where are you? If you are going to buy pre recorded tapes, they are very expensive, and blank tape is not cheap. Are you still interested in a reel to reel?
T_bone, I decided to explain my statement "The playback is better than the source"
Most decks record "forward" and "reverse", they do this by utilizing 4 tracks on the 1/4 tape. A 2 track uses the entire width of the tape in one forward sweep. The tape heads are wider, hence the sound is bigger. This is equivilent to looking at a photograph under a magnifying glass; same photograph, just bigger. Bigger is better.
as big a tape fan as i am, i'm with T-Bone on this one. you can take any output signal, record it, and change it, or add something to it, cannot improve it in terms of information. the additions and changes may or may not make it more pleasing to one's tastes. and you can call it better if you like. but at best it's different but also most certainly diminished to some degree.

yes; mixing engineers will even take a digital master and run it thru a tape machine or use EQ to do the same thing; but you could also apply that to your Lp output or get a phono stage that mimics's normally considered a coloration. adding bloom or anything always comes at a price somewhere else.

there is one 'theory' that has been mentioned previously that makes a case that since a turntable can be affected by speaker feedback......making a tape off an Lp with the speakers turned off, and then playing it back on a tape player (which likely is less affected by speaker feedback) might give you a net gain in information even when considering the signal path loss and generational loss in the recording process. personally i don't buy it, but in theory it does have merit.

also; if using RTR tape and optimizing recording quality; you will be taping at 15ips with $40-$50 per reel tape. that's almost $100 per album just to copy your music in an attempt to 'improve' it. not too sensible an approach if you ask me. if you are using 7 and 1/2 ips and cheaper tape then don't even talk about getting close to the original media.....that's not going to happen. any way you look at it it's not a good direction.

OTOH if you just like the sound better then knock yourself out.

i'm strongly from the camp of enjoy any media in it's most original form. making recordings of media you already own is a waste of time to me. it cannot sound better after messing with it. only different. if your original playback media system is flawed then fix that.

Mikelavigne, how many reel to reel tape decks do you have at present?
currently i have 3, the Studer A-820, the Ampex ATR-102 and Technics RS-1500.
Mikelavigne, is your technics 2 track or 4 track. Which ones are direct drive?
Orpheus, the Technics RS-1500 is a 4-track/2-track machine.
it does 3 3/4ips, 7 1/2ips and 15ips.

i have about 20 7 1/2 2-track tapes and maybe 100 7 1/2ips 4-track tapes.

i'm not sure what you are referring to regarding applying the term 'direct drive' to an RTR deck. my understanding is that the Technics does have the motors directly connected to the reel shafts.
Mikelavigne, can you discribe the audible difference between 2 track and 4 track playback?
assuming the same speed....7 and 1/2ips, the difference between 2 and 4 track is mainly that 2 track is double the width; which yields a wider bandwidth, greater dynamic range, and correspondingly lower noise floor.

what that does in reality is that 4-track does not quite measure up to better vinyl in my system; whereas 2-track can equal or even slightly better 33rpm vinyl in my system. this is based on the better examples of 2 and 4 track tapes i have heard.

15ips can surpass the best of my vinyl; but not 100% of the time. the source of that 15ips tape must be a 15ips master dub in good condition and the dub needs to be very well done.

i'll grant that there are aspects of tape replay which the 4-track has which i do enjoy such as the continueousness that set it apart from vinyl in some cases. but the 4-track also has a higher noise floor than my vinyl. the 4-tracks i have are very inconsistent.

i almost never listen to a 4-track tape as with 12,000 Lps why would i?

i do have three very good tt's and 2 high quality phono stages so Lps do perform quite well in my system. if i had a more modest vinyl front-end maybe my viewpoint on how 4-track (or even 7 and 1/2ips 2-track) compared might be different.
Mikelavigne, "Wider bandwidth, greater dynamic range, and correspondingly lower noise level" than 4 track. If we assume that high quality 4 track sounds as good as the source, if 2 track sounds better than 4 track; it has to sound better than the source.
I see Buconero has not bitten... ;-)
A few comments. First, tape **Can** sound better than the source. Why? Physical vibration. If you have the speakers playing while making the recording, the tape will *not* sound better than the source, but if you use headphones to monitor and turn the speakers off then it has every chance of doing so. In addition, tape can filter out digital noise quite effectively. Try it!

2nd: Tape is known for compression *but only near saturation*! At levels below that no compression at all.

3rd: physicists figured out that the Reynolds Number that bumblebees use to fly is quite different from aircraft! It was the Reynolds Number that was off when the math 'showed' that they can't fly.

So far, tape is the most practical form of state of the art reproduction. LPs, if done direct-to-disc, can be better, but only under ideal playback conditions. Tape machines, even if marginal like a Teac or Sony, can come very close to creating ideal playback conditions on the tape head. This is worth a lot! BTW I have a lot more respect for Tascam machines than Teac. My main objection to Teac and Sony is the quality of the electronics.

The idea that a blue ray is going to somehow keep up with analog tape is absurd. Anyone who has spent time in the studio with state of the art digital (using the master files) and even a rather pedestrian analog system can tell you that. You can hear it in a heartbeat.
I'm just getting into tape myself. A friend had sold me some boxes of factory recorded 7" reels and it turns out about 60 are 2-track from the 1950's (mostly classical), I informed him of the value and he agreed it was a mistake to sell them to me but told me to just keep them (I offered them back twice, there has to be more than a few thousand dollars of 2 track least a dozen of the early rca plain box for example, all early titles).

I bought an otari mx5050 mkii on craigslist for $60 that sort of works then unbelievably I found a technics rs-1500US at a garage sale with a spare headblock for $35 a few weeks later (the headblocks are rp-2224 and rp2422). Had to fix the 2/4 track switch on the installed headblock and got it set up. I have played a few of the 2 track tapes and have been amazed (one of the rca tapes from 1956 has a price printed on the box of $18.95, that is a lot of money for 1956!). A few friends had a chance to listen and had commented that they wish there were some current titles available (more affordable than the tape project tapes).

I plan to do a direct output from the heads on the rs-1500 and buy the bottlehead tape head amp. If I hadn't purchased this collection of tapes however I don't know that I would have pursued tape.
Congrats, Andy_p :-)

thanks C1ferrari, I'm just worried that it will drive me to new levels of buying madness
Hehe...well, you've advanced beyond the denial phase - lol :-)
The next is anger, then comes the deal-making, and finally, acceptance :)
Hi Ralph,

Did you see "All That Jazz"? Great movie -- wasn't it?

I have to say though that tape can sound pretty remarkable even with a modest set up. Can't keep it modest though, that's just not going to happen!
I don't want to AGAIN pick nits, but I will anyway...
First, tape **Can** sound better than the source. Why? Physical vibration. If you have the speakers playing while making the recording, the tape will *not* sound better than the source, but if you use headphones to monitor and turn the speakers off then it has every chance of doing so. In addition, tape can filter out digital noise quite effectively. Try it!
Assuming one's source is vinyl, or CD, or cassette, or 8-track, or me playing the piano... will the tape (recorded with the speakers off) playback sound better than the original source did when it was played back by itself (or played)?

If so, why?

FWIW, I can perfectly understand why tape playback, with recorded from source with speakers off, might sound better than tape playback which was recorded from the same source with speakers on, but saying so is not quite the same thing as saying that tape sounds better than the source, and I expect should not be used as a reason to explain it.

The problem with seeking the best RTR based sound available is that there is not a lot of source material available relative to other formats and it can become quite expensive just to listen to the same stuff over and over again just for the sensation while everything else (99% of the music available) sounds inferior. Potentially an expensive addition with some very real limitations. Be careful!

Andy_p, you are a lucky guy however to get to where you are the way you got there!
BTW, I think I saw that United Home Audio is participating at the Capital Audio Fest near DC this weekend. UAH where I heard some of the new RTR master recordings eclipse vinyl and CD last year on a very fine mbl system. I suspect that some of this technology will be on display there for those interested in hearing.

Actually here is what is advertised:

"Special events in the UHA room at the Capital Audiofest:

" UHA will be playing a precious few 0 generation Master Tapes recorded directly to 1/4" tape at 15ips, these tapes are not copies,
these are the original 0 generation tapes. We have both jazz and classical, you won't want to miss this demo.

3.) We will be playing "The Tape Project" 1.5 generation Master Tapes.

4.) We will be playing tapes we recorded using the Phase6 reel to reel tape deck from a $100,000 vinyl system, incredible reproductions."
I recently picked up a near-mint TASCAM 42B, (2-Track, 15ips) from a local church having been inspired by the CES reports of "Best Sound at the Show" at the Tape Project room as well as the amazing j-corder and the United Audio sites. I made a 15ips recording on NOS 3M/996 tape of direct-to-disk vinyl; Basis/Graham/Benz front-end through EAR 834P pre-preamp output directly into the deck. Listening through Sennheiser HD-600 headphones from the deck jack to the playback was amazing. Actually heard things I'd never heard before. I now intend to tape all my best vinyl. Tape quality is crucial. You can buy used 10.5 inch reel tape, but there's no guarantee it's been stored properly even though it may appear fine. You'll need to "bake" the tape (unless it's an old pre-recorded acetate). NOS and new tape is available but is expensive. TEAC/TASCAM Service Support has been great and is a crucial consideration in getting into this.
Here's another view of "the copy sounding better than the original." And I still can't believe it, no matter how many I do. I currently have two Otari machines at hand (one belongs to a friend) along with a Teac A2300SD (Dolby). I've been dubbing my own 4-track commercial tapes (mostly 7 1/2 but a few 3 3/4) onto one of the Otaris at 2-track 7 1/2 and 15 ips. In every case, the dubs are audibly better than the originals.

I'm not sure how far I'm going to take this -- and the excellence of the tape stock used for dubbing does make a major difference -- but the results so far have led to more and more dubs. Outstanding cases in point are the Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" and "Sketches of Spain." Has anyone else tried this?
a copy cannot be better than the original in a technical sense. It is just not possible.

That does not mean a copy cannot sound subjectively better however. That is more a function of what one likes to hear.

Copying often has a filtering effect on teh original meaning that some aspects of the signal are altered relative to otehrs which changes the sound.

The bad thing is that information lost in copying cannot be replaced should your preferences change in the future.

Better perhaps to find other ways of tweaking to achieve the desired results that can be reversed or eliminated dynamically if desired? Different ICs, tone controls, speaker toe-in, etc. are all examples of reversible tweaks that might have similar effect without risk of permanent loss or damage to the source.

I suppose you could keep multiple copies of recordings around but there is still a lot of time and expense involved in dubbing recordings to achieve sound improvements versus other options perhaps?
Here's what I think is happening in my case with the "copy" sounding better, through headphones at least. My TASCAM deck at 15ips is flat to 23Khz and with 3m/996 tape, has a 9db Headroom. Cutting out the room, the speakers, the speaker cables, the Cary monoblocks, the Transparent interconnects and the EDGE preamp, reduces a lot of aberrations done to the "original" down the chain and compression of headroom. A drum thwack I've heard a hundred times literally made me jump and, go ahead and laugh, I just love watching those huge, pro-grade VU meters on the 42B slam to the pin with no distortion with 996 tape.
I know what you mean.

I used to love to watch the VU meters jerk around to teh music back in the day when most tape units had VUs for playback as well as record.

My Denon CD recorder has LED meters but it just ain't the same.

Also my Roku Soundbridges have a VU like display mode, but I generally prefer to have the source track info show instead of jumping bars.