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2" Analog Sound: Ampex vs. Studer

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Thiago Monteiro, Nov 3, 2003.

  1. I always hear comments about the big sound quality of the Ampex MM1200 16tracks 2".
    There are a lot of engineers with the opinion that is the best sound.
    And a unanimous opinion is that the Studer has the best mechanics.
    Well... I have two options of "bargain":

    A Studer A80 MKIV 24tr 2" 50% headlife for U$5000, and
    a Ampex MM1200 16tr 2" excelent condition for U$2300.

    I need to decide this week which machine to buy.

    Please help me in this decision...

  2. Dr.Blackwell

    Dr.Blackwell Guest

  3. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    They are both good pro machines. I used to work on a Studer A80 and liked it a lot. The Ampex MM1200 is great old workhorse and many do prefer it's vintage sound. I think the Studer is likely to have better parts and service support.
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Before you decide on either, you should consider who will be performing the maintenance on the machine and if you will be able to afford it. These machines both require regular maintenance of the electronics and transports. They are not like a Tascam machine that can run for years without requiring repair or maintenance.

    2" reels are very heavy and electronics are pushed hard and run hot and at the edge of performance specs.. electronic components fail and need replacing, transports need constant adjustment to insure proper tension, tape path travel and smooth tape handling in ffwd and rew. Autolocaters also have a way of needing a lot of attention. That's a lot of button punching going on with these things. Even keeping extra cards on hand will only put off the inevitable for a while.

    A competent tech, with all the proper owners manuals and test tools, oscilloscope, mrl tapes, etc is an absolute must. Someone who knows their way around these machines is nice to know if you are going to own and operate one of them. So consider this. It is one of the reasons these machines are being used less and less in mid level studios. Only the largest rooms with staff on hand and high hourly rates can afford to keep these machines up and running in the perfect condition that clients demand..

    I have recently heard of machines like that with both 16 and 24 track head stacks selling for as low as $1000.

    The Ampex is a great sounding machine, some say the best. Tape speed is different at different places in the reels so these machines are usually employed with a Time Lynx to remedy the problem. You lose a couple tracks to smpte for this, so at best you would be running perhaps 14 tracks (you need one for a guard track).

    The Studer 80 is a great sounding machine but it is famous as a maintenance pig. It requires a lot of attention to keep it running all the time. It is an older version of a 2" and parts can be scarce.

    My advice is to stay away from the 2" multi tracks. They sound great but you need a great console as well to really take advantage of them. I would go with DAW and spend that 5 grand on a reconditioned 1/2" AMPEX 2 track, from Michael Spitz at ATR. He builds new amps and completely rebuilds the transports and sells them as "new" with an accompanying warranty. These are wonderful machines, in use in major rooms around the world. Much less headaches, and the analog sound you're looking for.
  5. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Many years ago when I was but a plebe, a friend had a recording studio.It was the reason I do this now....He had two old MM1000 Ampex 1" 8 tracks, a couple of Srtuder 3 trackers and a bunch of old mono 1/4" machines....The sync was yer finger and the carriages were open ALL THE TIME for various and sundry tweeking and doucheing...........however...............

    The drums always sounded like Bonham and the guitars were always huge and inyer face....kinda like sticking yer ear into a marshall cab...he had a load of old tube Altec leveling amps and EQ's, a really old mixer that looked hand made,andan assortment of 'German' microphones.

    My point is, these things are wonderful to listen to if they've been maintained.If you have the knowledge and the connections for parts and can do the maintainence yourself, then the analog way is the best sounding.If not, then buy a nice powerful PC or a Mac and get a good program and as Kurt said a real nice mastering deck.
  6. Hi Kurt and Davedog

    Thanks for your regards...

    Both the machines have mrl tape and has constant maintenance.

    For many years I have worked with Tascam's MSR24 and 16.
    Since july/2000, I have a Pro Tools Mix+ system.
    I'm satisfact, but something is lacking.
    The body, smooth, "cream"...
    What I want is to obtain this features, recording principally the drums, basses and guitars, on tape.
    I'm a dependent of compression tape... His warmth is irreplaceable.

    What you think about this?? What is the best way?

    Thanks again...

    [ November 08, 2003, 01:40 PM: Message edited by: Thi_mont ]
  7. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I don't know what to say to you. I have to agree that analog has a sound that can't be achived with digital. But the maintenace issues are real. The smaller format machines don't sound as good as the big boys, smaller tape equals smaller tracks, higher noise and the nr schemes employed to overcome this problem, imo do more harm than good. A 2" machine will simply require a lot more maintenance than your tascam msr 16 and 24..

    Perhaps you can find a 1" 16 track from OTARI in good shape, that runs at +4 balanced. Those machines are the best sounding narrow guage machines ever made and don't usually need as much maintenance as a 2" machine would, if they have been properly taken care of. Stay away from anything that needs DBX nr.
  8. Pez

    Pez Active Member

    A lot of the new tape formats can be hit a lot harder into the red before distorting too badly now. I have a slew of DBX units on my tape machine and I never use them. If anyone is in the market for them let me know. As long as you keep the levels hot the noise floor shouldn't be as big of a problem as it once was. If the seller claims that the machines have been maintained then insist on the name of the person who did the work and give him a call. You'll get a better grasp of the condition of the machines and you can ask if he'll be available to do your maintainence as well. My machine spends most of it's time in the closet while I'm working on my DAW. I'm in the process of redoing my studio and I'll probably be using it more then. It takes talent to work in either format. I think if a person decides to work consistently on a DAW that he can eventually come extremely close to the sound of analog. It's nice to have both formats available if you can afford it.
  9. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Thi is absolutely 100% correct. There is no way to get the warmth hes talking about with ANY DAW system...Hes got a Mix+ and 'something is still lacking'.....he wants the tape compression you get from running everything in the RED all the time!!! I used to when I was operating tape....If it doesnt sound distorted , it isnt.

    Kurts suggestion for the narrow gauge multitrack is a good one...Those old Otaris just sounded great and you could simply hit em till the meter just barely bounces off the peg on the right. Low maintainence.Great build quality.Parts are still available....and with a Mix+ you can do eight at a time and get yer tape sound......
  10. missilanious

    missilanious Guest

    I totally agree with kurt and actaually went this rought, I own a HD system and an Otari MX5050 MKIII 1/2" 8 track. This machine sounds great, I don't need to mantain it much because I print the tracks to protools for mixing so I'm not always using my machine, only for recording and than playback into HD. It has a thick sound that I can't get in protools and than the tape compression. The only mantainance I have to do is an alignment every 3 months, and a demag and cleaning before use. Got my machine for $750 in great condition, the tape heads have plenty of life left, the only problem was the pinch roller which I got a new part from Otari.
  11. sign

    sign Guest

    I've posted this before, I must be very lucky with analog gear.

    I have an Otari MX80 that needs very little attention. Only alighning every now and then.

    It always works and sounds just great.

    I still have a Tascam MSR24S as well, bought it new in 1992 and it never let me down, not for a split second. It only needed a new head once, but that's normal isn't it? ;)

    About the Ampex and Studer machines, I advice you to read a post of John Klett: http://recpit.prosoundweb.com/viewtopic.php?t=8633

    Hope this helps.
  12. Thanks, Han.

    John Klett comments:

    "I would take an Ampex MM1200 or 3M M79 first because they are simple, easy to modify and update to work with current tape formulations and... you can buy junkers cheap, strip them of their parts so that what you can't get from after market suppliers you can grab from your stash."

    I think that I'll buy the Ampex. Or not ?
    God help me...

    Please, more opinions...

  13. sign

    sign Guest


    You should take everything you hear and read about big analog machines with a grain of salt.

    Some of the older machines are a PITA. It is well known that Studer parts are expensive. I've read that a pinch roller for a 2" machine can cost $850.

    OTOH, a big 2" machine can sound wonderful. I guess you must have luck with them. :D
  14. Melange

    Melange Guest

    Either way you go, you should consider having a reserve of $$ to spend on maintenance for the machine.

    If you're gonna record to tape and then transfer to a DAW, I would get the Ampex. If you're doing all of your work in the analog domain, go for the Studer, because it's a workhorse and can handle more daily use and abuse.

    There's acompany in Atlanta called RTZ that makes new cards for Ampex machines, which I've used and can vouch for. They sound great, but the ablility of the machine's transport is the main deal here, and I think Studer made the best.

    A friend of mine had a studio with an old Ampex 1200 and they always had problems with the tape slowing down as it got towards the end of the reel. There are plenty of tweaks to be made to compensate for that, but it's the kind of thing in which you need to be technically savvy enough to deal with.

    Alot of people want to buy old tape machines, but don't know how to work with them on a technical level. You can't just buy an old Ampex and start making records. There's a ton of work that needs to go into them to keep them up to par to work in a professional environment.

    In my experience, Studer machines have been the most reliable and user-friendly of all the other options. The parts may be more expensive, but the last thing you need is for your tape machine to break down in the middle of a session.

    It's not that hard to learn how to tweak your machine, but considering that NOBODY makes analog machines anymore, replacement parts will be hard to come by. Since most professional studios use Studer machines, I would think that there would be more support and second-hand availability out there for Studer users when it comes time to replace parts like pinch-rollers and capstan motors.
  15. JavaJunkie

    JavaJunkie Guest

    I hope this isn't too off topic.

    After completing our first project together on Protools/DIGI001, my partner and I felt the need to upgrade. Looked at PTHD and analog at first, finally decided on RADAR. I'm a tech and I don't want to deal with the maintenance/tape cost. My partner has years of experience on Studers/large format consoles and he is very please with RADAR's sound. Just a thought.
  16. Ok...

    I'm almost desisting.
    Another good option would be a ATR102 1/2" 2 tracks, to mix, like Kurt told in your reply ?
    This have been a standart format.

  17. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Yes it is a very standard format and all mastering houses of any reputation will be compatible.

    I want to stress that I am recomending a completly refurbished sold "as new" machine from Michael Spitz at "ATR Services". He rebuilds and upgrades all the electronics and transports and these machines from him, out perform any stock Ampex machine. Since they are completly rebuilt, you should be able to get a lot of use from one before it needs any serious servicing..
  18. wiggy

    wiggy Guest

    I used to own every type of conveivable Ampex machine.

    MM1200 16 & 24 tr
    AG 440

    AMPEX are the sound of rock. Sure they (mm1200) have srachiac steam driven transprts, but they are kinda simple and dont have any funky logic computers in there to go spastic.

    The 2" 16 track was the freakin biggest sounding thing u will hear!

    Get an ampex today cos there are still heaps of machines out and RTZ makes a few new parts as well as ATR services. Get one and make some rock music today.. fat and deep lows!!!
  19. Thanks Kurt, Wiggy...

    You have a MM1200 16tr.

    Tell me more about the speed problem that everybody comments.

    *One thing more: the actual owner told me that the machine have the original cards, dolby and RC,
    and that was owned by "Blood Sweat and Tears" group. (look old, or not?)


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