Reel to Reel recorders have a long history having originally been invented in Germany in the 1920's, the format used today is based on the format conceived by German companies Telefunken and BASF in 1934. Although most R2R recorders are analogue there exist digital recorders as well, electromechanically the only difference between the digital recorders and the analogue ones can lie in the heads, ordinary tape heads are fine sandwiches of magnets but the heads on digital recorders are sometimes lithographed. The processing electronics are very different between those 2 types obviously.
All speed references are slowly being converted into the DIN standard, for reference for our American readers the equivalents are :
Recorders, Tape Manufacturers, Recorder alignment (grey sidebar), Service centers (grey sidebar), Reel to Reel History.
2,38cm = 15/16ips, 4,75cm = 1 7/8ips, 9,5cm = 3 3/4ips, 19cm = 7 1/2ips, 38cm = 15ips etc..
Reel 2 Reel Manufacturers
Makes the broadcast oriented DN-3602RG but only appears to market it in Asia, more info here on the Japanese D&M pro site, this is the only currently manufactured recorder that comes with 76cm capability as standard rather than an option, it also supports 9.5 - 19 and 38 cm speeds. I uses 6mm (1/4" tape).
J. P. Gurtner (Stellavox Analogue)
This company sells (and apparently makes) the TD-9 modular analogue recorder and the SP-9 portable recorders. Both recorders feature replaceable headblocks giving you a choice of mono or stereo operation, in addition the TD-9 can use a variety of tape widths and even record onto the magnetic stripes of film, in addition to a head spinning variety of synchronisation options.
Makes the TR55-MM 1/2" recorder in both 2 and 4 track versions, the 4 tracks is available in both side by side and interlaced version (the side by side variant is useful for making duplication masters).
Nagra makes a 1/4" open reel true 24 bit 4 channel recorder called the D-II, this model is much beloved by location music recording specialists (as opposed to the film buffs that love the analogue ones) not only due to the stunning sound quality and reliability as usual but also because of the error correction, diagnostic and reporting facilitates that make this machine unique. They manufacture three 1/4" analogue models. The mono Nagra E that is their "budget" model, the mono timecode IV-MK2 machine and the Stereo IV-S. Nagra also makes the famous SN 1/8" "spy recorders", these are miniature open reel recorders that you have seen in numerous action films over the years. There are 3 1/8" models available, the SNN is a full-track recorder that has 3 3/4 and 1 7/8 in./sec speeds. (9.5 and 4.75 cm/s), SNS half-track recorder that sports 1 7/8 and 15/16 in./sec speeds (4.75 and 2.38 cm/s), and finally the SNST-R version that is optimised for music recording (the other SN models are optimised for voice applications). Note that 1/8" tape is not as difficult to find as many think, apart from Nagra Audio themselves, EMTEC Magnetics supplies tapes for those machines. Note that all Nagra recorders are portable (well, transportable anyway), and that the 1/4" models have an option of a propriety equalisation on 15 ips that gives you a slightly better sound and much less noise than the standard NAB.
Otari makes the MTR-90III 24 channel 2" recorder, the MTR-15 mastering recorder that can be delivered in 1/4" or 1/2" versions, both DIN and NAB and in stereo, 2 track or 4 track versions. It's a very versatile devise that comes with 30, 15, 7.5 and 3.75 ips speeds as standard and is fully automatically aligned. The good old 5050 is still available in version BIII, it's a 1/4" version and so is the MX-55. Otari also manufactures a top of the line broadcast 30 ips 1/4" called the BTR-10J, it's a standalone recorder with modularised electronics that sports a host of unusual features such as eq options for 4x speed, mono/stereo switching etc.. They also make a specialised version of the MTR-15 for high speed reproduction called the MTR-15DAS 2/4, and info on that machine can be had on the DAS homepage .
Makes the Reel Media Centre, I am not entirely sure if this is Mod-tro or Nostaklígja but I am biased towards the latter. This is basically a music system styled as a hybrid between a 40's tabletop radio and an upright tape recorder, along with the usual CD/radio/built in speakers the unit has an open reel recorder based around Compact Cassette technology, in other words a 4 track 1/8" tape running at 4,75 cm. Apart from looks and the fact that it is considerably cheaper than a Nagra S the only advantage I can see of this device is the fact that the reels contain 4 times as much tape as a C90 cassette and thus can record up to 6 hours on one tape.
Sony makes 2 DASH multitrack recorders, the 24 track PCM3324S and the 48 track PCM3348HR.
Manufactures the A807 analogue 1/4" 2 track, A827 analogue 2" 24 track recorder and the DASH format D827 MKII MCH 24/48 track digital recorder.
As the German homepage for the company does not even mention those and has not done so since it was first put up, I was under the impression that the line of open reel recorders had been discontinued years ago, but not only are they still making them they have recently added updated models! The 4000 line of recorders are relatively small (285mm x 100mm x 235mm), portable open reel recorders geared toward reporters and location sound recording and are available in 3 main versions, first is the 4000 Report Monitor a 2 track mono recorder with a sync track (but no sync electronics) and the 4200 and 4400 Report Monitor are stereo 2 and 4 track variants. The 6000 Universal is a mono 2 track with time code capabilities (a poor man’s Nagra, so to speak). All of the models are 1/4", 4 speed (2,4cm, 4,75cm, 9,5cm and 19cm. the 4200 and 4400 may be ordered in a 38cm version, the 6000 series goes from 4,75cm to 38cm), have a built in monitoring loudspeaker, feature 3 heads, and can be powered from mains power, alkaline batteries or rechargeables.
Open Reel Tape Manufacturers
There has been some upheaval in the supply of magnetic tape in the last few years, the 2 main producers of such tapes in the form of EMTEC Magnetics (BASF and Agfa IP) and Quantegy (Ampex) went insolvent due do various reasons and for a few months the sole manufacturer of professional tape in the world was Sony and they only supplied 1/2 and 1/4" tape. The only source of budget tape had been English manufacturer Zonal but their marketing was solely based on E-Bay so no-one even knew that they existed and they eventually stopped making tapes as well. But Dutch company RMGI bought the tape manufacturing equipment, technology and trademarks from the receivers of EMTEC Magnetics and started making tapes in most sizes again in 2007.
You should be careful when choosing recording tape, machines may need to be aligned to a specific tape to get the most out of it. Most, if not all machines made in the last 25 years are aligned with BASF formulations in mind that are now being manufactured by . Older machines will also need a bias and head voltage adjustments to work with modern tape, although most suppliers also sell the older variety (ask for non EE or normal tape) but unless you have a big collection of older tapes that you play regularly, I recommend changing the bias since the sound quality improves quite a bit.
Manufactures a type of tape simply referred to as the ATR Master Tape, vvailable in half inch, one inch and 2” widths, is Is designed to be fully compatiable with Ampex tapes.
Sony Media makes 1/4" tapes in the form of D1/4 14xx and 1/2" tapes in the form of D1/2xxxx series.
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