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what is the best 1/2 inch tape

Discussion in 'Vintage Analog Gear' started by Tuck, Apr 30, 2010.

  1. Tuck

    Tuck Active Member

    what should I be using for a Fostex B16 and Tascam 48? ebay has so many weird options I dont know what to get.
    thanks
     
  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    What kind of tape?

    Answer: any tape that's not sticky.

    There is only a couple of companies making decent recording tape in small quantities, these days. Your biggest issue will be finding NOS (new old stock) that has not been exposed to any air. Recording tape since the late 1970s had a problem that didn't surface for almost 10 years. Thanks to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). That's because the binders or the " glue" that hold the iron oxide pieces to the Mylar/polyester film was changed. They change to a less toxic urethane based adhesive they thought would last 100 years. Proved of course through torture testing in the short-term. Well, it didn't work out. It didn't last 10 years. Unfortunately, this tape is showing up all over the place now. There is no way to utilize this tape when it becomes sticky. There are fixes so that one can transfer or backup, precious Masters. The process created to fix the problem requires very careful baking of the tape. That's right, baking, as in cooking. You can't do this in your normal oven nor microwave. It requires special ovens that can maintain very tight temperature tolerances. Ideally 125°F. It must be kept under 140°F or the tape will melt. So you certainly don't want to purchase NOS if you don't know its actual origin.

    Actually just about any tape is the BEST when the machine is properly aligned to the tape. This after it has been properly aligned and calibrated for playback purposes. This requires special test tapes that are quite expensive. Not to mention your external test equipment. If you think that analog recording just means you find the BEST tape and plop it on the machine? Maybe you should stick to digital. Now, if your faithful, loyal, to a single manufacturer and type of tape, you can get away with less need to recalibrate with each different type of tape. But back in the day, we would generally have to calibrate the machine, in playback & record for each significant session. That's because there is more than one way to tweak a machine. You can tweak for lower noise. You can tweak for higher headroom. You can tweak for lowest modulation noise. You can over bias, Peak bias or under bias. Now don't forget to change your recording equalization after doing that. Blah blah blah I could go on and on and on.

    And so to summarize about your inquest, you can choose column A or column B. The BEST tape is new tape. Most all of these formulations are available are similar to the last series of Ampex, Scotch, Agfa. All of which are low noise high output, back coated,(a special flat black coating that improves print through characteristics & provides for a smoother tape pack and tape path travel), 1.5 mil thickness. At 15 IPS that gets you one hour on a 10 inch reel. Of course there are those of us freaks that also had machines that would go at 30 IPS. Yup, I still have some 1/2 inch 4 track 30 IPS masters. Of course one of the most esoteric things to do today is to have a 1/2 inch, 1/2 track stereo machine that rolls at 30 IPS for your stereo master mix down. No noise reduction necessary. But on your machine? Noise reduction is very necessary. Dolby doesn't care about frequency response but about level matching. DBX on the other hand does a better job of noise reduction but you must maintain a much flatter response and so, calibration is very important. And in spite of that, the machine will never quite be ruler flat like digital is. In that situation, DBX noise reduction can enhance the frequency response aberrations by twice the amount. This can make things sound really screwy. And so when these machines indicate they have a frequency response of + & -3 DB from 20 to 20,000 Hz, it's true. Some of these machines responses look like sine waves instead of rulers. So DBX causes your machine to be + & -6 DB instead of 3 DB. That means your response can vary by as much as 12 DB. Yup, that will make things sound quite screwy. So the BEST tape is the tape you have tweaked for the machine. Our more expensive professional recorders in times gone by, had much flatter responses than these proconsumer decks. Now this shouldn't scare you away because it's still cool analog. But these are things you have to know to get the best out of your analog recordings. We could discuss numerous different ways to align a tape deck. Somewhere I have an old video I did back in the mid-1980s on how to tweak 2-16 & 24 track MCI's & Scully's, Ampex's, 3M's. I really didn't play with Studer's all that much. The A-80's & newer ones were sweet. The B 67 was just a nicer REVOX and never impressed me much. Not sure about their marketing sense? Why would you have a machine called a B 67 cost a whole lot more than your consumer version called an A 77? I mean like DUH.

    I'll start looking for my old alignment videos.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  3. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    I can only ever find BASF around here.
     
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    BASF is perfectly adequate. Not sure if they offer the flat black back coating of the other former manufacturers? But if it's new and in sealed plastic bags, you are probably good to go with it. Next comes the alignment procedure. Buy yourself a nice big box of this tape. Then we can discuss how to tweak your machine quickly and easily without a lot of extra external equipment. Although you'll still need some, simple voltmeter, test tape, head demagnetizer, audio oscillator. And yeah, screechy vocal, use old-fashioned ribbon microphones. Not these new things, I'm talking RCA 44/77, Beyer M 160/130, Coles. Graydon females or other scratchy sounding dudes.

    Quack like a duck
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  5. djmukilteo

    djmukilteo Well-Known Member

    Quantegy, RMG, Ampex 456 are all good
     
  6. planet10

    planet10 Active Member

    like Remy stated, what ever type of tape your going to use you MUST calibrate and bias that particular tape you your machine. best to have a professional tech do this. it will only make you feel better in the long run
     
  7. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Remy, once again you've nailed it. Great post. (And makes me remember exactly WHY we all stopped using analog tape. Most folks couldn't get away from it fast enough at the time. ) Before everyone gets all misty-eyed and nostalgic about analog tape, they need to read your post. It's still a great medium for two-track stereo mastering, but analog tape multitrack sessions are/were still a HUGE amount of work to get it right.
     
  8. sheet

    sheet Well-Known Member

    As a follow-up, I would not buy a Fostex machine. There are too many plastic parts. You can find used machines to part out from either. Tascam has some new-old stock parts for old machines, but inventory is shrinking. If you buy a machine, make sure you get the shop manuals.

    There are only two manufacturers of tape now. The ATR services tape is supposed to be killer. The re-make of the Quantegy tape is ok. The Tascam was biased for Ampex 456 IIRC. I do not recall the Fostex. Neither machine were pro machines. Both have alignment issues. Neither have that analog tape mojo you are after. Just noise, a misplaced head bump, and a shrill top end. If you save a bit, you can buy a real machine that will last you longer and perform better.

    The binder on the 3M tape was the best. Everyone else's let loose and the tape had severe shred as a result. This is why people bake old tapes. 3M tapes, if properly stored never require baking. If you buy old Ampex (tape that is shredding), you will immediately trash the breaks and rip the crap out of your heads on your "new" machine. If you find new-old stock 3M pancakes (that is the best way to buy (and the way studios bought) because you are not paying for 10 new metal reels, etc) and they have been properly stored, then you will find the best old tape.
     
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Actually it was not the back coating that caused the problem of " sticky tape". It was the urethane based adhesives that held the iron oxide particles to the mylar/polyester film base. Due to this problem one could bake the tapes at a precise temperature of 125°F for multiple hours. This would allow an emergency transfer to save precious Masters from completely deteriorating. Some were not gotten to in time and were nothing more than a mass of mush. Thankfully most of this occurred after Scotch 206/207 & Ampex 406/407. So just the later formulations suffered this fate. All of my old 206 & 406 Masters still play just fine with no sticky. But that 226/227/250, Ampex 499, Agfa 468 should be avoided. Doesn't matter how new it is.

    Tape maniac
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     

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