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reel to reel alignment procedures

Discussion in 'Recording' started by airtechstudio, Jul 19, 2005.

  1. Hello,

    I was hoping for some help on aligning an old reel to reel machine that I bought and would like to start using. It is a model# MM1100-16 track and it came with a couple new reels of 2 inch #456 tape and, it looks like, an original Ampex alignment tape - Full Track/NAB. Since the machine did not come with any sort of manual, and I'm new to this, I need help starting out here.

    Most of my recording will be rock music with live drums and the like. I have a console that I've been using with pro tools, but would like to use the tape machine now to achieve a little different sound if I can. I've read online of all the different levels (+6, +3, etc...), but am trying to figure out what it all means. I've got the alignment (and I'm not really sure what nanowebers it is), and I've got the 456 tape. but not really sure how to do a proper alignment. For example, say I wanted a +6 to tape or +4 how would I calibrate my machine running at 15ips? Also, I have the the record cards and reproduce cards. I've read a lot about the record and reproduce alignment. And what about playback alignment? Is that all inclusive?

    I'm sure you all have done this a million times as I've read some of the posts at this group and I can tell that you all have been doing recordings for a while. If you could help me out here and push me in the right direction, it would be most excellent and awesome!

  2. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    I think that you should contact JRF Magnetics ( google them, they have a couple of sites). They can probably provide you with all the info and tools to take care of that puppy. I sure miss my old "Sweet 16"!!! Good luck and be patient!
  3. Chance

    Chance Guest

    If the machine came with 456, theres a good chance that the machine is biased for 456. Shortly before I sold my M-79, I re-biased for 499 tape. I found that 499 gave more head room and smoother low end at 30 ips
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    That's a wonderful machine. You simply must get an owners manual though.

    There's a bit to doing this. Every recorder has a slightly different procedure but the basics go like this.

    The first thing you need to do (or have done) is to check the azimuth of the heads. You need an oscilloscope to do this usually (although there is a trick where you run the #1 track and the #16 track out of phase with each other and when the cancel out your azimuth is correct).

    You also need to adjust the bias of the machine and you will need a test tone generator that can generate a 100 Hz., 1kHz., and a 10kHz. tones for that.

    Then you need to calibrate the playback electronics (this is where the +4 / +6 stuff happens) using the test tape.

    You will move on to the record electronics next, where again you need a test tone generator.

    I don't know where you live but I advise you to find the best studio tech in your area and make friends with them. You will be seeing them quite a lot in the future. Have them come out and set the azimuth and bias for the machine. You shouldn't have to mess with that again for some time unless you change tape formulations in which case you should re bias the machine. Then have the tech show you how to calibrate the playback and record electronics. And get an owners manual. It will have step by step specific instructions on calibrating and maintenance procedures for the machine.

    Good luck.
  5. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Excellent (and thorough) advice, Kurt! You've just about covered it all there for Scott. (sounds like the voice of experience. hehe)

    Hard to believe that what was formerly common knowledge is seemingly ancient history nowadays! hehehe...with digital, it basically works or it doesn't, and there's few user-servicable parts inside. NOT SO with analog recorders...talk about rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty! :wink:

    You may also want to visit this website: http://www.tangible-technology.com for other tidbits and info on maintenance.

    Above all, don't put that alignment tape on your machine until you KNOW it's been cleaned and degaussed by someone who knows what they're doing. Putting a critical test tape on a machine with residual magnetism - the kind that builds up from regular use and poor maintenance - will reduce or wipe out the High freqs on your alignment tape. Be VERY careful with it, and get a good meter to show you what you're looking at. Use it only for PB alignment, and then put it away somewhere safe: cool and dry, far away from any magnetic sources, etc.

    When doing analog tape machine alignment, it's crucial that you start out with accurate devices that will give you the real deal during testing, etc.

    Have fun with it, too! :cool:
  6. Chance

    Chance Guest

    Man Kurt you really brought back fond memories of monday morning rituals. It is amazing reading this as I found out today that a good friend of mine is now with his Maker. Ron Sun ( Suntronics ) He was one of the most sought after open reel recorder techs in southern Cal. I would go into his facility in Upland and see no less than 6 majestic 16 & 24 tr 2"'ers
    The last time I was there he had a couple of mitsubishi 32 tr 1/2" digital open reel machines. About the only thing I have left from my 2" days are a bunch of tapes in boxes and an editeral splice-block.
    I even have a 2" tape recorded at Apple/EMI. John Lennon's name is on it and the song is "Other cities like London" We tried to play it, but the Brits use a different recording curve than RIAA, so it sounded kind of phazy. OK back to doing maintence on my hard drive.
  7. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I love the smell of 456 in the morning ..... it smells like victory!
  8. dpd

    dpd Active Member

    Measure the tape tension - in all transport modes - before you do your EQ with the Alignment tapes. I bought a device (YEARS ago) to do this - called a "Tentelometer". Get those set, check your transports to make sure it won't dump or break tape, then get the Alignment tapes on.

    Thanks for reminding me how much I HATE tape recorders and how glad I am that I haven't touched one at the station for a couple of years.
  9. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Thanks for reminding me how much I HATE tape recorders and how glad I am that I haven't touched one at the station for a couple of years.

    Hehehe.....it sure was a love/hate relationship back in those days, wasn't it? I have the same mixed feelings about vinyl and LPs. Say what you will about their "sound", but people tend to remember only the good things about it, and none of the headaches and hassles associated with that stuff. I'm old enough to have worked in both worlds (Analog and digital) and as along as it's done properly, the advantages of digital are everywhere.

    It's great to know the principles involved with all the early audio gear, don't get me wrong, and much of it did sound great...but not all of it! Hahaha.

    There were entire careers built out of maintenance on analog equipment, with guru's in every community. For better or worse, I think that's going away nowadays, with board swapping and digital's ease of use. (it works, or it doesn't - very little middle ground.)

    For me, it's all about getting the job done corretly, in a way that sounds as good as it can regardless of the budget, with the client getting their money's worth, and me giving them the best product available. Unfortunately, the effort vs. return on most analog gear (Tape machine maintenance and tape COST, analog parts availability - aging caps, tubes, etc.) being the main stumbling block nowadays.

    It's way too cost and time-prohibitive to stage a REAL "Return to analog" movement, but it's nice to revisit it from time to time, if only to appreciate where we are now.
  10. Chance

    Chance Guest

    Thats all very true. Few people realized that when they had an LP album, what all went into producing it. The graphics alone on some albums entertained me enormmously. ("Snowflakes are dancing", and "Planets" by Tomita ) With the recording process you had machine maintence, then all the splicing. When mixing, being carefull not to let the low end get too hot or the stylus will jump the track, then you mix to half track tape, cut 4 acetate discs, and if it passed the record company's inspection, a metal reverse mold was made of the acetate, in which the vinal was mass produced. Yeah things are much simpler now. which brings to mind around the first of the year I demo'd a lazer turntable and it was amazing no contact at all, and no noise at all under the music. There was one fault that I found with this machine = $8000.00. In the very early days of recording, when I was an intern, the engineer at the console, by law, could not make any adjustment, unless the first engineer told him to. And the first engineer was not allowed by law to touch the console. Was that crazy or what
  11. dpd

    dpd Active Member

    Heck, I offered - for free - a friend and the best analog tape guy in this part of the state 2 Ampex ATR-800 2-track machines about a year ago. He declined.

    And, yes, anyone reading this that wants them just has to drive here and they can have them - with the service manuals, extender cards, alignment tapes, and my precious Tentelometer. Caveat Emptor, however, parts are a BITCH to find.

    One of the 1st things I did when I arrived at the station as the new studio engineer was to rebuild the on-air preamps for better sound and to properly align the phono cartridges in their stupid headshells.

    Analog rocks - but you need to have lived through the wars to understand it. If you are too young, chances are you just won't get it. My real job deals with mixed analog and digital signal processing and nearly all of the 'gotcha' type problems are caused by engineers not paying attention to the analog fundamentals.
  12. Lonewalker

    Lonewalker Active Member


    I am in Ft. Wayne, IN. and I want these (ATR800) or one of them! My Father works part time for the radio station and told me about these about a year ago. Now I see you're offering them for free... I'm 10 minutes away! Please contact me and let me know, thanx!!

  13. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    No more calls, please; we have a winnner! :cool:
  14. Chance

    Chance Guest

    Hey a little OT, but years ago when I was on the road "70s" we used to play at the Beer Garden is that still there ?
  15. dpd

    dpd Active Member

    Check your email, my friend

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