Who bought reel to reels back in the day?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by 12" 45rpm, Jan 27, 2018.

  1. 12" 45rpm

    12" 45rpm Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York City
    I am curious why consumers bought these decks when vinyl was available? What was the point of owning a turntable and a reel-to-reel deck? I am guessing all the recorded music was mass-produced dubs. Would those sound better than vinyl?

    I can understanding owning a reel to reel for recording purposes . But a cassette deck would work fine for that purpose.
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  2. vinylontubes

    vinylontubes Forum Resident

    Katy, TX
    Cassettes weren't really popular in the 70s until the Sony Walkman was introduced in 1979. Keep that in mind. If you wanted to make your own recordings of your albums in the 70s, you probably did it on a reel to reel. Mind you unlike cassettes, reel-to-reel had variable recording speeds. This would be akin to playing a 45 rpm vs a 33 rpm record. So you could get better quality with higher ips settings.
  3. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    Your timelines might be overlapping a bit too much. Reel-to-reel existed for decades before cassette appeared in the home audio market.

    In the later ‘60s and through the ‘70s, people used reel-to-reel to make mix tapes of favorite music recorded from FM radio and from LP. It was great at parties - run a suitable tape and forget about it for an hour. When the tape ran out, the machine just stopped as opposed to an LP that had to be attended every 20-25 minutes or so unless a semi-auto or automatic turntable was being used.

    Over the years I made hundeds of tapes. It was a lot of fun.

    I have never, ever purchased a pre-recorded commercial reel-to-reel tape of any kind. Back in the day, all the big record stores had a very small reel-to-reel tape section - it was a tiny niche market even back then. I knew a couple of guys in the ‘70s who did purchase commercially pre-recorded reel-to-reel taps for a number of years, but nobody else.

    With a high quality turntable, tonearm and cartridge feeding a good quality phono preamp, and with a good quality, low W&F reel-to-reel with good electronics and properly aligned, clean heads, it was (and still is) possible to make a recording of a treasured LP that is normally indistinguishable from the LP itself when played back. So reel-to-reel was sometimes used to preserve certain LPs. Recorded the album to tape, then put the LP away and play the tape.

    These days, people do needledrops to make digital recordings instead.

    Still got my Revox B77 MKII in prefect condition (after a major overhaul by Tom McCartney in Toronto).
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  4. Higlander

    Higlander Well-Known Member

    Florida, Central
    For a few decades Reel was the only Serious way to tape stuff.
    From radio, from records, or even with microphones.

    I like vinyl, but also used R2R more as a curiosity after it had died.
    As to why would one listen to R2R over Vinyl.

    R2R had no surface noise, scratches, Rumble (but did have tape hiss) nor was it limited in the inner grooves as far as level and high frequencies.
    The Channel separation on Reel was something I was in awe of, until CD became easily obtained.

    Your assumption is that vinyl was perfect, but the HiFi "Nut" of the 50's and 60's did not see vinyl as something perfect. Nor was reel, but it did not have about a dozen issues that vinyl did have.

    As to consumer pre-recorded tapes, as with anything quality varied. Towards the end they became quite mediocre.
    But in its heyday, R2R in the 50s-early 70s was a great way to listen to jazz, classical or easy listening, and often they would do much more audiophile type of releases that were on 2 track at 7.5 IPS and not duplicated at high speeds.
    Limited runs in other words, that favored sound over duplication speed.

    As to being better than vinyl, that is hard to quantify.
    To me, the well recorded Reels did sound more natural, less strained and especially on classical or jazz simply closer to a master tape sound.
    But they did have tape hiss, but the clear sound of the music and the high frequencies, were just more natural to me, mostly on the well recorded higher speed tapes.

    Rock and pop, were not so well done, in general. They were made with sound as the 2nd or 3rd priority.
    Looking back after not having it for many years I see R2R as similar to CD but with tape hiss....!
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2018
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  5. Ponzio

    Ponzio Well-Known Member

    I owned an Akai GX-646 4-head for over 30 years till i sold it to a guy in Maryland. Ah the good times we had. Thanks for the memory bump.
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  6. tables_turning

    tables_turning In The Groove

    Mid Atlantic, USA
    I owned several machines at one point, an Akai M-8, an older Magnecord and a Revox A-77. The advantage to me was the ability to run tape dubs of records at 15ips and shelve the vinyl. At the time, too, there was a wide range of tape lengths and formulations to choose from -- I made much use of reels of Scotch 201 and 251, and later on, Ampex 351 and 456 Grand Master.

    I probably made the jump to cassettes in the late 70s, after their tape formulations had pretty much caught up to what was possible with a good reel of Ampex 351.
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  7. John Mee

    John Mee Well-Known Member

    Even though many of the pre-recorded tapes were mediocre, many sounded better than the same recording on vinyl or CD. For example I have some of the 63 Berlin Phil. Beethoven symponies on all three. The reel to rel only sounds ok until you put on the Vinyl and the CD. Given that these are DG recordings which aren’t all that great, the reel to reel is clearly better than the vinyl, which is in turn clerarly better than the CD....

    Then when you get to “master” tapes (i.e. only a few generations from the master or the safety master, the difference is spectacular....

    As I said to somebody recently... “I did something to my system that ruined the sound of my records and CDs..... I put in a tape deck...”
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  8. timind

    timind Don't blame me

    Westfield, IN USA
    I owned a Pioneer RT707 in the early 80s. It got very little use as cassettes were passable for most purposes and so much cheaper.
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  9. Salectric

    Salectric Forum Resident

    Back in the mid-60s, as a 12 year old with no money, I read the hifi mags and concluded reel to reel was the way to go. After all records wear out each time you play them, right? Plus I could borrow records and make copies and save lots of money. I convinced my parents to buy a tape recorder and I started making tapes. In a few years with a little more spending money I bought a KLH 41 Dolby R2R, which sucked big time, and then a Sony 650 with an outboard Advent Dolby unit. I made hundreds of tapes by borrowing records from friends and taping things off FM. Then one day I noticed that my Dolby tapes sounded worse than ones made without the outboard Dolby unit. That prompted me to make a tape of an LP I owned and then listen carefully to the tape vs record at which point I was spoiled for life. The record simply sounded much better. Fast forward 45 years and I have several thousand LPs and a vinyl-only system and couldn’t be happier. I don’t doubt that a carefully made early generation half-track tape at 15ips sounds terrific. But a quarter-track tape at 7.5 ips made on a consumer quality deck? No thanks, I’ll stick with my records. Many of my favorite jazz records were pressed in the mid-50s so are now 60 years old, yet they still sound great.

    In one of life’s great ironies, LP records are now considered by many to be the best medium for long term archival purposes. Tapes degrade. CDs may deteriorate according to some folks but in any event the playback gear may fail or become obsolete. Computer hard drives may crash or become infected. But LPs just keep spinning.
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  10. GroovyGuy

    GroovyGuy Forum Resident

    Halifax, NS Canada
    I have fond memories of my father making "mixed tapes" with his reel-to-reel back in the early 70's. That was the extent of the use of that piece in our home.
  11. fogalu

    fogalu Forum Resident

    Killarney, Ireland
    Back in 1969, I was the proud owner of three reel to reel tape recorders, a Philips and two Sonys. I bought one brand new and the other two from friends. I made a lot of recordings in the next fifteen years or so and then my machines died, one by one. I gave them a proper burial but I was left with a huge amount of tapes and by then, the cost of reel to reels went astronomical.

    I was very lucky, about 12 years ago, to find someone who lent me a decent machine and I was able to transfer this huge collection to minidisc and CD and eventually to computer files. A lot of these tapes were sketches and songs that I recorded with a couple of friends of mine and I was amazed at how sophisticated were the effects we produced back in the late sixties: double tracking, echo, etc.

    Maybe it's my 72 year-old ears but I've never really captured the sheer clarity and brilliance of those old recordings - especially as they were recorded at seven and a half inches per second (which was almost professional quality.)
    It was better than vinyl back then - no surface noise, no end of side distortion............... but at least I can hear them today in some fashion. The originals were so good they even survived the transfer to CD! (Just goes to show that "mastering" can make digital sound good.)
    Aaaaa, nostalgia!
  12. ssmith3046

    ssmith3046 Forum Resident

    I used to open a new album then record it and put it away.
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  13. edmondbob

    edmondbob Member

    I worked in a hi-fi store in the mid to late 70's and was surrounded by high quality reel-to-reels. Revox, Technics Pro, TEAC etc but I never pulled the trigger on buying one. Other than mic based live recording they were really only good for dubbing albums and making mix-tapes. Good uses but not enough to spend the money. Finally bought a high quality cassette recorder around '78. The deciding factor was I could do the album copying but also use those tapes in the car. But nothing at the time looked quite as"hi-fi" as a running reel machine particularly when it had 10 1/2" reels
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  14. My grandad bought one. Though I never asked him specifically why, he had some commercial tapes but most of his tapes were copies of his LPs. Perhaps for preservation. He later got a nice cassette deck and I know he liked to record an LP to tape once he got it home.
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  15. Humbuster

    Humbuster Big hat, no cattle

    Saved my paper route money and later my A&P earnings for guitars and music.
    My R2R was a Sony TC353 purchased new from Sound Reproduction in fall of 1972.
    Most of my tapes were recorded from albums (mine and my friends). However, I do remember picking up a few in the bargain bins. Mostly London Phase4 stuff, Chicago Transit Authority Vol 2 (disc 2from the double album ) and a few more which I can no longer recall.
    Fun times.
    Later, I discovered girls and my attention shifted.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2018
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  16. gov

    gov Forum Resident

    As someone who was not around for much of the R2R era (mass commercial I mean) I’m fascinated by the idea of people making mix tapes with them (which as a late 80’s/early 90’s kid cassette mix tapes were ubiquitous).

    I grew up with my dad having 3 turntables and about 3k lp records, about 1k 45 singles and another 1500 78’s. He had TONS of tapes too and made his own mix tapes. I never thought about it but I guess the cassette recorder could have come much later for him (mid to late 70’s).

    I’d never even seen a r2r until my late 30’s. Many parents of friends growing up were similar to my dad—although he had a waaaaay bigger record collection and most friends’ parents had only one turntable.

    Was r2r was something where you had to have a few extra dollars or be in the upper middle class to own one?
  17. The FRiNgE

    The FRiNgE Forum Resident

    I purchased new pre-recorded reel to reel from record stores back in the early 70's. Among my rock music reel to reel collection was Jeff beck "Truth" (Cream, CSNY, Moody Blues, etc) 7.5 ips Epic stereo tape. The tape sounded more dynamic, had a wider sound stage, and much better mastered vs the original LP. As the LP was lackluster, the tape was lively, crisp vocals and hi hat, bass down to the lowest octave, it rocked! I recall bringing "Truth" to music theory class one day, (RIP Thomas Duane, our beloved music teacher at John Jay High school) .... well before class started, I played the tape on a Teac deck, Pioneer amp, and unknown three way coaxial speakers on the wall. I cranked it for the few people who wanted to hear it. Wow! "Blues Deluxe" Rod Stewart at his finest belts out the lyric up front in the mix: "I don't know much about Lahhhve Peeeople, But I sure think I've got it bad."

    Mr. Duane arrived, shouting "turn it down, turn it down.. you're going to blow the speakers" haha! end of concert ... the speakers did not blow. Unknown to Mr. Duane, I was a budding audiophile, and knew how to safely operate hifi gear. The Pioneer integrated amp (SA-800?) volume setting was at about 1 O'clock... pretty dang loud!
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2018
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  18. The FRiNgE

    The FRiNgE Forum Resident

    Yes and no.. not exactly for the affluent only.. my first deck was a Sony TC-255, very affordable. Blank tapes were pretty cheap back in the 70's. Reel to reel was what cassette became. Many hifi buffs owned a reel to reel deck, recorded LP's, FM programs, the kids at Christmas. It was fun to make mix tapes (I did) exactly as we did with cassettes. Reel to reel was not limited to hifi. Portable hand held recorders were very popular, slow speed, 1 7/8 ips and took only the small 3 inch reels for voice recording.
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  19. McLover

    McLover Forum Resident

    East TN
    Stereo tapes were available on some material several years before there was Stereo LP discs to buy and there was a standard format. And also people dubbed tapes for convenience and off of AM and FM radio, (AM Radio on a good tuner was better sounding then than many FM stations are today). And also people dubbed tapes to preserve their records. A good open reel at 7 1/2 IPS was better than cassette machines save for a very rare few, and way more reliable in daily use.
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  20. Kevin In Choconut Center

    Kevin In Choconut Center Offensive Coordinator

    Binghamton, NY
    I never got into reel to reel collecting as it was something of a dying market by the time I could have done so. My dad, may he rest in peace, though, had a nice deck and a small but good collection of jazz titles. As a child, I was fascinated by all kinds of audio equipment (and still am), and was thrilled the first time Dad let me clean and re-align the heads on his unit.
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  21. Rick Bartlett

    Rick Bartlett Forum Resident

    Actually, cassettes were even popular since the late 60's, even here in Australia....
    I'm not saying they were very good however, the 'reel' is certainly the go to, even now, the 'go to' audio format for me.
    Those early cassettes, gosh, are terrible, probably like most of it's players and recorders.
  22. Gramps Tom

    Gramps Tom Forum Resident

    I have owned a few 7" r-t-r decks since about 1975 or so. A stereo 7" 3.75 and 7.5 IPS speed Magnavox unit that was a self-contained portable unit that had speakers that you could switch off. Bought it at a garage sale for about $15 IIRC. Used mostly entry-mid quality SONY, TDK, and MAXELL reels. Took it to college, and a dorm neighbor cut an audition demo tape on it, and he went on to a broadcasting career. That was fun.

    Then I bought a Pioneer RT-707 in about 1979 ($600 IIRC). I know it's not highly regarded around here, but I always liked the sound, plus the fact it was designed to be placed in a friendly footprint with other components and incorporated direct-drive motors without internal drive belts to service. Heavy as a tank, and just as tough. Quality internal components and build quality was the best of its day.

    I bought the reel decks because they provided a 'depth' of sound that cassettes (in my experience) couldn't quite match. Plus, there was the factor that reel-to-reel was a slight step above the average setup. Not everyone had one. It was a "cool" upgrade that I could afford.

    Anyway, I sold it and all my tapes a few years later, and in about 2004, got the bug to re-acquire a deck on ebay before the vintage audio market grew serious momentum. So, I bought a used RT-707 for my son and RT-701 for myself (pictured). I acquired some new QUANTEGY 456 reels and used MAXELL reels quite reasonably. They have lasted for decades (in some cases, 40+ years from mfg date).

    I use it several times a week. You've seen some of my photos in other discussions. I dub MIXES, and special records (mostly MFSL vinyl) for playback. The combination of the reel's electronics and tape formulation delivers a sonic enhancement (pleasant distortion) that I enjoy like a reunion with an old friend every time I play the reel.....

    So, for me, the short answer is the fact I enjoy the nostalgia while making MIX tapes, plus preserving some of my precious records. I'm getting ready to invest about 3 hours dubbing my used vinyl copy of Chicago at Carnegie Hall onto a couple vintage MAXELL ud-35 90 reels at 7.5 IPS.

    All the best,

    Last edited: Jan 28, 2018
  23. rbbert

    rbbert Forum Resident

    Reno, NV, USA
    I had quite a few reel decks over the years. Sony 366, then 755, Tandberg 10X, Revox A77, Technics 1506, Tandberg TD20A
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  24. Radar696

    Radar696 Member

    North America
    I just wanted to say that I've really enjoyed reading through this thread!

    When I was a teen I wanted a R2R but we didn't have the money to buy something like that.
    I was fortunate enough though to come across a guy that was getting rid of a under-dash cassette player.
    This thing was pretty cool, stereo with auto-reverse and auto on when you inserted the cassette tape.

    Wired it into the AM radio in the old LTD and away I went.
    I was the first in my group to have a cassette tape player, everyone else was still using that item that has not been mentioned in this thread until now.
    The 8 track tape player, which I always hated!
    Even when the tape were new they were prone to coming apart at the glued point and I can't tell how people I knew had the players eat the tapes. Those things were always junk in my mind but I had a cassette player!
    Do you realize how much easier it was to carry your music with you?

    So my idea about R2R vs. cassette tape, R2R was for quality where I felt cassette was more about mobility.
    Who needed Hi-Fidelity in the car anyway?
    Real car stereo systems were just starting to become a thing in the late 70's.
    No one I knew had that kind of money for top end equipment.
  25. enfield

    enfield Forum Resident

    Essex UK
    British Library Sound Archive

    Tape players used in the British Library Sound Archives

    The British Library Sound Archive holds more than 185,000 tapes. The collections come from all over the world and cover the entire range of recorded sound from music, drama and literature to oral history and wildlife sounds, stretching back over more than 100 years. The Sound Archive's online catalogue is updated daily.

    It is possible to listen to recordings from the collection in selected Reading Rooms in the Library in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room.


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