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Choosing a Reel-to-Reel Tape Deck

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  • Choosing a Reel-to-Reel Tape Deck

    Audiocrack's recent post gave me pause and the impetus for the post. Where should someone start and where is the best place to invest their money when getting into tape? Leaving aside for the moment, the choice of an all in one machine.

    As I previously posted with an addition or two:

    Certainly an analogy can be made between tape decks and turntables

    Turntable drive = tape deck drive

    Tape machine heads/block = tonearm/cartridge

    Wiring out from headblock = phono cable

    Tapestage = Phonostage

    And we can even throw in here the quality of the connection though balanced tends to even out the playing field.

    All these factors need to be addressed when considering a tape deck and I think many make short shrift of tape heads. I really think one can get really excellent sound from a good Technics machine retrofitted with a JRF modded headblock with Flux Magnetic heads and save the money to invest in a good tapestage. Even have the headblock wired balanced out. Hmmm...maybe that's the subject for a good thread.
    It seems to me that people get hung up on the pro-decks when really great sound is at their fingertips and the best bang for the buck is addressing the heads and electronics rather than getting totally wrapped up in the drive system. Heads to me make or break the deck. No matter how good the drive or electronics, the stock heads of most machines, especially when we are talking about prosumer machines-are the limiting factor.
    Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
    Senior Editor,

    -Zellaton Plural Evo speakers
    -Goldmund Telos 440 and 1000 Nextgen mono amps
    -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
    -Doshi EVO and Goldmund PH3.8 phonostage
    -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
    -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
    -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, vdh Colibri Master Signature, Mutech Hayabusa,
    -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
    -Assorted cables including Skogrand, Kubala-Sosna, Audience FrontRow; Audience FrontRow, Genesis Advanced Technologies , Goldmund and Ensemble Power Cords
    -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz 3 racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA OHIO Class 2.3+ platforms.

  • #2
    Very curious to hear what the 'tape experts' consider as major decision criteria

    As a tape deck rookie - and leaving aside the price - the following aspects were important for my decision to opt for the AEG/Telefunken m15a:

    A. sound quality
    B. reputation of the brand
    C. reliability/robustness
    D. availability of spare parts
    E. availability of experts who can help/repair if something goes wrong

    Living next to Germany makes D and E as regards European tape decks (much) easier for me than for example audiophiles living in the USA. I have not been able to compare the sound quality of the AEG/Telefunken machine to some top Studer decks, but several experienced tape deck users informed me that the former is one heck of a machine able to create beautiful sound. And the European specialists that I spoke to also assured me that the M15a is indeed a real (robust) workhorse.

    If my 'reel to reel adventure' turns out well, I suppose the next move is a dedicated tapestage to bypasss some internal electronics. And that triggers the question: how to find one (or find an (tube) expert to built one) that will make a good combination with my Kondo preamp.
    Last edited by Audiocrack; 02-08-2017, 01:19 AM.


    • #3
      Well, I would never claim to be an expert - more of a knowledgeable enthusiast But having been down this path, I think the most important questions are always what are one's goals, and what is one's budget? If the goal is mainly to play 15 ips 2-track tapes from places like Tape Project and Acoustic Sounds, then really the question is budget. If one cannot spend more that a few thousand dollars, then the questions posed above really never come into play. But IMO, that doesn't mean that one cannot get into and enjoy tape.

      For the the sake of good fun robust dialog, I would submit that by doing a lot of research before buying, it's possible to start somewhat entry level, especially if that research involves finding a good, well known, reliable reel to reel tech (of which sadly there are not nearly enough anymore). Because I have one near me, I was able to buy a Tascam BR-20 locally that was in excellent shape for $900. I took it to my guy, who cleaned, calibrated, and aligned it for $225. It works perfectly and sounds fantastic. This is NOT an "instant gratification" path, nor is it anywhere close to the best one can get...but it is one way in that is a starting point. And that Tascam absolutely slays my VPI/Benz vinyl front end
      TAPE: Studer A807, A810; Revox B77 MkII; Technics RS-1700; Pioneer RT-707, RT-909
      VINYL: Denon DP59-L/Hana ML/ModWright PH 9.0; Pioneer PL-50LII/Dynavector 20xH, Pioneer PL-560/Clearaudio Maestro
      DIGITAL: Bryston SP-3, Marantz NA6006/Pioneer N-50, Schiit Bifrost
      SPEAKERS: B&W Nautilus 800 Signatures/Velodyne FSR-15; Pioneer DSS-9/Sunfire TrueSub Jr.; Infinity Kappa 6
      AMPS: Cary SLP-05/Sunfire Signature 600, Pioneer SX-1980; Kenwood KA-8300


      • #4
        Well my suggestion would be is to spend the most money on the major object. For me, it was the turntable part. You can always save money on the arm/cart./phono pre and upgrade as you go. But you don't have a chance, or less of a chance to upgrade the main thing, which would be the deck.

        Then the next question would be is support. Who will support this machine when I want to upgrade or if something happens to it?
        Last edited by Bruce B; 02-07-2017, 03:52 PM.


        • #5
          Originally posted by Bruce B View Post
          Well my suggestion would be is to spend the most money on the major object. For me, it was the turntable part. You can always save money on the arm/cart./phono pre and upgrade as you go. But you don't have a chance, or less of a chance to upgrade the main thing, which would be the deck.

          Then the next question would be is support. Who will support this machine when I want to upgrade or if something happens to it?
          Obviously your budget will dictate a lot. Right now there are no new machines (UHA comes the closest). In a few months that may change with the Ballfinger and Horch, but right now you either buy a used machine that may or may not need work (a little or a whole lot) or a well reconditioned machine, often with some guarantee. If your budget is around $1K or so, then almost always it is a prosumer machine that probably needs at least a little work. When you get to the $5K level, you can get a prosumer machine that has been refurbished (close to the lowest end of the UHA line). From there the sky is the limit, maybe to Fred Thai's redone Studer pro machines in the mid range of a new Mercedes.

          Bruce's second point is for me really important. Since the machine you will be buying is going to be used, you will want to have a person who can work on it, if you are not a really, really handy person. The pro machines, particularly Ampex ATR-102's in the US and Studer A80's in Europe, generally have excellent service techs near most major cities, since they were the ones to fix all the studio machines in the old days and even some today. I found decent techs when I had my Otari and Technics machines, but they were not the studio people, like my Ampex tech (who does Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and Tape Project and many other professionals in addition to my 102's.) Besides, tape machines that play 15ips 2 track tapes are almost all very heavy (the Nagra is an exception), with lots of moving parts, so you probably don't want to be shipping it across the country with any regularity for repairs.

          Finally, at $200-250 a reel or so for 30 minutes of music ($450 for either Acoustic Sounds or Tape Project 2 reel albums) , the media costs really build up quickly. A nice collection of say 50 reels is $10K or more. So any sizeable collection can quickly exceed the cost of even quite expensive machines + tape pre pro.


          Analog- VPIClassic3-3DArm,Lyra Skala+MiyajimaZeroMono, 2xAmpex ATR-102,Otari MX5050B2,Merrill Trident Master Tape Pre,Herron VTPH-2A
          Dig Rip-Pyramix,IzotopeRX3Adv,Mykerinos,PacMicroModel2
          Dig Play-mchNADAC, LampiHorizon, Roon, HQP, Oppo105
          Electronics-Doshi Pre,CJ MET1mchPre, Cary2A3monoamps
          Other-2x512Engineer/Marutani Symmetrical Power, AudioDiskVinylCleaner, Scott Rust Interconnects,


          • #6
            I thought I'd choose something that has reasonable sound quality, preactical in size, is repairable and does 2-channel in 7 1/2 or 15 inch/s.
            So I found a Revox B-77 mkII in good nick (apart from a broken switch) for $200 and had it serviced. That cost me another $250 and now it's as good as new.

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            • Per Sundell
              Per Sundell commented
              Editing a comment
              that we will. Going to see Jan-Erik Persson from Opus3 next weekend for a tapetalk!

            • MylesBAstor
              MylesBAstor commented
              Editing a comment
              Cool! Give Jan-Eric my regards!

            • Per Sundell
              Per Sundell commented
              Editing a comment
              That I will!

          • #7
            I have accumulated way too many machines and while it isn't the nicest or best sounding, the Otari MX5050 BII is a terrific place to start. 1) There are a good number of these available used; 2) they play and record 2 track and also play 4 track; 3) they have both NAB and IEC eq; and 4) there is a terrific Otari technician in Tennessee who is reliable and not too expensive (Terry Palmer).

            Speakers: Vandersteen Model 7s, 4 M&K ST-150Ts, 1 VCC-5; Amplification: 2 Vandersteen M7-HPAs, CI Audio D200 MKII, Ayre V-6xe; Preamp: Doshi Audio Line Stage v3.0; Phono Pre: Doshi Audio V3 Phono Pre; Analog: Wave Kinetics NVS; Durand Telos and SME 3012R Tonearms, Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement v2; Miyajima Zero; Reel to Reel: Technics RS-1500; Doshi Tape Pre-Amp; Studer A810; Studer A812; Tascam BR-20; Multi-channel: Bryston SP-3; Digital: Custom PC> Lampizator Pacific


            • #8
              I can't tell a lie...I have 6 or 7 Otari MX5050 B2s resting in the garage. Yes, I started my sickness with the Otari and then Studer showed up. If someone wants them all as a lot, please contact me. I'm trying to reform. Ki


              • Bruce B
                Bruce B commented
                Editing a comment
                Sorry Ki.... it's too late for you....

              • Ki Choi
                Ki Choi commented
                Editing a comment
                Hey that's what the experts told Tom Brady during the halftime. ;-)

              • MylesBAstor
                MylesBAstor commented
                Editing a comment
                It's too late for many of us Bruce!