analog tape- advice needed

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by fin, Nov 9, 2005.


  1. fin

    fin Guest

    Guys-

    My friend and I are in the process of putting together a basement studio, we currently have ADAT and hard-drive recording capability, but I very much want to get an analog, wide format (at least 1") tape machine.

    Does anyone have any recommendations on where to begin looking/learning or what/where to buy?

    Issues to watch out for?

    Thanks...
     
  2. covert

    covert Member

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    Ah man, where to begin.... Firstly all decks of this type have been out of production for years now. As a result parts can be hard to come by, and people that are qualified to maintain them also. Tape itself can be hard to come by, although 3-4 companies have popped up in the last year or so. On the plus side, this means that decks that used to cost in teh tens of thousands can be had in the thousands range.

    1" machines, above 8 tracks are considered narrow format, by the pros. If you think about it, 1" 16 track is pretty much teh same as 1/4" four track.

    In general you need to worry about the condition of the heads. To the best of my knowledge, JRF Magnetics are the only people that can tell you much about a headstack, and refurb or replace most of them. Studer, MCI and Ampex seem to have the best chances of continued function/repairability, as well as the best reputations as pro level machines.

    Most decks need alignment on a regular basis. You ;ll need to learn how to do this, and you'll need an MRL tape to do it. Thst's a 250 to 500 dollar investment. You may also need an oscilloscope.

    Buying from a reputable dealer/broker will possibly help you avoid issues, but will mean higher initial cost.

    Best of luck. I recently bought, a Tascam 1" 16 track, and have been having a really hard time finding a tech to do the initial alignment, and show me the ropes.
     
  3. µ¿ z3®ø™

    µ¿ z3®ø™ Member

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    not true.
    studer still manufactures high end analog machines.
    JFR magnetics are NOT the only show in town and parts for ampex and studer machines are readily available.
    i would go to ATRservices (atrservice.com) to find out about heads/machines/etc..
    their restored machines are as good as new and they have many options in regards to electronics/heads/refurbishing/et.al..
    if U can find a used ATR or studer that needs some work, they can do an absolutely fabulous job of restoring the machine or modifying it to suit Ur needs.
    a word to the wise, tho'.
    analog ain't cheap.
    as mentioned above, U're gonna need an alignment tape and the knowledge on how to use it or a tech that can do alignments on a regular basis. if the deck isn't well aligned consistently U negate the real benefits of analog. likewise w/ narrow format machines. some folks use narrow format as an 'effect' and there is nothing wrong with that. but U will not get that stunning 'oh my gawd' sense of immediacy that U get w/ large format.
    the other option might be using analog to mix down onto from digital. that certainly adds a lot to the final results.
    ATR services can supply machines that U can swap the heads in and out of to do BOTH tracking AND mixing.
    FABULOUS option that i avail myself of.
     
  4. fin

    fin Guest

    Thanks, fells...

    sounds like if you are going to go to all the trouble you might as well go to 2" ?
     
  5. Damon

    Damon Member

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    If you have the cash, patience, facility and high standards... yes, go for the 2". I've seen & heard a couple in action and they are really cool.

    Personally, I don't meet the above requirements but I still love the sound of tape, so I go with a narrow, coloured (Ampex 1/4" 2trk stereo, all tube) format, plus Pro Tools... and there's still a bit of "oh my" happening when I use it. I wouldn't call it an effect though, I'd call it a treatment.
     
  6. tms13pin

    tms13pin Supporting Member

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    1/4" 2-track isn't "narrow"! The Fostex 1/4" 8-track I worked
    with for a number of years... now *that* was narrow! It still
    sounded decent though, and it was a very solid machine. I
    still have a 1" 24-track now (Fostex too) and though it ain't no
    827 or MX-80, it still has done a decent job for me in a home
    environment. If I was planning on taking on some actual clients
    though, I'd definitely go with 2".

    There are some great deals out there on these machines.
    Buy one good one and look for one that has a couple problems
    to get cheaply and use for parts.

    --Tom
     
  7. loudboy

    loudboy Supporting Member

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    I wouldn't do it...

    Only two reasons to go analog IMHO:

    1. You like the concept of it. Analogous to digging classic cars, and all the work/expense that goes into it, but at the end of the day, it's still an old car.

    2. You're trying to compete professionally w/other studios, and your client base insists that you have a 2" analog machine. We have one - I've used it 3x in the past five years.

    Get a good soundcard and record at 24-bit and you'll get way more fidelity than you'll be able to utilize in the average home studio. I'd put the money into mics, a handful of topshelf pres and monitors - that's where the big sonic payoff is.

    Loudboy
     
  8. covert

    covert Member

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    Are you certain of this? To the best of my knowledge, Studer phased out it's last analog model around 3 yearrs ago.

    Some parts, for some models, are readily available. ATR primarily services Ampex, although they will do some work on other brands.
     
  9. covert

    covert Member

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    The reference above was to 1/4" 4 track not 2 track.
     
  10. µ¿ z3®ø™

    µ¿ z3®ø™ Member

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    well, as far as Ur asserting that they don't make machines, here's the current URL:

    http://www.studer.ch/index.aspx?men...udes/product_sheet_include.aspx?product_id=21

    i know a few high end retailers that are selling them in reasonable quantities. studios that are selling their older machines in order to buy machines that'll do them for the NEXT 20 yrs..
    ATR services does not 'primarily service' ATRs. they provide equal service to studer and MCI as well. U should really check out the plethora of things that ATR services provides. they also supply flux magnetics heads in any format conceivable (2" 8 track anyone?) that tim DeParavincini says are the best head ever manufactured and he puts on his custom ATR 1" half track. check this out:

    http://www.ear-yoshino.com/productdetails.asp?page=3&id=32

    so much for analog machines not being manufactured any more.
    high end analog is experiencing a very interesting renaissance.
     
  11. jcground

    jcground Member

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    Wow... 2" 8-track... that takes me back.

    I was trained on a 2" 16-track Studer, which was replaced by a 24-track A80. I love those things - I guess it's Loudboy's classic car syndrome.

    People here have it exactly right about a couple of things:

    • Analog machines need a lot of care and feeding, so be prepared to learn a lot about servicing them, or be prepared to pay somebody else who can.
    • The analog tape itself is a lot of money. I'm not even sure what 2" reels go for today, but when I was buying them regularly they were about $100 a pop, and we'd go through them fast.
     
  12. tms13pin

    tms13pin Supporting Member

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    I was responding to Damon's post, not yours Covert. I
    shoulda quoted his message. Sorry for the confusion.

    --Tom
     
  13. tms13pin

    tms13pin Supporting Member

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    This is kinda how I feel about 50's and 60's strats and LPs.

    --Tom
     
  14. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    My advice FWIW...

    If you're not experienced in the technology, if you or your friend have never worked with it in a studio (and I don't mean sitting there strumming a guitar while someone else did the work), don't do it. It's a very high maintenance way to go, and you're going to have an incredibly steep – maybe impossible – learning curve if you're not around people who know what they're doing and can teach you on the job. You can't just download and install the latest updates. You're going to have alignment, calibration, demagnetizing and crap like that to deal with. Not to mention the cost of audio tape.

    I love tape! But I wouldn't buy it.

    Why do you "very much want" to get it? Unless you're producing million-selling material (and have the appropriate budgets for it), there's no point in starting up with it. You can get top-notch A/D converters for a fraction of the cost that sound just as good (an oft-debated subject, but many people feel that way).
     
  15. jcground

    jcground Member

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    As Michael points out, this is a frequently debated subject.

    I think the analog stuff sounds better if it's set up correctly, clean, aligned, and used by somebody who knows what they're doing who has the money to keep it running and buy all the tape.

    The bang for the buck is clearly better for digital, and getting better all the time.

    In a way, it's like the argument between LPs and CDs. I'd say vinyl sounds noticably better if it's being played on a great system that's well set up, clean, aligned, and the record itself is nicely mastered, clean and unscratched. That's a lot of ifs, a lot of work, and a lot of cash. For far less money and hassle, you can huck a CD in a player and go, and that sounds good enough for most people.

    Of course, there's a broad range of digital stuff too, and the best converters and pres impart some analog warmth without many of the hassles of going all analog.
     
  16. µ¿ z3®ø™

    µ¿ z3®ø™ Member

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    my first experience w/ 2' 8 track was in hamilton, ontario at danny lanois' and his brother's studio. everything sounded absolutely ENORMOUS going thru it. no need to double track to 'fill things out' when using this format. and the added benefit is that U can run 30 ips. and not loose the bottom end.
    the 2" 8 track w/ dave hill class A electronics that i use absolutely kills.
    and yes, a roll of 2" costs me the same as a 250GB hard drive. i can store hours of 24/96 multitrack on the hard drive and 15 min. of 8 track on the reel. certainly NOT economical.
    MichaelK, just as good???
    i don't think so.
    it's really a case of apples and oranges.
    two different things.
    digital has it's weaknesses (and strengths).
    analog has it's strengths (and weaknesses).
    two divergent continuums and never the twain......
     
  17. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

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    I said specifically, "sound just as good," nothing else. The sound of A to the sound of B, apples to apples.

    Just my opinion, as always. I'm aware that I'm not going to get unanimous agreement. :D
     
  18. covert

    covert Member

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    Okay, I stand corrected on the current production of Studers. Thank you.

    Primarily doesn't mean they don't do anything else, it means that is their central focus. Below is from the ATR website:

    Electronic Repairs
    We specialize in exorcizing the electronic demons from your Ampex ATR-100 series and MM-1200 series machines. Usually, problems can be fixed by simply sending us a card or two, and we can save you the hassle of transporting an entire machine. Our technicians have access to the world's largest supply of Ampex component parts, so even the really hard to find bits and pieces are no problem.

    ATR offers a full range of lapping, polishing and reconditioning services for Ampex ATR-100 series and MM-1200 heads. While we can do head laps for other brands, we focus on these heads

    Actually I was just recently on the phone with them over one of their alignment seminars, which they cancelled.

    I refer you to the original post, which spoke of sarting "a basement studio." Tim DePavarincini's products are pricey and unusual for most commercial facilities, let alone basement guys. I think it's cool that you are in a position to acess this level of gear, but most people aren't.
     
  19. Bravin Neff

    Bravin Neff Member

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    The cheapest way to get into high quality analog recording is to find a good 1/4" 1/2 track machine (Tascam BR20, 42, 52, Otari MX-5050 II and III, Fostex E20, et al.). These are fine decks with wide track widths (equal to 2" 16 track, 75% wider than 2" 24 track). 1/4” ½ track was the industry standard mixdown and mastering deck for decades, don’t kid yourself that you can’t achieve massive results with it.

    But this will only yield you two live overdubbuing tracks at a time, though they will be extremely high quality tracks. Anything that can be recorded one or two tracks at a time will work (bass guitar, guitar, vox). Use the layback method as you track whereby you take the feed off the repro head and feed that into your digital machine inputs (adat, HDR, Cubase, whatever). You can also set up another spot mic at the same source that goes direct to the digital machine, in the case of a daw. This will give you an instantaneous realtime track to compare against the layback track to measure the *exact* delay to compensate for (you could also figure it out mathematically by measuring the distance between the sync and repro head, but this is easier). Since you’ll only be recording one or two tracks at a time, you can get hyper meticulous about setting levels and optimizing your signal paths. I do this all the time, and believe me, done right, at 15 ips you don’t need any freaking noise reduction whatsoever. But you have to be rigorous about getting your sounds and levels. The beauty is that since the layback is always delayed the same amount, even your punches are perfectly correct as long as you keep the tape machine rolling and you monitor off the DAW.

    Of course, this assumes you are recording to digital, which you should because it’s way cheaper. “Getting into” analog recording by contemplating a 2” tape machine is way over most people’s heads. For starters you need a mixing board to monitor the thing. And you must have a board with decent mic amps, or have a bunch of nice outboard mic amps. If you don’t, what’s the point of the 2” tape machine? And since you’ll have someting like an Ampex MM1200, you’ll be flatly insulting that thing by even thinking of putting it in front of a mackie. So you’ll want a real desk...

    ...see how fast things add up? Is it really worth it to you if you’re not a professional recordist? I venture to assert it isn’t even close to being worth it to most people, even semi-pro recordists. So put your money into mics, where you’ll hear an instant and rewarding long term difference.

    But the 1/4” 1/2 track machine is totally doable. All the normal rules apply: you need an MRL, you need your heads checked out, you need to set your EQ and bias, etc.

    This method is cheap and worth the results. Tape sounds better, its as simple as that. Tape is the sound of rock and roll. Once we all got past fooling ourselves by judging digital audio with analog paradigms, it became evident that even beyond the noise floor thing and the nonlinear frequency reponse thing and the tape hiss and other ******** we used to complain about, it still simply sounds better. But most importantly mixing analog tracks is so much easier than digital tracks. 3 dimensionalism is easy with analog whereby digital never seems to go past being 6” thick. Analog tape is 24 feet thick. Listen to Dark Side of the Moon, you’ll hear exactly what I’m talking about. Mixing digital is a pain in the ass and no fun.
     
  20. covert

    covert Member

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    A couple of other opinions regarding whether JRF is the best for repairs on headstacks.
    ____________________
    JRF rules.

    Brad Blackwood
    euphonic masters
    _____________________

    While I think it is good that there is some competition amongst audio professionals, I would recommend JRF for the following 2 reasons:

    1) His workmanship, quality, and expertise is the most respected in the industry for magnetic heads, hands down.

    2) Anyone selling a machine (or buying one) is better off with a head report from JRF (I wouldn't trust or accept a head report from anyone else).

    Will Loftin
    Shangri-La Recording
    _________________________

    M-A started out in the used equipment business... needless to say we learned a whole lot about heads, and who is good and who ain't. The ONLY company we trusted with heads was JRF Magnetic Sciences. We had experience with them all... after relatively short period of time one company emerged as the "go to" firm.

    Fletcher
    Mercenary Audio
    _____________________

    So I stand by my original reccomendation.
     

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