Any thoughts on the Otari MTR-10?
I have seen these machines going for between 4-700. I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on their reliability, sound, and a general opinion on them.
Also, if anyone has any info on the expansion card that seems to be so elusive I would appreciate it.
While I found many Japanese machines to be good workhorses, I never thought much about their sonic signature. Plenty of chips & solid Japanese technology makes them sound, kind of Japanese. They are stable. Record & playback well. Lets you get the job done. Have relatively flat responses. As compared to their biggest competitor whose specifications were in fact + 2 -3 DB from 20 to 20,000 throughout its response. Like wavy gravy. I mean you can't go wrong but nobody is jumping up and down about the way it sounds. The best sounding recording decks were the older transistor machines like Ampex 440/MM 1200 & Scully 280 with germanium transistors, MCI's early machines with cloned Ampex electronics. It was also hard to beat the Studer's. Broadhead faces meant less low-frequency loss from head bump especially at 30 IPS. I've never heard any complaints about the machine in question. If you're really lucky, it might even work well with the last generation of tape formulations & erase it properly.
Old tape techie
Ms. Remy Ann David
At one time I owned four of these workhorses and they all worked well and handled anything I threw at them. I just had to repair one of them (the last one I have) because the capacitor in the power supply went wacko but it was an easy fix and the machine is back in business. They handle tape very well and are very easy to maintain. Lots of them are still in use. Most parts are still available either from OTARI or by doing some looking on EBAY. If you can get one in the price range you specified then I think it would be a good deal. As to the extender board check EBAY they do come up once in a while.
Best of luck!
Just found this site and wanted to reply to this thread. I bought an Otari MTR-10 2 a few months back and love it so far. It sounds wonderful. I bought the deck, full manual, CB-119 auto locator, and the rare extender card. Yes I know the locator does not work with the MTR-10, but it was a package deal. I ended up selling the locator for $175.00 on Junkbay. Here's the kicker, I only paid $50.00 for it all. Like I mentioned it does work. The biggest thing I had to do to it so far was to replace the VU meter bulbs. I want to do a calibration and alignment, but I've not gone that far with it yet. I'll try and post a few pics soon.
If you are going to purchase a professional analog deck, you really should learn how to tweak it up. Nobody used professional machines without aligning them. If you're not going to align them, it's like not tuning up your car for five years. While calibration can be tricky it is a relatively simple process to learn. Then you still need to purchase a calibration playback alignment tape. And you have both American & European equalization curves to deal with which are both different. Sort of like kilometers versus miles. Pounds versus liters. Like tweaking the mirror incorrectly on the Hubble space telescope. And you saw what havoc it wreaked. It's the same with analog machines. What do you think sounds great probably doesn't sound as great as it should. In fact I have a couple of MX 50-50's for-sale, cheap. A couple of 3340's. An Ampex AG 354, Scully 280 B full track, 280-2 stereo silver faced germanium transistors. And with purchase, I'll include a how-to DVD video on proper & convenient calibration. Somewhere, I still have my demonstration and calibration video for my MCI JH-10 Curtis Mayfield 16 track machine that I purchased in the early 1980s? One of the reel motors on that deck smoked really badly one day. I switched it off and knew it would never work again. The next day, I switched it on. It worked just fine! That reel motor continued to work just fine at the proper tensions. Go figure?
I love analog decks I just don't use them anymore
Mx. Remy Ann David
RemyRAD, post: 284457 wrote: While I found many Japanese machines to be good workhorses, I never thought much about their sonic signature. Plenty of chips & solid Japanese technology makes them sound, kind of Japanese.
I'm very curious, does this also apply to playback or just recording? How does the MTR-10 compare with Studer A80 sonically for playback only? What if preamps were bypassed to modern high quality tube gear, would the Studers still sound better (in your opinion of course)?
Considering that the sound is generated by the electronics which is so incredibly important, though you don't see many tape recorders utilizing tubes anymore, you are comparing apples to oranges. A Studer sounds like a Studer. And Ampex sounds like an Ampex. Scully's sound like Scully's. Otari's are decent sounding decks. They handle tape quite well better than a lot of other machines. But transports are transports, some better than others. They have very nice transports. Their electronics are quite capable and have recorded lots of hits. So you can certainly modify any transport to be utilized with any electronics you so desire. There are actually folks out there that offer Ampex ATR 100 series machines rebuilt with tube electronics. Whereas the ATR 100 series in its stock configuration is still to this day considered one of the finest analog machines which was the last of its kind. Does it sound like an Ampex MR 70? I don't freaking know and I really don't freaking care. Give me a properly tweaked analog machine of virtually any manufacturer and I'm happy. I've tweaked up plenty of MTR-90's and thought they were perfectly wonderful even though I never owned one myself. Much more comprehensive than many other machines. If I were you (and I'm not) I would stick with the stock MTR-10 just the way it is. The biggest factor you have to deal with is the heads wear out. They can be re-contoured/re-lapped which can provide for another couple of thousand hours of use. If there are grooves cut into the heads it will not only affect your recording and performance of the machine it can also damage the tape by warping the edges of the tape. And that has nothing to do with the performance of the transport. That's why it takes a bit of skill to maintain and utilize analog recorders. Many of the head alignments have to be done by eye. Only MCI came up with some actual head alignment blocks to aid in the adjustment of their heads. Otherwise its trial and error with height, zenith, wrap and then alignment tape for azimuth.
Playback alignment is simple and straightforward. Unfortunately, with many alignment tapes, you cannot adjust the low-frequency playback equalizer from the alignment tape. It's merely their for a ballpark adjustment. Low-frequency playback alignment of the electronics has to be performed during recording. This is a fundamental mistake and error too many people make unless the alignment tape indicates it has been designed for multitrack reproduction. They generally aren't unless you order them that way to begin with. And even then, it's not 100% accurate until you do the record alignment to playback. I know this is becoming a little confusing at this stage of my description. But I was an authorized service technician for Ampex, MCI, 3M & Scully even though I've also worked on Studer's and Otari's, Sony's, TA-SCAM's, etc.. All are good. All are professional. Anybody can go crazy modifying everything to make it better. But why when it's adequate? Will it make lousy musicians and lousy music better? Will good musicians and good music suffer? No it won't. And that's because you've learned the art of analog recorder alignment procedures.
During a recording alignment, this is where it makes the biggest difference in what you get. You can choose to peak bias or you can choose to over bias. You can bias at 10 kHz, 1 kHz or even, 10 Hz. But it's different at those different frequencies and you can obtain different results by trying different methods. Over biasing does not sound like peak biasing. So it really depends upon the musical genre and what kind of sound you're going for what kind of saturation you want how much printer you can deal with and blah, blah blah and blah. Do you want to saturate the tape or not saturate the tape? And if so, how do you want that saturation to sound? This comes from different biasing procedures and not so much from different electronics. Transistors sound like transistors. Tubes sound like tubes. The Ampex 351 is still considered to be the finest sounding tube machine ever built next to the MR 70. And those were stark electronics from the manufacturer. You can get custom electronics from other sources that may offer even a finer quality of sound depending upon how much money you want to blow through.
Different tape formulations are also a major factor in the sound that you get from any recorder. But those choices have been all but eliminated around the world today. So you use what you can get today. I preferred Scotch magnetic tape over Ampex and Agfa for its sound. Sure, I've also utilized Ampex and Agfa. They all sounded different from each other regardless of your biasing procedures. Today I don't know what to recommend to you because it's now a cottage industry. Most seem to be formulations closer to Ampex and Agfa than to 3M Scotch magnetics? It is what it is in the land of analog tape today. So while electronics are important so is the tape. If you don't have many choices in the tape use, why bother sweating over what kind of electronics you are utilizing in a recent generation analog recorder? They're all good on the studio level. It won't make or break your success. It will only matter if it's in good shape and you've tweaked it accordingly.
I like over bias for rock 'n roll and peak bias for symphonic orchestral. I don't do Dolby. I sometimes have utilized DBX noise reduction. But I really like my machines barefoot without any NR. And then there is the issue of what speed? 15 IPS is not necessarily inferior to 30 IPS. 30 IPS is not necessarily better than 15 IPS. They both have their place. They are both different sounding. And 30 IPS will cost you twice what 15 IPS costs you and your client. That makes a really big difference when you're dealing with 2 inch tape. And it still ain't cheap today even for 1/4 inch tape. 30 IPS on some machines has no low-frequency response below 60 Hz but 15 does. 15 is not as open sounding as 30. Saturation at 30 doesn't sound like saturation at 15. 7.5 IPS is not a mastering speed. It's a delivery speed for the consumer and radio stations. 15 is more practical and more widely prevalent than 30. This is a lot to think about and it has nothing to do with the electronics.
Oh and what about tape tension? Is it constant torque or is it constant tension? Old machines are constant torque. Speed will vary with tape pack. Constant tension maintains speed consistency better from beginning to end of the tape pack. So when you splice a musical production on analog tape, you may experience a very noticeable shift in pitch. With constant tension machines, this is practically a nonfactor. Remember that edit in the Led Zeppelin song? OMG! I nearly crapped when I heard that! Old machines, constant torque not constant tension. Some machines that have constant tension like the Scully 280 B, only had constant tension on the supply reel. Whereas other manufacturers had constant tension on both supply and take up. You're MTR 10 is a fine transport with top-notch professional Japanese electronics. Nothing to worry about. No modifications really necessary unless you're into that kind of stuff. Plenty of folks are. I'm not one of them. You're going to do just fine with this machine just the way it is.
Jesus, I'm old. He's even older than me. Actually he's dead but other people may argue that?
Mx. Remy Ann David
This is my question exactly, if you bypass the electronics and go from tape head to custom amplification, does an Ampex still sound like an Ampex, A Studer like a Studer, etc. How much of the "signature" sound on playback is just preamp and how much is fixed hardware such as head reading, tape path, tension, etc.?
That's an excellent question. The heads do play a factor in what is recorded and played back. Again, back in the day, most of these heads were made from soft ferrous metals. Of course they had a tendency to wear out rather quickly. Other ferrous metals that were harder, lasted longer but didn't quite offer up the same tonality. Then they realized that " glass heads ", could outlast any direct ferrous metal contact. Those lasted an unbelievably long time but you weren't able to re-lap those. Again, they didn't quite sound the same as a soft ferrous metal head. NorTronics came out with a ferrous metal head they marketed as their "DURACORE". Those were the heads that were stock and supplied with Scully's in their last releases. All Scully's utilized the earlier soft ferrous metal versions of their product from their earliest introduction. Ampex heads came from a number of manufacturers such as IEM and if I wasn't having a senior moment, I'd remember the name of the others? So yes, these are inductive devices and inductance with capacitance creates filters. So all heads coupled with their electronics are filtering devices that simply transfer the electromagnetic signature to the iron oxide particles. These variables can be huge in their differences. It doesn't matter if one head by one manufacturer is the same inductance as that of another manufacturer. Each concept and methodology of each manufacturer varies slightly. So a change in the heads means a change in sound. While I've owned many Ampex', Scully's and one 3M 8-track machine, I always marveled over the Studer A-80 transports and their heads. Their heads were not as " hyperbolic " as all of the other manufacturers heads were for the other machines. They had a wider face and as a result, their machines and their heads did not exhibit the same kind of " head bounce ", which allowed their machines to record and reproduce down to 30 Hz at 30 IPS. The other manufacturers heads being more hyperbolic made for better tape to head contact but suffered head bounce which restricted the low-frequency response at 30 IPS to only 60 Hz and no lower. So when you wanted that extra low-end, you'd record at 15 IPS on everybody else's machine except for the Studer. Your machines heads are patterned a little more after the Studer design concept, if memory serves me correctly? These kinds of questions have helped me recover from my brain surgery! I have to go back to these badly damaged synapses and wake their lousy ass up. Thanks! My name is Remy David I think? At least I remember that.
I think it's cool to build up different playback electronics and experiment a bit. It's jaw-dropping when you hear the differences. I actually built up some analog tape channels from the same modules that I built a custom console with in 1978, Op-Amp Labs. I really liked their playback sound, in many ways better than the Scully I had partnered it with. Yet I still love the sound of both my original Bridgeport 280 and my test bed machine I built up of my 280 B, when working for Scully as their Quality Control Manager back in 1979/80. Both of which I still have today. I still use them with their stock electronics because I like the sound of Scully's. I don't want them better and I don't want them different. Strangely enough, in a conversation I had with Jay McKnight at MRL labs (the world authority on analog calibration tapes) I told him I would have assumed he was making his calibration tapes on the Studer's? He told me he was utilizing custom modified Ampex 440's for their 1/4 inch calibration tapes. I believe John French may have also been making him custom heads? Those damn synapses again. I think John is here on Recording.org from time to time? Also the folks from IEM? Or maybe that's over at the Yahoo Scully group? Synapses... I'd like to change my head!
Transports only play with the sound when they don't function correctly or have been improperly adjusted. You could lose high-frequency response when tensions are not adjusted properly. Skewing of the tape creates phasing like sounds. Improper pinch roller pressure against the capstan presents its own problems. And all effects the sound. That's why these are such amazing beasts. I thought one of the coolest machines ever built was the Stephens. John Stephens was making a custom-built set of electronics that he partnered with a 3M transport with its iso-loop tape path. Because 3M was also building their own machines at the time, they cut him off when his machines were becoming popular. So he simply took that iso-loop concept to the next level. He eliminated the pinch rollers and capstan! His transport was just two motors. One for the supply side and one for the take-up side. The turnaround idler became a tachometer and was utilized within a stable phase lock servo design. Virtually no tape damage would ever happen. You have it in fast whine mode at 400 IPS and it would just slew right into play without ever coming to a stop. It was beautiful! I believe many of the early Steely Dan recordings by Roger Nichols utilized the Stephens? Or so I recall? Leon Russell in 1976 released a recording called " Willow the Wisp " which was recorded on a John Stephens 40 track, 2 inch machine. Yup, 40 tracks on 2 inch tape. What I thought funny was that there was a 60 Hz hum throughout that entire album. Not sure where that came from? It was definitely the album. But then the Rolling Stones on Black & Blue had 15 kHz horizontal sync that could be read on a VU meter throughout that entire album back in 1976. Go figure? Though I digress.
Analog recorders are part of the Art of Recording.
Mx. Remy Ann David
I forgot to mention that re-lapping standard soft ferrous metal heads actually improves them, until they wear out physically. That's because, the thinner the pole pieces the better the magnetic field pierces the tape. That too changes the sound characteristic of the head. So they become more efficient as they wear and are re-lapped until the point of no return. LOL, I was working in a rock 'n roll radio station in 1976 when the pole pieces on the heads of one of the Ampex production machines actually fell out of the head! So I think that was about it for that head, LMAO to this day. There wasn't much left of it.
Then there was this other horrendous problem. Ampex' heads were built quite differently from everyone else's. They came up with a head cleaning solution that included xylene. When folks used that on the other manufacturers heads, it dissolved the epoxy and destroyed the heads of the other manufacturers! Freon was determined to be the best head cleaning solution since it was completely inert and dried almost instantaneously. Whereas alcohols of all sorts stayed wet for a short period which was deemed to not be good for the heads. Today, that's all we use again. And one should never utilize standard 73% isopropyl rubbing alcohol, never! Check at your drugstore for 93% isopropyl. But even that leaves a film which is later polished off by the tape. And don't use any methyl alcohols because the fumes are poisonous. Not to mention their extremely flammable nature which cannot be seen it burns so hot. I can't tell you how many guys I used to see cleaning heads while smoking cigarettes! You know you can't fix stupid. Also, don't use any other kind of solvent such as acetone, which works nicely for removing fingernail polish and dissolving your heads.
Mx. Remy Ann David