reel to reel

In 2013 I bought a reel to reel tape recorder because I thought it would look nice on my rack. it was an Akai 4000 and cost $100. It came with a tape, which of course I played.

It is now 2018 and have not listened to a single LP - until now (see below)

Why is this so?

Reel to reel was for well off audiophiles mostly in the USA. The tapes were copies of the master tapes and in most cases were not limited, compressed or otherwise tampered with. When you consider what has to be done to press a standard mass market LP, you can understand the losses that occur. Records were much cheaper to make and so in the late '70s reel to reel died. However, the golden age of recording was well and truly represented on tape by then, at least for classical music and jazz.

Stereo recordings were first issued on two track tape and were real time duplicated, so cost a fortune. By the sixties, high speed duplication and 4 track tapes took over, eventually to be overtaken by LP.

There is a very good history of reel to reel tape in Ebay.

The differences (and I am talking only about classical and big band jazz as the popular music releases were mostly pretty badly done) :

superb dynamics: from the middle dynamics to the extreme absolutely breathtaking; so much so that I had no idea that some opera singers' voices (Sutherland, Nilsson) had such huge voices - standard issue vinyl simply can't accomodate them. As a result, musical involvement is greatlyl enhanced. Dynamics are a musician's lifebloodk and unfortunately LP squashes  most of them.

consistent sound: no degradation as with an LP as the stylus passes the midway point. Particularly important with classical music, which usually has the big loud finish at the end of an LP side. No such problem with tape. I have many opera recordings that actually distort at the end of the LP sides, it's a thrill to now hear them soiunding clear and clean.

perfect speed: play a piano tape and it has the speed stability of a CD. LP was never good at this.

soundstaging: it's a knock out on tape! Singers and instruments to the far left and far right have all the body they have in the middle, something severly lacking on LP.

presence: you really hear the recording - you are THERE! You can 'see' the musicians in front of you spread out as you rarely can on LP.

no wearing out: no problems wearing out a tape as you do vinyl with repeated playing, especially with MC cartridges! No cleaning to do either, except the heads every 20 hours or so. And tapes are stored very easily - mine are all stacked in rows on bookshelves.

FUN! playing, splicing tapes is the most hands on audio I've had. It reminds me of what fun audio used to be.

I now have over 1000 tapes and it's a credit to the stability of the medium that 95% of the tapes I bought sound like new and also amazing is what a great recording medium it is/was. With the best recordings (and there are many) you would swear there is no recording medium at all.


You will notice I have talked only about standard issue mass market vinyl. Now, in 2018, vinyl has had a huge revival and is being pressed on flat 180 gm vinyl which is quiet, dynamic and hugely involving. 

The best of these are being pressed by QUALITY RECORDS and are being re-issued by ANALOGUE PRODUCTIONS. As of 1 month ago, when I sold my Doge 8 and got a CYMER phono stage (see tape/phono preamps and  tube amps pages), I have bought about 50 titles from various sources, all new and all 180 or 200 gm and remastered. The best are some of the RCA LIVING STEREO that were actually recorded by DECCA in England between 1958-60. I have not heard sound like this from ANY medium and it is telling to note the age of these recordings, and also the fact that the master tapes have not deteriorated. (It is also an indictment of the recording industry, which seems not to have progressed, Reference Recording's ouevres included).

Look for these titles:

Witches Brew, Royal Ballet Gala, Venice, Gounod Faust ballet music and Bizet Carmen suites, Finlandia, Sibelius 5.

Analogue Productions has a list of these on their website and Discrepancy Records and audiophilereferencerecordings in Melbourne stock them and many others.

And of course any of the real RCA and Mercury recordings re-issued by AP are absolutely stunning, especially the multi disc 45 RPM ones.