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Calling All Tape Heads! Recorders, Players & Tape Machines
Old 10th March 2018
  #31
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Oh and let’s not forget our very own Jim Williams is a wealth of knowledge too!
Old 11th March 2018
  #32
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Quote:
I was also thinking that Tom Fine might be a great guy to talk to.
I bet! I just read a great article by him (today, in fact).

Quote:
Of note is the different sound of a say a 300 vs 440a vs 102 vs ATR24 vs A80 vs A800 vs J37a vs M79 vs M23 vs Stephens vs JH24 vs 1500 vs Tascam vs PR99 vs A77 vs 854... as is 456/499/GR9 201/226/250, 901/911, Zonal, Racal, etc, 7.5/15/30 ips, IEC/NAB/Nakamichi/Stephens, Custom, under bias, over bias, peaking a 1k, bias at 10k, 20k, PB EQ.... ALL of these sound different and ALL sound like tape!
Which goes to show that these really are musical instruments at a fundamental level. If you're an experienced acoustic guitarist, say, you can really hear the difference between even slightly different wood configurations (I couldn't hear stuff like that when I was learning . . . mrhrrmhrm years ago . . . but I certainly can now). Same obviously goes for any instrument. But as has been discussed on GS many times, recording, mixing, and mastering hardware is no different. A software emulation of, say, an 1176, is never going to be THE 1176, because that doesn't really exist. How old is was the machine they modeled? How was it maintained? Was it manufactured in April of that model year or July? It's really no different than talking about old violins. And tape machines are, I think, particularly complicated in this regard.

I just want to say: I've reached out to several of the people that have been mentioned in this thread (and I'm going to add some more names to the list). Everyone has just been great. I'm emailing some *very* big people in pro audio, and all have gotten back to me. As predicted, some are just way too busy for something like this, but even then, people have taken the time to point me in the right direction, given me various kinds of advice, offered to introduce me to people, or act as a reference. It's really testament to the fact that however many flame wars you see on the web, there are *a lot* of really decent folks in this business. There's not one good practical reason to take the time to talk to me about this stuff, but I think people really do love what they do *and* care about passing what they know on to others.

So: Thanks to everyone who has posted so far, and (especially) to everyone who has answered my emails and PMs. I am very, very grateful to one and all.

Steve
Old 11th March 2018
  #33
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It is a lot smaller community than one realizes. No six degrees of separation, more like two in this field.
Old 12th March 2018
  #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sramsay View Post
My name is Stephen Ramsay, and I'm a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (in the U.S.). I'm in the process of writing a (scholarly) history of analog tape machines -- their history, their use in artistic media, and their unique properties as sonic devices.

I have access to lots of different resources about the history of these machines, and like all of us, I've heard the "tape sound" on countless recordings. But here's the thing: I have never heard a studio-grade, reel-to-reel tape machine "live."

Is there anyone out there who has access to one, would be willing to let me hear it, and would be willing to record an interview about analog tape and the "tape sound?" The ideal interviewee would know these machines well (I'm looking for a tape geek, to put the matter plainly). I'm willing to travel to anywhere in the U.S., and perhaps overseas if it makes sense.

This is a big ask. For various technical reasons, I can't compensate anyone for their time (this has to do with the way university research funds are allocated). Given that most studio-grade machines are sitting in an active recording studio, this might be prohibitive. I'm fully aware of the fact that "time is money" in a modern studio. But perhaps there's someone out there who just loves these machines, and would enjoy talking about them.

Perhaps you don't fit the profile yourself, but you know someone who does. If you have a good lead for me, that would be fantastic. Either way, you can, of course, PM me and we can set up some contact through phone or email.

Thanks in advance for any help with this!

Steve
Good luck, and hope you get responses. I want to add here that listening to a control room playback, or witnessing recording, playback and mix, is a start ...but only represents that particular studio in this particular time. The recorder will most likely not be paired with everything else from it's era ...gear such as monitors, monitor power, desk, and the tape itself ...as the end result changed with every major development along the way ...from tubes to transistors, transistors to IC's, IC's to flat out digital. Each development messed with the outcome. Ultimately, it'd be nice to time travel back to the golden age of the analog studio.
Old 12th March 2018
  #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vernier View Post
Good luck, and hope you get responses. I want to add here that listening to a control room playback, or witnessing recording, playback and mix, is a start ...but only represents that particular studio in this particular time. The recorder will most likely not be paired with everything else from it's era ...gear such as monitors, monitor power, desk, and the tape itself ...as the end result changed with every major development along the way ...from tubes to transistors, transistors to IC's, IC's to flat out digital. Each development messed with the outcome. Ultimately, it'd be nice to time travel back to the golden age of the analog studio.
Good point and true.

That said, there is a difference to working a tape machine as opposed to tracking to a computer. The tape machine is physical, it moves, it’s alive. You have to wait for it to do its thing and you have to stay aware of what’s going on with it at every moment.

It’s mechanical and as such requires human interaction and minor maintenance. It gives you time to refelect while fast forwarding or rewinding. You get to hear the music in ways you never do with digital, sped up going backward or forward... and slowing down as it comes to a stop. That alone has triggered so many “moments” for me in the past. Happy accidents occur when working with tape. A lot.

It is a lot different than sitting with a computer and staring at a screen. You know a person is recording when working with a tape machine but with that computer they could just be surfing the web or doing their taxes. Computers to me are much more boring, if you will. Software is not but the box itself is.

In emailing back and forth with Stephen ( the OP) I think he’s going to try and get across what it is like to work with these old beasts, what they brought to the table, how they changed the recorded sound. What was gained, what was lost. Things like that.

I was forced by Spectrum to go all digital for our televisions this past week, so I went out and got a couple more tv’s, smart tv’s at that. Looking at the picture, which is much more video like I couldn’t help but think of the generations who will never see what a picture tube brought to the table. Yes, this feed is more accurate but there was something lost in the transition. A softening of the edges, a motion picture quality, a softer reality. It reminded me of going from tube to solid state and again from tape to digital recording. It reminded me of how much “colder” the world is getting.

Yes we gained... but we also lost. We have to be aware of what we lost, as much as we gained.
Old 12th March 2018
  #36
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The recorder will most likely not be paired with everything else from it's era ...gear such as monitors, monitor power, desk, and the tape itself ...as the end result changed with every major development along the way ...from tubes to transistors, transistors to IC's, IC's to flat out digital. Each development messed with the outcome.
Certainly true, but what I'm finding is that there are some amazing "time capsules" out there -- people whose working studios (only lightly active nowadays) really haven't been appreciably "upgraded" since the 70s. That's hardly common, but they do exist. Even there, I suspect I'm still going to find some of what you're talking about. There are some elements (particularly related to power) where people didn't hesitate to adopt the "new ways."

No one can step back in time, but you can get closer than I would have thought.
Old 12th March 2018
  #37
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In emailing back and forth with Stephen ( the OP) I think he’s going to try and get across what it is like to work with these old beasts, what they brought to the table, how they changed the recorded sound. What was gained, what was lost. Things like that.
Absolutely. This is a book (I don't think I mentioned that), and it's really more "cultural study" than technical treatise. I do go into the technical aspects of these machines in some detail, and discuss the way the technology evolved (AC bias, multitrack, after-market noise reduction, different tape formulations, and so forth). But it's mostly aimed at a non-technical (if scholarly) audience, so I'm explaining things like equalization, compression, and saturation along with "wow and flutter" and "tape hiss" to readers who aren't necessarily familiar with these terms.

My ability to geek out on this stuff is essentially boundless, though, and it's hard to know where to draw the line sometimes. For some potential readers, detailed discussion of the arc-minutes of azimuth on a tape head would be very much desired, but then those same people might be subjected to very rudimentary concepts in audio. Thank God for editors.

This morning, I'm listening to a recording of the "Philco Radio Hour" (with Bing Crosby!) from October 1st, 1947 -- the first taped radio broadcast in the United States. Good times.
Old 12th March 2018
  #38
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sramsay View Post
Certainly true, but what I'm finding is that there are some amazing "time capsules" out there -- people whose working studios (only lightly active nowadays) really haven't been appreciably "upgraded" since the 70s. That's hardly common, but they do exist. Even there, I suspect I'm still going to find some of what you're talking about. There are some elements (particularly related to power) where people didn't hesitate to adopt the "new ways."

No one can step back in time, but you can get closer than I would have thought.
There is or was a “time capsule” studio in South Africa that was referenced (somewhat recently) as having one of the few complete ISA boards in a full-on designer room (or rooms?). Did they also walk away from some tape machines of the same era?
Does anyone know what to search for to find that studio?
Old 12th March 2018
  #39
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bushman View Post
There is or was a “time capsule” studio in South Africa that was referenced (somewhat recently) as having one of the few complete ISA boards in a full-on designer room (or rooms?). Did they also walk away from some tape machines of the same era?
Does anyone know what to search for to find that studio?
Are you talking about Bop Studios in South Africa? They had one of the few Focusrites installed there. Terry Manning worked there a few times.

Still going... BRS | HOME
Old 12th March 2018
  #40
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Originally Posted by Silvertone View Post
Are you talking about Bop Studios in South Africa? They had one of the few Focusrites installed there. Terry Manning worked there a few times.

Still going... BRS | HOME
Yes, thank you. I found an article about Bop that is primarily about the amazing design and construction, but also mentioned that they had Studer multitracks sitting in these fully outfitted mothballed rooms.
Old 12th March 2018
  #41
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South Africa is probably a bit beyond my budget. I think I'd need to get my Dean drunk first!
Old 13th March 2018
  #42
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That studio is about the only reason I have to visit Africa. In our art, it is one of the wonders of the world. I think I’d put it higher on my list than Abbey Road.
Old 13th March 2018
  #43
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Things that contribute to the "tape" sound.....

Most tape based recordings utilized most if not all of these things in the pursuit of a world class recording / album. ALL of them contribute (more or less) to the sound people attribute to "tape" alone.

1. 2 minimum, lots of times 6-8 passes through the console during production. Lots of discrete electronics, transformers, etc. -- all adding analog distortion, crosstalk, etc. every time through the console.
2. A properly designed control room. Giving engineers the creative opportunity to make proper production decisions. A far cry from working in a semi-treated bedroom - which makes up a large portion of what you hear on albums today.
3. A properly designed live room. Again, a HUGE rarity in most (not all) modern digital recordings. Proper acoustics - beyond the artists ability and creativity - are the #1 way to get a great sounding recording. (IMO)
4. A recording engineer that's made it to the top of his class, and is afforded the top dog position at any particular studio. A studio which, BTW, almost certainly cost upwards of $500,000-2M due to the economics of the era that is equipped with golden era gear. Compared to a local college grad in his parents basement with 2 57's and a rode mic.
5. Real outboard gear. Not to be overlooked. It's what almost every plug is "emulating". Some of which is virtually unobtanium at this point. (Fairchilds and the like...)
6. The real mic classics in the mic closet in those classic tape studios - in comparison to a bazillion "copycat" mics that attempt to copy the classic which abound in virtually every low end digital studio.
7. Real musicians recording in a real space, with bleed, groove, feel, timing errors, playing off one another, and the magic that happens whenever you put a bunch of talented guys in the room together!
8. And yes, of course, tape itself.

Tape by itself cannot be isolated and quantified. This is my personal opinion, although no doubt some will disagree. From my observation, no one says yeah, I need that tape sound. No, they say "I want the sound of a classic motown record"...or whatever they're after. They cannot disect the recording and isolate the sound of tape itself - because none of those records would exists without tape -- AND....all the other things listed.

So IMO, this parsing of tape details is akin to....well....let's just say it's a flawed concept.

IMO of course. Heaven forbid I might disagree with someone's opinion.
Old 13th March 2018
  #44
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Quote:
That studio is about the only reason I have to visit Africa. In our art, it is one of the wonders of the world. I think I’d put it higher on my list than Abbey Road.
Do you think it would be worth it go there, if your specific mission is all about tape? I mean, as a lowly ("advanced amateur," or something like that) sound engineer, I'd just about give anything to go hang out in that space with those guys, but I wonder if it would really be the mother lode if you're mostly interested in tape.
Old 13th March 2018
  #45
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Shucks just this afternoon we sent the Scully over to the landfill. Had I only known..................
Old 13th March 2018
  #46
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Originally Posted by sramsay View Post
Do you think it would be worth it go there, if your specific mission is all about tape? I mean, as a lowly ("advanced amateur," or something like that) sound engineer, I'd just about give anything to go hang out in that space with those guys, but I wonder if it would really be the mother lode if you're mostly interested in tape.
I don’t know if they use, or even still have those Studer machines. It would certainly be worth a call.
The physical elements drBill mentioned are all there. The penultimate Hidley rooms with the speaker systems and gear to match...
BUT...
Without working tape machines, air conditioning (something they have apparently had trouble with), and some ongoing projects it wouldn’t fit your needs, but if they have all that up and running, yeah, I would buy a ticket to that particular place.
Old 13th March 2018
  #47
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So IMO, this parsing of tape details is akin to....well....let's just say it's a flawed concept.

IMO of course. Heaven forbid I might disagree with someone's opinion.
Oh, I think you're absolutely right. The "analog sound" is very obviously cumulative, for all the reasons you mentioned. Even back in the 30s, when they were essentially recording directly from mic to tape, we still had a mic "mediating" that sound. I think when someone walks into a studio wanting the "tape sound," they're really using that as an alias for "analog sound" or something like that.

But this is itself an interesting "sociological" phenomenon. I think the large-format console still stands, in most peoples' minds, as the "symbol" of the recording studio (even if most people aren't entirely clear about what all those knobs actually do). So why don't people (present company excepted, obviously) walk into a studio wanting that "Neve sound" or that "API sound" (some undoubtedly do)? I would venture to guess that there are more emulations of channel strips than there are tape emulations out there . . .

John Mayer and Lady Gaga have both recorded albums to tape: Mayer's Battle Studies (2009) and Lady Gaga's Joanne (2016) -- the former using an otherwise "all digital" configuration. Now, it's possible that both of them know all about analog gear -- they're both excellent musicians, and Lady Gaga certainly knows her way around a synthesizer. But in the promotional materials and in interviews, they didn't talk about limiters, pre-amps, or mics. They talked about the "tape sound" of their records.

So even if there's no "tape sound," per se, people still use that term when they want to talk about a certain kind of sound. I do think, for what it's worth, that if we swap one tape machine for another and keep all other components the same, we are going to get a different sound, and it is surely possible to talk about that what that difference is. But that's clearly not what people (again, present company excepted) mean when they talk about "tape sound."
Old 13th March 2018
  #48
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sramsay View Post
Even back in the 30s, when they were essentially recording directly from mic to tape
excuse me professor, how much research have you done?
"mic to tape" in the 30's?
Old 13th March 2018
  #49
I have done quite a few restorations to mastering decks over the years for those engaged in archiving analog tapes. It is a joyful experience as users report hearing new things on very familiar tracks. Got to save all those electrons for the next generation.
Old 13th March 2018
  #50
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Originally Posted by cathode View Post
excuse me professor, how much research have you done?
"mic to tape" in the 30's?
Trick question! In the 1930s most recording was direct to disk. Not digital disc, but through a cutting head to an acetate disk on a cutting lathe.
The Germans were recording to tape by the late 1930s, but there was no tape recording in the United States until the end of WW2, when German tape machines and tape were brought to the States and copied.
Before that, the US had unbiased wire recorders, which were very low fidelity.
Old 13th March 2018
  #51
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sramsay View Post

So even if there's no "tape sound," per se, people still use that term when they want to talk about a certain kind of sound. I do think, for what it's worth, that if we swap one tape machine for another and keep all other components the same, we are going to get a different sound, and it is surely possible to talk about that what that difference is. But that's clearly not what people (again, present company excepted) mean when they talk about "tape sound."
I had just finished a project (or so I thought) when I installed an MCI JH24 in the place of my 3M M79. Then the band decided to add a song. The two machines, both running 15ips, using the same tape formula, do in fact sound different. As do different formulas.
Old 13th March 2018
  #52
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Quote:
excuse me professor, how much research have you done?
A lot. But there's mountains of material to go through.

Quote:
The Germans were recording to tape by the late 1930s, but there was no tape recording in the United States until the end of WW2, when German tape machines and tape were brought to the States and copied.
That's correct. The first musical recording to tape we have is of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1936 (they had just been formed and were touring Germany). It was, as I said, basically mic-to-tape on a Magnetophon K2, which was using straight magnetite on PVC. The recording survives, though the original tapes, alas, have been lost.

As far as America goes, yes: John "Jack" Mullin (1913-1999) got his hands on a couple of Magnetophons and about fifty feet of tape from a small radio station that had been captured by the Allies in Bad Nauheim. He took those back to California, spent a couple of years fiddling with them, and then demoed one at MGM Studios in Hollywood, where it caught the ear of Bing Crosby's technical director. As soon as Crosby heard it he was hooked. Crosby would later go on to invest in a small company making recording equipment. That company was . . . Ampex!

It's a cool story. The Americans knew that there was some kind of new recording device that the Germans had developed before the war, but they hadn't heard one. So there are all these guys in the Signal Corps (Mullin was one of them) trying to figure out how Hitler could be giving a speech on the radio in one city while he was traveling in another, particularly since the speeches were too long to be coming off 16 rpm transcription disks. It wasn't until Mullin showed up that they really figured out what was going on.

Note: It's possible that the first musical recording was actually made on a prototype in 1934, but I haven't been able to verify the authenticity of the recording I've heard. It sounds a little too good to me, to be honest.

Last edited by sramsay; 13th March 2018 at 10:13 PM.. Reason: typos, postscript
Old 14th March 2018
  #53
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Tape types, bias preference, and how hard the tape was hit are variants of the “tape sound”. And to demonstrate that “tape sound” was not a single sound, some tape tricks didn’t work except on a specific type of tape. Roy Thomas Baker SLAMMED Ampex 406 to get his signature sound on vocals and mixes. I witnessed him trying the same process on Ampex 456 and being very annoyed that the result was very different, and not to his liking.
Old 14th March 2018
  #54
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bushman View Post
TI witnessed him trying the same process on Ampex 456 and being very annoyed that the result was very different, and not to his liking.
Was he using his Stephens? I suspect the headroom (or the lack of it) of the record electronics of that machine had something to do with that sound. It doesn't work on just any machine.
Old 14th March 2018
  #55
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lance Lawson View Post
Shucks just this afternoon we sent the Scully over to the landfill. Had I only known..................
HEE!
Old 14th March 2018
  #56
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Was he using his Stephens? I suspect the headroom (or the lack of it) of the record electronics of that machine had something to do with that sound. It doesn't work on just any machine.
No. He didn’t bring his machine. He was using the studio’s Studer machines. It wasn’t primarily the machines. He went back to 406 to redo some mixes on the Studer. The results were very different and acceptable to him as sounding like the expected tape overdrive “thickness” (I don’t remember what word he used). Think of the hook chorus of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” or “Good Times Roll”. I don’t remember what album or whose this was. I do remember it sank without a ripple.
Old 14th March 2018
  #57
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Drumsound View Post
I had just finished a project (or so I thought) when I installed an MCI JH24 in the place of my 3M M79. Then the band decided to add a song. The two machines, both running 15ips, using the same tape formula, do in fact sound different. As do different formulas.
Sure do Tony.

I had an Ampex MM1200 2” 16 track and a MCI 1” 8 track, I loved the sound of both machines for different reasons. What console was attached made a difference as well (of course). I had a BCM10 full of 1073 hooked up to that MCI and a Quad Eight Pacifica hooked to that Ampex. All bases were covered with with that gear.

The MCI had a softer sound than the Ampex, I used it for jazz, blue grass, folk, acoustic and the Ampex was rock and roll all the way. Drums rocked out on the Ampex, on the MCI it gave that softer 70’s sound, which was cool as well.

I also had a Trident 80B with an Otari MTR90II at one point, that was a more universal sound. It was the 80’s. It had that sound of the 80’s.

I also had a Amek Tac Scorpion console hooked to a Tascam ATR16 track machine and a Soundcraft 400 hooked up to a Tascam 48, so I’m familiar with those sounds as well.

Endless sounds, endless combinations... sound familiar?

The more things change the more they stay the same.
Old 14th March 2018
  #58
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Presto got the machines from the Nuremberg Hearings and back engineered those. Compared to the Ampex of the era the Presto was a Cadillac (and was reflected in their cost). They made machines for the military so they had to run in all sorts of adverse conditions and weather. They also made the machines for Muzak that had to be able to run 24/7.

I’ve never seen better build quality in such an early era machine than the Presto. They rival the Studers and much later Ampex ATR 102 type builds.

There are a few more tubes in the Presto...
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Calling All Tape Heads!-104ffed5-0796-4571-987b-7ff5a55f8a20.jpg   Calling All Tape Heads!-cd66d2be-44c3-404f-bfe7-af6ac17c6c42.jpg   Calling All Tape Heads!-e15a0cd0-7aea-44cd-a496-b3cdced3ade4.jpg  
Old 14th March 2018
  #59
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silvertone View Post
Sure do Tony.

I had an Ampex MM1200 2” 16 track and a MCI 1” 8 track, I loved the sound of both machines for different reasons. What console was attached made a difference as well (of course). I had a BCM10 full of 1073 hooked up to that MCI and a Quad Eight Pacifica hooked to that Ampex. All bases were covered with with that gear.

The MCI had a softer sound than the Ampex, I used it for jazz, blue grass, folk, acoustic and the Ampex was rock and roll all the way. Drums rocked out on the Ampex, on the MCI it gave that softer 70’s sound, which was cool as well.

I also had a Trident 80B with an Otari MTR90II at one point, that was a more universal sound. It was the 80’s. It had that sound of the 80’s.

I also had a Amek Tac Scorpion console hooked to a Tascam ATR16 track machine and a Soundcraft 400 hooked up to a Tascam 48, so I’m familiar with those sounds as well.

Endless sounds, endless combinations... sound familiar?

The more things change the more they stay the same.
All great stuff. So what happened? ...I'd be heartbroken to no longer have it.
Old 14th March 2018
  #60
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bushman View Post
No. He didn’t bring his machine. He was using the studio’s Studer machines. It wasn’t primarily the machines. He went back to 406 to redo some mixes on the Studer. The results were very different and acceptable to him as sounding like the expected tape overdrive “thickness” (I don’t remember what word he used). Think of the hook chorus of “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” or “Good Times Roll”. I don’t remember what album or whose this was. I do remember it sank without a ripple.
That would be the first Cars record. I'm totally jealous that you were there to witness that. Its one of my favorite records of all time.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silvertone View Post
Sure do Tony.

I had an Ampex MM1200 2” 16 track and a MCI 1” 8 track, I loved the sound of both machines for different reasons. What console was attached made a difference as well (of course). I had a BCM10 full of 1073 hooked up to that MCI and a Quad Eight Pacifica hooked to that Ampex. All bases were covered with with that gear.

The MCI had a softer sound than the Ampex, I used it for jazz, blue grass, folk, acoustic and the Ampex was rock and roll all the way. Drums rocked out on the Ampex, on the MCI it gave that softer 70’s sound, which was cool as well.

I also had a Trident 80B with an Otari MTR90II at one point, that was a more universal sound. It was the 80’s. It had that sound of the 80’s.

I also had a Amek Tac Scorpion console hooked to a Tascam ATR16 track machine and a Soundcraft 400 hooked up to a Tascam 48, so I’m familiar with those sounds as well.

Endless sounds, endless combinations... sound familiar?

The more things change the more they stay the same.
You really have heard and seen it all.

I've always wanted to hear an MM1200 in the room.
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