Magnetic Tape Verses Vinyl

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by P2CH, May 25, 2016.

  1. P2CH

    P2CH Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    I searched this topic and didn't come back with anything. Excuse me if it's been discussed though.

    I’m 59 years old so I’ve been involved with magnetic tape recordings, pre-recorded as well as home brew types. I still own a reel-to-reel machine and, after reading one of our members saying he has Laura Nyro on R-T-R and how good it sounds, I was thinking of maybe purchasing something that’s been produced by a record company.

    My previous experience of them though is having a CCR tape that was at 3 ¾ IPS and a BS&T’s that was at 7 ½ IPS. The CCR tape didn’t have the best upper frequencies but clean sounding, the BS&T’s sounded better and was also clean sounding. This goes back to around 1970 and I was about 13 years old then. The machine was a Pentron my dad owned. I'd run it through a few different systems that were available to me back then, one of which was a Sylvania tube console that had 10” woofers, paper cone mids and tweeters.

    My thoughts on vinyl is having the ability of using a turntable, cartridge and preamp which allows us to tailor our system. I also seem to hear a grainy type of sound from vinyl. Maybe it’s the mechanical cutting process of a cutter gouging out a groove, transfer plates made, a pressing made and finally a stylus tracking this gouged out groove? It’s so mechanical and sort of barbaric to me but it works amazingly. There's a certain character of sound from vinyl, to my ears.

    Using a R-T-R constrains us to a tape head and all of the internal signal chains thereafter. Though nothing like a CD player, we’re still relaying on the source material and the machine that plays it. We don't swap out tape heads, and even if we did, it likely isn't going to change anything.

    I also feel that pre-recorded R-T-R tapes weren’t the best in sound quality (from my experience mentioned), like the pre-recorded 8-tracks I remember back in the day too. I could always make a better sounding R-T-R tape or an 8-track cartridge on my own equipment coming off of vinyl with a decent turntable.

    So my question to those here, are there many of you who play pre-recorded reel-to-reel tapes? I realize there are better machines out there as well as 15 IPS decks, which I’m sure sounds much better than the slower speeds. Is playing a pre-recorded tape giving a truer representation over playing vinyl?

    I see tapes are pretty pricey, even being 50 years old. And too, the magnetic flux on those tapes must weaken through all those years? I feel paying so much for a tape that old makes no sense. I doubt it could match the sound of media that basically changes very little through time like a vinyl disc.

    Just wondering if there are any thoughts on this topic.
     
  2. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    Tape is fairly stable with time if treated well. The problem with the old pre-recorded reels is that they were generally shoddy to begin with. They certainly don't hold up to a good record on a good rig, they never could.

    Nothing will beat the master tape though. And I feel that a well done tape-dub will naturally get you the closest to that sound with a minimal amount of processing. Look into the new 15 ips copies that are being introduced to the ultra-high end of the market. Short of getting hold of the actual masters, those are as good as it gets.
     
  3. McLover

    McLover Forum Resident

    Location:
    East TN
    Big issues with tape are that high speed duplication tends to lose quality, and most younger sounding pop/rock tapes were duplicated at 8x speeds and higher, and 3 3/4 IPS 1/4 track. Which means less frequency response. and dropouts tend to be magnified.
     
  4. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    The only pre-recorded 3 3/4 tapes I like are the Beatles mono ones. I imagine they're not so distant from the masters, and some of them actually sound really good. Surprisingly good, better than any 3 3/4 ips tape deserves to sound. But they only work because these mixes don't have much high frequency content to begin with, and even these are 1/2 track and not 1/4 track tapes so dropouts aren't so much of an issue like they'd be on most tapes of this speed.
     
  5. P2CH

    P2CH Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Well, I just learned something. I found a web site that expanded on your comments. And man, how awesome would it be to own a nice high-end tape deck and to have a tape that's as close to a master as it can get.

    To think, no matter how much someone spends on a turntable system, it still won't touch the sound on one of those tapes and machines. And it all makes sense when they say how much signal modifications are needed to transfer sound into the grooves of a record.

    My old Sony R2R is nothing compared to the machines I was just looking at. 24K dollar machines. 400 dollar tapes. Wow!
     
  6. P2CH

    P2CH Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Yes, that high speed dubbing process is what I was thinking about when it comes to a pre-recorded tape. Funny how high speed tape movement at 15 IPS has better signal response but going 8X faster does just the opposite.

    And I just found an older posting form 2007 on this subject. I guess that will about sum things up for me. Thanks everyone.
     
  7. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    It really is apples and oranges compared to what was common when this was actually considered a consumer format, but you should definitely take the time to hear what these things are really capable of if you ever get the opportunity. The media/selection is even more limited than it is expensive, so for this reason it's pretty much reserved for all but the most insane of audiophiles… but those who want to, can, and those that can, do.


    I maintain that you can get a nice high end or professional deck and have it brought back up to (or beyond) spec for a lot less than $24k. Even the brand new Revox unit that they just unveiled is supposed to top out at €6k for the fully-equipped model. Some people spend more than that on phono cartridges.

    There's a healthy used market for pro gear coming out of old studios/broadcast facilities and lots of qualified technicians out there. It doesn't even have to cost that much, a few hundred dollars can get your foot in the door with something perfectly respectable. The real barrier to entry is finding something to play on it.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2016
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  8. Dr Jackson

    Dr Jackson Active Member

    And you thought high end vinyl was a rich man's game. Tape (master dubs) take it to a new level. Music availability kills the idea for me, although a top notch vinyl rig would make some nice tape recordings, and I suppose you could dump FLAC needle drops to tape, but you're still at the mercy of the source, as always.

    If studios made tape masters available, this thing could really take off in the high end market, but I don't see the demand. Still, sexy piece of kit for your hifi rack at the very least.
     
  9. Catcher10

    Catcher10 Forum Resident

    You touch on a topic regarding RtR and that is available music on tape......Most of what you see on the bay and elsewhere is very old tapes, all you have to go by is the seller saying "tape plays well, sounds good...blah blah". It's a risk and some of those tapes are pricey for being 35+ yrs old. A lot of what you see is the old Columbia House Record club tapes people bought back in the 70's...I have a few and they are 3.75ips sound ok but are done as high speed duplications.

    Most people today use their decks to dub vinyl to tape, which is what I do. There are some people putting out these "master tapes" like The Tape Project, very expensive, 10.5" reels and done at 15ips, also the genre of music is very limited to jazz and classical.

    I would love for some of these companies to issue for example Pink Floyd, Genesis, Rush, Yes and even new artists like Steven Wilson, Marillion on these master tapes...that might peak my interest and open my wallet. My deck can only play up to 7.5ips so that is another issue I deal with.

    Some will tell you to join the Tape Project club and you can get them for like $250.00 but yea that is big money for music I don't really listen to......Vinyl will always be #1 for me, my RtR deck is eye candy that gets spun a few times a week. Plus chicks dig RtR decks and it makes them take their clothes off, so that's cool too. :righton:
     
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  10. P2CH

    P2CH Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    From the 2007 post I read this from MLutthans:
    Meanwhile, in contrast, a properly done LP was mastered right from the master tape and if it was mastered and pressed properly, it is much closer to the source than a duped reel. Also, I should mention that some dupers were better than others. Ampex was particularly bad in my experience. So was Bel-Canto. And early 2-track duped tapes are a whole other matter and often sound better than the early stereo LPs, if you can find one that's not completely worn out from age nowadays.

    So, I suppose the quality of sound off of vinyl can't be so bad after all?
     
  11. P2CH

    P2CH Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    After finding other postings about this subject, and along with the perils of either hitting the high mark in equipment and high priced tapes or being dissatisfied with poor sounding high priced prerecorded tapes, maybe I can use my deck to make recordings of the choice cuts on albums like we did in years past? I always liked the way recordings took on a beefier sound too. Maybe some of you still do this?

    It's needle drops the old fashioned way.
     
  12. Dr Jackson

    Dr Jackson Active Member

    This is the same conclusion I've come to on the subject. It's a great medium for quality needle drops and that's about it.
     
  13. stereoguy

    stereoguy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Brooklyn
    While I LOVE tape, and worked with RTR for years, a well pressed LP played on a good rig will sound better than a commercial reel to reel tape, which are something like 6 gens down from the master.
     
  14. Daily Nightly

    Daily Nightly Well-Known Member

    Location:
    New Jersey, USA
    R2R is A LOT closer in *theory* to the actual process of recording in a studio; than: changing the whole content of the media to fit ANOTHER FORMAT;)

    See, a generation of guys hung-up on 8-track and cassette junk (which, bizarrely, they'll *still* have fond memories of no matter HOW BAD it really sounded) have this nonsensical hard-on toward r2r...because(?): they (either) equate it to music of the pre-Rock era (and, therefore, there isn't the personal "history" attached to a lifestyle event of their youth); or: they don't have the dedication toward recognizing the MAINTENANCE involved with it IF you want to remain able to exploit its technical superiority (like: the guys who get hosed on E-pay for unrebuilt receivers which were $25 at flea markets five years-ago but are now $400:crazy:).

    R2R is susceptible to NO external distortion. There is NO bandwidth compression due to the limits of the physical media altering the tracking ability of the recorded signal and, also, affecting its speed accuracy (the only thing moving is the tape across the reading head --- NOT *two* things; as a disc AND a stylus need to do).

    Where does this revisionist notion come from which believes, that: the r2r dubbing master was (somehow) *FURTHER* DOWN than the vinyl master:shh::shake:??? In the heyday of R2R (again, NOT the mail-order Columbia House garbage of 1975), there were: Ampex, RCA, Columbia (1958-1969 stock...in a WHOLE OTHER LEAGUE than what the later tape club distributed), Bell & Howell/Greentree (first "Stereotape" then, "MAGTEC"...the *best* of all, IMO) and, for a short time (thankfully!), GRT. They got an (obviously) NON-RIAA-eq'd copy of the master (best case in point: the RCA mid-'60s reels have NO DYNAGROOVE affect:D...so, of course, the sourcing was *different*)...they made a second copy of the master: re-sequenced to economize tape time on the finished product and, with a slight treble boost added and some compression of loudness peaks (to have made the end product remain "hi-fi"-sounding enough on lower-end decks without a dedicated play head having the narrowest pole gap and to reduce crosstalk sounding like back-masking)...then: duplicate it (at worst) 60 inches per second with the bias frequency adjusted accordingly to six-times what the response of the tape at 7 1/2 inches per second would be.

    Now, did outfits like GRT and Columbia House do that RIGHT --- NO! They took everything eq'd for the 8-TRACK -with bass reduction and MORE LIMITING- and farmed it out to Mexico: duped at 90ips and released at 3 3/4:hurl:! So, the quality control procedures involved contained as many variables AS whatever the standards of a given pressing plant would've been putting out.
     
  15. qwerty

    qwerty Forum Resident

    Swapping out vacuum tubes in amp's is referred to as "tube-rolling". Would swapping-out tape-heads be "head-rolling"? :)

    From my days with a R-R, I agree that quality tapes give quality output, and as they used to say in IT, "garbage-in, garbage-out". Yes, you could make a better sounding R-R tape from your quality records and TT, but what would be the advantage? The quality wouldn't be as good as playing the vinyl, although it could be very close to it. The only advantage that I could see to recording the record is you could listen to side A and B of the record without getting off your seat to change sides. Not enough justification for a R-R in my opinion, and it's hard to get good tapes with music I like. That's why I don't have a R-R any more. But it was fun having it, learning about tape and experimenting. And that can be a good enough justification.
     
  16. Chris Schoen

    Chris Schoen Forum Resident

    Location:
    Germantown, Md.
    Yes, I find that needle-drops to tape (high quality cassette) are worth while. I record albums that are well mastered pressings, and will be played all the way through
    when listening to the cassette (so, no fast forward/rewinding, etc.) I would not go looking for a cassette player these days, and high quality tape is hard to find and expensive,
    But I already have a great 3 head deck, and a few cases of high quality tape, so I do enjoy it.
     
  17. Ski Bum

    Ski Bum Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    IMO -- based on decades of experience with high end audio -- having a great-sounding rig is satisfying only if it will play the music that is important to you. A steady supply of demo quality tapes of second-rate music or of great music in genres that you do not fully appreciate will get boring quickly. Some of the 15ips near master-quality tapes sound great, but they are far more expensive than vinyl or hirez digital, only limited titles are currently available, and there are almost no classic rock or pop titles available. In contrast, you can great sound from vinyl and hirez, and with a bit of effort/knowledge you can almost always get great vinyl pressings, and often great hirez or at least well-mastered redbook digital versions, of just about any music that you want. I'm not sure that I see the point of make needle drops of my own vinyl for serious listening.

    Unless you have a real attraction to tape as a physical format, I just don't think tape is attractive unless a much wider range of master tape quality music becomes available.
     
  18. nosliw

    nosliw Active Member

    Location:
    Ottawa, ON, Canada
    Another big problem with reel-to-reel tapes is how vulnerable they are to environmental changes, as it can degrade the quality and even its playability. A few labels who managed to get their hands on them noticed how degraded they are that they have to "bake" the tapes in order to make it work.
     
  19. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    That has nothing to do with environmental changes. That's binder failure, it's a problem that's inherent to the binders used in certain formulations. Unless you have certain masters recorded on these tapes from a known bad batch/bad year, then it isn't something you have to worry about - I'm presuming you're not pulling the master for everyday listening


    Even then, "baking" is a fairly routine procedure when it comes to handling these problematic tapes in a professional setting and is generally considered to be a non-issue. Unless a tape doesn't get baked when it should have, then it's an issue…
     
  20. nosliw

    nosliw Active Member

    Location:
    Ottawa, ON, Canada
    Perhaps I was thinking about film reels and was conflating it with actual audio reel-to-reel tapes. Thanks for the information.
     
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  21. MrRom92

    MrRom92 Forum Supermodel

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    On that note, I know very little about film but from what I understand, "modern" safety (acetate) based stocks are definitely environmentally sensitive - and earlier audio tapes are indeed also acetate based and more sensitive to proper storage, so you are on the right track. But given decent storage conditions it'll still hold up as well as anything. It's really neglect or abuse that you have to worry about that'll actually degrade a tape.
     
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  22. McLover

    McLover Forum Resident

    Location:
    East TN

    You also forget the fact that not every record label supplied the same grade or generations of master source tape, some gave their licensees very low generation tapes to work with, some labels supplied high generation dubs, the duplication running masters also only lasted so many duplication runs, some duplicating companies had much better QC than others did. No two tapes of the same title even still sealed are the same quality in every way. Pre 1965, and 4x duplications on average, and most tapes being non rock, and 7 1/2 IPS, the tape customers tended to be more demanding. The rock and roll buyer then on average tended to be less demanding. High speed duplication work post 1965 (often 8x speed and even 16x and more as time wore on) gradually often was lesser quality save for a few post 1971 exceptions like Barclay-Crocker, StereoTape, Magtec, and Ampex late production. Tapes can't be stamped out, they're an inconsistent product. And always were. Just some facts many don't pay heed to.
     
  23. Daily Nightly

    Daily Nightly Well-Known Member

    Location:
    New Jersey, USA
    ^And(?)...does THAT add any sort of "revelation" to *everything* I already mentioned there???:nyah:
     

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