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Building An Analog Recording Rig

Discussion in 'Vintage Analog Gear' started by daysonend07, Mar 19, 2010.

  1. daysonend07

    daysonend07 Guest

    I am looking to buy a TEAC 2340 or 3440 Reel to Reel. I was wanting to know if you guys could help me out in telling some basics things I NEED in order to perform this operation(recording bands rock bands mostly) Just like the best mixers to use (ive been looking at some vintage mixers) cables things i need for the tape deck up keep. etc. good outboard gear etc. Ive worked alot with digital but i want to explore the analog world because i like the sound you get with analog. Im sorry my questions are broad im just not completely sure how to go about this
  2. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Great idea....unfortunately theres always issues of age in association with vintage gear. Old tape decks need lots of love. In embarking on this you should be really sure you know how to do basic fixes on this gear. Understand the workings of this gear in order to maintain it....unless you have a tech at your leisure.

    I would look at Otari for a mid-range tape machine. They are bullet-proof and the parts are still available. Tascam also, but the sound quality difference is worth the price of admission.

    Consoles area whole nother thing.....How much console would you want? This will determine where to start. Will you be using this gear in conjunction with digital gear also??

    Refine your questions and give an idea of what you are trying to accomplish as well as budget and it'll be easier to answer this in detail.
  3. natural

    natural Active Member

    well, first off, have you actually heard the sound of the 3440 compared to, say, 2" 24 or 16 track?
    Of the 2 machines you mentioned, the 3440 would probably be your best bet. It's a little less frustrating to work with. It's predecessors all required manually switching each track between record and repro, where the 3440 had some intelligent monitoring. less mistakes, less time wasted. etc.
    But really, the sound quality at it's absolute best is only a few notches above cassette tape.

    I agree with Davedog about the Otari - It's a better machine. (still not 2" quality, but a smidge closer)
  4. djmukilteo

    djmukilteo Well-Known Member

    You could also look at a Tascam 38....8 track 1/2" tape. Don't expect any of these tape decks to compare in sound quality to anything digital though.
    Tape is noisy....that's why you see a lot of them with noise reduction units attached, Dolby/DBX..which will out with dynamic range and lower the noise floor, but then that's more equipment. It is a novel old school sound for sure...sounds analog, sounds different....but not necessarily better IMHO. Then there is the heads and alignments, demags, belts, capstans, threading tape, having a remote control....it is a whole other world. If you want to experiment with it I would keep it simple and try one out for a small amount of cash on a unit that's in perfect working condition and see if you like the work involved and the results...
  5. daysonend07

    daysonend07 Guest

    Ok sorry about the broad questioning.
    What makes the Otari better than Teac? What Otari models do you suggest for multitracking? Whats the best machine I could get for anywhere between $5-750?
    I'm building a studio in my garage, so im not sure which type of console i need. Roughly my budget is going to ultimately be around $10,000 and yes eventually I do want to intergrate digital with analog. But i want to learn Analog in its entirety before mixing it with digital recording. I know very little about the upkeep of these machines (reel to reel tape decks) however I want to learn and I have the time and patience to do it. I just need some steps in the right direction to get going. Some basic supplies and equipment to make a decent record. then I would to tweak it to get the sounds and techniques i desire (but you know the saying you gotta know the rules before you can break 'em)
  6. daysonend07

    daysonend07 Guest

    Good point thanks for the advice. I just have run into alot of BAD recordings done in digital and I want to go back to the roots of recording and learn everything from where it started to now. Historically i know the timeline but i dont know the techniques or the how to's. I find the drum sounds particularly in digital to very artificial sounding, and i hate it. All around i think diving into the past to see the manual chores of what now is a simple click can only result positively. Like how alot of young engineers do not know how to route gear to save there life, whereas an engineer from the tape era thinks of it as common sense.
  7. djmukilteo

    djmukilteo Well-Known Member

    Well one thing I would do is check the classifieds....Craglist, eBait etc.....or check out a few websites of people who restore tape decks and resell them. Sometimes you can get a good deal on a perfect machine fully restored....which if you have no electronics experience is the way to go! In order to get good recordings requires a professional machine that is properly aligned...anything else is just consumer grade electronics and not worth the effort.
    How many tracks do you want and how many channels of mixer do you want?
    You should consider that and look into both parts...you won't want one without the other!
    Otari, Tascam, Studer, Revox, Sony are all good at that level...I don't know what you can buy in your price range though....Teac is really more consumer level....so don't expect great quality out of those at all...if that's your intentions then don't waste too much money..
    If your an electronics type tech and like repairing stuff and have some test equipment, then you can save money fixing and aligning them yourself.
    But then that's a whole other forum and story!! LOL
  8. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    There were an awful lot of bad recordings done prior to digital. I don't know that you can make a correlation there.

    I applaud your desire to learn the analog gear but you had best take a course in basic electronics repair and then find an old geezer missing some teeth and maybe a finger digit to be a mentor in maintaining and repairing this vintage gear you are aching to buy. They have to be cleaned and adjusted (the tape machines) prior to every session and periodic other work too. Good luck.
  9. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    daysonend07 - have you considered going for a hard disk recorder like the Alesis HD24 or the JoeCo Black Box? These feel and operate much more as an analog reel-to-reel recorder does than recording via an interface to a computer . You get maintenance-free 24 channels of 24-bit data, but no tape saturation effects. You would still use all the external pre-amps, outboard effects and analog mixdown setup that you would have had with a tape machine.
  10. daysonend07

    daysonend07 Guest

    Thanks to all for your input! It has been very helpful in making decisions, So ive decided to take a step back and slow down and ease into analog to see if i like it. However I want to try and track drums on tape then convert the analog info to digital. How would i do that?
    My basic idea for the essentials is:
    1/2" 4 or 8 track tape deck

    but what do i need to get those tracks from tape into my DAW?
  11. djmukilteo

    djmukilteo Well-Known Member

    Do you have an analog to digital converter interface? You want something with at least 8 channels...depending on how many tracks you get with the recorder or mixer.
    Take your mixer outputs either all 8 drum channels separately or a 2 channel stereo bus mix of your drums into the A/D interface.
    The fastest and most stable A/D interface right now is FW into your computer/DAW. A good choice is RME FF800 or FF400.
    USB interfaces are OK, they are cheaper but not as good as FW IMO.
  12. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    And Bos, the Alesis is now vintage gear too!!!

    @ OP: I think it's a great idea to get your feet wet first. I also second and third Boswell's suggestion of the Alesis HD24XR. Even the sibling HD24 is fine for 44.1k or 48k AD conversion. The added benefit is that when you are ready for better converters than the non XR version you just run outboard converters into the Alesis via ADAT and it functions the same. I can honestly say that the Alesis HD24XR was one of the best purchases I ever made-right next to my Fireface 800's and my True preamps. I sold my second unit off and I've been kicking my @$$ since then.

    The other unit Boswell alludes to is the JoeCo Black Box. It is pretty much the only new unit to try to fill the void of the Alesis HD24XR. I haven't used one but they look tasty. One would want to make sure of the desired options prior to ordering though (ADAT vs AES/EBU vs balanced IO).

    The third unit to consider for your ADC recorder is the Korg MR-2000s. This unit is only a 2 track recorder but can be linked to other units to create as many tracks as you need. It records to PCM but also records to DSD 1 bit which is the closest thing to analog going in the digital domain. Unfortunately unless you own a Pyramix system you can't edit the DSD files really so that potion is best left to the final mastered mixdown from your analog summing mixer. It's brother the MR-1000 has analog inputs so can be used as a 2 track field recorder as well but it can't be linked to other units but again would work for a mastering 2-bus.

    At any rate, combining some 1/2" tape with it's natural compression etc with a digital recorder is not a bad way to go at all. Dare I say savvy when used intelligently?
  13. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    AD conversion. The easiest way is to have the number of channels of converters match the number of analog tracks in order to load it into a DAW. You CAN use a two channel converter and convert two tracks at a time and time align everything but this is a lot of work......at least it is for me.

    Quality conversion is expensive. If you dont care about 192khz or anything above 48 then older used devices can be had at a reasonable price.

    Lets look at everything as a package. I'll use my studio as an example since I have basically what you aspire to. I sold all my tape decks simply because of the maintainence issue and I got sick of aligning the deck everytime I wanted to track something of a serious nature. So I went the route that Boswell alluded to....I have a stand-alone harddisk recorder....an Alesis HD24. It is destructive recording, much like a tape deck, it is low maintainence, it sounds exactly like what I put in it and (this may seem trivial but its not believe me) the sessions go much quicker and stay more focused simply because of the lack of rewind time. Seriously. Dont misunderstand me....I miss my tape machines....a bit...I like machinery, but thats just me...in reality the stand-alone digital capture is so much better in every way than tape. But again, thats just me.

    If you really want analog sound, while its true that tape does compress and add artifacts to the sound that nothing else can emulate, if you approach the recording with analog front end gear its quite resonable to expect that rich and warm sound without the need for a tape machine.

    I have an analog console. Its a mid range one....a Soundcraft Ghost. Its really a decent board with okay pres and great routing and the EQ is very good. I have some outboard pres that give me some different colors and choices. With quality patbays, I'm able to rout everything in my studio from one place to another. This allows me to bypass the board for any input I want to send directly to the recorder while still being able to rout the monitoring to a couple of different outputs. So I can track and overdub at liesure with out anything more than a change in patching. ANY board you choose must have these options for it to be viable and and usable as a tool.

    I generally only mix demos at my place. I CAN make full-blown productions but I choose to mix in another studio while tracking here. I get the intimacy and the knowledge of my room in tracking and the ability to mix in digital allowing for edits and repairs if needed at that point in the process at the other room.

    I have very good monitors. Your budget must include these or you will not get the kind of quality as well as being able to hear the intricacies of what you are recording. I also am able to send a couple of different headphone mixes to different locations. This really helps when theres a Diva or two around.....

    I have very good mics. As a musician, my instruments are quality, so too are my instruments in the studio. I love dem little mic thingys.......Besides the fact that I have a decent collection, I know how they work and why. This is very important. Mic placement and source is the key element to making quality recordings. Knowing what each of your mics will do and why they do it is knowledge that will enable you to make choices about HOW to record the source at hand.

    Your budget just barely covers my mic budget but then I like those German ones.......

    And then theres cables. If I was step up my studio quality right now, I'd replace all my cables. They arent bad or intermittent, theres just better stuff than basic Belden.

    Think about these things and we'll get some replies on a basic setup that will tend towards the analog side of things.
  14. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Well, this is why I am doing the best of both worlds. A great DAW, excellent converters and a MixDream / analog summing amp or a very good analog consol. I'd go for the MixDream or Dangerous .. something with high headroom.
    This is what I have going on now. See page 8:

    I am now switching to an internal AES in/out DAC . Buying great hardware, mics and using the DAW to print and the analog to sculpture my sound. I will eventually get a controller for the DAW and never look back. Forget using tape.

    my two cents.
  15. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I found this at Dangerous Music Monitor, MQ, 2-Bus and Mixer while looking for more information on analog DAW enhancements for my rig, which is very interesting and may answer more questions why believers prefer analog summing and/or analog recording in general. The OP should take note.

    We covered the moving faders in pro tools (alsihad) about 7 years ago somewhere on RO and I recall topics on recaudiopro even further back about this.

    Here is the excerpt from Barry Rudolph Mix article on the Dangerous [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]2-BUS INSIDE AND OUT[/FONT]
    This is why I hear something change, when I move the faders in Pro tools after I've printed that track. Things have improved significantly since then, however, I still hear a difference and it could be some ears always will. Whether its good, bad or mathematically ridiculous, there is a difference.
  16. ampexguy

    ampexguy Active Member

    First, I pretty much agree with all the advice you've gotten so far. Particularly whoever said that you can make good & bad recordings with either analog or digital.

    Here are some things to consider, though. If you do get analog tape deck, it would probably be better to get a real 1/2" four track, 1" eight track, and so on. For one thing, they are just better built than the prosumer sorts of machines you've mentioned. More importantly, since they were never mainstream professional formats, it will be increasingly hard to find equipment to play back anything you record using them.

    Trust me, even if you dump the tracks to digital, some day you'll want to play the tape again.

    Another thing about "real" professional machines is that parts and support (in most cases not from the manufacturer!) are still available. You'll probably be able to keep them running well the rest of your life.

    You will absolutely need a standard tape (aka alignment tape, aka calibration tape) for every width, speed, and equalization you use. It's convenient also to have one for all of the operating levels you use regularly, though you can save money by buying a 250 nanoweber tape, which will let you set any level from 185 to 500 nanowebers (i.e., anything you'll ever use) with the VU meters. When you see the price, remember that you're buying a piece of test equipment, not a copy of the Beatles' Greatest Hits. This is *your* studio standard. So get a new tape, and run, do not walk, away from a copy made on a "known good" (Ha!) machine. The flux will never be right all across the tape, and you'll just end up chasing your tail and never know where you are.

    You will also absolutely need an *analog* meter (digital meters don't update their displays fast enough) or an oscilloscope for adjusting azimuth. The analog meter, which does not need to be a fancy, expensive one, will work just fine if you sum all the tracks to mono and adjust for a sharp peak, but most people prefer the 'scope. (I am not among their number.) I'll let you google around for alignment tape sources, since one of the major manufacturers of them is a good friend (from whom I get nothing for referrals and no discounts). If you get a 'scope, it doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, either. Anything with a horizontal & vertical input will work; you can probably get such at a hamfest.

    Though I am obviously prejudiced, I'd suggest thinking hard before getting anything but an Ampex. Parts are available for any of the models you'd be likely to get. There is technical suport from the Ampex Mailing List (which I operate), in a few cases from the engineers who designed them. I think there's more support than for Studers, much less MCI, et al. Parts tend to be cheaper (I'm tempted to say much cheaper) than for Studers.

    Avoid the MM1100, maybe even if it's given to you. The AG-440-8, MM1000, and MM1200--not to mention the ATR-124--should work well for you. All but the ATR-124 are reasonably easy to troubleshoot. I think the prices on all but the ATR-124 are tending to drop, and if you keep your eyes open and maintain a little discretionary fund, you may be able to pick one up for less than you think.

    Advice that may well be worth even less than I'm charging you for it!
  17. davidollard

    davidollard Active Member

    I would actually switch that statement around and say avoid the ATR-124 (simply too much to go wrong, with parts and knowledge both extremely thin on the ground).

    I have restored a couple of MM-1100-8s in recent years, and they are both performing solidly for their owners. Basically, I would say that after all these years if an MM-1100 is in working condition then the bugs have probably been worked out. Yes, certain maintenance is harder, but essentially these are a low-cost MM-1200 equivalent. A good choice if you want a 1" 8 track.

    Anyway, good luck with your quest!


    David Ollard
  18. Really?

    Was the XR that much of an improvement over the original HD24? Because I had nothing but frustration with internal mechanism failures on that unit, so much so that, after having two of them replaced by the factory under warranty, and a third repaired out-of-warranty, I threw my hands up and unloaded them and went back to PC DAW.
  19. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I don't know about Boswell, but I've never had a lick of problem with either of the two I've owned. Both happened to be XR models but the mechanism you write about should have been the same. They have just been no BS lifesavers in either primary or backup positions.
  20. Maybe I just had dismal luck with my units. Go figure.

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