Reel to Reel Machine for 15 ips playback

Looking for recommendations on a reel to reel machine for 15 ips tape.  I'm new to reel to reel so mainly looking for reliability and ease of use.  Mainly concerned with playback no recording right now.  

Mara machine?

Refurbished Ampex or Studer?


You really gotta get with the tape heads, with Myles Astor, Mike Lavigne, and others who are plugged in. One thing is sound. Another is tape handling.

Also your location is possibly important. There are people who supply heads or will relap yours; and others who will work on the decks. If it were me, I’d prefer to keep all that local.

Mike is good to start with since he owns several different machines and could tell you the strengths and weaknesses of each.

I got to hear Albert Porter’s almost virgin A820 with refurbished stock internals and it was wonderful. But he was playing legit old jazz safeties. To me that’s the bottleneck with tape- quality source material that isn’t simply audiophile pap that doesn’t cost a fortune, or involve mystery sources how many generations down.




I’d add Greg Beron, but he’s a manufacturer as well as a remanufacturer of machines, you can reach out to him on your own.


give me a ballpark idea of your budget, your general location, and i will see if i can give you a relevant answer.

if you want the top level of performance, and are willing to pursue high quality tapes, there are some very fine choices that will give you outstanding results.


thanks Bill.

Thank you both for your help and recommendations.  

I'm really just starting to think about this so I haven't thought of a budget.  I've bought a few tapes from Acoustic Sounds as I do like the idea of the tape format and was worried about the buy now or cry later.  

The Mara machines at Acoustic Sounds are $10-$14k.  Is that a good budget or does it need to be $20-25k?  

I'm in the rocky mountains of Colorado.  

I see some Otari MTR10 1/4" for sale on craigslist in Denver.  Not sure if this would work in the home environment?  $3500

The Mara machines are reconditioned MCIs which I remember from the ’70s in studios. I’m pretty sure they get credit for auto-locate- you could punch in a number and the deck would advance (or rewind) to that point. These were 24 tracks, with MCI boards, which weren’t super expensive at the time. I know the Ampex and Studer machines tend to be regarded as 1st tier; I don’t know enough about the MARA machines to comment, other than that the product they reconditioned was a relative bargain, and considered to be an advancement, in the solid state world at the time.

It’s hard to translate studio to home-- I heard these things in a context where the tape was new, the recording was fresh and I was listening to multi-track. It’s 50 years later. It is an antediluvian technology and that can be addressed; to my knowledge, MCI was popular. back in the day precisely because it wasn’t considered "Swiss jewels."

But from a home audiophile perspective, Mike and the others I flagged will be able to give you a more current perspective as a home listener/user, and perhaps, where you can find value.

Here's a piece on MCI:

As to Otari, I understand it sounds good as a sort of interim step, like pro-sumer, but the deck will be the least costly part of this-- the tapes are gonna cost in today's market. 

A high speed B-77 1/2 track….w immaculate setup and maintenance w a quality tape can be formidable. Whart is spot on about a competent tech closeby or invest in a roadie shipping case….

have fun, enjoy the journey 

+1 for B-77 mk2 easy to maintain, plenty of spares, easy to adjust but not the most reliable, you can also check the semi pro PR-99. New heads 8000hrs lifespan.

Otherwise Sony TC-766-2, Technics RS-1500, more reliable, more adjustable, more expensive, some spares are difficult to find. Practically ever lasting heads.


chauncey OP

Did you buy half track tapes?

that's two tracks forward, wider tracks, twice the magnetic material for signal than 4 track's narrower tracks. The deck would need to have 1/2 track heads, cannot play 4 track.

15 IPS, is similar to wider tracks, in that the faster speed gives you twice the magnetic material for the signal (length). The machine needs to be designed and maintained to handle the weight of a full 10-1/2" reel of tape, and the precision of all of it's mechanisms to maintain stability at that speed, no easy feat.

I gave away the few 15 IPS machines I had (don't record anymore), and went with 7-1/2 IPS to allow me to buy pre-recorded tapes at reasonable prices.

Yes, 15 IPS is better, however 7-1/2 IPS is good enough to be the best sounding source in my system.

'good enough' is always a compromise, but not having many pre-recorded tapes to listen to is also a compromise.




I understand it is a 1/4" wide tape. the question is, how many tracks are recorded on the tape: 2 or 4?

here's a listing:


says 1/4" tape, does not specify 2 track forward or 4 track auto reverse, like a standard 4 track stereo tape, i.e. the pre-recorded ones I buy at 7-1/2" ips. on 7" reels.

no info, I presume 4 track stereo, auto reverse.

IF discogs is correct, then you need a deck with 2 track heads. I would verify with Acoustic Sounds directly. That is the professional/better sound setup. I just cannot imagine not saying so in the tape’s description.


There may be a deck with selectable heads, someone like Mike might know. That would be ideally flexible.

perhaps a deck can be switched from using a 2 track head (wider tracks) and another separate 4 track head, presumable two forward, two backwards, which is why you want auto-reverse.

That’s probably a pipe dream, perhaps make room now to fit two decks if you ever get into pre-recorded 4 track tapes. That machine would need a 7-1/2 IPS option.



I had a 2 track deck, (play only) with selectable optional heads.

Original 2 track stereo tapes 1956, came in two recording methods, requiring different heads.

’in-line’ tapes: the left and right signals were aligned horizontally/vertically, (’in-line’. quickly became the standard). left signal directly above the right signal, allowing a single 2 track stereo head, record/play one direction only.

’staggered’ tapes the l/r signals were recorded staggered 3/4" apart horizontally/vertically. i.e. they did not align vertically.


thus the l and r heads had to be either ’in-line’ (single head, two stripes)

or ’staggered’ 3/4" apart.(two staggared heads, one l signal; other, 3/4" away r signal.

My deck had an inline 2 track stereo head, and a separate single track head 3/4" further along. record staggared, play staggered.

switch would select either both track’s of the stereo head for in-line;

or switch to 1 track from the 2 track head, other track from the separate head 3/4" further along to play staggered heads.


I purchased a completely refurbished/rebuilt Revox PR99 MK2 from this company 2 years ago:

Cost and shipping to the USA was very reasonable for a R2R tape deck this good that looks and performs like new. SQ is the very best I have ever heard. For example, Lyn Stanley 15ips RtR tape London With A Twist, Live At Bernie’s. Stupidly expensive, but, SQ second to none IMHO. Everyone who has heard this tape on my systems simply say "Wow, sounds like live music".

This website has a wealth of information on R2R machines and music on tape:



if you are wanting to be in the realm of state of the art tape playback, you should try to acquire a ’master recorder’ level deck. there are a number of decks at that level that are all capable of sounding great. any of the new decks brought to market recently do not play at that level.

these new decks play at the 'Prosumer' and 'Broadcast' level.....but not at the 'master recorder' level.

my recommendation would be to find a really good condition Ampex ATR-102. you need to talk to someone who is an expert about it. i would recommend reading this thread on What’s Best Forum about a change i just made from my Studer’s to a pair of ATR-102’s. that thread should answer many questions and provide contact info to a couple of guys who can help you. tape can be awesome.


If you don’t want to spend big bucks, a used Teac or Sony would be your best bet.  

Post removed 

the question becomes what level of decks can make $500 tape titles from Acoustic Sounds sound better than great vinyl?

as i have a considerable commitment to vinyl; surpassing my vinyl takes great tapes and a great RTR deck.

the better your vinyl, the better RTR deck system you need to surpass it. it is cheaper to get very good sound from a few nice tapes and a decent tape deck, than to get top level vinyl and plenty of records. more than one way to skin the cat.

New to RTR guy decided to get 15ips RR machine.

Interesting. Why so?

I have Otari MX5050 B3 japanese R/R player. It's not in best condition, because some feet missing, but in general this machine has great preamp and sound pick-up and TONS of various kits to fit different types of tape thickness.

Getting studio recorded 15ips tapes is gonna be another challenge.

Extremely limited availability of 15ips tapes. At hundreds of $$$ apiece why bother? I have three consumer- grade decks: Pioneer, Teac and a rare Sony tube deck. I collect 7 1/2 tapes from the major labels Typically $25-35 each. Variety is the spice of life!


15ips 2 track stereo has to be awesome. I have only heard 15 ips 4 track (narrower tracks)

OP has the budget, why not. That's why I mentioned two decks, one 2 track, other 4 track auto-reverse.

I collected around 500 pre-recorded 4 tracks, years ago, they were costing around $8. in those days. I sold about 100 of them on eBay, will sell some more, just need space.

Of the $450. 2 track tapes OP is considering, some content he/you truly like will exist, and then many 4 track tapes that exist of artists/content you really like will never be issued on 2 track format. 

I often wonder why more members here (and most audiophiles I know personally) do not have Reel to Reel. If you want great sound, 4 track pre-recorded tapes at 7-1/2 ips will definitely sound better than your/my wonderful Vinyl. (lots of affordable content)  

One of the reasons is the content is limited by the era, there is no content for what young people grew up listening to. Yes, they can collect classic rock from our/my era, but not enough incentive to get into tape.

I have some 1/4" 2 track stereo tapes inherited from my uncle (with the Fisher President II, which had the in-line/staggered tape deck in a drawer). They are 7-1/2 ips. They sound even better that the 4 track pre-recorded at the same speed, thus the best source I have.

However, these are all classical, even if I like some classical, those are famous, but not my selections, so I gave my 2 track machine away. I'll probably sell the 2 track tapes.

You can manage to play a 2 track tape on a 4 track deck, just to hear the content. However, not for full fidelity. One track gets picked up ok, and the other track just partial overlap on that track of the head. So you adjust the volume, turn one track down, turn other track up, nothing special sounding about that. But, I can check the tapes before I sell them that way.

Despite what people fear, these tapes are 50, 60, the 2 tracks are 67 years old, and they have strong signal strength, no bleed thru, no shedding, no more s/n than when they were new. Often brittle ends, I put new leaders on both ends.

Of the 500 I bought, I think only 2 were problematic.

R2R versus vinyl, no comparison in my opinion. I have a very good vinyl setup; Michell Engineering GyroDec, SME IV and Clearaudio Maestro V2 Ebony. At the end of the day, a good 15ips tape on the Revox PR99 MKII sounds noticeably better, often, just like live music. I am lucky to own all the Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc One Step disc. I also own a good collection of 15ips tapes; including Norah Jones Come Away With Me and Muddy Waters Folk Singer, both are Analogue Productions Ultra Tape recording. In terms of SQ, the tapes are noticeably superior to any vinyl disc I own, including the One Step disc. Cost is the only drawback. Why do you think a lot of high end equipment manufacturers are using R2R tape to demonstrate their products at audio shows?

The MTR 10 was a great machine. If you can do the work or know a great tech, the Ampex 440 is also great. Stay away from their ATR 700 and ATR 100 series.


hi welcome to this world of r2r.

step 1 , get a great mentor … I had one ..

step 2, do not get consumer 4 track decks , my point is why bother , you can stream good music that may sound better than a 4 track deck.

About an yr ago I got the atr 102 with the mr70 preamp with flux magnetic heads modded by Andrew kosobutsky, for my 1/2” tapes , ( same machine linked to in what’s best forum) . Was listening to Louis Armstrong 30 ips earlier thru the deck it’s unbeatable , fantastic.

For 1/4” 2 track I have an otari mtr 10 modded by Soren in chicago , totally refurbished with flux magnetic heads playing with a nick doshi evo head amp ( latest version) . Phenomenal.

Nothing can beat a good tape played backed in a good machine .

my advice do it right the first time .😀. Pay the xtra $ and you will be a happy listener .


In my personal experience, I suggest you look at a Revox B77 2 track 7.5/15ips, at the minimum. If you’ve got the budget, then go for Revox PR99 MKII (or MKIII), and then look at the more expensive (but much better) Studer A810 (which I currently have). All of these are easy to find parts for, and there are a number of good techs around (and they are not too expensive to ship to a tech). The Technics has a parts problem if you should need one of the transport logic chips (no longer available). The Ampex ATRs and Studer 820s are great, but very expensive and so big and heavy, that if you can’t fix them yourself, you’ve got a big problem. The Otari 5050 series machines are also very reliable, have parts availability, and not too expensive. In other words,  you should seriously consider parts and technician availability for your purchase; not how cool or esoteric the recorder might be. And if you buy from a private party, my experience is to expect some initial service costs right after your purchase if you really want the recorder to perform correctly. The statement “All functions work” is NO guarantee of its actual performance. If you want to play vintage tapes, then you need to look for one of these machines in ¼ track format (all the above mentioned recorders can have their heads changed for this, and some Otaris offer both track formats). Someone has already suggested the TapeHeads forum, and if you want to pursue vintage tapes, then check out Ken Kessler’s articles in Copper Magazine. And yes, ½” track at 15ips is a beautiful “sonic thing.”

I owned a Revox A77 recorder for about ten years. Got it brand new for $500. It had built in Dolby processing and at 7.5 IPS it did a credible job on the system I had at the time. It fell apart and I gave it away.  I can record anything including albums in 24/192 digital much more reliably. 

The Ballfinger M 063 H2 goes for $29,000. Beautiful machine. Not for me and I can afford it. I raid the record collections of my friends and copy rare limited editions like the 45 rpm complete LZ collection. You can not tell the difference between the copy and the original. All you need is an Apple computer, and a certain program called Pure Vinyl. You can have both for $2500.00. Why would you ever spend $29K on a complicated machine that is going to need expensive maintenance down the road and be worth close to nothing in the end when you can do better for much less money. Yes, prerecorded tapes sound great, all 5 of them, all audiophile tripe as mentioned by professor @whart above, not to mention the price tag. For one tape I could buy about 15 records or 30 HiRes digital files.

The Tascam BR20 is another machine worth considering. It has good heads, and is extremely well build, though I'm not sure about spares availability.

As regards the whole analogue tape thing, I really struggle with the economics of it. A small collection of say 100 tapes is knocking on the door of $40,000.

That buys one heck of a turntable and access to vastly more software.

Consider a restored Studer A810 from

The Otari MX series are very nice, but the differences c/w Studer in sound, build, and transport are evident. It’s a B quality versus A quality comparison. 


  I have a Studer A810 for sale.  Has not been serviced but it records and plays back. Good condition.   


What kind of budget would you expect to find a used ATR-102 both in good to excellent condition?  Also does AK have a website for his hot rodded units?  What kind of budget should I expect to spend on a hot rodded unit?




not exactly sure where the price a high quality 'stock' used ATR-102 starts, my guess is the $15k-$25k range. to know it’s high quality you need a reliable source.

for reference a nice Studer A-820 is likely in the $30k-$60k range for comparison purposes. i know since i just sold 3 of them.

a hot rodded ATR-102 likely is ’more’. but it is really the way to go long term. and justifies your investment in great tapes. here is a link to a post with some ’AK’ contact info. there is no website. if the link does not work it’s post #39 on that WBF thread.



I currently have an Ampex ATR-102 and two Studers in my system. I have owned many of the highly regarded Prosumer machines capable of of playing back newly released tapes such as the Technics RS-1520, Tascam BR20, Otari MX5050B2, Revox PR-99, B-77, Pioneer, Teacs, etc. before I settled on what I have now.

While it’s nice to have a master recorder, we all don’t have the space or the means to keep and maintain a large machine of this caliber. It’s okay to start with a nice Prosumer machine (Studer A810, 807) that’s fully gone over, they are excellent and enough to experience the joy of tape and easier/less costly to maintain. These machines hold their value well so if you plan to upgrade, there’s minimal loss to you. You may realize that a Studer A810 is good enough that upgrading is unnecessary. Just a thought.


@chauncy This is a great thread, thanks for starting it

@mikelavigne thanks for sharing, especially the $ range for top units- nice to know target amounts

Prior to this thread, evaluating R2R components seemed confusing. There are very few choices in new units, and buying used seemed difficult to evaluate what to look for. Top used units like Studer seem to be superior to the new offerings.  Maintenance is also a concern both at home and for servicing/repair.

once an RTR deck is sorted out, especially one of the higher level decks, home use is unlikely to stress it much. they are built for heavy use in a pro environment. assuming you find one with relatively light use, it will hold up well.

so pay the piper for high quality to begin with and enjoy the performance. tape deck mechanical drama is best avoided. it might not ever get sorted. open one up sometime and take a look. a bit more complicated than spinning a platter.

Thanks. I’m a big fan of low maintenance so I’ll save for better units.  

You all are missing a great opportunity. Look for a Tandberg TX 10 or TX20.  I have had Revox, Teac and Sonys for the past 40 years, but nothing sounded better than a Tandberg.  And more reliable than any Revox.