Why Not Bring Back Analog, Reel to Reel Tape

I know, The Tape Project is doing so but in a very expensive way, mostly limited to oldies. Since there are many current issues on LP, why not reel. Reel, done properly can beat LP any day. This is borne out by comparison of the Barclay-Crocker tapes to the LP equilvent in there day. Two track, quarter inch at 7.5 ips can blow LP's away if properly mastered. I've heard the Tape Project stuff at the CES and it is hard to beat, especially if you are using tubes all the way.
If Wal-Mart doesn't sell it, the broader consumer market doesn't want it.
.....or as my dad says about Walmart: "If they ain't got it, I don't need it......."


reel to reel was fringe even during its heydey.
Mag tape is inherently expensive to duplicate. You have to draw the tape past a record head so that the music is recorded note-by-note. Perhaps speeded up a bit, but that hurts quality. A vinyl LP is stamped out so that all the music is copied at the same time. (It is a "parallel" process whereas tape is "serial") CDs are also stamped out like LPs.
Mike Lavigne, who has invested in some good machines as well as a subscription to the Tape Project, seems to be unconvinced as to the superiority of, at least these tapes, if we are to accept his comments on Audio Asylum. Mike has a purpose built sound room as well as a Rockport record player and very high end gear.

As others have pointed out, the master tapes may have deteriorated in the decades since they were recorded, so no current reissue, in any hi-rez format, may be able to compare to the original LPs, or there may be other factors at play.

Attempting to answer these types of questions one dimensionally is usually fraught with problems.
I still collect RR tapes to play on my Akai 747DBX..and most of the tapes in 7.5ips..and they sound very very good. Many of them were made in the 60s, 70s and still sound absolutely great with very little tape hiss.

By the way, arent most (if not all) vinyl reissues were re-mastered from "original master tape"?
10-10-08: Jaytea
By the way, arent most (if not all) vinyl reissues were re-mastered from "original master tape"?
Yeah, but analog master tapes by the '80s had a s/n ratio of 100 dB or more. Even the studio master tapes of the '70s had an s/n of 80 and a few reached to 90dB or more.

But the s/n of a home Akai or Teac R2R at 7.5 ips was about 54-56 dB. The Tandbergs reached about 65dB and the Revox A77 WITH Dolby hit 66 dB.

A little later when Sony started using their ferrochrome formula for their best R2R machines, they achieved higher s/n figures, and had frequency response out beyond 45KHz. But by then the train was leaving the station and only the most die-hard enthusiasts were going that direction. Besides, 10.5" reels of 1/4" ferrochrome were VERY expensive for the day.

In my experience, whether 8-track, cassette, or 7.5 ips open reel tape, the prerecorded offerings from the major labels were on the cheap side. You seldom got a cassette that was screwed together like a top notch Maxell or TDK, and you didn't get prerecorded open reel tapes of the quality you could buy from 3M, Maxell, Sony, or TDK. They were often acetate instead of polyester, with a dull entry-level oxide coating.

As Eldartford points out, an entire 40-minute LP can be stamped in a matter of seconds, but a tape has to be duplicated serially, and if you try to speed up the process, you lose the upper octave. If you duplicate at 2x normal speed, both machines have to have linear response out to 40KHz to incur no loss of treble. And higher speed usually raises the noise level as well.

When you look at the various tape formats vs. LP, and balance sound quality against efficiency of manufacture, the LP stands alone. It's easily the best sounding analog source that can be reproduced in about a minute.
Mastertape played on an Studer 807 or 810 machine is the sonic nirvana. LPs, Cds whatever are mp3 style compressed sonic conserves. Unfortunately.
When you look at the various tape formats vs. LP, and balance sound quality against efficiency of manufacture, the LP stands alone. It's easily the best sounding analog source that can be reproduced in about a minute
Indeed, by far. And it's also very cheap; unfortunately, the manufacturing equipment is not!
Viridian, you haven't checked Mike Lavigne's latest reel-to-reel epiphany over on the Vinyl Asylum of AA.
johnnyb53 the only flaw in your post is the fact that a TP tape from the master is second or third generation, and the the Lp is much further down the road. More like fifth, six, or seventh generation.
Dopogue, you are correct. "Epiphany" do I detect a bit of audio sarcasm?
Sarcasm? Moi? I'm a big tape fan myself but up until recently Mike was on, er, record saying his LPs sounded better than tape. Things have obviously changed. Dave
Wouldn't it be nice if TEAC, Sony, etc, were to start manufacturing reel to reel machines again? I think they would make a killing. While I love my 30+ yrs old machines, if not ridiculously over priced (filmco, tape project machines. etc,..) I would certainly purchase one. Anyone at CROWN listening? (I have always wanted a Crown open reel and have a friend that works at Crown. He says they still have all of the jigs to reproduce the 800.. oh I wish)
And yes, you are correct. A quarter track tape will blow the pants off of an LP.
Norman, a killing? These guys can't even sell enough home theatre receivers and MP3 players to make ends meet. A killing?
Otari still produces a reel to reel deck though it is marketed as a mastering deck for studio use.
My neighbor (across the street) was CEO of Ampex ( now retired)...an interesting guy. He worked under General Sarnoff at RCA in his youth, etc. If anyone has a question, I'll pose it to him.
10-10-08: Jsman
johnnyb53 the only flaw in your post is the fact that a TP tape from the master is second or third generation, and the the Lp is much further down the road. More like fifth, six, or seventh generation.
There is never a flaw in my posts. :LOL:

I didn't say that R2R doesn't have better potential for sound; it's that in actual execution I often found it disappointing because the physical and mechanical quality of prerecorded 7.5 ips tapes were crap, especially compared to the nice HO/LN formulations on polyester blanks from TDK and Maxell that I otherwise fed my Tandberg.

But as far as generation-to-generation deterioration, we're comparing apples to oranges here. An LP may have more copy generations between original multitrack to consumer product than open reel tape, but analog tape-to-tape-to-tape degeneration is very easy to hear, especially when the final generation is crap low-grade oxide on acetate backing. OTOH, the extra generations in LP production are in the lacquer master-to-mother-to-stampers, and the amount of sonic degeneration is going to depend on how meticulously and cleanly the transfers are made.

Also, in the '80s, many classical LPs employed direct metal mastering (DMM), which cut a couple of generations out of the process.

I still stand by my original point that it's hard to beat the potential of LP in terms of sound quality vs. time per unit to produce. It may not be the ultimate in sound quality, but nothing else sounds anywhere near as good that takes so little time to produce.
I would agree with you as for the time part, but for the best sound the analog tape is hard to beat.
10-12-08: Jsman
I would agree with you as for the time part, but for the best sound the analog tape is hard to beat.
Yes, we actually have no argument here. If one were able to buy open reel 7.5ips direct real time copies of the master tape, and the copy was on a high quality high output low noise, minimal shedding, highly polished oxide on polyester backing, or better yet, on ferrochrome, the sound would probably blow you away.

On top of that, turntables have gotten crazy in price, complexity, and close tolerances to achieve a good setup. I posit that a $2K-$3K open reel tape machine--playing tapes of the quality I described above--would sound noticeably better than a 180g audiophile pressing on a $30K turntable rig, especially if you're including the phono stage, cartridge, and platform isolation in the total cost.
If I want to get a R2R player in the range of 2K-3K , what would you recommend?
Studer 807, 810. Absolut wonderful gears.
10-12-08 I would agree with you as for the time part, but for the bes ...

Well I have a subscription to the TP tapes, and I assure you that they are the best source my system has ever seen. That was a big reason for getting them, all the time, money, and effort into the system trying to get it to sound as good as it can get. Well the only way that will happen is if you put the best possible source into it!!
I heard Reel to Reel tape for the first time at RMAF this past weekend. I would love these to make a big comeback. It is very special.

"Norman, a killing? These guys can't even sell enough home theatre receivers and MP3 players to make ends meet. A killing?"

Well maybe that is the problem! I don't know your age (I am 46) but I can vividly recall walking into Stereo Systems, Playback, Pacific Stereo, etc., and stores were always busy. Reel to reels were big ticket items that sold well. If you are serious about music, hell if you just enjoy listening to music, why would you purchase a 'home theatre receiver'? Now one has three choices, crummy stereos sold at Best Buy, Exotic high end that most can't afford, or mid market home theartre goods. That is why Ebay and the like are thirving today, selling 30 year old hi-fi gear. That is why I still have and enjoy my 30 year old Citations.
Dlanselm glad you got to expirence some of what a few others have been doing for a while now. Tape really is good under the proper conditions.
Because no one cares.

Really , if you can't sell a cd anymore, it's very hard to sell anything and tape is expensive and no one makes tape machines anymore because they are too expensive to make.

In the pro audio community there is an old saw that if everyone had a 15 IPS half track machine for music, there wouldn't be any other formats. I can believe that still.

As for quarter track stuff, it depends on the spped, transfer and tape quality. I worked at a studio doing tape transfers when i was about 19 and it was not a pretty sight.
Norman, I'm 51, but that means that I grew up in the psychedelic generation, and have no memory of anything before today's breakfast.

Ah Viridan,

I finally got my dream... a mint Crown SX-822 reel to reel... wish you were here my friend.. This is something you wouldn't forget.

when you see 'elevator operators' and 'full serve' gas stations, reel to reel must be next.
Well, Jaybo, over the holidays my wife and I stayed at the downtown Marriot in Minneapolis and they had elevator operators (not sure why!). Plus, here in Oregon, self serve gas is illegal, so all stations are still full serve.

Where do I go for the reel to reel?

Reel to reel tape machines are as good as gets, no one can get any better sound than a 2" 30 IPS properly calibrated 2 track reel to reel mastering machine, period.

Not even the best digital audio a/d converters can match a top of the line mastering reel to reel machine set up through the best preamps.

Most of the best LP records ever mastered come from the original reel to reel masters anyways, some newer records are made from digital masters or cut direct to a record master.

However mastering from reel to reel to any other format will always sound slightly or highly different. Depending on your playback electronics, phono cartridge, D/A converters, preamp, amplifiers and speakers etc. But nothing will sound as good as the best reel to reel master.

So as far as I am concerned, the best recordings ever made in history were done on a reel to reel machine, period.

And who cares if people don't like the format because they have to actually work at threading the reel tape and or calibrating their reel machine, and or they are afraid the reel tape will not last and will deteriorate over time.

The truth is, most reel tape masters have lasted through fifty years or so, except some reel tapes made in the late 1970's to 1995 due to a bad decision to change the chemical process they had sticky shed syndrome, but unlike records, most reel tapes still sound as good as the day they were recorded without pops, excessive background hiss and audible distortion.

I will not include here the prerecorded reel tapes, most of those were duplicated at high speed and have tape hiss and way too much treble and most sound like crap and are distorted, and in this case the LP records do sound better.

However real time recordings on to the reel tape format, such as studio masters, can not be beat for sound quality, period.

Even in a digitally sampled world, the analog reel tape picks up more audio analog information and translates it to our ears better, especially on the low, mid and high frequencies, which digital can not handle as accurate. This is especially the case with 44khz 16 bit CD's, that is why they sound harsh.
Open reel is a small nitch market even in the pro audio world. On the consumer side, the only demand would come from high end audio interests, which make up a really small percentage of the common audio market. At $4- $8K for a new deck, a company would have to ask themselves how many are they really going to sell?? Not enough to warrant the expense of carrying inventory, handling repairs etc.

In an age when MP3 sonics is quite fine for most folks, who pay 99 cents for a download tune, this would make even less sense.

Even in the pro-sumer audio market, garage bands, and home bands are all doing digital if nothing else due to cost. Once one has invested in the hardware, laying down another track requires some additional drive space, not another reel of 50+ dollar analog tape.

In the pro studio market, you will almost always find a Studer or an Otari MTR tucked in a corner. They know that some clients will pay for the analog sound, but not all. Even here its a small market.

I have a number of analog 15 and 30 ips master dubs, as well as record live to two track without any compression, or Effects boxes in the signal path on the weekends. All the weekend recording is done to hi res digital. Every once in a while I will lug along an analog half track machine. No question, the analog machine does sound better by far.
At the end of the day though all the tracks will eventually get mixed down for CD, so unless I want an analog copy for myself, there is no reason to take the analog deck along, even though it smokes the digital gear.
Have any of you guys with working R2R decks tried A/B comparing to the audio performance of a good HiFi VHS deck? I've dubbed a few cd's and some 24/96 PCM stereo tracks from concert DVD's to VHS just for fun and the sound quality is pretty awesome exp. on SP speed. Anyone happen to know the specs of the relative ips/width of tape allocated to audio in VHS compared to R2R? Might be a good alternative to R2R if you really want to record to analog tape.. and good-quality VHS blanks are still easy to find and pretty inexpensive. You can't play 'em in your car but neither can you with R2R.. Thoughts? -jz
United Home Audio has been working toward the process of remanufacturing Reel to Reel machines for the last two years, and we have found some interesting things.

BTW you can see the machines we have produced at,


Allow me to preface what I am going to say about Reel to Reel tape with the fact that we at UHA have one of the finest vinyl rigs available as follows.
Clearaudio Goldfinger Cartridge $10,000
Clearaudio Master TQI tonearm $9500
Clearaudio Master Reference TT $27,000
UHA High Mass Feet $1000
Aesthetix Eclipse phono preamp with 2 power supplies $22,000
Tara Labs Zero XLR interconnects $15,000 1m pr.
Total $84,500

Here are our observations:
1.) The Tape Project tapes do sound quite amazing, depending on the recording that is. It appears not to be an age issue with the recordings or some degrading of the master tape but rather the initial recording quality. However with that said all the recordings except one are fantastic and some are simply the best sound available to a consumer, period.

2.) The Tape Project tapes require a superior playback machine to realize their full potential. Yes they will sound great with a stock machine but some machines are not the best in stock form, as you would imagine. We have used a professional deck and worked for two years perfecting the systems and parts to develop a killer sounding package.
Is all this custom work cheap, no.
Is it worth it, yes.
Fact is a Tape Project master tape playing on our top of the line $10,000 tape deck sounds better than the $84,500 vinyl rig. For that matter the level 1 deck at only $3998 is awesome and would give any vinyl rig costing 5 times as much a run for it! This is no dig on the vinyl components at all they are fantastic, beautiful, wonderful in fact. Here is the point, the magic is in the tape, it's a different format and it is superior to vinyl, period. This conclusion does not come from some desire for "tape" just a desire for the best sound, and frankly I wish digital could do it! It would be so much easier, but after listening to R2R Master tapes and high end vinyl I cannot listen to digital at all.

3.) Will R2R catch on like vinyl did?
Will the sound quality bring the Audiophile back to it?
I think it depends on two things.
Will anyone else beyond The Tape Project put out tapes of this quality, and at what price?
Maybe more importantly will people want to record their own tapes and save their phono cartridge and LP's like they used to do back in the day?
I also think that recording your own tapes will catch on if you try it! The recorded tapes sound better than the source! If you think that sounds stupid I tell you It is true, don't believe me, come by the store and I will prove it!
Find us at www.unitedhomeaudio.com
Robert Harley told me once at dinner, "if someone hasn't heard it, they don't have a valid comment", or something pretty darn close to that, words of wisdom.
jackie naylor's new recording is on reel to reel...and cheap tricks new recording is on 8tk
Re that Jacqui Naylor tape, have you heard it? I just did, at United Home Audio. NOT a world-beater IMHO.
As one who has heard studio machines and have spent the time and money to set up both reference quality analog playback (VPI Ref. SS/Titan i/Air tight PC-1/CJ TEA 1/GAT) and r2r (highly modded Technics 1500US and Bottlehead Repro with NOS tubes), do disagree on one thing. 71/2 inch playback does not currently surpass the best in analog playback in my system. 15 ips/2 track is the only way to go.
Problem is that many tapes have deteriorated due to different reasons (see KOJ's interview with JGH many years ago in SP). And have to say that have 8 of the tape project tapes and they are all amazing-as well as some other 15ips tapes that have had entre to.
Myles, a friend just sent me a 7 1/2 ips 4-track of Miles Davis' "Sketches
of Spain," and while I believe you are right in principle, there are
commercial tapes out there, like this one, that are simply amazing. On my
Otari, the Miles tape made mincemeat of a pristine LP and left a CD far, far
behind. The open reel Kind of Blue sounds equally stunning, although it takes
a great deck and a good system to hear HOW stunning.
Bring back analog, RTR?

If you go through the trouble of lugging a great machine, a fine set of mikes and a good pre wherever you can find a group of musicians willing to let you record them you'll realize just how good analog tape can sound. If they're good they might be under contract and the answer will be no. Many clubs won't let you set foot in their doorway to do any kind of recording but you can't stop trying.

Their is an alternative. Their are those that worked at the great studios in the 60s and 70s when analog tape was still the norm. Many engineers were allowed to take home master tapes to make copies for their own use. Well, after all the years have gone by, some of those tapes can be had, copies that is, for a price. The price is usually around $100 per reel plus the cost of the tape. That comes to about $300 plus per hour at 15 ips. You don't get to listen before you buy so you get what you get, after you've paid. All in all the results are good and the more you get the easier it is to amortize the cost of your high dollar RTR machine.

My experience has been great and I've never regreted the the cost I've incurred in master tape dubs or the machines I've bought to play them back. I don't have that many tapes but I'm always on the lookout for another gem.

I understand what you're saying :) BTW, you should hear the 15 ips of Kind of Blue. It's a knockout!

Funny thing happens on the 15 ips tapes too. One finds that some albums are well mastered and faithful to the original recording; others were murdered in the mastering process.

Take the Weavers. Vanguard eliminated the low end becaause there's a lot of stomping going on that would drive some woofers crazy. Or take the Mercury Carousel Waltzes. Found a 15 ips 2 track safety and compated it to the LP. The tape murdered the LP. The tape, a late Mercury recording, actually sounded better than the best Mercury LPs; in fact, that Mercury "string" sound was barely recognizable on the tape. After hearing this tape, one can only imagine just how good the other Mercury tapes/recordings sound. The LPs just dno't do Bob and Wilma justice. Or take the Columbia jazz recordings. Brubeck's Time Out and Davis' KOB are simply stunning on 15 ips tape; the van Gelder Basie and the KC7 on Impulse is a knockout (can't wait to hear Chad's reissue on 45 rpm of this winner!)

Others such as RCA and Decca did a remarkable and faithful job in mastering-but some there are some such as Bartoks Music for Strings, Celeste and Percusion with Reiner where the low end is so much better on the tape. Also on the Bartok, one can really hear how they spotlighted but OTOH also recognize that in the mastering of the LP, RCA played around with the recording and gave it more depth than the tape actually possessed.

Dopogue I have a copy of (Kind of Blue) 7.5 4track and I think it sounds fantastic on my Otari/Seduction.
I think the other factor here is that a turntable is a very simple machine. It can be very expensive if the quality is pushed very high, but it remains a far simpler machine to make than a reel to reel tape deck. How many parts would there be in the typical RtoR deck compared to a turntable? Much bigger risk setting up a manufacturing process for the RtoR than the TT.

Also there was never much in the way of quality pre-recorded tapes. Records are easy to find, so many were made for so many years, tapes: not easy at all. I know of 30 record shops in Melbourne, only 1 place I know sells a limited range of RtoR tapes.

It's a pity, as tapes can sound great. But I just can't see it taking off.

The Jacqui Naylor tape is the exception to the rest of The Tape Project's work I mentioned. It is The Tape Project's first tape and produced an unfortunate result. Good thing they had sterling results beyond that first effort.

If you listen to some of the other tapes you will simply find the best sound available, (BTW, I have no stock in The Tape Project). Nice thing is you don't have to buy Jaxqui Naylor or listen to it if you don't like it. It's like saying a Porsche is not that great because I drove a 944, ok but what about the GT3?

Listen to the Arnold Overtures, Suite Espanola, also Sonny Rollins Saxaphone Colossus, or Waltz for Debbie, just to name a few, great stuff.

Also go back and listen to some of the tapes recorded from vinyl, eye opening, just awesome!!
This might be a bit OT, but keeping tape alive has been an interest of mine for a very long time.

Tape can shed its oxide after a few years. However, this is easily stopped for extended times by baking the tape in an oven at 150 degrees for about 45 minutes. This will not harm the recording.

I've seen a lot of studio tapes start shedding after a few years of storage. I had also noticed that the cassettes I play in my car seem to hold up fine- some are 25 years old! I usually store the cassettes indoors normally. Then I realized that on trips, the tapes stay in the car, where it can get quite warm in the sun! It was counter-intuitive at first- but the heat of the car is what has been keeping those cassettes alive all these years.

I thought I might share this, as tape shedding can be a common problem. I mentioned this in another thread: if you keep the tape in a plastic bag, put a little silica-gel packet in there with it to absorb humidity- its the moisture that leads to oxide shedding.
Sorry to disagree but the Jacqui Naylor is not that bad. The better the system, the better the sound of all the tapes including the Naylor. It's a very nice studio recording with all that this statement brings. A new preamplifier in the system has brought this tape to be far better than ever imagined.
BTW I have a subscription to the Tape Project and have compared some of the tapes to the LP's, it is no contest the tapes win hands down.
We must not have heard the same tape, Myles :-)

Try it against the CD sometime. We did that at United Home Audio. Dave
I have to politely disagree with Myles on two accounts:

First, as a TP subscriber and one who has compared the Naylor tape to the cd many times, there is no contest. The cd wipes the floor with the tape---in my opinion. It was so bad in favor of the cd in fact; that I thought my tape was DEFECTIVE. Upon sending it back to the TP folks, they proclaimed that it WAS DEFECTIVE, and sent me another dupe. The second dupe may have been marginally better (I later found out it was NO better), but the cd STILL wiped the floor with it! Now, that is just MY opinion. My friend who is a recording engineer (with several commercial releases to his credit) heard the cd and the tape side by side with me---and he liked the TAPE more!! He said he understood the sound they were "going for" on the tape version (overly warm, full bodied, super tube like, and intimate) as compared to the cd which is clearer, cleaner, and more open and more dynamic sounding. And that comparison was done on a system approaching one-half million dollars as a sidebar. So, as they say----different strokes for different folks!! But I'm with Dave and the guy from United Audio on that Naylor release. Way too muted and dull for my tastes.

Second, I disagree that you need to be at 15ips on open reel to get sound that beats a high quality turntable. I have close to 300 commercial open reel tapes at 7.5ips----mostly 2 and 4 track MLP's, LS's, Blue Notes, Verves, and a nice group of rock and roll (Beatles, Doors, Moody Blues, Zeppelin, Who, etc.). Many of these releases on 7.5ips tape simply DESTROY their LP counterparts. It doesn't happen every time, no, but man when it DOES you know you have come across something very special!

It always comes down to the tape machine you're playing it back on, the electronics, speakers and the ROOM in which you're listening. One link does not make great music but a great chain does.

This thread could go on a tangent and benefit us all. RTR machines have made a resurgence as the prices show, however, without a supply of program material that is truly worthy of top of the line RTR machines, topics such as this are headed to a dead end.

This thread might be an incentive for those of us DINOSAURS that still appreciate the sound of tape; be it at 7 1/2 ips two or 4 track, or 15 ips whatever.

Where do we RTR Gonners go from here? A new thread based on titles would be a great start. My apologies for the hijacking but we might just be on to something here. Your thoughts?