I want to state right out front that I’m not anti analog tape. It was the format we had and it served the music industry very well for a very long time. I made my first recordings (when I was around 11 years old) on a cheap, rim drive reel-to-reel machine before graduating to a Wollensack that I used through college. This was prior to my professional career. I currently own and use my Nagra IVs and Ampex 440C machines and have used Sony, Ampex, Studer, Revox, Stephens, and Otari machines in various studios.
As I’ve been researching show reports and writing my posts about AXPONA, I’ve run into some amazing statements and articles. Here’s one of my favorites from the United Home Audio website attributed to Jonathan Valin, a writer for The Absolute Sound and a decidedly analog audiophile. He’s the gentleman that trashed my presentation at last year’s AXPONA show because I stated that analog tape and vinyl LPs can’t equal the fidelity of high-resolution digital…which is as true today as it was a year ago when I told an assembled crowd in our demo room…and which Dr. Sean E. Olive Head of R&D at Harman and former president of the Audio Engineering Society has supported.
“Given a truly high quality tape, the UHA-HQ Phase12 is simply the highest fidelity source component JV has heard: phenomenal bass, matchless dynamics, unrivaled resolution, astonishing transient speed, and simply gorgeous tone color.”
And according to the UHA website, the United Home Audio Tape Decks won a prestigious “Editor’s Choice Award 2015” in issue #251 earlier in March of 2015. As a side note, I routinely use a quote from issue #218 written by another senior editor at the same publication who wrote:
“But the multichannel audio, emanating from five B & W 801 loudspeakers, is quite simply the most realistic and involving instance of recorded sound I can recall, from any source format. Mark Waldrep knows what he’s doing.” Andrew Quint visited the studio a few years ago and was absolutely blown away by what he heard. I can only imagine a conversation between Andrew and Jonathan and how they would make their cases for their respective digital vs. analog preferences. I do take special notice of the statement, “from any source format”, because JV believes that a 2nd or 3rd generation analog tape “is simply the highest fidelity source” he’s ever heard. All I can think is that he doesn’t do a lot of listening outside of his analog comfort zone. He obviously prefers the “sound” of analog tape but that not the same thing as believing and stating that it is the “highest fidelity possible”.
As recently as 2013, TAS gave UHA a “Product of the Year Award” for the UHA-HQ Phase 11 tape machine, which, by the way, will set you back between $17,000 and $22,000. The category was “Tape Player of the Year”. I have to assume that they didn’t evaluate one of Fred Thal’s overhauled and highly tweaked Studer machines, which beat the specifications of all UHA machines running away AND which are available to audiophiles.
Once again, the passage from the magazine is full of glowing bromides. I have to share it:
“All of his life JV has been an analog hound, and will remain one because, next to tape, vinyl is the most realistic medium. But the record player, even the very greatest ones, is no longer the king of sources. Given a truly high-quality tape, the UHA-HQ Phase 11 is simply the highest-fidelity source component he’s heard. The sonic improvements UHA’s Greg Beron has wrought over earlier iterations of this highly modified, 15 ips, two-track TASCAM disc are so many and so large that there would be no end of listing them, but several stick out. For one, there is bass such as JV has heard in the concert hall but never before from a stereo system. Then there are the dynamics, which run like a ramp from soft to loud, just as they do in real life. When you add unrivaled resolution, astonishing transient speed, and simply gorgeous tone color to the package you get playback that cannot be bested by any other source.”
It’s pretty clear that JV loves the sound of analog tape…when he can get his hands on a “truly high-quality tape”. Since the professional mastering guys that I know can’t get their hands on the original masters and are forced to work from safety copies, I wonder whether there are any great analog tapes available and at what price? Mentioning “resolution” in the context of analog tape machines indicates that someone doesn’t really understand the fundamental differences between analog and digital recording systems. There is no resolution for analog tape machines. And finally, if the “ramp from soft to loud” of an analog tape and UHA deck tops out at about 55-65 dB, how does it capture the dynamics of “real life” when real life maxes out at 130 dB or so? Come on.
Analog tape can be “bested” by a variety of digital formats including high-resolution PCM and even DSD.
How long do we have to suffer pronouncements of opinion as facts? JV is certainly entitled to love analog tape and vinyl LPs until he passes from this world, but he and plenty of others need to learn to separate personal opinion from factual, scientific reality. High-resolution PCM digital has the potential to outperform any analog tape machines on the planet.
We demonstrated that in the Lakeshore B Ballroom at AXPONA.