Tale of the Tape: Making Analog Tape Copies of CDs

There’s a review at Wired written by Rene Chun titled “Review: J-Corder – Sub Title: Tale of the Tape.” You can read it by clicking here. I’m not a regular reader of Wired magazine these days but I have enjoyed many of their articles in the past. However, I’m not sure what to make of this review. It’s full of the usual audiophile “high-end” nonsense and goes on to rave about a re-tweaked prosumer analog reel to reel deck called a J-Corder.

If you’ve followed this site for any length of time you know that analog tape recorders can do a wonderful job of capturing sound and has been used as the master format for thousands of classic albums. I own a couple of professional analog reel to reel machines and acknowledge that they are able to produce “great recorded sound”. But I disagree with AVShowroom’s Myles Astor when he says, “It’s a pride of ownership thing. R2Rs are expensive, need to be regularly maintained, and there’s not that many of them around. It’s like buying a Ferrari. Once you have one, you’re part of an exclusive club.”

A R2R machine is more like a Ford Mustang or Chevy Camero, great muscle cars that can impress the ladies and can leave with tires squealing but they aren’t in the same class as a Ferrari or Maserati. And they’re not high-resolution capable, period.

The cost of owning and operating a R2R machine can be quite expensive…and I assume that’s part of the appeal. A top of the line United Home Audio UHA Phase 12 will set you back $24,000…and this for a prosumer deck with custom paint and tricked out electronics. A Sonurus ATR10, another high cost deck claims, “Acoustic 3-D and Holographic Imaging Technology.” LOL These are not professional machines and despite an endorsement from none other than mastering guru Steve Hoffman, you won’t find these decks in professional studios or mastering facilities.

The gentleman behind the J-Corder is named Jeff Jacobs. And I can agree with him on at least one thing. According to the Wired article, “Jeff Jacobs doesn’t believe in buying $450 master tape dubs from The Tape Project or other online sources. Instead, Jacobs makes his own tapes, recorded straight from a ‘crappy’ ’90s Panasonic DVD player, patched into the J-Corder with $5 Radio Shack cables. He claims these digital-to-analog recordings sound just as good as the pure analog master dubs that some audiophiles splurge on.” They probably do.

Wow! Imagine a strong advocate for analog tapes coming out and saying that a dub from a standard-resolution PCM digital format (a compact disc) sounds better than a second or third generation analog dub. But he’s right! If he were to use a high-resolution, 96 kHz/24-bit PCM source and a great analog to digital converter to copy music to analog tape, he’d get even better results. But the snob appeal of analog to analog dubs over better quality sound is just too strong.

Jeff attitude and design approach is based on the ability of new tapes and his tweaked electronics to record at what we used to call elevated level. Why bother recording at 0 VU when you can push the deck and tape to well over 9 dB…hotter signals equal less noise and more punch.

To be continued…


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.

11 thoughts on “Tale of the Tape: Making Analog Tape Copies of CDs

  • Joe Whip

    In other words, let’s distort the sound of the original to make it “better”?

    • Admin

      I think the correct term would be “color” the sound but it does involve distortion and other audio mods.

      • Why not just go with tube amplification instead? i.e. stick with highly resolute digital masters and then introduce “color” (read: warm and fuzzies) during playback. I’m not really a tube guy per se, but I fully understand its attraction.

        • Funny enough Mark, I was also going to make the comment is you can do all of this analog color digitally anyway. And then I checked my email I saw this:

          Izotope Vintage Mastering Tools

          Ta da!

          • Admin

            Alex, I wrote about the vintage analog tape tool a while back. If people have to have these “sonic” flavors fine…use modeling tool. Don’t waste your money on UHA J-Corder analog R2R machines.

        • Admin

          Exactly, there is absolutely not justification for using expensive analog tape and decks to get that special analog sound. This is a complete fantasy.

  • Analog Man

    “And they’re not high-resolution capable, period.”

    There you go again making claims that are “sonically” untrue. What’s it going to take to make you realize that the sound of HiRes Digital onto 2-Track Analog Tape is better than pure digital. There are good reasons why this might be true and it’s not distortion.

    As for the J-Corder machine, I agree, don’t waste your money, it’s more like a Mercedes, over priced for what you get. Anyone that is interested should get a refurbished Otari MX-5050 BII2 and put some HiRes on Tape, then their ears will be opened.

    • What does “sonically untrue” mean? It is factually true but goes against your personal preferences and therefore untrue? You and plenty of others like what analog tape does. OK, fine. Why do you insist that other by into your subjective preference? A copy of a high-resolution PCM master has more dynamic range, more frequency response, more accurate speed, less distortion, etc. I stand by my statement.

      The reality is audiophiles should avoid analog tape entirely…it’s too expensive, cumbersome, and doesn’t measure up to current state-of-the-art recording technologies. If you like it and want to spend you money on albums costing $400 each, I say go for it. But don’t try to convince me your opinion rules above all else.

  • I think the mechanical and physical representation of the recorded music is what makes reel to reel and turntables (maybe glowing tube amps too?) so popular.

    They are really great to look at.

    Telling people there is an easier way to get the sonic effect is sort of pointless if that is the case. But still worthwhile to promote the technical superiority of digital!

    • Admin

      There is a magic to a great reel to reel machine…I love my Nagra IV-S and QGB adapter for that reason.

      • Soundmind

        If you find magic in distortion then there is magic there. It all depends on how you define the function of a system designed to store and retrieve electrical signals that are supposed to be analogs of sound. Audiophiles evaluate performance by what they like. This is a capricious and moving target. For me the purpose is to retrieve the signal with as little additional noise and distortion as possible within the audible range. Alterations to the signal can be made by other means that are controllable, effective, and inexpensive to get the same results as the distortions of audiophile type equipment.

        It is ironic that today more than ever we have the means to compare the input waveform to be stored and detect how and to what degree it is different from the retrieved output waveform with greater precision and accuracy than we’ve ever had before. But do most people in the recording industry or hobbyists use this information to select the best equipment? Do you even get impartial measurements by independent qualified engineers and technicians to tell you what you are and are not getting from a product? Usually probably not. Here complete and accurate measured performance specifications are almost everything, cost, reliability, availability, ease of use, and customer service being the only other factors that matter.

        IMO the function of storage devices and connecting wires is to not distort the signal, exactly the opposite of what audiophiles shop for. If you don’t like what comes out, there is equipment specifically designed to alter it. One of the most important challenges high end audiophile equipment manufacturers had to achieve before they could charge stratospheric prices for their equipment was to convince the market that signal control equipment was no good because it somehow degrades the sound. They incessantly recite the mantra that less is more. If you are an audiophile you don’t want to see how most recordings are made, especially your old vinyl phonograph records you prize so much. It’s like watching what goes into sausages. Having convinced audiophiles less is more, that they can sell wires costing thousands of dollars that do the same thing as a handful of resistors, capacitors and inductors you can buy for a few dollars can do if you know how to use them. They can sell you the notion that analog tape recorders are magic. The downside of the powerful control tools audiophiles eschew is that if you don’t know how to use them effectively, you’re better off without them. You can make things much worse with them and that is what audiophiles have done with it. It is a skill that has to be learned by a well practiced musical ear. In my experience, audiophiles generally are very poor critics of sound.

        Analog magnetic tape recorders were a lot of fun to play with. But like other analog technologies they simply are not in the same league as digital technology when accuracy is the criteria.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *