Reel to Reel

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by Blue, Jun 22, 2020.

  1. Blue


    Jun 19, 2004
    Southeast Penna
    My understanding is the 1/4" decks are mostly not working, or about to break, and either way, not repairable due to lack or parts and interest.

    Are any of the larger formats - 1/2 and higher, still "Viable", and by that I mean, there are a few specialty repair shops out there with the background (and warehouses of bones) from which to keep them running?
  2. garp


    Feb 7, 2009
    Connecticut USA
    There are a handful of companies out there dedicated to repair and servicing of reel-to-reel equipment. Oak Tree Enterprises out of Colorado (no affiliation) has some resources listed on their website.

    I still cherish my old Akai 1/4" deck because it helped me to learn a lot about home recording in the pre-digital era, but these days, its primary function is to serve as a prop in my home studio. My problem with it is not mechanical in nature, but rather finding enough suitable tape stock at a decent price.

    At one point, there was a small cottage industry in converting Betamax and VHS video decks exclusively for multitrack audio recording/playback.
    Blue likes this.
  3. Some of the better machines like Tascam, Otari, Revox / Studer, etc. are still maintainable. The problem with many machines is unavailability of rubber idlers, belts, and pinch rollers. The more pro grade machines are direct motor drive which allows them to keep running. If the belts and and other rubber parts aren't disintegrated of stretched, sometimes an application of Vita-Drive (if it's still available) or glycerin an often rejuvenate the rubber enough to keep running for awhile.

    A good technician can still lap worn heads if necessary, calibrate and align the tape path and electronics.

    Old tape stock may have to be dehydrated to prevent gumming up of the tape path due to the binder being hygroscopic; Ampex 456 and 499 was especially plagued with this issue.
    JRA, Blue and Geri O like this.
  4. Jeff Hughes

    Jeff Hughes

    May 3, 2020
    I got my hands on an old Teac 1/4” reel to reel. It sat in a closet for 10 years until I decided to do something with it.

    That something was to give it away to a guy who likes to use, restore, and tinker with such antiques.
    Sarakisof and J_Bass like this.
  5. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Gold Supporting Member

    byacey 's assessment is on target, IMO/IME. i still have a 1" tascam, half-track otari, and a consumer, tascam 4-track = none work because of the degraded rubber parts and maybe a faulty motor or two: i have no interest in pursuing repairs. i don't want to just throw the things away, but i don't any folks with an interest in those pieces, anymore.

    i loved the days of analog 'anarchy', but editing is a no-brainer in the digital world!
  6. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Besides all the maintenance, the tape itself is crazy expensive. You need to have a pretty good reason these days to want to use tape over digital. Check the prices on ATR (formerly Ampex). For 1/2" and larger it's over $100 per 10" reel...2" (for 16-24 tracks) is $345 a reel!...which at 15 ips gives you only 30 minutes of recording time.

    I just sold my 35 year old old Sony 4-track RTR machine to someone for $100 as-is. I won't miss it.
    J_Bass and garp like this.
  7. And I

    And I

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    Other than my time working in a multi-million dollar studio in NYC that had a 24-track Studer 2" machine, the only times I used reel-to-reel in my professional career in audio was transferring reels to digital. A well maintained reel-to-reel deck will last quite a while. Eventually though yeah, rubber parts will wear down first. Temperature / humidity has a lot to do with it.
  8. wagdog


    Mar 20, 2000
    Der Waffle Haus
    I had a four track Dokorder for many years that originally came out of a studio. It took a ton of work to maintain and when it released the magic smoke I said goodbye to it. Other than watching the reels go around I don’t miss the tape years at all.
  9. You can try Abbey Road J37 demo
    J37 Tape Saturation Plugin | Waves
    Wow & Flutter, Tape Bias, Tape Saturation, Noise are all there and adjustable.

    If you like it, and find you one of the tape formats then you could hunt down mechanical version and that type of tape.
  10. And I

    And I

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    Hard to simulate tape compression during tracking or mixdown... I've found the plugins do a good job of adding the noise and wow/flutter, but they don't sound like tape.
    Low8 and FugaziBomb like this.
  11. silky smoove

    silky smoove Supporting Member

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    Sending the signal to tape at input is a major difference for sure. I also don’t think tape sims sound all that much like tape, but I’ve found that my mixes generally sound better when I strap Softube’s Tape plugin across everything. It’s a really low intensity type of tape plug. Not something you’d use to get a major squish or saturation effect. It does this magic of limiting frequency response and dynamic range in a very natural way that makes things come together more quickly for me when mixing.
    And I likes this.
  12. IMHO - the Waves J37 absolutely captures 100% of the analog tape sound.
    IK Multimedia and Izotope also are right there and nearly identical in many ways.

    And if you've got any old tape recordings you want to preserve and isolate from the tape machines - you can restore them with Capstan!
    Celemony | Capstan
  13. silky smoove

    silky smoove Supporting Member

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    I absolutely hated the J37. It made everything sound appreciably worse, even at modest settings. Izotope’s Vintage Tape module from Ozone is a definite winner, especially as a 2buss compressor ala SSL.
  14. To each their own. All Free to try. Much easier than a tape machine
  15. Esteban Garcia

    Esteban Garcia bassist, arranger, aelurophile, ਵਿਦਿਆਰਥੀ Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Portland, OR
    Have fun with whatever you choose, but I'm done with magnetic tape recording forever. I've still got a 4-track cassette recorder that's not working and a handful of recordings I wouldn't mind recovering that are proprietary to that machine (2x speed Fostex I think). But it's probably not worth the cost and hassle. Way too many moving parts, including the rubber parts that decay with age, and all kinds of fiddly springs and other bits that tend to go SPROING when you take them apart.
  16. FugaziBomb


    Jun 5, 2017
    Amen to that!
  17. silky smoove

    silky smoove Supporting Member

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    And I likes this.
  18. I so lusted after the Technics reel to reels back in the day. They were like $1800 back in the early 80’s. It’s amazing how expensive electronics actually were back then when adjusted for inflation. The 20” television I wanted for my bedroom back in 1981 was about $500. You did reasonably expect to get 10-20 years service out of those things though.
    garp likes this.
  19. garp


    Feb 7, 2009
    Connecticut USA
    My Akai deck was actually gifted to me. When I found out how much it sold for at the time, I was all "I am not worthy"...but then again, I didn't say "no" either. ;) I dragged that thing all over h*ll and creation, recording everything I possibly could. My only gig at NYC's legendary The Bitter End back in the early '90s was recorded on that deck. I believe that I subsequently donated the actual reel to the band's lead guitarist, but not before dubbing a cassette copy for's still around here somewhere.
  20. With a regular cassette deck and a DAW you can recover those Fostex recordings.
    Put the tape in and record to a stereo track, at half speed.
    Flip the tape over and record to a second track, reversed and at half speed.
    In the DAW reverse the reversed track. Nudge the start of the tracks to sync them up. And double the playback speed.

    If the tape is biased - you'll probably need to adjust EQ to account for it.

    Then you can sell the Fostex, I'm sure somebody wants it at least for parts to fix another one. ;)