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best 2 track 1/4" tape machine? Recorders, Players & Tape Machines
Old 17th July 2012
  #121
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RFZ DUDE's Avatar
Over here in Europe you can easily get parts for most Studer and Telefunken machines.
Studer A80/A81 and Telefunken M15 & M15a are nice machines, they are in fact quite clean but that can be a good thing for a mix down deck.
Old 17th July 2012
  #122
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Studer a80 RC
Old 17th July 2012
  #123
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Way View Post
Be careful: yes the Studers are all great, but parts can be a killer. Yes, there are half-track and high-speed Revox A77s but I don't think they are in the same league.

Working (somewhat) Otari MX5050B-II decks go for for $100-$1500 and up. I got lucky with a $150 unit which, re-capped, sounds OK, has head-life left on it, and a transport that works well. But add the Bottlehead $800 repro amp kit and you can have something special. Nice thing about the Otaris are parts availability and reasonable cost. Also, there are so many of these decks that come on the market for almost nothing (beat-to-s**t decks from radio stations) it's actually practical to buy a "parts deck" or two, if you've got the space for them. BTW, build quality on the Otaris is outatanding - they are tanks, and access to its innards is pretty good. And put these in your budget: re-lapping or replacing heads, blank tape, alignment tape, take-up reel(s), parts like pinch rollers, an oscilloscope is invaluable... the list goes on and on and on, and every item costs.

But when it all comes together, it can be pretty great.

WW
Thank you Bill...i have seen some Otaris(MX500 BII-2)on Ebay.com for approx. 400-700$...and i love the fact that they can play 4-track tapes as well...but the shipping costs to Europe are very expensive....around 300-350$ because of their weight....some user's posts also,claim that they sound a little bit harsh...even the much worse TEAC 3340S in a Youtube video comparison,sounds smoother...am i right?(but of course this depends of the condition and calibration of every recorder)
Old 17th July 2012
  #124
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by RFZ DUDE View Post
Over here in Europe you can easily get parts for most Studer and Telefunken machines.
Studer A80/A81 and Telefunken M15 & M15a are nice machines, they are in fact quite clean but that can be a good thing for a mix down deck.
so...for Europe,a STUDER or a TELEFUNKEN would be a safe buy i suppose...
thank you
Old 17th July 2012
  #125
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RFZ DUDE's Avatar
safe and sound bet in fact.if you have time looking around broadcast stations you can pick either up for next to nothing.
Old 17th July 2012
  #126
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jnorman's Avatar
when i was working at deep south with hal ellis back in the early 70's, we were using scully 8 track and 2 track machines at the studio. when we decided to buy personal machines to listen to 2-track masters at home, we both wound up choosing the Teac 3300 1/2 track machines - 10" reels, 1/2 track configuration, 15ips, all solenoid controls - perfect for what we wanted them for. i also did some small amount of direct to 2-track live work with mine - i think it had 60dB SN ratio at 15ips.
Old 18th July 2012
  #127
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ATR 102 or Ampex AGG-440 or Studer
Old 27th July 2012
  #128
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Antony Scott's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Way View Post
Nice thing about the Otaris are parts availability and reasonable cost. Also, there are so many of these decks that come on the market for almost nothing (beat-to-s**t decks from radio stations) it's actually practical to buy a "parts deck" or two, if you've got the space for them. BTW, build quality on the Otaris is outatanding - they are tanks, and access to its innards is pretty good.
Otari - it is really a tank. Among other things, it is very reliable and easily serviced machine. I would not say that the 5050 sounds harsh. It sounds open and transparent. Many also say it is true. I am pleased with him.
Old 27th July 2012
  #129
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SoZo's Avatar
Damn I want one bad....
Old 27th July 2012
  #130
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Quote:
Originally Posted by once a roadie View Post
You guys are getting me interested in a 1/4 inch machine. but...you still have to get it to digital in the end...what about running through a portico 5042, etc? surely the tape machine is more expensive to operate...
Portico is awesome for digital, I regret selling it, but I got 1/4" instead. While I like the machine better, if you are using digital, the portico is the perfect anti-sterilizer, and while it doesnt really sound like tape, its the best distortion box I have heard.
Old 27th July 2012
  #131
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SoZo's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by unfiltered420 View Post
Portico is awesome for digital, I regret selling it, but I got 1/4" instead. While I like the machine better, if you are using digital, the portico is the perfect anti-sterilizer, and while it doesnt really sound like tape, its the best distortion box I have heard.
The problem is I don’t want distortion so to say... I want tape presence, naturalness and compression.
Old 28th July 2012
  #132
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SoZo View Post
The problem is I don’t want distortion so to say... I want tape presence, naturalness and compression.
Thas what the portico does, just in a different way than tape. Almost as if a modern tape machine without wow and flutter, but unique as well. I recommend it for digital actually more than tape. It was designed by Rupert for digital, and works amazingly well for that application. Try it out if you can.
Old 28th July 2012
  #133
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John Willett's Avatar
 

Back to original question - the best 1/4" stereo recorder is the Nagra TA by a long way - no contest.
Old 28th July 2012
  #134
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Willett View Post
Back to original question - the best 1/4" stereo recorder is the Nagra TA by a long way - no contest.
No contest with the ampex atr 100? While the t audio is superior for film, the atr reigns king for music. Ever seen the video with a rectangular reel on an atr which plays perfectly? Try that on a nagra.
Old 31st July 2012
  #135
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Deals on Tape Recorders

Quote:
Originally Posted by John Willett View Post
Back to original question - the best 1/4" stereo recorder is the Nagra TA by a long way - no contest.
No, the original question (once it was clarified) was which $800-1500 machine was best.

I maintained tape machines at a radio station for about 10 years (1986-96) until analog almost went away. Here are a few of my thoughts from that experience.

Nagra: No experience with the T, but we had IV and IV-S. They're really one trick ponies: field recorders. No one in their right mind would try to use one for production in a studio. If you wanted to use 10 1/2" reels, you needed finicky outriggers. You were essentially stuck with one kind of tape because they didn't have conventional pots for alignment. These ones used a "stereo" track format, very similar to Studer's butterfly heads. Each track was 2.75mm wide, 0.5 mm guard band in the middle, and 0.15mm on each edge. The wider track and high record level made them appear to be very quiet recorders. We used 15 IPS NAB for compatability with studio recorders.

Ampex:

We had a selection of AG440B and C models in 1986, which were gradually being phased out. They are very simple machines, and built like tanks. They did have fairly frequent failures (electrolytics were getting old, and I remember having a supply of 2N3904 transistors), but as someone else noted, fairly easy to fix once you get used to them. They are constant torque transports, so they slow down at the end of a reel. There's nothing you can do about it. Even the DC servo capstan option will not help. Wow and flutter was OK but not remarkable, possibly made worse by the age of the machines. I had a retired 440C, but gave it away to a retired announcer who had some old tapes he wanted to play.

There were still a few old mono 300, AG 350, and 351 machines around, but they have basically the same transport with the same shortcomings.

We had three ATR-800s, which were possibly Ampex's last audio recorder. They seem to be built on a Tascam transport, but with DC servo motors for capstan and reels, and Ampex circuit boards and heads inside. Spec-wise, they were very good with extended, flat frequency response, and the lowest W&F of any of our machines. But the transports were very volatile. In fast wind, the slightest disturbance (like a splice) could cause one reel to try and change direction, destroying the tape being wound. The tape counters were also uncannily accurate, and being constant tension machines, tape speed was consistent from one end of the tape to the other.

I have no experience with th ATR-102, but it's unlikely to be in your price range anyway.

Revox: We had a few A77 and PR99 machines, but they have a simple constant torque transport as well, so they don't have any speed stability. I would reject them, the same as the 440s.

Studer: There was a selection of mono, stereo and 2-track B67s, which aren't bad recorders, but a bit of an economy model. W&F was generally a notch better than the 440s, and they had reasonably good constant tension transports, meaning speed wasn't a problem. The stereo machines had butterfly heads, with the same track spacing as the Nagra. 2-track used 2mm tracks with 2mm spacing, which results in slightly more noise. They could be lined up to be fairly flat, at least at 15 IPS, although there was limited control over the EQ.

We had a boatload of A810s, which I have to confess a fondness for. These were good sounding, solid, easy to align recorders. There are two different versions of the capstan motors. Only the 2-pole will run at 30 IPS if that interests you, although any of the machines can be programmed for all 4 speeds. Some can select all 4 from the front panel, other only 3, and others only a pair of speeds (high and low). Check what you're buying if it matters to you. The audio electronics are exactly the same as the A820 (they have 820 part numbers on the cards), although the transport is somewhat simpler, although still constant tension. The earliest 810s with the LCD counter used an unobtainable backup battery for the CPU. You probably want to avoid that one. The LED panel version battery still seems to be available from Varta. The audio paramters are stored electronically, so they are very stable and instantly recallable. If you're worried about the battery dying, you can write them down somewhere and reload them. The 810s also had a myriad of head options, and there were even time code versions that used the 2mm space between the 2 tracks. You should be able to find one of these in your price range if you're patient. I know the surplus ones we had went for a lot less, although they were being sold into a very small market. These are essentially B67 transports (AC motors) with A820 electronics. The electronics allow you to tweak the corner freq. as well as level for HI and LO EQ, allowing for very flat response.

The A820 uses the same audio electronics (and maybe the same heads), but has a larger, more complicated transport. Frequency response and noise is exactly the same from my measurements (with the same head configuration), although the W&F was lower, at least when the machines were new. The 820 uses all DC servo motors, can accomodate 14" reels, and will run at all 4 speeds standard.

The last analog machines we got were A807 MK IIs. They were a hybrid of the 810 and 820 transports, with all new (less expensive) electronics (no separate cards). The transport uses DC motors but is the size of an 810. The measured W&F was less than 0.01% at 15 IPS, almost an order of magnitude better than typical 440 transports. The alignment was simpified, with no adjustment for the PB bass, but it didn't seem to matter. They also had all the typical Studer head options. I think ours had the butterfly 2.75 heads. These ones ran at 7.5, 15, and 30 IPS. You might find one of these in your target price range too.

In summary, I'd look for a good condition A810 or 807. The pinch roller may have turned to jelly, but they can be replaced, and the machines should last forever in gentle studio use. I'll go out on a limb and assume that many people are not familiar with doing an analog audio alignment, so their stability means they will hold their alignment (pay a pro to do it right) as long as you don't change tape types.

PS I got a smile from the post about the Ampex VR-3000 and AVR-2 2-inch recorders. These are broadcast quadruplex video recorders. We had a few of the VR-3000s which were actually designed to be a backpack video recorder, with 20 minute 8-inch reels of tape. There might be a few of them squirreled away in attics, but I'm pretty sure no one has an AVR-2 stashed in an attic unless they've seriously reinforced the floor. They were the size of two large upright refrigerators, and must have weighed hundreds of pounds.

GTD
Old 31st July 2012
  #136
Gear Addict
 

Nothing wrong with any well set up and calibrated machine.
I know... I have used them all.

All properly set up pro machines sound good.
Some just sound a tiny bit different.
Yeah... there is a difference between an OTARI MX5050 and a Studer A810, but it isn't as big as people think.
Very few people could ID the sound of one machine over the other.

MCIs are good for the money, but the transport often requires a bit of a Molex solder re-flow.
Standard stuff for me, but if your not a technical oriented type then maybe a challenge.

A clean AG-440 (A, B or C) is a good deck.
They are fairly robust and easy to service.
Wear causes a few issues, but it is easily remedied.
No, they are not constant tension and I don't think they can be made to be.

Studer A810... nice deck. They always require a re-cap.
The PINCH ROLLER needs to be replaced (Athan Corp. about $50.00)

Ampex ATR-102 a great deck and usually quite pricey because they are so good
Old 31st July 2012
  #137
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DarkSky Media's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by SoZo View Post
The problem is I don’t want distortion so to say... I want tape presence, naturalness and compression.
FWIW, the 5042 will only be a distortion box (like pretty much anything else, for that matter) if you overdrive it massively. At moderately 'sane' levels, its effect is very subtle and could reasonably be described as presence, naturalness and very slight compression of the sound.

Old 31st July 2012
  #138
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Telefunk's Avatar
 

I had both the Studer A80 and Telefunken M15A for many years and really liked them both but almost always preferred the M15A. So, sold the A80. Never looked back.

Also, parts for M15A are quite cheap in EU.
Old 9th March 2013
  #139
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ruidostudios View Post
Hi, I will tell you which tape recorder I WOULDN'T buy, as I have all of them in a corner not working :
-Otari MX5050: two of them, 8tr 1/2" and stereo (mkII): both of them with a problem of speed control, they get slower till stopping, my tech cannot repair them.

Sounds like either bad Ampex tape dragging the machine down or the pitch controls need to be sprayed out. OTARI makes the BEST machine for maintenance and durability/service!

-Fostex B16 and A20: problems of speed and azimuth: unusable.
-Revox A77: good machine, but too old, too consumer-oriented in my opinion

Revox machines for the most part are not worth the effort or investment as the parts fail and the uinit costs alot to maintain and isnt really all that great to begin with. An Otari 5050BII or BII or MX50 or even better; an MX55 would rock you! If you find an MTR15 cheap.. dont be greedy.. GIVE IT TO ME!!! LOL

What I would buy if it's in great shape:
-Teac X2000R: I work with one well maintained, it has good electronics.

x2000 has far better heads than the X1000, but still use the same junk transistors (2SC458) in the rec/play circuits. Pretty Unit but still a cheap flashy consumer unit...NOT the same quality as an Otari!

-Revox B77: better recorder, but only 7,5 ips typically. Mine works o.k.

NOT Bad.. But still there are better choices out there!!!!

I recommend ANY Otari MX series, Sony TC765/766 (excellent build and electronics far superior to any X series Teac or Revox, any newer 80's Akai unit if it has been recapped and transistors upgraded where needed, The Technics deacks are great but ALL MUST be recapped and its a really BIG job as there are many many TINY caps that need to be replaced.
The Revox PR99 MKII/ MKIII are good machines and worth the investment and maintenance if you have the $$$.



What I do think it's the best option:

-Revox PR99 mkIII: the machine to pick: there are A LOT of them, so you can always find spares, it costs about 400 or 500 € and it's sonically almost like any Studer (A80, A807,..) but you should find a well maintained one. The mkIII supports 15 ips so you can also use Dolby SR for instance (the 363 modules prices are ridiculous now on eBay). Check the heads, their center should not be wasted. If possible pick a "butterfly" head. And buy a half-track one (two trax instead of four).
Anyway an analog recorder is like a baby: you should periodically align it, check the bias, clean the heads, demagnetize,...
Also bear in mind 1/4" tape is cheaper and easier to find, if you decide to go 1/2" things get more complex.
Cheers.
Old 9th March 2013
  #140
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Alex Breaux's Avatar
 

Hands down my Otari MTR-10. The thing is bomb proof!! I have never had a single issue and it sounds great! Best part is I only paid $400 for it.
Old 11th March 2013
  #141
Gear Maniac
wow I started this thread 3 years ago and its still going... I feel kinda proud.

anyway much has been learned in 3 years.. Ive been through a revox b77, otari mx5050, mci jh110 (couldn't deal with the maintanance) otari mx55n and a studer 807.. the last two I still have and like alot..

looking to sell the otari though and get a ampex 440b..

My question is no longer whats the best tape machine but what's the best tape!

Old 13th April 2014
  #142
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LiquidChild's Avatar
 

I really like this thread, very valuable information!
Old 13th April 2014
  #143
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cheu78's Avatar
Subscribed! :-)
Of course there's no "best".. subjective as anything else..
That said the Studer C37 (in perfect conditions) is a wonderful machine.. really really few others are at that level imho..
And it's the only studer that you could open and watch under the "hood" when it's rolling..(recording/playback).

Love the technology of '61 heh



Cheu
Old 14th June 2014
  #144
Here for the gear
 

hi,

i own a studer a80, i'm thinking of going for a smaller more compact machine. i have an option on a lyrec frida, nagra IVs or a nagra T wich one sounds best and is easy to maintain and best servicable? (are there still parts available?) or maybe go for a telefunken m15 or stellavox sm8?
Old 14th June 2014
  #145
Here for the gear
 

hi,

i own a studer a80, i'm thinking of going for a smaller more compact machine. i have an option on a lyrec frida, nagra IVs or a nagra T wich one sounds best and is easy to maintain and best servicable? (are there still parts available?) or maybe go for a telefunken m15 or stellavox sm8?
Old 15th June 2014
  #146
Lives for gear
it's crazy how people seem to ignore the original question and just try to impress others with (what is that? an expression of their 'taste') - NO you can't get a Nagra IVS for anything less than $3K and you will be awfully lucky to find a decent Studer 810 for below $2.5K - so to answer your question HONESTLY - I would HIGHLY recommend going for a Revox PR99 - you should be able to find a nice one within your price range - go for the mark II if you can get one - and bypass the balanaced connections. thetapeproject.com has great instructions on how to do this and wreak other improvements out of that deck to make it comparable with some of the better Studers... B77's work too or modded Otaris - you can get fantastic quality out of any of these options...
Old 16th June 2014
  #147
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gpiccolini's Avatar
IMHO Telefunken M15 or M15A is as good if not better than any Studer and can be bought for almost nothing.
Old 15th September 2014
  #148
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Areft's Avatar
 

Nice thread...I need your recommendations.
I used to work inbox and don't have much experience with tape machines, mostly listening to my father's old recordings, but recently bought a Studer 089 mixer and got to analogue recording.
I have two AKAI (GX630D pro and GX270D), recently found a second hand Studer A812 AND Otari MTR15 in good condition.
The seller can provide Otari parts in future, but can't help about Studer! Beside, Otari is one third of Studer price.
Which one should I choose for my small studio? Are they much better than my AKAIs?
There is also a Revox B77 selling even cheaper than the Otari!
Old 15th September 2014
  #149
Gear Addict
 

The best sounding Studers are most probably the A80RC and a tweaked out C37, make sure the power supplies are cleaned up and your in business. I havn't heard the C37 but the RC's do sound deep and firm. The 820's 812's and 810's are good but the electronics are a bit pale in comparison to the simple and discreet audio paths in the top two, If I couldnt get those I would go with an Ampex 102 or 100. However all will sound great if well aligned and in good nick! Studers really are excellent machines.
Could be worth the Otari for the guy above, you can get Studer parts from Audiohouse Switzerland, but beware their prices are INSANE. Your talking about $80 for a small roller kind of thing, if you need lots of parts you could easily end up spending $1000 on spare bits, then again when a Studers in good shape you have a machine that is more reliable than most.
Old 15th September 2014
  #150
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cheu78's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by PartHunter View Post
you can get Studer parts from Audiohouse Switzerland, but beware their prices are INSANE. Your talking about $80 for a small roller kind of thing, if you need lots of parts you could easily end up spending $1000 on spare bits, then again when a Studers in good shape you have a machine that is more reliable than most.
Very true! Bringing my C37 back to specs was quite expensive.. worth every penny imho.. I can sell it tomorrow for 12k though.. fantastic sounding machine and rather rare..



Cheu
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