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Want a Reel to Reel for my studio. Looking for recommendations!

Icandrive55

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Oct 26, 2019
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I'm about to produce a very old school kind of record of my own music. I'm pretty much all set on gear side, which was a major undertaking. And after putting that much time, effort, and money into all that gear, it seems like kind of a waste tracking straight into Pro Tools. I've frankly always hated the sound of it. There is just something so sterile sounding about it no matter what kind of Pre you're using.

So I'm looking to track to tape and then bounce to Pro Tools. I really only need 2 tracks at most because I'll be tracking drums at another studio. At my home studio, I'm only recording guitars, synths, vocals etc. If anyone has experience doing something similar, I'd be very curious what you're using and how you like it.

Please don't turn this into a "you might as well use plugins" thread. I'm well aware what the plugins sound like. I'm looking to compare options. Not be convinced out of buying something because of maintenance, practicality etc.
 

Wilko

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Find a good ol' TEAC deck. The 4 track 2340 or 3340 can be found relatively cheap and do a great job. Some real albums were done with the.
The tape delay sound is very good and shows up on many great recordings. Of course that means the vocal (or other part recorded that way) are printed wet--it's worth it.
 
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Icandrive55

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Oct 26, 2019
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Good to see two endorsements of the 3340! There is an almost mint one locally that I had my eye on. It comes with a tape and reel too. It's listed at $850. So... not an amazing deal but better than Reverb. And I agree, it's well worth it to print wet when using certain gear. I have to do that using my Echoplex EP-2 and Danelectro 9100 Spring Reverb. Those effects just wouldn't sound the same being sent to from Pro Tools.

I seem to be between the 3340 and a Studer A807. There is an A807 that would cost about $2300 with shipping. It's not close enough that I can pick it up. But that seems like a a pretty big step up quality-wise. Is it worth the difference? I don't know! It would seem to me if I'm going through the trouble of getting and running a tape machine, I'd want the best I can afford. But there are a lot of pro's on the 3340 side. Not an easy call.
 

Wilko

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wow, I see the prices are coming way up! I got my 3340 with the mixer and meter bridge for 250 about 15 years ago. My brother in law bought the same setup with the wired remote new in the late 70s.
 

J T

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Studers are great machines. Those were and are studio working decks. Only thing is parts may be hard to find. I've re-capped A800's and A80's very well made, You get what you pay for with them. If you get an A80, try and find a remote or varispeed. They come in handy when you're at the console.

I've been in back of Ampex, Tascam, and others. If they work they are great machines, but because time marches on, the wires inside can get brittle and the motors gummed up. Whichever you choose open the back and give it a good look over and make sure it's all ok.
 
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Icandrive55

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Oct 26, 2019
Messages
109
wow, I see the prices are coming way up! I got my 3340 with the mixer and meter bridge for 250 about 15 years ago. My brother in law bought the same setup with the wired remote new in the late 70s.
You're not kidding! Maybe 10 years ago, they were literally giving all these tape machines away for free. I remember seeing a row of Studer's free for pickup at a local studio. Wish I had the space! Funny how the prices keep going up with the plugins being so accurate :)
 

Icandrive55

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Oct 26, 2019
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Studers are great machines. Those were and are studio working decks. Only thing is parts may be hard to find. I've re-capped A800's and A80's very well made, You get what you pay for with them. If you get an A80, try and find a remote or varispeed. They come in handy when you're at the console.

I've been in back of Ampex, Tascam, and others. If they work they are great machines, but because time marches on, the wires inside can get brittle and the motors gummed up. Whichever you choose open the back and give it a good look over and make sure it's all ok.
Yeahh... that's what has me strongly considering the Studer. That's what I used back in my Berklee days. One seems like a pro machine and the other, a very nice consumer machine. Paying an extra $1200 isn't huge in the grand scheme of things. This one has the VU meters and speaker, which is pretty handy.
 

motowntom

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Jan 7, 2023
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Save yourself time, money, and frustration and invest in a couple different flavors of tape sim VST's.... take my word for it.
Cheers
 

Icandrive55

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Oct 26, 2019
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109
Save yourself time, money, and frustration and invest in a couple different flavors of tape sim VST's.... take my word for it.
Cheers
I have 3 of them. They really don't sound believable at all. In my experience, there is just no replacing real tape, delays, spring/plate reverbs etc. I get people not wanting to deal with the time, money, and frustration. It's certainly not for everyone. But it's always been worth it in my experience. I tried every tape delay pedal I could before splurging for an Echoplex. That was a real eye opener. There isn't a pedal or plugin that comes close. The thing sounds alive. If you find this type of gear in good condition and take care of it, they generally need very little work if any.
 

J T

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Whichever you get, go and get a reference tone tape to calibrate. The Studers have the calibration section. Good luck and have fun.
 

rialcnis

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I agree tape/analog has a much better sound, but a 4 track, 1/4" or 1/2" is very limiting. I've had TEAC, Tascam and Akai, but buy up extra parts too. A mint unit 1" would be ideal. Vintage Tape decks always need some care.
 
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zacknorton

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Here's a big thing to consider. Generally speaking, The "better" the tape deck and the faster the tape speed, the more transparent it will be.

to that end, consumer grade Teac decks with multiple speeds can really deliver tape saturation.

They all have their own sound. But generally the pro grade Tascam and Otari decks will give you more of that tape bump and saturation than the studier or MCI decks.

Tascam starts go get good at the 38 series... big step up with the 48 and the 58 series is dialed in with features for broadcast. Otari decks are aces. 👍 👍 👍
 

Wilko

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engineers with good ears know how to make the digital sims sound real good. Compression and limiting are the effects that make tape sound the way it can.

Slower tape speed, etc all contribute.
 

rialcnis

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engineers with good ears know how to make the digital sims sound real good. Compression and limiting are the effects that make tape sound the way it can.

Slower tape speed, etc all contribute.
That is true, yet there is just something about tape that is so subtle that it can't really be matched. An openness. Trying to be as all-analog as possible is a great goal.
 

Icandrive55

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A lot of good points! I came to the conclusion that I am looking for a machine that's going to add noticeable color. So a Studer probably doesn't make sense. My whole rig and backline is all 1960's stuff. I'm trying to sort of pull off a time-capsule recording. I pretty much made up my mind on the Ampex 351 with the dual tube preamps. I mean... that has got to sound incredible. A cranked JTM45 going into those preamps, directly to tape? That's gotta be wicked. But damn... they are expensive. I'm trying to sell my korina V so I can buy all this stuff! I'm hoping someone bites soon because there's a 351 nearby that's in great condition and comes with both preamps.

Another reason I'm doing this is because I think there's been a psychological effect to switching to fully digital recording. Maybe it's just me, but I personally feel like I don't have much of an emotional response to records that were made after the 90's. It's like... they can sound good, but I'm not moved at all. And when I ask other people, they tend to agree that music hasn't moved them in a very long time. But throw on a record from the 50s-90s and it instantly grabs you in a different way. It's just a theory, but I think the brain doesn't registers digital recordings the same way.
 

Bob Womack

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Apr 8, 2002
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If you are looking for a professional deck, the Sony APR-5003 is the ultimate expression of analog tape electronic technology. I has the least low-end hump of any machine and has digitally driven analog circuitry, allowing you to save setups. It is basically an MCI deck on steroids, because Sony bought MCI. Despite this, it is available used for reasonable coin. The studio where I work still has these and I owned one at one point and they are amazingly trouble-free.

The Ampex ATR-102 had the ultimate transport, stable and not suffering from tape-pack speed shift. It is the best editing deck in the world. It is also the most desired and most expensive. We sold thirteen of these to ATR systems where they were rebuilt with better record electronics and sold to studios for $10k or more. You should know that they have the most complicated transport system ever. If you aren't a tech, you'll need one to keep it running.

If you are willing to go quarter track (consumer), perhaps the best of the bunch was the Tandberg Cross-Field series. They had probably the best native signal-to-noice ratio due to the Cross-Field system. That consists of a second record head that swings up from below and presents a 180' out of phase signal to the back of the tape, allowing greater signal level. Because tape noise is a constant, a greater signal increases the signal-to-noise ratio. They are also available at an entirely reasonable cost.

Bob
 
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