Reel-to-Reel Tape Matures as a Viable Format at RMAF 2016

This short video makes the point that reel-to-reel tape has finally become a viable playback format if you have the cash to play.

The refurbished machines are costly and the tapes @15 IPS are pricey at more than $400 each. But now that the majors are opening the vaults (they have their digital copies that they think are "archival" so why not license for physical copies?), those with the money can own one off the masters (in the case of Analogue Productions tapes) or third generation (The Tape Project).

Surely other labels will follow. The first signs of this happening were seen at last spring's Hi-End Show in Munich when Horch House announced it had licensed tapes from DGG and Sony/BMG for duplication and sale. It also announced a new reel-to-reel REVOX tape deck that rumors suggested was going to be launched at RMAF 2016. I saw no evidence of that and if a private invitation was extended to journalists to witness the launch, I wasn't among the invitees.

Analogue Productions announced a first series of twelve major titles. This is a major step forward after years of sales of questionably sourced tapes.

At RMAF 2016 Gus Skinas was playing back on an AMPEX ATR deck a 1/2" tape compilation of some of the upcoming Analogue Productions reissues and through the new Sonoma headphones, he's also part of (as is former Sony DSD project leader David Kawakami), the sounds was impressively smooth, detailed and super-clean.

The blank tape being used is a relatively new formulation. How long it will last is an open question enthusiasts need to ask themselves before diving in (heads or tails first!).

J. Carter's picture

Like records if the same high res digital file is available for purchase as is used to record on the R2R why would anyone in their right mind buy the R2R especially if it is going to cost north of $100? Even if it was going to be north of $50 it doesn't make sense to me unless you already have a great quality R2R compenent and you don't have a great quality DAC.

TommyTunes's picture

As good as high Res is there is no comparison to the tape. If you take a great 24/192 or DSD transfer and play it then listen to a well mastered LP of the same material, the difference is the same as going from the LP to the tape, assuming all the equipment is equal in level.
I realize the price is insane and the selection limited but once you hear it you cannot unhear it.

J. Carter's picture

What does this is have to do with digital files being transferred to tape?

soundman45's picture

I was just wondering Michael, how high are some of these 1/4" tape decks going for at the show?

AZ's picture

Each copy is "sourced from a COPY of the original analog master tape". :)

TommyTunes's picture

Both AS and the Tape Project are made from a running copy of the master, Bernie Grundman makes the Groove Note tapes directly from the master

AZ's picture

But it's easier for him because he has multiple Ampex machines running simultaneously. :)

c1ferrari's picture

If the analog media (tape or vinyl) is sourced from a digital file or processed digitally, then it should be disclosed -- prominently.

PeterPani's picture

But you are right, Analog Productions should tell us whether their sources are all analog recorded, too. For example, they will release Rickie Lee Jones on Ultra Tape. I tried to find out how this might have been recorded and could not find any information at the usually good informed internet-pages. And my experience is: if somebody releases an audiophile record and he does not tell you that the record is AAA, than it will not be AAA. Nobody, who wants to sell an audiophile record would hide this information from us, if it is AAA.

AZ's picture

IIRC, it was recorded and mixed to digital. So even if an analog master tape exists it's not AAA...

c1ferrari's picture

If analog content (an AAA master tape) and/or analog source (an artist's vocal) undergoes has been has been converted.

As AZ stated, an analog master does not necessarily confer an all analog signal chain...though it's implied -- isn't it?

It's been proclaimed elsewhere in the Audio Universe -- provenance...provenance...provenance.

xtcfan80's picture

I was in this room at RMAF as well...VERY impressive sound from this reel to reel source. I believe the retail for the consumer version is $4,000....Very reasonable considering the sound quality/upgrade path and servicing options available.

Reelman's picture

When I first listened to a 15 ips 2 track tape (Tape Project) playing on a big, beautiful Studer 807, it was the best stereo I've ever heard. I've been listening to high end stereo since the mid 70's and I am completely hooked on open reel machines. Now I have 6 reel to reel machines including the Studer 807 and I can't stop listening and collecting. There is a learning curve and its not cheap. But if you are into good stereo, why not. I can't afford the expensive tapes but there are a lot of good prerecorded tapes available. Plus I record vinyl and it is very good. There are many good used machines that are available and can easily be brought back to life. So try to find someone that has a good system with an open reel deck and give it a listen. A good place to start is with your hifi tech. They can tell you what machines are good and what to avoid. Good Luck