Analog Tape Dr. AIX's POSTS — 13 July 2015

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You may have already read about some craziness going on at eBay. I’ve talked about $1000 glass CDs but $4999.99 or even $7999.99 for a reel-to-reel analog tape copy of Pink Floyd or Queen? Is anyone crazy enough to purchase an analog tape for thousands of dollars? The obsession with analog tape is almost scary…kind of like DSD but with the additional problems of player challenges, wear and tear, shedding, stretching, etc. We’ve left the world of great sound and entered the “Twilight Zone” of the audiophile obsession. This is not about music anymore. This is about rarity and collectibles.

The vendor describes the item this way:

“PINK FLOYD MEDDLE JAPAN REEL TO REEL TAPE TOSHIBA OXA-5084 4TRACK 7 2/1IPS STEREO

HOLY GRAIL FOR PINK FLOYD COLLECTORS WORLDWIDE.

IN 1971, TOSHIBA MUSICAL INDUSTRIES JAPAN RELEASED THIS ITEM, BUT SOLD POORLY, SO THERES ALMOST NO SURVIVE COPY FOUND EVEN IN JAPAN. VERY SMALL QUANTITY WAS MADE WHEN RELEASED, AND KNOWN AS FAR BETTER SOUND QUALITY THAN USUAL US REEL TO REEL TAPES.

THIS ITEM IS VERY WELL TAKEN CARE OF BY PREVIOUS OWNER, REEL TO REEL COLLECTOR FROM 1970S, SO CONDITION IS VERY CLEAN. TAPE BOX HAS SMALL STICKER ON REAR. TAPE HAS ORIGINAL CLEAR PLASTIC COVER AND LEAD IN AND LEAD OUT TAPE ATTACHED BY PREVIOUS OWNER. JAPANESE LYRIC INSERT INCLUDED IN VERY CLEAN CONDITION.”

Let me clarify a couple of things:

First, consumer reel-to-reel tapes weren’t issued as 4-track tapes. A real 4-track tape would have 4 tracks allowing you record and reproduce quad recordings. The vast majority of commercially available reel-to-reel tapes were quarter track stereo tapes. This means that they play normal 2-channel stereo in one direction. When the tape reaches the end, you “turn it over”, thread it up again and play the other side…a different 2-channel stereo program. Only two of the “four tracks” can be played at a time. The other tracks are moving backwards.

This was the normal way to distribute reel-to-reel tapes back in the day. The cost of the tapes was kept low because only half as much was used…but there were problems. Here’s just a few:

1. There is a lot of crosstalk between the tracks you don’t want to hear and the tracks you do want. If the section you happen to be listening to is very quiet and the track going by in reverse is a loud section, you’ll hear the loud tracks as well as the quiet ones. Not good.

2. Tapes like these were not made in real-time. They are not 1:1 transfers. In fact, as demand for reel-to-reel tapes increased they made them at 4:1 or even 8:1. When you transfer tapes at higher speeds you get less high frequency response and fidelity suffers.

3. Old reel-to-reel tapes have shedding problems, lubricants evaporate, print though, stretches, edge damage, and a host of other problems. They wear out. Even professional tapes suffer from these problems. Do you really think that an old consumer tape of Pink Floyd is really going to produce sound equal to or better than a CD? Never.

The eBay guy should pack up his tapes and move on.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(13) Readers Comments

  1. I think this blog entry today is off base with all respect for you.

    We are talking a collector item and very much logic is simply not part of it. I don’t imagine many collectors are even thinking they will be getting a ‘better’ sounding recording. It is simply collectible. The vendor description doesn’t mention sound quality.

    “This is not about music anymore. This is about rarity and collectibles.”

    Yes the only good part of today’s blog. You have it exactly right. So I don’t really see the point of anything else you wrote today. Is a restored valuable collector car from the 1930’s a crazy obsession because it lacks performance and safety equal to modern cars? No, that isn’t even the point whatsoever. Same with collecting reel tape like this.

    • You’re absolutely right, this is a collectible plain and simple. However, I spent the additional paragraphs explaining how bad old consumer reel-to-reel tapes are and to make sure everyone knows the difference between a 4-track tape and a quarter track stereo tape.

  2. Have you been to either The Tape Project(tapeproject.com) or The Analogy Records(analogyrecords.org) websites and priced their products? It’s a niche within a niche.

    • I know the principals at The Tape Project and have corresponded with David Pogue about the reel-to-reel Yahoo Group that he moderates. It is a niche…but I’m convinced that a first generation transfer of a 96 kHz/24-bit file would have higher fidelity than a third generation copy from TTP.

  3. I am fine with people liking what they like, but it drives me crazy when you can scientifically show the limits of their favored technology and they just go blah blah blah, mine is better. Just admit you like the filtered/distorted/nostalgic sound and admit it is less accurate, but enjoyable to your ears. But it is terrible that merchants try to take advantage of people who are into archaic/arcane technology.

  4. Humm, Back in the day I belonged to a “tape of the month” club, Columbia I think it was. I had a carton or two of them left over for the 30+ years it’s been since then till I retired and moved to FL. They were all of the most popular titles of the day, Pink Floyd, etc. At the time I moved, about 5 years ago, I didn’t see any value at them so I just threw them in the trash. 🙁

  5. I well remember our old friend print-through, the phenomenon that arises when the magnetic image on one winding of the tape copies itself to, and is audible at low level on, the next winding.

    In broadcasting circles, the traditional way to reduce this was to fast-spool the tape from beginning to end and then back again, before cueing it up for replay. As this would tend to shorten the tape’s life and encourage more oxide to shed, I wonder if anyone has dared to fast-spool the “precious” tapes recently.

    • Classic analog masters are treated very carefully. My QGB and other transports allow slow winding…it’s not worth the risk. Splices can break etc.

  6. Once again, various elements balance out. No question, no matter how carefully analog tape is stored, it will deteriorate over time, even worse if the recorded signal level is high. At the same time, I am reading about super-careful, state of the art care, tech and methods being used to optimize transfer of great but aged analog tapes. many of the best-sounding discs are ADD, including one of my faves, your Almeida/Byrd DVD-A. It’s a combination of sonic elements that hopefully rings the bell, not one particular piece or technique.

  7. Yes, reel-to-reel is obsolete, but one reason people love it is that those who play reels work hard to get everything else right. At Newport 2015, the nicest sounding room, to more than one person, was 1405: Kaiser speakers, Berning (?) amps, and a reel-to-reel. I could have sat in it all day.

    • I’ve been in the same reel-to-reel rooms with United Home Audio and MBL speakers etc. It didn’t do anything for me…dull, compressed and flat sounding. Why anyone would demonstrate a high-end sound system with 50 year old consumer reel-to-reel decks baffles me.

  8. Mark, Have you ever thought of dedicating a part of a site or creating a new one as a “want ad” site for the “hi rez” (whatever that means) crowd? It should be limited to individuals, not businesses, and feature only used stuff. I doubt that you would have the time to manage it but perhaps among your loyal followers… Might even charge a few bucks knowing the serious nature of the readers.

    • This is an idea worth thinking about…thanks.

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