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How to start recording on tape

Discussion in 'Vintage Analog Gear' started by MrPhaSe, Jan 12, 2012.

  1. MrPhaSe

    MrPhaSe Active Member

    I've taken an interest in recording on a reel to reel recently.

    I'd love to have a better understanding of which reel to reel to buy.(maybe an 8 track?)
    How to send audio to it(are there inputs on a reel to reel?)
    And after i've recorded the audio, how to get the audio to a different format(How to dump it to pro tools)

    Can someone start me off on the right foot?

    Thank you
  2. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    Just be prepared to take the time to calibrate, demagnetize and align the heads. It's not rocket science but having the user manual is helpful. Fostex and Tascam have some decent units.

    As far as sending them to ProTools, I would work out a way to run the tape in line. If you have a decent mixing console with decent pres, go directly into the R2R from that and directly from the R2R into your Interface. Monitor from the Mixer because there is going to be some serious latency going on. The only thing you're going to have to worry about doing it this way is dropouts on the tape. If there are any bad spots on the tape, you might hear a click or pop or other noise. This can happen even with new tape. You won't be able to do overdubs without dealing with some latency.

    The other problem will be finding a decent source of media. Not a lot of people selling tape out there.
  3. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Analog recorders don't have inputs. The signal is transferred magically through osmosis. You have to also understand that analog recorders like guitars can't be used right out of the box since they generally won't be in tune with the brand of tape you may have purchased on sale. So while you might be able to leave playback calibration alone (and I recommend doing that with any brand-new recorder) you'll want to tweak record for the brand and type of recording tape you've purchased. But that too is relatively easy to do especially at 15 IPS. Don't do anything at 7.5 IPS as it's not really worth it because of excessive high frequency saturation. And don't use any Dolby or DBX as that will screw your sound up more than improve it. None of us like Dolby nor DBX but it was somewhat necessary back in old analog days. You would then have to try to compensate for the horrific implications it would impart and that was basically what aural exciters were so necessary for. But at the same time, those would also boost the noise level. So you'd just really be trying to enhance a track on an analog deck bringing your noise levels back to pre-noise reduction.

    It's always somethin'
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  4. MrPhaSe

    MrPhaSe Active Member

    aite.. thanks guys...

    what if i was to buy a machine like this...
    Vintage Pioneer RT 909 Reel-to-Reel Tape Recorder Player With 2 Reels Rack Mount | eBay

    and also, should the tape machine be positioned upright? i'm saying if i was to mount it on a rack, it may be titled a little.. will that be bad for the recording?
  5. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    That's four tracks only. Stereo both ways or four tracks one way. Two tracks at a time only as there are only two inputs. Personally, unless you are going to invest a lot of money in a good 16 or 24 track , I wouldn't bother. It's just not worth the effort on a cheap deck. If you want analog sound it's going to cost you. Just get your chops up to par and leave it at that. You could mix to a two track though. Nothing wrong with that.
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Just for the trivial information, most analog recorders of a professional nature, had the ability to be utilized horizontally flat or vertically rackmounted. That information is correct up to 2 inch wide recording tape. Actually, recorders had less tape path problems when mounted vertically. But vertical with heavy 2 inch thick reels didn't look as cool as when they were horizontal. Ampex 350/351/354's in Ampex cabinets were mounted horizontally with a 45° inclination to the vertical back in the day. And the experimental 3 inch, 32 track MCI, due to physics, could not hold a stable tape path horizontally but could vertically. They deemed that completely impractical. I gave them the suggestion of utilizing perforated, vacuum tape guides which they never thought of. Too late, they canceled the project. Vacuum operated tape guides were utilized in the 2 inch, IVC 9000, segmented helical scan video recorders of the late 1970s. Which I was also familiar with when producing commercials at a video postproduction house for the advertising agency I worked for in Fort Lauderdale Florida. And MCI was 2 miles around the corner from that place. I was always amused by video guys that knew nothing about audio and audio guys that knew nothing about video. I must've been stupid because I knew about both?

    You could probably get by with a decent 1 inch, 8-track analog machine? I did. And I was doing audio for video with that deck and no SMPTE timecode. Just super accurate supply & take up tension control. Then I would just fly my 1/4 inch tapes to Stripe back onto the video machines at the video post house. The video guys said it wasn't possible. Well, they were almost right since they didn't have a 1/4 inch MCI JH 110. They had an Ampex ATR 700 a.k.a. TEAC. And they didn't understand the concept of dragging your finger on the reel flange. I mean you had 10 seconds of academy leader to get it in sync. And then you used your finger to keep it that way, LOL! That's only possible when your finger is not up your ass. But that's where most video guys had theirs so they didn't know. And that's probably why most video guys audio, stink?

    But what you are trying to attempt would be wholly impractical today with an analog deck anyhow. Computers run with such accurate clocking that even without timecode, most computer tracks will hold sync for long periods of time in nonlinear video editing timelines. I've done plenty of that that way. It only requires a little bit of accuracy on your part to accomplish that. Getting familiar with your software and how it works is the most important factor. You can accomplish it with anybody's software I was only suggesting ProTools because of its semi-standardization. Today I utilize Sony Vegas because it's both a multitrack video editing program and a multitrack audio program, wrapped into one. And both sections are quite comprehensive in what you're able to do with it. It's also rather quick and real-time (except for some video enhancements which must be rendered for proper real-time playback or exporting). So maybe you're just trying to rely on the wrong software? The audio only ProTools 10 is $600. Well so is Sony Vegas but it handles both audio and video. They even have lesser versions of the program for little better than $100 that might be more adequate for you? You might not get quite as many video scopes & color correction but hey, you're only contending with audio. I think I've gotten off-topic here again for a change?

    Tape saturation with the right audio sources can certainly sound wonderful. But it really does take a professional recorder at 15 IPS with more than 4 tracks in one direction to take advantage of what it has to offer. Really though, if you can't accomplish a great sounding recording ITB, you're only asking for trouble if you think analog tape is going to make YOU any better. It won't. It will only complicate things and confuse you 300% more. Well, maybe 500% more? Either way, I think you get the message, I hope? You have to master the tools you currently have before you can win the big jackpot. Then you just move on laterally to a different software package which will be the same but different. All of this software is all the same but different. You have to become proficient with one before you can even understand the others. Changing lanes going at the same speed on the freeway is nothing more than changing lanes. You're not going to get any place faster. You'll just waste more gas. Because every time you turn the wheels, greater drag is created causing a loss in MPG's. So stay in your lane until you get to where you're going.

    That's me flashing my brights behind you
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Did anyone mention packing the tape? I think we always assume that EVERYONE does that......Its important even with cassettes
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I didn't think to mention that. Because if you don't pack the tape, you'll have anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 mile of it between the mailbox and the post office. And you know we've all seen those people that did not pack their cassettes either. They just throw them out the car window when they don't work right and there's tape all over the highway.

    Maybe Dave meant pack the tape by slamming the VU meters into the red with every drum thwack? Yeah, that's the ticket. For all other saturation there's MasterCard.

    Honest officer I did not throw that tape out the window. But I wanted to.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I wonder if there's any analogy to that with Monica Lewinsky?
  10. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    VU meters to the red, cigars with a blue dress....I think it might work.
  11. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Bob, that sounds like a mathematical probability to me?
  12. Phat Pat

    Phat Pat Active Member

    Maybe I was lucky. I've ben a roadie for seventeen years. I've patched so much crap together on the road just to make a show go. Near the end of My career my Nephew asked me to help his friends out.
    They had been trying to record vocals to a hip-hop beat. It was pretty bad. two boom boxes ten feet apart. They had know idea. I set them up with a mixer and an old VCR with an audio leveling circuit.
    Radio shack I believe. The beats were made on a Keyboard and with a couple of old 58s the Kids were very happy. The next step was multi tracking. A PC with a Layla card came next. The Boys started putting more
    background harmonizes into there songs and the PC just didn't sound good enough. It would hic-up also and trash a take. I found a Otari Mx 50-50 8 track 1/2 inch from a local shop and started learning.
    I knew from loading the bands into recording studios that tape was very exacting as in cleaning heads and alinement. Its amazing what You can pick up just sitting around a studio. I had a Pro audio shop in town
    Look my Machine over and all the service logs from the production house over and they gave it a clean bill of health. Using the same type of tape we were off and running. The Guys produced two Beautiful albums.
    They wanted to do more tracks so I suggested we go with a hard-rive for the beats and stay with the tape for the vocals. A new G-4 and a digi 001 later and we were getting things together. I used a Cooper sync box
    and dropped two analog tracks for sync and guard and had the best of both worlds. We Mastered to dat and sent them out for Production. I guess I'm just lucky to have been a part of the Music Industry.
    I hope with some luck and quick learning anyone could enjoy producing Music of there own. Or just helping. Good luck!
  13. e-mixmaster

    e-mixmaster Active Member

    I really love seeing people taking interest in magnetic recording.

    To the OP, make sure the heads are ok when buying a tape recorder, check the transport perform well and electronics do work properly.

    I have done most of my recordings with ATR's. I personally love Sony APR-24, and Studers, mostly the 827. You can buy them really cheap this days since they are becoming dinosaurs of sound.

    Not all analog recorders do sound great, just be aware of that. If you buy one, buy a good one!

    Also if you don´t want a huge 24 rack recorder, you can go for a two track master recorder for printing your mixes to it, they do sound great.

    There is an added setting for analog recorders which is how hot you align them. I personally love the 512. Do mind that you will need calibration tapes in order to align these machines on a regular basis.

    Best regards

  14. Biaseelfsu

    Biaseelfsu Active Member

    Fantastic! I suggest you read through this library on the "Fundamental Principles of Magnetic Tape Recording/Reproduction" located here: Recording Studio Technician's Information Portal

    Best of luck and look forward to questions on the art of analog tape recording.



  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Learning how to tweak and analog machine can be both fun and extremely gratifying. And you have choices. Not just the different tape formulations. But in how you tweak the record electronics. There is no one correct way to set the bias. And the bias can be adjusted to provide a different sound that the machine will create. So bias makes for an interesting variable. Some bias adjustments can simply be done by ear. Others, you'd want an AC voltmeter, oscilloscope and some type of third or total harmonic distortion analyzer. But for the most part, one really doesn't need much of that test equipment to tweak up and analog machine really well. One can basically rely upon the front panel VU meters when tweaking for the higher speeds of 15 IPS & 30 IPS. 7.5 IPS and slower, requires that all frequency response tests are done at -10 DB down, where you will generally need an AC voltmeter.

    But beware, many newer multitrack machines have a separate meter drive circuit with an adjustment. The adjustment allows you to change the operating level of the meter. So when your voltmeter, connected to the output of the recorder, indicates 1.23 V, into a 600 ohm resistor, which is the studio reference standard of 0 DB at 1 kHz. And then you adjust the meter to reflect 0 VU. But I am only giving you a partial adjustment procedure here.

    When you purchase a reference calibration tape (I recommend MRL), you have to know what you want to specify for that reference calibration test tape. There are different reference standards. They also make a shorter frequency load, more affordable test tape, that leaves out frequencies, we really don't need to check. It includes the frequencies we usually use on the more expensive tapes as our primary reference tones. With all of the others thrown in, in the higher priced more complete and comprehensive calibration tapes, most of those tones, one does not need.

    The budget oriented test tapes only include the fundamental tones such as 1 kHz, 10 kHz, 50 Hz. Which is really the only frequencies you need for reference playback calibration.

    There is also the issue known as fringing effect. You can purchase these test tapes that have been recorded the full width of the tape. Fringing effect, is a little bit like proximity effect in a directional microphone. Low frequencies will seem to playback at higher levels than higher frequencies. This can be confusing during a playback alignment as one would normally think that you should adjust the low-frequency playback equalizer when playing back those low frequencies from a reference calibration tape. That's unfortunately not the case. It is, if you have specified your test tape to be compensated for multi-tract reproduction. They then change the levels of these reference calibration tapes in the low-frequency response so as to compensate for the fringing effect.

    Normally one only adjusts the low-frequency playback equalizers, when you're actually recording low frequencies. And not just playing them back from a tape. This is the only way to obtain the correct low frequency response the machine is designed to deliver.

    If you don't follow these simple informative procedures, when you record and playback, you're likely to find that your low-frequency playback is pretty weak and anemic. And that's what happens when you adjust your playback equalizer low-frequency controls to the calibration tape that has not been compensated for multi-track reproduction. Which believe it or not, is the standard reference test set without the compensation for multi-track production. Because we also have to tweak up full track mono machines with those as well and since we know to do the low frequency adjustment during record. During playback, it's only there to show you some consistency channel to channel more than anything else.

    Since there are different tape formulations that one may still obtain, they all exhibit a certain amount of difference in their transfer characteristics. And back in the day, each one of us had our own favorite brand of recording tape. I was a big Scotch fan. But I also like Ampex. And while I like the Agfa, whose slitting was so much better than either Ampex or, Scotch. But I always felt the Agfa, didn't give me the open quality of sound I got from the 3M product. And the Ampex product I felt sounded smoother than the Scotch. The last formulations of these particular tapes were the best ever made and the hottest. So while a test tape will provide a playback reference calibration level, that too is something you need to consider. Standard reference level used to be 185 nano webers per meter. When the first high output load noise tapes came out like Scotch 206 and Ampex 406, the standard reference level was now considered to be 250 nano webers per meter. What this meant was that the tone on the tape of the 250 nano Weber reference level was created to allow you to glean the three DB advantage this new formula of tape provided for. Really though, that 250 nano Weber per meter reference level on the tape is actually three DB lower than the standard reference level tape of 185. How could that be? The theory behind it is that that reference level is now three DB lower which will cause you to increase your record level by an equal amount. This means you are hitting the tape harder by three DB. And he gives you the reciprocal lower noise advantage of an additional three DB lower noise. This is considered substantial. But then they came up with even hotter tapes. And the reference standard of 320 nano webers per meter was then established. This signal is actually six DB lower on the test tape that allows you to record six DB higher yet. And with the reciprocal lower noise. And you don't have to stop there. You could even over record the tape yet further. Unfortunately, along with these hotter levels, came greater print through. And print through our those little pre & post echoes you may have heard in past recordings. This is an effect of the magnetic layer of one piece of tape transferring its magnetic flux into the piece of tape next to it on the reel. We don't have to worry about those aberrations in digital. But then we also don't get that ultra-awesome nonlinear tape saturation. And really that tape saturation only works well on things like drum transients/peaks. The tape acts like a limiter and goes nonlinear. This also produces very desirable sounding distortion artifacts that actually worked to improve the musicality of the recording.

    Where one gains the greatest effect from tape are on those drum tracks with the saturation. On a vocal, it could take the edge off of some of those Chinese condenser microphones making them sound so much sweeter. And where people find this to be so desirable, they are willing to spend $5000 for CLASP. Just to lock a 24 track Studer to ProTools. Which truly I consider to be over-the-top truly idiotic and only for rich folks. And it's completely unnecessary. Because you can do it without CLASP, yet gain the same thing and virtually the same way in combination with software. Because you will be offsetting plenty of tracks to sync them back up with everything else. So you have to go to one extra step that these lazy stupid rich people don't have to. Because they don't have the brainpower to do it themselves. And so, they can only rely upon their opulent fortunes. So until you get rich, you're doing it just as you should be. And you can tell all of your friends that Remy sez, you don't need CLASP because Remy told me how to do it without that stupid expensive box for rich people. LOL.

    Better get ready to post some sounds for us to hear.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  16. Biaseelfsu

    Biaseelfsu Active Member

    Gap Scatter

    In the future "Gap Scatter" would be a good subject to introduce....smoke In regards to meter drive circuits, if you want to be obsessive, like me, adjust your meters for 1.228 volts which is the reference voltage for +4 dBm (0 VU). But normal people will round that to 1.23 V, lol...:biggrin:

  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    220, 221... whatever it takes. ;)
  18. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I thought I talked about gap scatter? 1.228 is just being overly anal and you're talking about less than 1/10 of a DB or somewhere around there. Ain't going to matter.

    Gap scatter to put it simply means... when assembling multi-track analog record and play heads. While these are precision professional devices, and each individual track's gap across the head have been as meticulously aligned as possible. But there are still small, extremely small variances in the actual alignment in the head of each one of these gaps. But they can only be so precise to each other.

    So, when you record with the record head and then you play back with the playback head, there will always be some gap scatter because this is not digital nor mathematical the small variances in the gap scatter of the playback head will introduce microsized timing errors between adjacent tracks known as gap scatter. So these minor timing differences can introduce phase cancellation between channels that may not have had any phase cancellation, in the form of comb filtering.

    With older multi-track machines, you had to play back through the playback head. In many newer multi-track analog machines, it became possible to mix down/playback through the record had in sync mode. And if everything was recorded on that particular machine and that particular record head, you would not be plagued by any gaps scatter. But all bets are off across the board (no pun intended) if you are interchanging multi-track tapes between different studios as has been done quite extensively in the past. Because if you're playing back from another multi-track machine, other than the one it was recorded/tracked on, you would have some gaps scatter that you could not possibly avoid. Thankfully, most o these gaps scatter scenarios rarely cause significant problems, since there is not much one can do about it. And it's rarely a huge problem or issue that one needs to contend with or even think about much as the physical errors are generally quite low. And where stereo tracks that are adjacent to each other, generally suffer the least amount of issues with gap scatter. Though you'd likely not want to have a stereo channel using tracks 1 & 24 from because not only will you experience the gap scatter, you will experience any minor azimuth errors as huge azimuth errors with this scenario of a stereo channel encompassing channels 1 & channels 24. And then you won't know if it's gap scatter or just an azimuth error. Because it will be mostly azimuth error across that 2 inch width.

    The analogy to these minute assembly tolerances might be that of the sound of digital summing? LOL. Obviously, people have perceived certain kind of smearing timing anomalies and gap scatter comes up with a similar manner of minute errors. It never stopped a hit. And it never stopped us from bouncing from a couple of tracks down to another track on the multi-track to be able to squeeze 24 overdubbed tracks onto eight tracks.

    These kinds of mechanical anomalies are not going to keep anybody from producing a fabulous recording. Most of these anomalies are virtually inaudible and can only be verified via sophisticated testing procedures and test equipment. Whereas many studios actually had these test devices, there is nothing one can do about gap scatter. It's the nature of the beast and one that has not been a major concern since there is nothing anyone can do about it. And when you are spending $1500 on a single 24 channel 2 inch head you knew the precision was as high as it could have been as it could have possibly been made. Again, not much of a major issue for discussion as it is similar to the gas mileage rating on automobiles. You and your neighbor may have identical cars yet get not exactly the same MPG's, from two identical cars. Even if you traverse the same roads to and from work. And no one gets their panties in a bunch over that unless there is an extreme difference. And you're not going to find an extreme difference with gap scatter, so why worry? And if you were to discover an extreme difference between channels, the head manufacturer would likely replace the head, had you just purchased it. But I certainly don't know of that ever happening to anyone to an extreme. It's just something we know exists like amplifier distortion and circuit nonlinearities when they are not functioning in their proper design parameters. Which enthusiasts seem to do a lot of and I would be more concerned about misalignment than I would gap scatter.

    Gap scatter is nothing that you can align or correct for. It's all within a specified design tolerance of manufacturing which is still quite tight and should not cause any discernible problems. It's really only something for test engineers to bitch about.

    As I indicated, if your recording is completely developed within your own control rooms domain and you have a relatively recently produced multi-track recorder that offers full response playback from the sync/record head, you may want to mix down from the sync/record head, so as to minimize any possible gap scatter? But all bets are off if you play that from any other machine. So on many of these modern day multi-track analog recorders, you could reduce your timing errors by mixing down from the head from which it was recorded with. Whereas the playback head on those machines, would be more intended for record alignment, real-time monitoring, than anything else.

    On older multi-track machines, the record head had a much wider gap. You don't need a narrow gap to record high frequencies with. But you do need a narrow gap to play back high frequencies with. And in older recorder designs, the wider gap of the record head provided for some pretty miserable sounding and noisy sync playback. So it wasn't something you generally wanted to do unless you had to do it. And in many instances, folks just simply accepted that some tracks would sound like crap due to sync head bouncing to other channels. So when you wander why some of those classical rock 'n roll hits sounded so good and in places sounded so bad, that was likely what you were listening to. And some manufacturers actually recommended that you played back through the record head because the new recording electronics with the new narrow gap record head, made sync playback as good as the playback head.

    I think sometimes my brain suffers from gap scatter?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  19. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Armin Steiner had a box which was used to put tracks in phase. it's one of the reasons many people thought his recordings were so good.

  20. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Add a couple of FM radio stations I worked for, we had a Garon Phase Enhancer. This gizmo was great. Especially for those stations that were using NAB stereo cartridge decks in discrete left-right recording and playback. It corrected for the azimuth error of the tape skewing and it worked quite well for Mono compatibility without awful phase cancellation. You didn't need it if you were MS matrix encoding your cartridges with. And that always maintained phase compatibility where the tapes skew simply affected the stereo separation. And in some ways, actually generated more stereo information by any shift in the phase from the Mono signal. And he may have had one of those in the studio?

    FM processors can be popular in the control rooms of studios.
    Mx. Remy Ann David

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