: Reel to Reel Tape Recorder question


Macfury
May 22nd, 2010, 10:15 PM
I was looking for one of these to transcribe a load of old tapes, but I realized that some are stereo units and some are mono.

How did reel-to-reel handle stereo?

My vague recollection is that the tapes were two sided and could be flipped over. Did stereo record both sides of the tape at once and mono record one side at a time?

SINC
May 22nd, 2010, 10:34 PM
How stuff works explains it this way:

Kazak
May 22nd, 2010, 10:34 PM
That's my vague recollection, too.

krs
May 23rd, 2010, 12:45 AM
I was looking for one of these to transcribe a load of old tapes, but I realized that some are stereo units and some are mono.

How did reel-to-reel handle stereo?

My vague recollection is that the tapes were two sided and could be flipped over. Did stereo record both sides of the tape at once and mono record one side at a time?

The tapes were flipped over but the recording, both stereo and mono, was always on the same side. The tape was basically mylar with a magnetic coating on one side only.

For 1/4-inch consumer reel-to-reel recorders in mono the track arrangement was this:

http://www.videointerchange.com/images/audio-2-track-mono.gif

And for stereo it was this;

http://www.videointerchange.com/images/AudioTrackQuarter2.jpg

For stereo the tracks were staggered to minimize cross talk.

With a mono reel-to-reel recorder one could only play back mono tapes - with a stereo reel-to-reel recorder one could play back both mono and stereo tapes.

For cassette tapes the layout was changed the way SINC showed. With that layout a mono playback unit would play back stereo tapes and essentially combine the right and left channel since the head would span both left and right tracks.

Macfury
May 23rd, 2010, 09:12 AM
Thanks, folks. That makes sense. I had seen an old SONY R2R for sale but it was a Mono unit, so I will wait until I see a stereo machine. Ideally I would want one of those with that strange green tube in the middle that monitored recording levels--just because it looked so cool.

MLeh
May 23rd, 2010, 10:55 AM
A Sony TC377 would be what you're looking for. (Ours is still working just fine.)

krs
May 23rd, 2010, 11:45 AM
Ideally I would want one of those with that strange green tube in the middle that monitored recording levels--just because it looked so cool.

I had a Dual reel-to-reel - it had two of these green "magic eyes" for recording level.
They were great to monitor for peals since they reacted instantly. However, to set average recording level, VU meters would be better since they are calibrated.
Ideally one would probably want both.
The Dual recorder also had only two heads - that was great when adding another track since the synchronization with the original track was perfect. On a three- head machine the playback head and the record head are offset a bit which won't let one synchronize perfectly.
But with separate heads each one can be designed optimally for its function, with a single combined head, the design is a compromise.
But even with a combined record/playback head, the Dual recorder had a frequency response to 22 KHz at 7 1/2 ips and 16 KHz at 3 3/4 ips.

Whatever you buy, make sure the unit can accommodate the reel sizes you have and the speeds the tapes are recorded at. It would also be good if the speed was adjustable in case the original recording speed was off a bit. I think the Dual had a +/- 6% speed adjustment.

johnb1
May 23rd, 2010, 12:37 PM
fell in love with reel to reel a while back, eventually bought an Akai GX deck. built like a tank (and weighted about the same). Had to sell it because I was moving, same with the Thorens turntable I had. As the saying goes-you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone...

oh well

JB

FeXL
May 23rd, 2010, 01:06 PM
Too bad you weren't a bit closer. Have a Teac X-1000R sitting in the basement, just begging to be rented for beer.

Bought it new in '82 or so, paid around 2 grand for it, haven't used it in some time. Was great for parties, record a 10-1/2" tape the week before and it would play for hours. When it got to the end it would auto rewind and play it all over again.

gordguide
May 23rd, 2010, 02:02 PM
Used reel-to-reel machines are not particularly difficult to find and prices have fallen sharply in the last three years or so.

All of the machines are relatively heavy and bulky, so there is not much point in looking for a smaller machine ... go with one that accepts 10" reels and it will play the 7" reels (or the less common 5 & 3" ones) without problems. Also, look locally, and if shipping is a factor, stay in Canada. Moving a reel-to-reel across a border in a box will cost hundreds of dollars, probably.

Be sure to get hubs with the machine ... they are relatively expensive accessories if you have to buy them afterward. The hubs are properly called NAB adapters ... they are bigger than the standard pin smaller reels attach with, but they attach to those same pins so you can use any tape you can find.

If you run across a 4-track deck, consider buying it. These are relatively common, as musicians used them extensively; they are generally robust machines that simply work. Depending on how you manipulate the channel outputs, you will be able to properly play back mono, stereo and 4-track tapes. (Mono would be Ch 1 & 2; Stereo 1 & 3, and 4-track obviously 1, 2, 3 & 4).

However, if all you have is a stereo machine, you can transcript mono recordings easily. If it's full-track mono (recording on one side only) you use track 1 and track 3 just like a stereo tape would be. If it's two-sided mono, use track 1 only and mute track 3. It will be obvious if you have it wrong, as the only thing that can happen is one track (track 3) will play back backwards, so in that case mute it and use track 1 only.

You will lose some signal-to-noise but considering the source, probably not enough to worry about unless you are archiving some very special stuff, in which case you should be using the 4-track or a dedicated mono machine.

The TEAC 3340 and 3440 are the workhorse 4-track machines you are most likely to find. TASCAM machines are also recommended, they made semi-pro versions of those two. With the TASCAMs you will find 1/2" and 1" tape (width) machines; be sure you are looking at a 1/4" machine if you want to play "regular" tapes.

Another good unit to look for are the REVOX machines, in particular the A-77 & B-77; they are very well made, good sounding units that were designed to be (somewhat) portable. The most common units play 3 3/4 and 7 1/2" tape speeds, and those are the speeds you should look for on any machine. However, as with the TEACs and TASCAMs, be sure you are not looking at a 1/2" machine or one that plays at a non-common (for home use) speed, as these were available options.

Interesting note: Back when wiretapping was illegal in Canada, the REVOX rep at a broadcast convention I was attending mentioned he just sold "hundreds of loggers" to the RCMP. After the "barn burning" incidents with the RCMP in Quebec were revealed, wiretapping, which was also part of the revelations, was made legal, sometime around 1980 or so.

A Logger is a machine designed for radio station use to log the broadcasts, this was required as a part of the broadcast license. They operate at either 15/16ths or 1 7/8ths speed and generally hold 24 hours or more of material per tape. What the RCMP wanted with them ... well, perhaps they were interested in starting up a radio station? Anyway, you don't want a logger. You may also find studio use machines with 7 1/2" and 15 ips speeds; the 7 1/2 would be useful but having the lower 3 3/4 ips speed might be missed with some tapes you are likely to run across.

There are other good brands of open-reel machines available, such as the consumer-oriented AKAI or Pioneer units. However, they really are no less expensive than the more professional units you can find used these days, are generally far less robust, and I would consider them less reliable and more difficult to repair units.

Other good Pro units are the Technics RS-1500 series (although these are expensive, even today); and OTARI. If it's in good working condition and cheap, have at it. Otherwise, the TEAC and REVOX machines have parts available if necessary; you can't count on that with other units.

MAKE SURE the unit you are looking at works. You don't want to have to be doing major repairs, as this will easily exceed whatever the unit is worth. The reel motors spinning when you hit play or fast forward with no tape on the machine is not an indication everything is working. Put a reel of tape and a take-up reel and put it through it's paces. You can bring along a set of headphones as virtually every tape machine has a headphone output. You could also bring along an iPod and try a quick test recording. Don't forget the iPod to RCA cable.

Open reel tape is still somewhat available; I believe QUANTARAY is still making tape (the old AMPEX factory and formula, which is what the music you are listening to from the 70's was probably recorded on) but if they have stopped, it wasn't that long ago.

With open-reel tape, quality definitely matters. Cheap tape will just shed the magnetic coating all over your gear, especially if it's not fresh and has been in storage a while.

Tape doesn't store particularly well, and if improperly wound before storage, if not put back into the bag before boxing, if not stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment, or the box wasn't stored on edge, it degrades more quickly. Some formulas will lose some of the highs permanently if it was frozen even once.

It will also pick up residual magnetism from adjacent winds of tape if stored a long time, which you might hear as a faint rendering of a moment's previous material. So, first of all, learn how to properly wind tape before you store it, and try to get fresh reels if possible if you do any recording or transcription.

Standard studio practice is to wind "tail-out" which means you load the tape on the right, the take-up reel on the left, and rewind to the beginning to start the program material. This is done because generally the last part of the tape is un-recorded, so that is the part that sits on the outside of the reel in storage, minimizing damage.

Open Reel tape is easily spliced; it's not that hard to do at all given a bit of practice. Might come in handy if you have damaged tape you want to salvage.

If you record, wind a bit of tape on the reel before you start, leaving the first dozen feet or so of tape blank. This avoids damaging the recording areas, which you presumably care about. Some tapes come with a leader spliced on, but using the tape itself this way is better (one less splice to break or if improperly made, leaving gummy residue on the head).

If you buy head cleaner and rubber cleaner compounds, ask around or buy reputable brand stuff ... some cheap "radio shack" versions will harden rubber or leave residue on the head. If you use Q-tips to apply it, try to find the kind where the handle part is wound paper, not the commonly found hollow plastic handled stuff. Tape cleaning compounds will attack the plastic.

There was a time when I could identify the brand and formula of a tape by smelling the plastic bag it was wrapped in. Hard to test that skill today, as all I have now are a few cherished sessions on AMPEX 456. Nor have I run a machine in quite a while; the last time was when I prepared for archival storage all of the original recordings of John Diefenbaker's speeches for the UofS.

Macfury
May 23rd, 2010, 05:59 PM
Too bad you weren't a bit closer. Have a Teac X-1000R sitting in the basement, just begging to be rented for beer.

Bought it new in '82 or so, paid around 2 grand for it, haven't used it in some time. Was great for parties, record a 10-1/2" tape the week before and it would play for hours. When it got to the end it would auto rewind and play it all over again.

Some fool on Toronto Craigslist is asking $1,000 for one of these!

Lichen Software
May 23rd, 2010, 07:43 PM
I had a TC230 sony for years.

1. Stereo will play mono

2. It is always recording on one side of the tape.

3. You can just flip the reel over and play it from back to front which means

4. There are four tracks per side.

And just as in anything else, the faster the speed, the higher the quality

OMG the memories you have just unleashed. Good luck in your quest.

Amiga2000HD
May 23rd, 2010, 09:45 PM
The question of track layout's been answered so I'll leave that aside.

Some fool on Toronto Craigslist is asking $1,000 for one of these!

That's about right, the Teac X1000-R and X2000-R machines both for big money, still. They're excellent machines. One of the other things apart from being very high end that bumps their prices up is that Teac Factory Service in New Jersey still supports those machines so they also go for a premium because the manufacturer still offers a comprehensive repair and overhaul service for those two models. They command a premium in the audio marketplace for that reason because there are very few reel to reel machines that the manufacturers still stand behind. Several Studer models do as well for the same reason but I know Studer's discontinuing support for the A807 after 2010. I don't know about their other models offhand though, whether Studer'll continue to support them past the end of 2010 or if support's already been ended.

That knocks the list down to ATR and Otari for companies that still support reel to reels. I'm not sure if Sony still supports their digital DASH reel to reel machines or their later analog professional/broadcast machines.

I'd love to get an X1000-R or X2000-R but I just can't justify the expense...as you can see, pricing's pretty dear on those. If I were to buy one though, the first thing I'd do is a basic cleanup and then ship it down to Factory Service for a full overhaul and tape head replacement while that service is still available.

Gordguide:

Quantegy went bust several years ago and their operations were shut down for a while. Production of GP9 (I think 456 production was resumed too but not 100% sure) was restarted while they were in bankruptcy protection for a bit less than a year but it didn't last and Quantegy shut down permanently. That leaves RMGI in Europe and ATR Magnetics in York PA making analogue tape. The next time I visit one of my engineering friends in York, I seriously need to phone up ATR and ask if I can have a tour of the shop floor where they build and overhaul machines and the tape manufacturing operation. I don't think there's anybody left making digital reel to reel tape for DASH machine since there's no need for that anymore because if you want to make a digital multitrack recording, you use a computer for that...

krs
May 23rd, 2010, 10:03 PM
Anyone remember the first post:

I was looking for one of these [reel-to-reel recorders] to transcribe a load of old tapes................[/QUOTE]

The way I read this: No need to record or any fancy features (ie higher price), just a requirement to digitize and store (on CD or DVD or HD) what was on the tapes.
If it's speech, any reel-to-reel recorder will do - if it's music you want one with good frequency response and good S/N ratio.
And unless any of the reels are bigger than 7-inch reels, no point spending extra money for a recorder that will accept 10 1/2 reels.

Macfury
May 23rd, 2010, 10:27 PM
Thanks for the advice all. I am expecting a delivery of retro tapes so will see if there are 10-inch reels in it first.

Kazak
May 23rd, 2010, 10:36 PM
I am expecting a delivery of retro tapes

Hoping for some Tricky Dicky?

Macfury
May 23rd, 2010, 10:52 PM
Hoping for some Tricky Dicky?

I want more tapes where he calls Trudeau an ***hole!

FeXL
May 24th, 2010, 04:01 PM
Some fool on Toronto Craigslist is asking $1,000 for one of these!

Wow...

Like I said, I haven't used this in some time, gotta be 15 years anyways. Don't think I'd miss it. Maybe it's time to clear a bit of the basement out.

Macfury
May 24th, 2010, 04:42 PM
Wow...

Like I said, I haven't used this in some time, gotta be 15 years anyways. Don't think I'd miss it. Maybe it's time to clear a bit of the basement out.

If you can get a grand for it, sell that puppy!

ScanMan
May 29th, 2010, 01:21 PM
Memoryville!

Back in the late 70's, the core of our small studio was a Tascam 38 8-track w/DBX. 1/2" tape, 15 ips (which we overcranked), and racks of FX. I'd walk in there and throw 40 switches to start a session. A few years ago, I gave it all away to a DJ friend of my wife. I know that somewhere it's still enjoying itself.