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-   -   To tape or not to tape... Otari on the horizon (https://www.gearslutz.com/board/high-end/1248365-tape-not-tape-otari-horizon.html)

andrew montreal 31st January 2019 10:28 PM

To tape or not to tape... Otari on the horizon
 
Hi all,

I have the opportunity to get an Otari MTR90 mkii for a good price. The basic word I have read everywhere concerning that unit is: very reliable but not much sonic character (not the gooey transformer/tape saturation of an Ampex for example).

The questions: I generally track with an Apogee Symphony mki at 96k. Considering that I would most often be using the Otari for tracking then dumping into Logic, is it worth the hassle?

What character if any would it impart?

Would it only be of value if I were tracking and mixing fully analog?

Thanks.

Andrew

andrew montreal 2nd February 2019 03:27 PM

Anyone? My specific question isn’t just the usual analog Vs digital. It’s specific to the Otari MTR90. And separately from that, IF you did consider working with it, how would you use it? Is there any value to simply using it as a front end component to a DAW?

voodoo4u 2nd February 2019 05:36 PM

So much depends on your own circumstance and your tolerance for extra work for a minimal amount of gain. The MTR-90 is a fine machine. We used to have one in our studio years ago and I currently have an MX-80. I've gotten great results with Otari recorders. They're good reliable machines with a fairly neutral and punchy sound.

The issue is more about workflow and the cost and availability of tape. Are you prepared for $300 plus for a roll of tape that lasts 15-30 minutes? Are you prepared for scouring for used parts if the machine breaks down and inconvenience of cleaning and maintaining and old machine? On my MX-80, the counter roller's a bit dried out and every time I rewind, the stopping point is off by a few seconds. Small detail, but it gets annoying after a while.

There are plugins and hardware units out there that can get you very close to the sound of tape saturation without all the hassle of maintaining an old machine. If you're considering buying the unit and using it as a full on recorder with a LFC I'd say go crazy and have fun. It's a great way to record. But to just use it as an effect for your DAW recordings? It's a lot of work for little gain. Also, the machine probably weighs four or five hundred pounds. And do you have the space for it? Things to think about.

andrew montreal 2nd February 2019 06:16 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by voodoo4u (Post 13785781)
So much depends on your own circumstance and your tolerance for extra work for a minimal amount of gain. The MTR-90 is a fine machine. We used to have one in our studio years ago and I currently have an MX-80. I've gotten great results with Otari recorders. They're good reliable machines with a fairly neutral and punchy sound.

The issue is more about workflow and the cost and availability of tape. Are you prepared for $300 plus for a roll of tape that lasts 15-30 minutes? Are you prepared for scouring for used parts if the machine breaks down and inconvenience of cleaning and maintaining and old machine? On my MX-80, the counter roller's a bit dried out and every time I rewind, the stopping point is off by a few seconds. Small detail, but it gets annoying after a while.

There are plugins and hardware units out there that can get you very close to the sound of tape saturation without all the hassle of maintaining an old machine. If you're considering buying the unit and using it as a full on recorder with a LFC I'd say go crazy and have fun. It's a great way to record. But to just use it as an effect for your DAW recordings? It's a lot of work for little gain. Also, the machine probably weighs four or five hundred pounds. And do you have the space for it? Things to think about.

Nice! Thanks for the awesome and detailed response.

I do have the space, I do know good techs and the cost of the tape I’m okay with. BUT... you bring up it’s actual value of the unit as just part of the front end of my tracking chain and that is how I was imaging using it. I guess character compressors might bring more to my front end, which I have been planning on investing in anyway. Certainly one day I would like to go fully analog but I still have a long way to go in terms of effects and a mixing board if I were to do that. LFC is large-format console?

Thanks again.

Any other opinions?

voodoo4u 2nd February 2019 06:45 PM

I use my MX-80 with a 32 input Neve console and it's fun and I can get great results. But, what a lot of younger engineers that grew up on DAW don't understand is that working with a tape machine and a console is a completely different mindset and workflow. It's much more immediate (when mixing). It's a little like walking a tightrope without the safety net. No 7 or 8 tracks of vocals and picking the best, no punching in every second word. No pitch correction etc. A certain level of skill is required of the artist and if they're not there, it's a frustrating exercise. If they are extremely talented, it can be very gratifying to work on tape.

If you're just bouncing from digital onto tape and back again, you don't really get the full experience of analogue tape. What you get mostly is a lot of added tape hiss and not much of the mojo that recording directly to tape and mixing analog from the tape gives you. If you were to record straight on to the Otari IMHO the drums would tend to benefit the most because of the saturation added to the transients, but from DAW to tape and back? It's not really worth it. The damage is done by passing through the converters the first time. You might be better off with one of these (rupert-neve-designs-542-tape-emulator) or something similar.

andrew montreal 2nd February 2019 06:58 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by voodoo4u (Post 13785889)
I use my MX-80 with a 32 input Neve console and it's fun and I can get great results. But, what a lot of younger engineers that grew up on DAW don't understand is that working with a tape machine and a console is a completely different mindset and workflow. It's much more immediate (when mixing). It's a little like walking a tightrope without the safety net. No 7 or 8 tracks of vocals and picking the best, no punching in every second word. No pitch correction etc. A certain level of skill is required of the artist and if they're not there, it's a frustrating exercise. If they are extremely talented, it can be very gratifying to work on tape.

If you're just bouncing from digital onto tape and back again, you don't really get the full experience of analogue tape. What you get mostly is a lot of added tape hiss and not much of the mojo that recording directly to tape and mixing analog from the tape gives you. If you were to record straight on to the Otari IMHO the drums would tend to benefit the most because of the saturation added to the transients, but from DAW to tape and back? It's not really worth it. The damage is done by passing through the converters the first time. You might be better off with one of these (rupert-neve-designs-542-tape-emulator) or something similar.

My plan was to track to the Otari and then dump to Logic through my Apogee Symphony. All signals.

Another thought was eventually to get a 16-track head for it so that I could use a smaller board with it. That might be more manageable.

jasper0 2nd February 2019 07:06 PM

AnalogRules / BASE which Tape Recorder sounds the best?

andrew montreal 2nd February 2019 07:37 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jasper0 (Post 13785928)

Classic. I do remember that one. Of course. BUT when talking about what a tape machine would bring to the front end of a digital recording/mixing set up, some might bring more to the table, no? I ask seeing as it is not about the whole analog experience but more of a compressor/EQ/noise machine.

jasper0 2nd February 2019 08:59 PM

I've used many large format machines in the way you are suggesting including the Otaris and Ampexes, and I think in a blind test I would have a hard time telling which was which after being converted to digital.

NathanEldred 2nd February 2019 09:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by andrew montreal (Post 13785915)
My plan was to track to the Otari and then dump to Logic through my Apogee Symphony. All signals.

Another thought was eventually to get a 16-track head for it so that I could use a smaller board with it. That might be more manageable.

Yes it will impart a distinct sound. I would recommend setting it up for 456 instead of a +9 tape, run at 15ips and the 16 track head stack is very likely a good idea as it will sound better than the 24. The tape excels mainly at drums, electric guitars and synths IMO, everything else could go to good digital.

12ax7 2nd February 2019 09:49 PM

The Traveling Wilburys' first album had basic tracks and vocals cut to an Otari MTR90-II, as per the Wilburys Documentary:
https://www.gearslutz.com/board/atta...nite-otari.jpg
.

andrew montreal 2nd February 2019 09:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jasper0 (Post 13786191)
I've used many large format machines in the way you are suggesting including the Otaris and Ampexes, and I think in a blind test I would have a hard time telling which was which after being converted to digital.

And you are for the idea of using it at the front end? I ask because unlike most pieces of gear I can’t go test this one out. It’s a major investment just getting into the studio and set up.

voodoo4u 2nd February 2019 09:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by NathanEldred (Post 13786270)
Yes it will impart a distinct sound. I would recommend setting it up for 456 instead of a +9 tape, run at 15ips and the 16 track head stack is very likely a good idea as it will sound better than the 24. The tape excels mainly at drums, electric guitars and synths IMO, everything else could go to good digital.

Yeah, I think I'm going to respectfully disagree with you here. First, where are you going to find Ampex 456? That stuff hasn't been made for decades. I have some old rolls here still kicking around, but it's so gummy it's completely unusable. It will ruin your transport and heads. Yeah, I know, it can baked, but after some time, it will just ooze again.

If you're still intent on doing this, buy some fresh tape (I think ATR Magnetics is all that's left) and set it for the recommended bias. If you look for used tape, some of the European brands of long ago like Agfa didn't use the same binder formula and can be completely usable today. Once again, use the company's recommended bias.

Deleted 87f9bc7 2nd February 2019 10:03 PM

I had an mx80

Loved it.

But

what are the heads like- what sort of condition??
If they are not great then it will affect you being able to set it all up etc ..lining it up accurately.


Spare parts?

Otari do not exist anymore. Many components in the PCBs are Otari specific and not available any more-certain chips for ex.

Other parts-rollers and so on. Where/how are you going to replace these as they will wear.

Having a secomd machine can be worth thinking about for your spares.

These machines are 30/40 years old now don't forget.

jasper0 2nd February 2019 10:05 PM

You can test your theory in an analog studio. For me, its worth it but that's just me.

shobud 2nd February 2019 10:57 PM

Andrew, you must have had the experience of recording to tape? You're not that much younger than me :-)

I have spent many an hour in analog studios and can say this. The capture to tape is a very different sound than the digital capture.

Something worth experimenting with for sure. What is not really worth it to me, is a digital capture bounced to tape...

Of course you'll need console. Friend of mine has a Tascam 16 track which one day I will borrow. Maybe start with a smaller deck?

andrew montreal 2nd February 2019 11:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by shobud (Post 13786489)
Andrew, you must have had the experience of recording to tape? You're not that much younger than me :-)

I have spent many an hour in analog studios and can say this. The capture to tape is a very different sound than the digital capture.

Something worth experimenting with for sure. What is not really worth it to me, is a digital capture bounced to tape...

Of course you'll need console. Friend of mine has a Tascam 16 track which one day I will borrow. Maybe start with a smaller deck?

Hey Dan from Ottawa,

No. Believe it or not I have not had much experience with tape... other than a cassette recorder when I was a kid. I do have a Tascam TSR8 that doesn’t work. Needs some TLC. The Otari looks like it’s in great shape and running. Waiting for more photos and details. Ideally I would like a 16-track 2 inch as I never track more signals than that at a time.

oudplayer 2nd February 2019 11:50 PM

We used to use an mtr90 as a front end to a DAW, mainly for tracking, as other posters have commented, guitar-bass-drums. It sounded good for some material, but I would have a hard time saying with that particular unit and the music we made with it whether the bits of the sound that we liked came from: 1) going another pass through analog circuitry and a gain stage, 2) the noise floor acting as a sort of glue, or 3) the subtle tape compression. It's not quite as effective a compressor as a Studer, say, and we didn't always have it pegging the meters, but it did sound better than, say, an Otari 5050 or cheaper machines I've used (Fostex, Tascam). If it's the analog gain stage that you're looking, you'd have more benefit, and a quicker workflow, if you just used outboard stuff, even something as simple as a bank of 1:1 transformers. If it's the noise floor, there's other ways of getting that, too. That said, it was a workhorse, and a bit more reliable as a capture medium than the DAW we had at the time (which sometimes was prone to dropouts or crashes), and of course, lower latency than a DAW. I don't think I'd buy one myself today for the music I make, but could see it working for some studios for certain kinds of work.

Silvertone 3rd February 2019 06:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by voodoo4u (Post 13786348)
Yeah, I think I'm going to respectfully disagree with you here. First, where are you going to find Ampex 456? That stuff hasn't been made for decades. I have some old rolls here still kicking around, but it's so gummy it's completely unusable. It will ruin your transport and heads. Yeah, I know, it can baked, but after some time, it will just ooze again.

If you're still intent on doing this, buy some fresh tape (I think ATR Magnetics is all that's left) and set it for the recommended bias. If you look for used tape, some of the European brands of long ago like Agfa didn't use the same binder formula and can be completely usable today. Once again, use the company's recommended bias.

ATR still does a 456 formula or use Recording The Masters 468 tape... that’s what I’m going with for my Presto 850 3 track.

Plenty of good used 456 on eBay as well... believe it or not.

I’ve been buying up as much Scotch / 3M vintage tape as I can, like 111, 211, 206, 207, etc... three reels I bought a few weeks ago have Jimmy Smiths two track masters on the 1/2” 7&1/2 reels... can’t wait to play those tapes. Might not be able to bring myself to record over them. lol

Have fun, those big tape machines have a lot to teach engineers... every audio trade school should start with them and bring the students forward in time, their engineering skills would benefit greatly from learning the basics on out...IMHO.

Dot 3rd February 2019 06:30 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by andrew montreal (Post 13786559)
Hey Dan from Ottawa,

No. Believe it or not I have not had much experience with tape... other than a cassette recorder when I was a kid..

Andrew, I've gotta say... just slowly back away from the Otari. :)

I worked on 2" tape machines for years. Loved everything about it. 2" machines are beasts - that can't be overstated. And you're now looking at machines that are much older, parts, and tape that are harder to source. Even just properly aligning a machine for a session takes a reasonable amount of education, experience, and skill.

The one thing that trumps all gear is creativity and good workflow. Unless you've had serious experience with a 2" tape deck, getting that Otari in your studio would create more headaches and frustration and downtime than you can imagine.

My 2¢

Deleted 87f9bc7 3rd February 2019 06:39 PM

Hi


If you are set on an analoge machine -16 tr or 24 etc


What about looking at Mara Machines..MCIs..

They are restored and I expect you can get services and tech help after purchase.


Just a thought-I was looking at the stores where I used to buy 2" tape..

-not any more.

Check where you can purchase tape as well.

ScoobyDoo555 3rd February 2019 06:47 PM

Does it also come with the autolocater?

I cut my teeth on 2 x MTR90ii slaved (with Timeline Microlynxes & SSL motionworks). Used to run mostly Ampex 499 (sometimes 3m 996) with Dolby SR.

Nice sound, but tbh, aside from nostaglia (that I would suspect to wear off very quickly), I wouldn't go back. It's too slow, costly to run and maintain.

I'd go for top-end ADDA and discrete toys over tape now.

All imho, of course.

Dan

EvilRoy 3rd February 2019 07:23 PM

Okay, not an MTR90, but I recently bought an antique MX 7308, first 1" 8 track Otari model made I think. Parts are non existent, having a hard enough time trying to find info/service manual. I knew this all going in but the price was right, $300. What it is; A working machine. The AC capstan motor was replaced from an Ampex 2 track with a custom mounting plate and a shaft mod. Luckily, when Otari and MCI first came out with their machines, they just cloned Ampex so many of the parts can be made to work with each other. Although it all works, I'm sure It needs a recap so I want to get that done first so I don't fry any hard to replace components. What I'll have after that is 8 transformer based line/mic pres. I have a lovely D&R console but it's built for clean/transparent, not warm and fuzzy and I want to throw some iron at it. I found a NOS reel of 456 (although MTR Magnetics is about it) and picked up a Dolby XP/SR rack for $250 (also needs recap). I'd need a scope to align/calibrate the thing, but since I have the cards recapped, why not? I would probably mostly just pull a feed off the 3rd head while tracking to tape then into the DAW. This way, I don't need to worry about sync, just an easy offset and I could track analog 8 tracks at a time. The D&R is automated so I may still try a few all analog projects, I have an MCI 1/2" 4 track to master to, also their first model made, works but no parts or info either. Again, it was cheap as chips and I got it for the pres.

Still thinking about getting a bigger/better machine. Nothing wrong with an MTR 90, but these things need so much time/effort...if I was serious about analog, I'd go get the Studer of my dreams. I see you're in Montreal, there was a really nice 827 with only 1000 hrs. on it for sale in Ottawa recently, $8.5k. There's a 2" 16 track A80 down here for $4k that's hurting me. I'd rather have that than a 24 rack Otari. JRF magnetics claim the heads are much harder than Otari and will likely last forever. Don't forget to service the motors.

:)

BIG BUDDHA 3rd February 2019 07:39 PM

3 Attachment(s)
Quote:

Originally Posted by EvilRoy (Post 13788092)
I'd go get the Studer of my dreams.

:)

just do it EvilRoy.

everything to gain. nothing to lose.

Buddha

BIG BUDDHA 3rd February 2019 07:44 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by andrew montreal (Post 13781782)

What character if any would it impart?

tape is tape.

you will get all the sound and character of tape.

nice stuff.

Buddha

wolcott 3rd February 2019 08:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BIG BUDDHA (Post 13788155)
tape is tape.

you will get all the sound and character of tape.

nice stuff.

Buddha

Not once you transfer to digital

mikelevitt 4th February 2019 01:21 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by wolcott (Post 13788262)
Not once you transfer to digital

That is absolutely not true.

andrew montreal 4th February 2019 02:34 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dot (Post 13787969)
Andrew, I've gotta say... just slowly back away from the Otari. :)

I worked on 2" tape machines for years. Loved everything about it. 2" machines are beasts - that can't be overstated. And you're now looking at machines that are much older, parts, and tape that are harder to source. Even just properly aligning a machine for a session takes a reasonable amount of education, experience, and skill.

The one thing that trumps all gear is creativity and good workflow. Unless you've had serious experience with a 2" tape deck, getting that Otari in your studio would create more headaches and frustration and downtime than you can imagine.

My 2¢

Haha. Step back, Andy!

I can’t deny that what you say is true: Creative flow is key. That being said, if I may... I would only take the machine if it’s in great condition (examined by a tech). I have a couple of good friends who are good techs. I only plan on tracking and dumping so it won’t be rolling day and night. From what I understand, Otaris in good condition are stable machines, no?

andrew montreal 4th February 2019 02:37 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by coldrabbit (Post 13787984)
Hi


If you are set on an analoge machine -16 tr or 24 etc


What about looking at Mara Machines..MCIs..

They are restored and I expect you can get services and tech help after purchase.


Just a thought-I was looking at the stores where I used to buy 2" tape..

-not any more.

Check where you can purchase tape as well.

I know of a tape supply. Also, seeing as I won’t be tracking entire projects on tape I will re-use regularly.

The Mara machines are way out of my budget. I am getting a crazy price on the unit. Chris Mara is a nice guy. I met him in Austin a few years back.

andrew montreal 4th February 2019 02:41 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ScoobyDoo555 (Post 13787999)
Does it also come with the autolocater?

I cut my teeth on 2 x MTR90ii slaved (with Timeline Microlynxes & SSL motionworks). Used to run mostly Ampex 499 (sometimes 3m 996) with Dolby SR.

Nice sound, but tbh, aside from nostaglia (that I would suspect to wear off very quickly), I wouldn't go back. It's too slow, costly to run and maintain.

I'd go for top-end ADDA and discrete toys over tape now.

All imho, of course.

Dan

It comes with a locator. And I would only purchase it if it’s in excellent condition. But it does seem that even those who love tape are advising against buying it.

I guess the one thing that pulls me in is that most if not all of my Favorite sounding albums were tracked to tape... even those that were then dumped into digital.