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Okay I have defected... I Want a Reel to Reel

Discussion in 'Recording' started by werewolf, Feb 2, 2004.

  1. werewolf

    werewolf Guest

    Let me start out by saying that I studied the (cheap) digital market cards for under $500 for about a year before almost buying one. I first bought Mic , then Pre Amp, and then heard alot of recordings done on these magic cards Echo audio and Midi-Man pushes on the market. I WAS not impressed!!

    So then I auditioned and heard many .wav clips of cards and converters above $1000. Then it sounded better. After that I heard a mytek and apogee clocked through a aardsync. It sounded awesome. Finally what I heard go in, is what I heard come out. And then somthing dawned on me what the guy that owned it said. "It sounds more like analoge". After I heard that I added up the price:

    a/d apogee/mytek------around $1000
    D/a benchmark/mytek----around $1000
    wordclock aardsync-----around $1500

    add it up and its $3500.00 just to get it to sound like a 1/2 1/4 tape machine for around $500 on Ebay.

    Now I dont mean to start the analoge vs digital debut. Because for major studios it would be crazy expensive to go back to analoge. And lets face it daw software is just AWESOME. So since I only record two tracks at a time, I am thinking of getting a 2 or 4 track 1/2 or 1/4 inch reel to reel. And just going to the local major studio and get him to convert it to digital on his myteks and benchmarks, for a small fee, and then take the files home to edit them and mix in my daw?

    So do you guys think this is a stupid idea? Good Idea? or is the sound of digital driving me crazy and im just going way left field on this?????
  2. Dr.Blackwell

    Dr.Blackwell Guest

    I think you should go with 2 track 1/2" tape at 30 ips...and if you can set it up right,you will have the best masters....But you may not find it for $500.... :eek:
  3. M Brane

    M Brane Guest

    Don't forget to add the cost of tape, maintenence, and studio fees for the transfers into your total cost.

    You may also find that some of those e-Bay bargain decks are in need of some serious work (heads, caps, etc.) just to get 'em up and running well. More $$$.

    I love analog too. You just need to make sure consider all the angles. ;)
  4. Mike Tate

    Mike Tate Guest

    First of all, $3,500 is pretty cheap for great sound. When my band went into a pro studio, the tape machine alone was over $20,000. I'm sure you can get a tape machine for $500, but then again you can also get an A/D converter with wordclock for $500. Don't expect the $500 tape machine to sound like the $20,000 tape machine....much in the same way you don't expect the $500 sound card to measure up to the Apogee and aardsync. Remember, when people talk about how great "analog sound" is, they aren't talking about any old cassette tape in a walkman. :) Then let's not forget that 1/2 inch tape costs about $80 a reel.... I'm sure 2 inch tape costs much more than that even.

    Bottom line: $3,500 is much cheaper than you think for great sound.
    The major studios never left analoge in the first place. They all have their Pro-tools rig, but they also all have thier 2 inch tape machines. And they still reach for those tape machines all the time if the music style and type of band call for it.
  5. teleharmonic

    teleharmonic Guest


    I am not sure that i understand the approach you are suggesting. When using a reel to reel as a front end to your setup you only get one shot at the analog... what i mean is if you are recording a song that has (a modest) 8 tracks and you have a 2 track reel to reel you will only be able to use your reel to reel on the first 2 tracks. You cannot record 2 on the R2R, dump them to DAW, record another 2 on the R2R and them expect them to sync up properly when you import them into the same DAW session. You will get phasing and sync problems galore. No two passes coming from the R2R are going to be exactly the same.

    Studios that use a DAW and R2R in parallel have to have a setup which clocks the 2 devices together. More often then not they just track to 2" 24 track and then dump it all down to the DAW at once. 'At once' being the most important consideration here.

    On top of this, the pain in the ass factor associated with recording 2 tracks, running to the studio to get them transferred, running back to record is far greater then i would have the tenacity to endure. If you discovered that your guitar amp sounded the best on the top of a certain mountain would you go there everytime you wanted to record it? My guess would be that the hassle involved in this process would be far more of a detriment to your creativity then a slightly inferior signal path. Just me though...

    I would also say that you should confirm how 'small' the fee to get the tracks tranferred would truly be. These tracks are going to have to be dumped down in real time. Any studio that has the quality gear your are seeking will not be that inexpensive for the time required. I think that these fees would add up to the price of your own quality converter very quickly.

    Now... if you can find a decent 8 track machine and you use that for your bed tracks i'd say it may be worth it. You would have to do any overdubs after the original 8 directly into the DAw but you would still get that sound you want on those first key tracks.


    [ February 04, 2004, 01:07 PM: Message edited by: teleharmonic ]
  6. fromwithin

    fromwithin Active Member

    I think its a good idea, i just recently bought a 8 track otari 5050 1/2" off ebay (for 560 after s&h) for the same purpose. I plan to record drums and bass at least through it and then dump it onto my daw. but i was wondering what kind of equipment u could use to sync it or any ideas to line up the tracks on my daw other than doing it manually.
  7. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    A couple of things from one who has done both analog and digital for a long time.

    To own an analog tape recorder today is a labor of love. There are very few parts available for them and the cost of maintaining them can be high if you cannot do it yourself. Just finding parts to repair them can be both time consuming and tedious. You may even have to have a skilled machinist make a part if you cannot find one and that can be EXPENSIVE. The cost of tape is a factor as is the cost of getting a machine in tip top shape if you buy one used off Ebay.

    I have 5 working analog tape decks and we use them to restore material for clients. These decks were all purchased new or used from people I knew and trusted. Recently I had the 2 track stereo heads on one of the machines relapped and it cost about $250.00 including the labor and the postage.Relapping is a process of restoring the tape heads to a more pristine surface that is in contact with the heads. On most machines this can be done once or twice and then you have to purchase new tape heads.

    I can do most of the work on them myself and if I get into a real problem I have a good friend that I can call to help me out. The formats we have go all the way from 1/4" mono to 8 track 1". There is a shop near here that deals in older analog gear and he has a very nice supply of reel to reel tape recorders. I have seen the way some of the decks come in and they need a lot of work just to function. The brakes are frozen, the record/playback electronics need extensive recapping and sometimes the heads are so badly worn they have grooves in the heads from the tape rubbing on them.

    If you purchase a deck off Ebay you are taking a real chance. You might wind up with a great deck or you might wind up with a pile of parts masquerading as a tape deck.

    There are more than enough plugins for DAW that can do what you want to do (i.e. make something sound analog) that it maybe the easiest and most convenient way to go.

    As to lining up tracks. There is a very easy way. Just put a click on the tape with a clap board or clicker. This will put a fast rising response wave that is easy to see on the wave form display in the DAW. The problem will be how are you going to play along with the music that is already recorded and now resides on your hard disk and sync that up to the tape deck. There are servo amplifiers available for tape decks that can be driven from external sources and you can derive a sync pulse off your DAW though midi time code but this is not something to be attempted by the faint of heart nor the person with no technical background in tape recorders and servo motors. The chances of you finding a $500.00 tape recorder that will allow you to do this are about zero.

    On the other hand getting a good multitrack tape recorder is possible and I have known people who have picked up a 16 channel MCI tape recorder for about $500.00 but you have to be in the right place at the right time and you have to know what you are buying. Also 2" tape now cost about $300.00 a reel so if you purchase two reels you have overspent what you paid for the tape recorder.

    Hope this helps.

    [ February 19, 2004, 11:04 AM: Message edited by: Thomas W. Bethel ]
  8. fromwithin

    fromwithin Active Member

    oh man, i'm about scared to see what i get when it arrives then. where would one find information on servicing reel decks or information in general on them? my friend let me borrow a nasa book titled 'magnetic tape recording' and i figure its a good starting point but i'm not really sure where to look after that. thx for the info. i hope this question isn't veering too far from the original users topic.
  9. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Two places




    There is lots of information at both places for the new REEL TO REEL owner.

    What kind of deck did you purchase?
  10. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    If that OTARI is in good shape, you should be able to have it set up properly and have it give you lots of service without further maintenance.

    You can lock your DAW to chase the analog machine via MTC or smpte time code.. You need a code generator and you will have to learn how to get the DAW into chase mode while reading the code track. A buffer channel is necessary so at best you will only get 6 channels when using this method. I think the 5050’s are chase capable also and you may be able to chase the DAW with the analog machine if you get a lynx timepiece.. but that would probably cost more than the machine did.

    My advise is to take the machine to my friend, Michael Gore in San Francisco... his company is "Bay Area Studio Engineering", BASE for short ... he can be found in the SF phone book .. here is his email. http://www.base@pacbell.net . If you tell him Kurt Foster sent you ... he will probably charge you more ... :D

    Michael is the very best studio tech in the Bay Area. he does work for Skywalker, Francis Ford Coppola (sp?), Neil Young, Tom Petty, just to name a few and is the guy that most of the larger studios use... he is a bit expensive but well worth every penny. In the long run, his expertise will save you money.
  11. fromwithin

    fromwithin Active Member

    :) thx for info! :) i just joined the yahoo group but the recordist.com link doesnt seem to be working. i will definitely be sure to hit up Michael once i save up a little more (i blew it all on the otari). thx again for helping out a newbie.
  12. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member

    At the current prices for used R2R gear, you can always buy a "parts" machine. Since there are reitterative circuits for multi-tracks, it pretty easy to just gradually skeletonize the parts machine and keep the production machine in good shape.

    Also, while it's true that these machines require maintenance, keep in mind they were designed to run 10 hours a day, 365 days a year. They will last forever in a home studio if properly fed and watered.
  13. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    The maintainence on my Tascam 38 requires an occasional wiggle of the boards to keep the contacts clean and the sync working properly.Such high-end knowledge is usually associated with brain surgery or parallel-parking an eighteen wheeler.
  14. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    You should be happy that you found a good machine.

    For every story such as yours I can tell you horror stories of people buying big expensive multitrack machines off EBAY for a few dollars thinking that they were getting something like a computer that you turn on an use.

    It is only when they get the beast home and realize that they need things like alignment tapes that cost in the hundreds of dollars. Or the motor becomes frozen after a couple hours use and when they find that it is a special unit that is no longer in production and will cost $500.00 to rewind and put new bearings in it. Or they realize that they have to shell out 10 times what they paid for the machine for new heads or to replace the power supply that shorted and burned up the circuit card.

    You can purchase a used Ampex AG-440B 2 track tape deck on ebay for a couple of hundred dollars. If you need to have the heads relapped it will cost about what you paid for the machine. If you buy an alignment tape it will costs you about 1/3 of what you paid for the machine. If you want to buy a new motor it will cost you $600-900. Maybe the machine will run forever but the heads will not last that long and there are many things that need constant attention.

    Tape machines need a lot of TLC. They need to be exercised, cleaned, checked, lubricated and aligned. Think of them as another member of the family somewhat like a pet. When you buy one it is not the end of the expenses it just the beginning. Depending on the type and age of the machine you have you may need some very deep pockets to afford the maintenance on it.
  15. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    That's why am happy with my Mac :D :D
  16. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Actually,Tom, its not a matter of luck in this case.I've known the original owner of the deck since it was new.I recorded a LOT of tracks on it at his original studio and then at our small commercial facility, and then when he went totally digital I bought it for my own home use.I do get it out occasionally.I like it for drums and sometimes that huge guitar sound.Other than that its very pretty sitting in its little rollaround rack.Makes it look like a real studio.
  17. missilanious

    missilanious Guest

    thats why i have an HD system and a MX5050mkIII, thick tape sound the harmonics and saturation, and the linear transparent low cost meduim ease of use and functionality of digital. best off both worlds and maintaning the tape machine is easy since I record certain things to tape, dump it into protools then mix in protools and print the two track to tape. I do alot of hiphop and rock I need the thickness punch and saturation that machine offers.
  18. missilanious

    missilanious Guest

    oh yeah and using the tape deck as your only recording medium is going to cost you alot more than $3500 in the long run. Alot of studio's didn't (shamefully) ditch there reel to reels because off the "amazing" sound of digital.

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