Teac A3400S 4-track with simul-sync
Is The Reel to Reel Tape Recorder Still Relevant?
For me it is. I bought my first reel to reel tape
deck (with detachable speakers) in 1969. I have owned at least 6 decks
over the years and used them continuously until the late 1980’s. By then
my trusty Teac A2300S was in need of major repair.
The heads were worn out and the machine was in need of a major
mechanical overhaul. My major
use for reel to reel back then was to record LP’s on tape and listen to
the tape rather then subject the LP to wear and tear.
This was common practice among music lovers of the time.
Cassette tape, then CD’s and finally wav and mp3 files made the
reel to reel irrelevant. Or so I thought.
Why would anyone want to go back to an old technology when there are better, smaller and more reliable digital devices available? That is a good question and for many it does not make any sense to go back. However, there are some very good reasons. The recording quality is right up there with CD’s. All the controls are right in front of you. Large button switches and gages make it much easier to use than most digital equipment. Just push a button and the tape stops. Push another button and it starts where you left off. You can turn the power off and it will start where you stopped. You can move forward and reverse keeping track of where you are with a mechanical counter. There is no programming involved. Just buttons, gages, switches and changing the tape. Plus you get to watch something go round and round.
I still buy LP’s which I now record onto reel to
reel tape for listening. In
addition to recording LP’s and CD’s I record practice sessions and
practice material. I still use
my Zoom H2 as a recording “notebook” and for live performances because
of the small size of the equipment and the convenience. At
over 65 lbs the reel to reel is not exactly portable.
Sounds great, right? However, making a good recording requires a properly working and aligned machine, good tape, proper recording speed, and proper volume levels. The heads require cleaning and demagnetizing on a regular basis to obtain a high quality recording.
There is tape hiss and print through. I find that using a good quality tape, recording at a fast speed and using proper recording levels will keep the noise at a minimum.
Most tape decks were made the 1960’s and 70’s. They are heavy, complicated and have many moving parts. The switches stop working or get noisy. The lubricants dry out and functions stop working. Most of the decks need major work to get them back into working condition. Fortunately there are still people out there that can fix these machines. Both machines that I bought had been rebuilt by a competent repair technician. Expect to pay at least $300-500 for a deck that been refurbished. I found one on eBay and another on Craigslist. Most decks that have not been refurbished do not have much value because of the amount of time that it takes to rebuild one. Don’t be fooled by being told that it “works” or has been tested. Ask if it has been serviced recently and what the servicing consisted of. I don’t recommend a machine that has not been refurbished unless you plan on having it refurbished. Ask the technician if he/she knows how to bias the record head. If the answer no, then find a technician who does know.
It helps to be mechanically inclined to keep the equipment running. These machines need to be maintained and repairs can be expensive. The tape heads and guides need to be cleaned and demagnetized. The tape needs to be stored properly. The mechanical components need to be lubricated.
Tape is no longer made for these machines but you can still buy unused or used tape on eBay, Craigslist, etc. Be careful when you buy tape. Some of the tape is unusable due to deterioration, most commonly SSS (Sticky Shed Syndrome). There is a lot on information on the internet about what tape is still usable. I like the Scotch 150 which is a general purpose recording tape. Much of the higher grade tapes have suffered from some type of deterioration. It is important to store tape properly. Tape that has been frozen may not work well. The best luck I have had was with unused Scotch 150.
Reel to reel was a very popular format for many years and there is a wealth of pre-recorded material out there. For many reel to reel users this is their primary use, the play back of commercially recorded material. Commercial prerecorded tape has held up well over the years with few problems.
My wife thinks I’m a little crazy but she does admit that she enjoys listening to the Teac A4010S that I set up in the bedroom for our nightly listening. This spring I will be out searching yard sales for LP’s, tape, and who knows, maybe another tape deck with detachable speakers.