In the 1950’s recording companies issued music on reel to reel tapes on 7in spools recorded on 2 track tape in one direction. Because they were duplicated from master tape copies in real time, they were very expensive and were sold mostly in the USA. In the late fifties 4 track tape technology was developed, thus providing twice the music content as the tape was recorded in both directions. (Tape was more expensive than labour). High speed duplication was developed as was Dolby B reduction in the late seventies.
Compared to commercially produced LP’s, which towards the end of the seventies killed off reel to reel because it was much cheaper to press LP’s, the sound is much better and has none of the disadvantages of vinyl, foremost among them being the poor dynamic range of LPs at that time and beyond. Tape did not distort or deteriorate towards the end of a piece as it did with LP sides.
There are now highly priced tapes available from small manufacturers, copies of master tapes of old recordings.
Current manufacture of LPs is superb, especially 45 RPM and half speed mastered ones. Moreover, digital versions of new and old recordings are available cheaply and sound superb if you have the right gear and especially if they have been re-mastered, so one must wonder what the appeal of reel to reel.
Well, it is very hands on, the decks are beautiful to behold and use and require minor maintenance. everything ‘HiFI nuts’ used to love way back in the day. I love it! (But I also love the sound of high resolution digital and high quality LP. I do not like CD however, the poor sound of them is mainly due to the mechanism involved, not the sampling rate as many believe (see high res audio))