We consider vintage recorders to be those recorders that cannot reasonably be used for modern audio recording without some modifications. They are invariably designed to be used with red-rust tapes rather than isometric (low noise) tapes and although they can be coaxed to use modern tapes like RMGI 468 that will at the least involve re-alignment of the recorder and in most circumstances some minor modifications to the biasing circuit and in any case never be totally acceptable.
All speed references are slowly being converted into the DIN standard, for our American readers the equivalents are : 2,38cm = 15/16ips, 4,75cm = 1 7/8ips, 9,5cm = 3 3/4ips, 19cm = 7 1/2ips, 38cm = 15ips etc.
Please Note : We get a lot of mail from people asking us to value their vintage reel recorders, for a variety of reasons this is an impossible, people do not seem to appreciate that there were not thousands of different models manufactured between 1935 and today but rather 10's of thousands and there is no way that we can keep or even get data on them all (we had a database of around 3500 models, that did for instance not include a single Grundig model). Furthermore most vintage reel to reel recorders are simply worthless, there are exceptions and we will try to note them below but for the most part they are non-functional items (in both a physical and practical sense) that at best appeal to your sense of nostalgia and are collectors’ items only.
What has happened since the event of on-line auctions is that the availability of vintage recorders to the general public has greatly expanded while the exact opposite has happened with functional examples of modern and/or professional models, were a larger market has opened up for something that we have a static or receding supply of, hence prices of modern recorders are going up. On ebay and other similar auction sites around the world there are around 1700 open reel recorders and parts etc. available at any given time, around 80% of them are full recorders and around 70% of those are vintage so there are approximately 1000 vintage open reels recorders on the market at any point time, and that is JUST for the online auction sites. The reason for this large amount is not just that there are plenty of them about but simply that they are not selling and thus get listed again and again.
Having said that, toying around with an old R2R can be botloads of fun, just do not expect your “find” to be worth anything.
The tape recorders in the 50's and 60's had a hobbyist attraction similar to today's portable video cameras, in fact many of the main producers of tape recorders did not introduce models intended for use in home hi-fi or studio situation until the late 60's when the hobbyist market contracted and almost disappeared but the hi-fi and later the home studio markets exploded (if only to be gobbled up by the Compact Cassette shortly afterwards). This explains why most of the early tape recorders were transportable, the idea was that you lugged the tape recorder to the kind of events and locations that you would videotape today.
Akai Electric Co. While this page by Stephen Bender has a few of the X series 60's models by Akai listed it's mainly centred on their later models, we have not been able to find any information on their earliest models on the net, will try to rectify this at a later date.
Ampex You can find info on the 1163 auto-reverse deck here.
Bang & Olufsen While the company made wire recorders in the late 40's and early 50's they do not appear to have started producing open reel until the early 60's, but these were considered very good at the time and many are in use upto this day. The Beocord 1000 that was introduced in 1966 and the Beocord 1100 that replaced it in 1967 were the budget models of the range, they were stereo machines but had only mono monitoring etc.. The more serious was the Beocord 1500 and the Beocord 1800 that replaced it, the 1800 featured a mixer like the more expensive machines and had both Sound On Sound and overdubbing capabilities. The Beocord 2000 was the best selling and the best loved machine that they produced, it was manufactured from 1965 to 1968 and was drowning in features many not seen on anything but professional machines until the late 70's. In 1969 the company introduced the Beocord 1200, the Beocord 1600 and the Beocord 2400, I belive these were the last reels that the company made.
Brenell You can find a cache of old brochures from this manufacturer on this page.
Brush Development Company The SoundMirror 401 was first open reel recorder developed in the USA, it was something of an oddity since unlike all open reels before and after it is not strictly a direct descendant of the Magnetophon but rather was developed using a mix of original research along the Telefunken and BASF patent data (which was outdated by then). Brush Labs had had an research project during WWII that investigated sound and data recording onto coated tape and did in fact develop a ring type recording head in their labs and a recording tape in conjunction with 3M. After the war the company got designer Joseph Begun who had been one of the designers of the Lorentz wire recorder, to work on making a commercial audio recorder based around these inventions and a cheaper voice/dictapone recorder that became the Mail-A-Voice. Mr. Begun and the Brush company were not fully aware of the developments that had been made to tape recording technologies in Germany in the 10 years after he had left, these included not only electronic improvements such as the introduction of bias but more importantly massive improvements in tape fabrication and head design, the USA government and Bing Crosby Enterprises were backing Ampex and 3M in their efforts to make tape recorders and had provided them with all the available data on the manufacture of tapes and recorders but Brush got nothing from that source. So the resulting recorder that uses the unusual circular head and tape that has square magnetic particles on them (BASF tapes used isotopic shaped particles) was really only usable for voice recording since it only had a frequency response of around 200 Hz to 5 kHz while by comparison a WWII era Magnetophon had a response of 50 Hz to 15 KHz and could record in stereo as well. One innovative aspect of the SoundMirror has lived on though and that is the decision of Brush to use a standard cine reel for the tape transport rather than the pancake used by the Magnetophon, and even today most recorders use this standard.
Califone Made the 70-TC, a simple mono half track unit in the 60's, appears to have been made at their USA factory unlike the Roberts models that were rebadged Akai's units, available speeds were 9,5 and 19 cm's and the unit was probably built for use in educational establishments.
CQ Audio Tapeheart A 4 track desktop recorder intended for use as a centre of a hi-fi system. Originally introduced in 1960 and is simply a marriage of a Collaro Studio and the CQ Audio Twin 4 amplifier into one box, only made for a few months and very rare.
Dormitzer Made a tape recorder by the same name, alledgedly this was more or less a copy or the Brush BK-403.
Ferrograph Here is a good Ferro site and another one a little geared towards the vintage ferro is here, and that one has grown immensly recently, a must see for the Ferro fan. I notice that both sites laud the operational reliability and sound quality of the Ferros... erm ... the older Ferrographs (pre series 7) were extremely reliable, many have been in use to this day without repairs, but even when they first arrived on the scene they were not considered to be the last word in sound quality.... as for the series 7 see the Reel to Reel page.
Fidelity Had the Westminster transportable machine, a budget 1/4" 4 track stereo machine with a built in mono amp and speakers. But note that the company has released loads of stuff with the Westminster name including TV's portable radios and record players so do not buy anything blind.
Motosacoche Made one model of a professional tape recorder machine in the early to mid 50's, they were high quaity at the time but not suitable for many of the professional tasks they were meant to perform since they took fifteen seconds to get up to speed..
Nakamichi The company was always a recording specialist and although they were also the creators of the hi-fi cassette phenomenon in the late 60's the company made a range of open reel recorders prior to that time, but it's difficult to find information on them now, all we have been able to come up with is that the first model that was entirely designed and built in-house (i.e. everything including heads and motors) was a machine sold under the Fidera brand and was released in 1957, they also designed and made a lot of recorders as an OEM as for instance the well known model 41 for KLH in the 70's, and their first product was a tape recorder for the Japanese Magic Tone brand in 1951 but that model and the products subsequent to the Fidera have little in common.
Presto This company was for a time the main opposition to Ampex in US sales of tape recorders for broadcast use, the Presto history page has more info on their recorders. Note that all of the earliest Muzak playback open reels were made by this company.
Revere These were among the better home recorders to surface in the USA in the 50's but some models are hard to came by on the second hand market, the home models that is the transportable bodes are reasonably common, the company was later bought by 3M and improved versions were sold under the Wollensak brand.
Sony Introduced their first tape recorder under the Tapecorder brandname in 1950, this was the Model G which was intended for voice recording useage only, note that the company was still known as Totsuko back then and that their later name was first only used on their blank tape that was introduced at the same time, the Soni-Tape.
Studer & Revox The Swiss Willi Studer company bought out it's first tape recorder in 1949 under the name of Dynavox, in 1951 when the company was incorporated the name of the recorder was changed to Revox T27 and that name stuck to the consumer range of products from the company ever since. Sales of the recorder exceeded all hopes and development work was started on a range of professional models that saw the light in 1952 as the Studer 27 and in 1955 replaced with the Studer A37 and the B37 and that line was updated with the introduction of the C37 in 1957. In 1956 the T27 consumer model was replaced by the Revox A36 which marks the start of the legendary X36 line of Revoxes, much beloved by amateur recording engineers to this day, the range was updated with the B36, the first Revox to feature separate recording and playback heads, the line was updated again in 1958 with the C36 (the last mono recorder from the company) and a stereo version called D36 was introduced in 1960, and at the same time the company also introduced a new professional machine the Studer C37. A version of the C36 called E36 was introduced in 1961/62 in response to requests of recording engineers, it features simple mixing facilities along with sound on sound and echo capabilities. The year after the famous G36 was introduced, it was the first model from the company that was widely distributed outside of middle Europe and most of them were manufactured in Germany rather than Switzerland, note that in most English speaking markets it was sold as the 736. This is by far the most common X36 machine on the market and for that reason and the fact that it's the last and most advanced valve based Revox out there it's very popular as a project machine amongst the analogue/valve enthusiasts, Jukka Tolonen has a good article on his overhaul of a Revox G36 and this site here has more info on that machine and it's 736 sister. There was a flurry of breaktrough professional machines from the company in the 60's, in 64 the Studer J37 4 track machine was introduced and immediately became popular amongst recording studios in Europe, and in 65 the company introduced the A62 witch was the first transistorised machine from the company.
Tandberg You shuld take a look at Richard Wolf's Vintage Magnetic Recording Page, Richard is mad about old Tandberg recorders, .. well Richard is just mad .. period ... he collects Citroens and plays 80's music in a retro-band for crying out loud, but that is another story altogether.
Tesla The earliest tape recorder from this company that we have seen was the "Soret" (model ANP 210-A) a valve based transportable recorder that is probably the most common recorder that you see in the former Eastern Bloc. The later B57 is a tabletop model that had a built in mono speaker and stereo amplifier and had the usual inputs including phono, radio and 2xmic and slide projector sync, the B90, B93, B-100 and the B-101 seem to be updated versions of this model. The company also had in the 70's a small transportable recorder model called B-400. The Oldradio.cz has lots of info on these and other Czechoslovakian recorders, note that there are short descriptions in English at the bottom of each page.
The Voice of Music Had the wonderful name "tape-o-matic" for their tape recorders. The site linked to here above features products from the defunct US company VM, amongst them R2R tape recorders.
Wilcox-Gay We have very little info on the tape recorders from this manufacturer, but one of their models is a real looker and the markings indicate that it was intended for professional or semi-pro use, notably in the early 50's you could get a combination tape recorder and record cutter from the company.
Zaklady Radiowe Kasprzaka (ZK - ZRK) This company made the first "hi-fi" Polish open reel recorder, it was named ZK246 and was in production from 1972 to 1978 when it was replaced with the M2404S, you can get more info on this site here. There were earlier models from the company though, such as the ZK140.
Pauls Virtual Museum Great info old recorders, mostly on vintage British brands such as Ferrograph and Brennell (the B in AH&B) but also info on popular continental decks such as Revox and Philips, sadly there is no info on later British reel to reel recorders like the Studio Magnetics/Aces or Soundcraft.
Radio Museum This German radio Museum has 3 pages of really cool tape recorder pictures, text available in both English and German.
Sundry models One of the better sites dealing with vintage machines is this one in Japan, loads of pics.
Since high torque precision motors were fairly expensive in the years after the second world war there were quite a few attempts to keep the cost down by making a combination record player and an open reel deck. In the early 50's there was the Australian Byer Magofilm T-1 and the American Presto TL-10 adapters that changed a 78 rpm turntable into a tape recorder and in the late 50's the broadly similar but slightly better specified Gramdeck was introduced in England.
The Gramdeck was noted in its day for good sound quality vis a vis the price but that is mostly down to the optional pre-amplifier, but the punters thought it was gimmickry and even though it sold quite well for a time it only stayed in production for a few years. Curiously there were no electronics with the Byer or the Gramdeck units, the manufacturers assumed that you either had or made your own preamp. Gramdeck did sell a valve preamp separately though, much beloved by 16mm film buffs (I own one such incidentally .... a Gramdeck valve preamp that is ... not an English film buff). In addition the East-German state company RFT made a device in the 50's that was primarily a coffin tape recorder with a built in amp and speaker, but could double as a record player, it came with a loose platter and tonearm that you could put on top if you wanted to play records. We have also heard that at the least one or two hobbyist rags published construction articles for an adapter similar to the Gramdeck
Not strictly a tape recorder but there is in the Smithsonian museum in the US a similar hybrid of a wire recorder and a turntable from 1950 or thereabouts made by the Wireway company, there are pics of it here