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reel to reel tape

Hey, i'm looking to do an all analog recording session for my personal band's next session. i'm going to look at either renting or purchasing an 8 track 1/4in reel to reel recorder. though i'm unsure of what type of tape to get. what tape type and model should i look at. i understand its probably a thing of the past to do this. but i really want to do an all analog session, from track to master to duplication, on either tape or vinyl (vinyl prefered). i'd just go somewhere that has an analog setup, but i'd like to do this on my time, and use my gear, my preamps, my room, etc.

let me know



Member for
51 years 5 months

iamfrobs Sun, 05/17/2009 - 22:51

A little more background on the genre, your experience, budget, current equipment, etc. will go a long way in helping us help you.

If money is no object, get an Ampex MM1200, Studer A827 and a Scully 280 just to cover your bases

I can stand by Otari MTR90s as a good sounding machine. We use it every so often at school.

I saw a 2-track Ampex 440C go BIN for 4 bills on ebay last week.
Thats the machine I want.

Profile picture for user JoeH
Member for
16 years 11 months

JoeH Mon, 05/18/2009 - 06:16

If you're really serious about this, you may have to create your own niche from the start, in terms of gear aquisition. There's no more "new" analog multitrack tape machines being made, and tape is getting more scarce all the time. (That's not to say this isn't a worthy pursuit; at least you'll learn a lot in the process!)

You may find it's easier to just rent something (I don't know your market or area).

If you can't find something local and afforable, then you're going to have to find a working machine (probably ebay, craigslist, or some kind of wonderful bit of luck) AND a tech to service it for you, unless you're really handy or want to learn. You'll need alignment tapes (they are still around, equally hard to score a "New" one) and test gear. You'll have to learn tape bias, EQ and level adjustment, as well as proper head alignment, tape path cleaning, and so on. (it's not as scary as it sounds; many of us used to do this sort of thing every day before starting a session; it was called "Maintenance". ;-) )

Thats' just for starters, but if you're determined to wade through this, you may find you like it - the Sound, that is. You'll need a good board (There are certainly plenty of those around; old AND new) and an analog 2 track to master on as well, if you're intending to keep it all analog. (See 8 track caveats above...)

If you've got the time & patience to invest in all this, you may be on to something. Good luck!

Member for
12 years 1 month

RonanChrisMurphy Mon, 05/18/2009 - 08:44

you might be surprised how cheap you can actually buy a 2 inch machine these days. The Otari MTR 90 II is a great sounding machine and go for stupid cheap some times.

Member for
16 years 6 months

bobbo Mon, 05/18/2009 - 10:07

hey, thanks for all the quick replies. i'm honestly looking for something real inexpensive, i've seen a couple 8 track reel to reel recorders on ebay for about $100, but what i don't know is what type of tape to get for them? i'm not too concerned with what board i'm gonna use, i've got a really old peavy board i'll prob just use, i'm not really trying to get "awesome sound". just keep it all analog for my bands next release. i have a nice older tascam 4 track that i've though about using, though i'd really like to have stereo drums, and a left and right guitar track, so it makes it rather difficult to do that with only 4 tracks at my disposal with out having to bounch everything. and i'd really like to be able to mess with the actual tracks by them selves on mix down, just so i can have more control over mixdown. i'm not going to be using expensive compressors or eqs. i might just suck it up and say screw it, but i just want to have an all analog release at some point point, and i want to track it and mix it. i've got a nice recording system right now that i use everyday, but its one of those, "old school" moments that i want to do with the knowledge i've got now. and the nice preamps, mics, instruments, i've got as well. that i'm looking to capture the "musicianship" than having awesome converters, and having the $10,000 waves plugin pack and what not.

Member for
15 years 8 months

RemyRAD Mon, 05/18/2009 - 14:20

While tape is becoming more scarce and harder to get, it's not impossible.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend a 1/4" 8 track machine. That's just too noisy, too squeezed. I wouldn't go with anything less than 1/2" 8 track. Of course you can also find 1/2" 16 track Fostex machines. I actually had to use one of those for a client once. It didn't sound like the 2 inch Ampex MM 1200-24 I had. It just doesn't have quite the dynamic impact that wider tracks give you. That's why 2 inch 16 track was always considered the best sounding of the large format multitrack machines. 24 tracks in the same 2 inches just doesn't have the same open quality.

And then there is the subject of "Noise Reduction". Some have none. Others offer DBX, Dolby-B, Dolby-C, Dolby-S & their professional counterparts Dolby-A & Dolby-SR. All of which require that the tape recorder be precisely aligned to both the tape formulation used & correct level sets for the noise reduction systems. Some systems such as DBX require a machine with the flattest response. Whereas Dolby requires that the machine has the proper level match with a noise reduction system. Any of these variables that are not precisely followed will yield truly miserable sounding results and in some cases, one is better off without noise reduction of any kind, known as running barefoot. And actually that's what I like. READ MY LIPS.... NO MORE NOISE REDUCTION. Just tweak the machine properly & hit the tape hard where you can, such as with the drum tracks. You have to experiment to know how much nonlinear saturation & distortion you want.

And this is another instance where when recording in analog, you're going to want to compress and/or limit a lot of stuff while you record it & not on mix down. This is where you have to start to envision what the final product should sound like before you ever get there. So you are equalizing & compressing and/or limiting while tracking. You can certainly add more during mix if you should so choose. But you'll find that to keep things above noise level and to keep distortion low, you'll be doing things while recording you would ordinarily only do during your mix in digital. Your analog dynamic range will average between 45 to 65 DB without noise reduction. That's a lot less than the 16-bit 96 DB and the 24-bit 140 DB specification. If you don't have any outboard compressor/limiters? You're going to need some. Cheap and/or good, they're all good. From $100 to $10, 000, your choice.

Are you there yet?
Ms. Remy and then

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Member for
15 years 7 months

hueseph Mon, 05/18/2009 - 17:44

For that matter, you could get a decent 1" 16 track for under a grand( I think Tascam made one). I think spending anything less than that is just stupid. It would prove to be a very disappointing project.

Profile picture for user djmukilteo
Member for
12 years 6 months

djmukilteo Mon, 05/18/2009 - 19:12

I really don't think you will find anything for $100 in the 1/2" 8 track range that will work or be of any value. Alignment alone for one of those could easily cost you $100!
A working aligned Tascam 1/2" 8 track in good working condition on Ebay would probably go for a minimum of $400-$500. Most of the time those units will have head wear and are not aligned or calibrated.
One thing to do is to search online for guys who refurbish multi-track analog tape decks and see what they are asking for a good aligned and calibrated machine...paying $100 for any 8 track machine on Ebay will also cost you more for shipping (they are heavy) than it's worth and it won't work properly when it gets there!
Be careful!
There are many units on Ebay...but it will cost you money to get them into a condition to be useful...I still have 2 Tascam's and have purchased 2", 1/2" and 1/4" tape online recently and tape is still readily and easily available.
Having spent much time aligning heads and calibrating levels on analog machines it is still an amazingly rich sound for what it is...but it is also a lot of work...
Good luck....