Reel-to-reel tape is the new vinyl

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Brian Gupton, Oct 8, 2015.

  1. Brian Gupton

    Brian Gupton Forum Resident Thread Starter

    This is from a fairly mainstream publication (The Verge). The article is actually really well written, though I know nothing about this world to know if the product recommendations are sound.

    For those of you in the know, let's talk about the various hardware options for Reel-to-Reel decks.

    But I'd probably be more interested in how one acquires the tapes. There just don't seem to be a lot of new releases. Is there a secondary market for older tapes?

    How much would one need to spend on tapes to justify the expense of a nice R2R deck?

    Here's the article:
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  2. captwillard

    captwillard Forum Resident

    That's the main problem with reel to reel...lack of software. Its always been a problem.
  3. dmckean

    dmckean Forum Resident

    San Diego, CA, USA
    Plus the price of tapes is $150+ each. It'd be near impossible to own your whole library in R2R even if software was available.
  4. 56GoldTop

    56GoldTop Unapologetic Music Ho

    All topics pertaining to have and are discussed in depth at the forum. Then, check out

    In a nutshell, it's (another very) expensive part of the hobby... if you're going to do it anywhere close to "right". I have 4 decks (down from 5), lots of needledrops and a few pre-recorded tapes. I love what I get from them; but, I've dropped a bucket of money to get this far. (I don't regret it.) If one is thinking about getting into it lightly, my opinion is to not even bother. BUT, if a sonic presentation that leaves your jaw dragging the floor is your thing and you have the money to go for it... it. You will be handsomely rewarded.
  5. Thermionic Dude

    Thermionic Dude Forum Resident

    I've looked into R2R myself, and Goldtop is right, there's just no way to casually feel it out. If you just dabble, you might have a little fun, but will come away wondering what all the fuss is about. If you really want to see what the format is capable of, that means GOOD source material (not easily found, and expensive when you do) played back on a properly aligned and calibrated deck (fairly big bucks and/or a somewhat specialized skill-set to rehab an old deck the RIGHT way, and the only new production deck on the market is a $6500 Otari which is built to order and takes up to 6 months).
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  6. BayouTiger

    BayouTiger Forum Resident

    New Orleans
    I used my X-1000r a lot in the day. But it was used mostly to make long playing recordings at low speed. It wouldn't surprise me to see it catch on with the trendies as the hardware is very cool and certainly a "look at me piece", but I think it will be very short lived as it is actually a bit of a pain to live with. While it was very cool for Mia Wallace to walk up to the machine, hit Rewind then play, then the perfectly cued song plays, but the real world is not quite Hollywood!
    Certainly loved to see the X-2000BL on screen though!
  7. Dennis0675

    Dennis0675 Burnout from the smoke pit

    I think the strength of the format is and was recording. Blank tape is the thing to feed the deck. For prerecorded playback it is unreasonable on several levels.
  8. rbbert

    rbbert Forum Resident

    Reno, NV, USA
    And barring some major technological advances, R2R will never be the "new vinyl" for the reasons mentioned. It's just not possible to create (at any kind of reasonable cost) multiple (meaning thousands or more) copies of a master without losing significant audio quality. And a R2R tape deck and associated electronics is a bit more complex that an LP playing setup.
  9. timztunz

    timztunz Music Lover

    Texas and Brasil
    I think that sums it up quite nicely.
  10. raferx

    raferx Forum Resident

    Vancouver, Canada
    IME, nothing beats tape.
    A decent Stellavox will set you back around $3,000 US, people are starting to get tape in more volume, dubs from master or remaster, each one taken off the master or remaster. Prices are anywhere from $150 US to $450 US.
    If you want the ultimate in "being there" sound, there's no substitute IMHO.
    Needle drops on tape is pointless to me, the whole reason to get into it is to get tapes that are one or two dubs away from the master tape. That's why it costs so much.
  11. Mr Bass

    Mr Bass Chevelle Ma Belle

    Mid Atlantic
    The caution that @ThermionicDude mentions concerning source quality should be heeded. There was no great attention paid by the labels to the occasional RtRs they issued. If you have your own recordings that is a different matter. Having heard tape in recording studios, I would say that well done 45RPMs give you an excellent taste of what tape can offer and are probably more reliable for condition.
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  12. chuckieh

    chuckieh Member

    Hillsborough, NC
    I have a Pioneer RT-909 I bought at Federated in the early 80's when I lived in southern California. It's been in my attic since we moved back south in 1987. Back in the day I used it to tape concerts off KMET and to make mixtapes. It was a lot of fun and a great listening experience. For sure blank tapes didn't cost $100+ back then.
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  13. teag

    teag Forum Resident

    Will never get to the point vinyl is at now.
  14. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    Reel-to-reel tape is the new vinyl.

    ...thought no one, ever.
  15. Sid Hartha

    Sid Hartha Well-Known Member

    The Midwest
    From the link:

    $450 per title, with the claim that it will sound better than CD, SACD, Pure Audio Blu-Ray, even Neil Young’s crazy 24-bit/192 kHZ hi-res files.
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  16. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff

    Marysville, WA
    Yikes....that article lost me right here:

    <<One question, however, has been resolved: tape or vinyl? Even the most dubious critics find no ambiguity here. The verdict: tape sounds better than vinyl. Period. Not the cassette tapes of Walkman era, of course. Not those 8-track bricks from the land of shag carpet supervans either. That crude tech is an insult to tape, the same way Velveeta is an insult to cheddar. The real vinyl killer turns out to be reel-to-reel tape. >>

    There is some truth to be had in that statement, but not if you change the wording to be real-world relevant:
    <<One question, however, has been resolved: tape or vinyl? Even the most dubious critics find no ambiguity here. The verdict: pre-recorded, commercially released tape sounds better than vinyl. Period. Not the cassette tapes of Walkman era, of course. Not those 8-track bricks from the land of shag carpet supervans either. That crude tech is an insult to tape, the same way Velveeta is an insult to cheddar. The real vinyl killer turns out to be pre-recorded, commercially-released reel-to-reel tape. >>

    ^^^^^^^^That statement is total farce, but for most people, it's the "reality" of starting a reel-to-reel collection, compounded by the lack of tapes available for any music newer than, say, 1981 or so.

    I have played open reel tapes since I was a kid, and have been buying reels since about 1985. I've got a quite-nice Tandberg 4-track machine and Ampex 351-2 2-track machine, and will say that I love tape and love playing tape. I'm "pro-tape." That said, the great "reel killer" in terms of feeding the hungry masses is the so-so quality of many commercially-released pre-recorded tapes.

    (Let me re-clarify: I own some great-sounding 4-track tapes. I own some great-sounding 2-track tapes. I'm a lover, not a hater, BUT........)

    •Buying used tape is a total crapshoot. Potential problems (dropouts and other damage, splices, degaussing) lurk around every corner. Ever bought used reels on Ebay? I'm guessing 30 to 40% of my purchases have been in great shape, which is worse than the used vinyl situation.
    •In terms of the vinyl vs. tape debate, consider:

    Typical vinyl mastering workflow:

    2-track master at 15 ips -----> lathe (real time) -----> Plating ------> Pressing

    Typical 4-track* commercial tape workflow: (*2 tracks in each direction; not "quad")

    2-track master @ 15 ips -------> dub tape for tape facility ---------> formatted 4-track master ---------> commercial tape dubbed at 16x speed (playback at 3.75 or 7.5 ips) [I am confident that some commercial tapes have an even worse workflow than this.]

    (Back in the late 1950s, Capitol's 2-track tape releases followed this workflow:
    3-track session tapes @ 15 ips -----> 7.5 ips custom stereo mix ------> commercial tape dubbed at 4x speed (playback at 7.5 ips)
    [Editorial comment: some of these old Capitol tapes sound amazing, but check out their workflow. They SHOULD sound really good!)

    Back in the day, I used to really enjoy playing my 7.5 ips reels of, say, Bookends and Abbey Road, but there's a difference between enjoying something and being able to say "I compared the reel to my vinyl copies, and in A/B listening, this version sounds better." Even in my vast Sinatra collection, I can think of exactly TWO titles for which the 4-track 7.5 ips reels sound arguably as good (not even better, but merely "arguably as good") as the best vinyl and/or CD masterings. The rest all range from worthless to nice IF they can be found in nice condition, which is a challenge.

    Also to be factored in: A whole lotta commercial tapes were cheap-o record club releases, produced in high-speed fashion from dubs of dubs of dubs.

    I know there are some amazing efforts put forth by people who have absolutely amazing reel-to-reel playback gear. (I'm thinking, for instance, of a member here, whose name I will not share publicly, who has had 4-track heads made for 2-track professional tape machines to absolutely milk every last drop of sound quality from his tapes, and he gets good results, but I'm sure even he would admit that many of the tapes themselves just are not that great sounding. And good luck getting, say, the new Shelby Lynne album on reel-to-reel! (Too bad, as, IIRC, it was recorded all-analog.)

    "Tape project" releases are a whole other kettle of fish, of course, as is their price-point where consumers are concerned! Quad reels are also a different consideration, as is "home recorded" stuff.

    Tape is a wonderful, wonderful medium. I have heard vintage major-artist session and mix-down tapes (not dubs -- the actual tapes via Studer playback under optimal conditions) and they sound fantastic, and completely validate people's ongoing love for tape, but it's a long step down from THAT tape to, say, a 1978 title released on 3.75 ips tape by Columbia House. Also, rock music tends to fare better in commercial release simply because it's louder (in terms of musical style). If you want to listen to Claudio Arrau play Brahms Nocturnes, I can't imagine you'd be thrilled with a vintage, commercial reel-to-reel copy when compared to high-quality LP or CD releases of the same recording.
  17. HiFi Guy 008

    HiFi Guy 008 Forum Resident

    Always wondered about this one:
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  18. Sid Hartha

    Sid Hartha Well-Known Member

    The Midwest
    My older brother had that one. 3.75IPS. Sound was comparable to a prerecorded cassette.
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  19. EdogawaRampo

    EdogawaRampo Forum Resident

    Yep. It's not for the casual hobbyist. RTRs can be finicky, people competent to maintain them are rare and their numbers dwindling, etc., etc. But, the sound can be soooo sweet.
  20. HiFi Guy 008

    HiFi Guy 008 Forum Resident

    Ahaa. Thanks for that. I was hoping otherwise.
  21. Juan Matus

    Juan Matus Reformed Audiophile

    Meh, it doesn't claim to blow them out of the water so I remain totally unimpressed. Guess I can save my money... for now.
    Sid Hartha likes this.
  22. timztunz

    timztunz Music Lover

    Texas and Brasil
    A few years ago I was carrying around a K2 CD of Oscar Peterson's "We Get Requests" at RMAF auditioning silver disc players. I wanted to hear a Playback systems unit so went into a room that had one being featured. The room was also featuring a WAY tricked out R2R deck. When I asked the room host to play my CD in the Playback he commented, "We don't need to do that because I have a direct copy from the master tapes than I can play on the R2R." I responded that I thought that was very cool but I also wanted to hear the Playback deck. He actually said, "Why would anyone want to listen to a digital file when they can hear the REAL analog sound from tape?" So we listened to both, after I practically forced him begrudgingly to play my CD, all the while belittling me to the rest of the room for putting them through that. There is no doubt in my mind that what I heard on that tape deck was one of, if not THE most incredible analog experiences I've ever had. I ended up dragging four other friends, one by one back to that room to hear it. But at the end of the day, I "might" be able to convince myself to lay out the kind of cash it takes to get a deck like that, but where would I get the tapes, what would they cost and how many titles are really available? It's totally bada$$, without a doubt. But impracticable for most of us.
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  23. Dennis0675

    Dennis0675 Burnout from the smoke pit

    IF you can get your hand on this type of material, R2R is a great idea. Getting tape that is first gen off the master is like hunting for unicorns.
  24. Ron Stone

    Ron Stone Offending Member

    Deep Maryland
    If software was expensive and rare, even when the format was mainstream, what did people use R2R for? Dubbing LPs? Recording radio?
  25. Jack Flannery

    Jack Flannery Forum Resident

    Houston, TX
    I bought a Revox A77 out of a sudden fit of insanity last spring. Then I went looking for pre-recorded tapes and blank tapes. Damn, that stuff is expensive. Prerecorded stuff is $30-$40 for something I have never heard of. Wound up never hooking the darn thing up so it sits. Back on Ebay, I suppose.
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