Reel to Reel worth it?

As I’m sure some of you know, some official re issues have been getting released on Reel to Reel through such labels as Analogue Productions, Premonition (Patricia Barber albums), Opus 3, Chasing the Dragon, etc. My main question comes from the more popular releases through Analogue Productions and the Patricia Barber stuff as these albums are available from the same label remastered in SACD and LP. I’m wondering just how close the SACD or LP would be to these Reel to Reel copies provided you had a decent hi fi set up? I was at the NY Audio Show in November and the guy from Analogue Productions at the marketplace said its on a whole other level and doesn’t compare to SACD or LP and then some veteran Audio Engineer at an Audiophile Society meeting I went to told me its not worth it and it all sounds the same on SACD, CD. Any body actually buy any of these reel to reel albums and can tell me straight up what the comparison is? An AP SACD of for example Hugh Masekela’s Hope goes for 30 bucks and then the Reel to Reel version is 450 bucks! For that huge mark up in price I would hope that there is in fact no comparison and the reel to reel would be beyond what most of us have EVER heard on SACD or LP through our system! I mean it IS a direct dupe from a Production master after all! That must sound insane right?! This has sparked my interest greatly to the point where I’m looking to maybe invest in a reel to reel deck someday and buy one of these reel to reels AP puts out once every other year at the least because of these insane prices for one album! Any thoughts?

Worth it is such a tough question - it hinges a lot on budget and how much stress and work you want to go through.

One of the best demos I’ve ever heard was all Doshi electronics playing some mystery reel to reel tape on Joseph Audio Perspectives. The speakers just disappeared and the soundstage was wonderfully wide and deep. Truly a memorable demo.

Now with that said, I did not run out and buy a RTR tape deck. And I don’t think I ever will. Unless you get really luck with a Craigslist find, you’re probably going to pay a lot for the deck itself, and then $450 per album as you said is just batty.

I’d love to hear the thoughts of others who have more experience with RTR tapes, hopefully others will chime in.

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The thing I have with tape: I can’t stop looking at it. I can’t stop putting my nose in that box and smell it.

Does it sound better…? Hell no, it has nothing to do with reality. Just imagine pulling your nicely D-A converted audio through a crap load of coils and caps, magnetize it, add a 100kHz bias frequency, put it on tape that is cut and painted with ferrite stuff, play it back thru a different set of coils and caps with certified NOT the exact same speed, with already magnetized playback head, that’s not so clean anymore. And where are we looking at really: 6-10 bits MAX…! Not to mention the distortion and the noise… OMG, the noise…

But: that look and that smell…!


It is somewhat the same as that old Fender guitar amp. Is that a good amp… Don’t think so…! Does it sound cool…! YES…!


So cool! Pauls video today gets into the essence of what I was asking. Tape vs SACD (DSD)!
I can’t wait to hear the PS Audio DSD recordings!

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If mastered on open reel (please stop calling it reel to reel, that’s baby talk) then maybe it’d sound better. Tape, like vinyl has limited dynamic range. But you’d be limited to vintage recordings. And tape gets brittle.

Why not trust a good, modern studio to make copies for you?

I’m strictly talking about professionally mastered open reel albums you can buy at stores like Acoustic Sounds and Elusive Disc. They are all sourced from the master tapes they were recorded on so that is why I’m figuring if you buy one of these copies on tape it would sound closer to the master tape beyond any LP pressing or SACD.

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Once I had one of those tapes in one hand and my credit card in my other hand. A split second later I only had my credit card in my hand. That’s when I left the scene and bought me a nice pair of boots… :cowboy_hat_face:


But have you heard an original master tape on a properly built and calibrated tape playback system?

I have a much different opinion on this but I also have a system capable of playing such a tape properly. I have been into tape for several years and own a SonoruS tape playback system (Custom Revox C270-based player & custom tube-based playback pre-amp) that was once the personal system of Arian Jansen, the owner of SonoruS and mastering engineer for Yarlung Records. I have also heard master tapes and DSD discs recorded by the same company, Yarlung being one of them. There is no comparison between the two formats in my system when all else is equal. The DSD equivalents can’t compare. But I have invested heavily into my R2R setup which allows me to leach every bit of what a master tape has to offer. Most R2R tape enthusiasts or those who otherwise merely dabble, will never experience without an equal investment/commitment.

But just like everything else, results are highly system dependent. Additionally, just like all DSD’s aren’t created equally, neither are all R2R tapes. Generalizations about R2R vs DSD simply cannot be made without comparing apples to apples, such as how I have done on several occasions with my SonoruS and PS Audio (DMP/DSD stack) systems.

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You are absolutely right Jeff. And I am absolutely shure my Studer A810 (see video above) is calibrated 4 digits behind the decimal point, mechanically and electronically. But is that the same with the machine on which it was recorded and the machine it was copied to, which by itself already introduces the first problems.

But: that look and that smell…!

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Have you looked at the price of the restored tape decks that Acoustic Sounds sells?
The first four tapes they released, two I would like to hear. The other two did not interest me.
I heard a few minutes of a tape at last year’s AXPONA, it was impressive, but I was in a room full of people.
In the '70s I owned a Tandberg RtR, before that a Sony.
The prerecorded tapes you could buy were terrible. They were probably about 4-5 generations out, duplicated on machines that ran all day.
The tapes I made of LPs weren’t much better than a cassette. And that was at 7.5ips. They claimed that 3.75ips would give you great results.
I am sure that the $12k restored decks are in a different league than the two I owned, but $450 for a tape. If you spend that on dinner without thinking twice, buy one, but if $450 is your monthly food budget, forget about it.
I have a dream system in mind if some miracle happens, but I have never considered a RtR as part of it.


I saw the decks they have. 10k minimum? Way too much! What I was looking at was the
Otari MX5050 B2 and B3 models which I’ve heard are pretty great and have 15 ips playback and NAB, IEC equalization which is needed to get the benefit of the Tapes released by Acoustic Sounds and other labels. Ive seen those decks on ebay go for 1000-2600 bucks. Some say fully restored and some don’t. You can find places to get them restored easily. And thats more realistic price wise! I’ve also seen the famous Technics RS models go for about 2500.

Yes, but when the chain is proper - which is not that difficult if you purchase from a reputable label -AND your machine is up to snuff then nirvana is possible. But if you are not willing to spend the coin (i.e. $250 to $450 per tape) then don’t expect miracles and cast blame on the format/delivery method.

also helps to get at least 1/2" tape size and records at high speed…(my Otari, a 1/2" model from back in the mid 1970’s, was borrowed by the Nighthawks band to record one of their albums at the time…so, it couldn’t have been too bad.)


It would be great to hear opinions of this Arian Jansen as he as a mastering engineer seems to be someone who also has detailed experience with digital (PCM and especially DSD) recording technology compared to analog. We heard Paul’s opinion in his video, preferring DSD to analog to PCM and obviously you and Jansen preferring Analog to DSD to PCM.

Most interesting in Paul’s video for me was, I first time heard him say that PCM doesn’t sound as natural and real as analog tape (and especially DSD). This in spite of the weaknesses analog tape undoubtedly has by its technical limitations. Such findings are not new and could be read from various mastering engineers, but it didn’t fit into my so far perception of Paul’s opinion on the superiority of digital technology in general (which except for the overseeable amount of DSD recordings is mainly based on PCM technology).

My own experience with R2R is extremely limited, as I just owned a Revox B77 and never played such master copies.

Too rich for my blood: $10k machines to run a few $400 tapes (reminds me of quadriphonic :slight_smile: ) ; and as an old fart way too much hassle. I enjoy having simple systems: few quality boxes, easy/stable controls. JBL 708Ps and DSJ gets me there.

Now if I could just find a truly simple to setup/use quality server that doesn’t break the bank.

I just read this on the back of an old Reference Recordings LP. It seems to me all that happens during a recording before it hits the storage medium is far more important … phase accuracy playing always a special role. It seems the way phase gets confused or not during processes is more important than other technical characteristics of different technology.

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The thing with analog tape is, it requires an extreme investment (both in time and money) to truly experience all that this format has to offer. While the idea of analog tape is exciting and even sexy, it is a real pain in the a$$ in more ways than I can adequately express. But I LOVE IT! For me, it is worth the effort as it is yet another aspect of my overarching audio hobby that I truly enjoy. However, “user-friendly,” “turnkey,” “set-it-and-forget-it” can never be used to describe the analog tape experience. I have owned numerous machines over the last few years which included brands such as Teac, Tascam, Studer, Otari, and Revox. I quickly realized purchasing a R2R machine is not as easy as it seems. “Calibration” is really the simple part. Condition of the tape heads (overall wear AND wear pattern), capstan motors, tape tensioners, belts (if not direct-drive), pinch rollers, etc., etc., etc. Tape head wear is one thing, proper alignment of the heads is another. To make matters worse, competent R2R technicians are becoming far a few between. I am fortunate to have one of the best in the industry about 60 miles away from me. However, I am expecting him to retire any day now. The better machine makes/models are pricey, so they are a risk to purchase without truly knowing the condition of the player. I myself have fallen victim to inaccurate and misleading product descriptions stating the machine was fully restored, or refurbished to “near new” condition only to find it was 100% stock. One must do a great deal of homework prior to taking any leap of faith with regard to purchasing their first machine.

If you are thinking about just dipping your toe in the water before leaping in, then my recommendation would be, don’t. If you are not comfortable with spending $1000’s on a quality machine and $250 or more on a reel, then just move on to something else or wait until there is a point in time where the monetary investment will be embraced with open arms.

When it comes to playback, what I have discovered is the onboard electronics of these machines, even broadcast quality machines such as the Studer A810 and the Revox C270, are constrained. Don’t get me wrong, they sound great, but even the best of them cannot and will not sound better than a well-designed playback repro pre-amp that bypasses the stock electronics. It wasn’t until I rewired the playback heads in order to bypass the stock electronics that I realized how much better they can sound. So, even with an ultra high-quality make and model, in pristine condition, you are not going to reach the full potential of analog tape. This is why you see machines that are $10,000+. I can say firsthand, it makes a world of difference and machines of this caliber are worth every penny.

My SonoruS custom-built Revox C270 consists of a 23dB Nuvistor tube (7586 triodes) gain stage built in the tape machine itself (behind the tape controls and counter), connected to the heads by extremely short hookups. The output of that stage is capable of driving a longer cable so that the rest of the gain stages and the different EQs (IEC/NAB) can sit in a separate external enclosure (ECC83/12AX7 triodes). From there, it runs to my Tortuga Audio LDR passive pre-amps (attenuation) and then to my Canary Audio Reference Two monoblock amps. The signal path from the tape heads to the amps is far superior compared to its travels through the stock, onboard tape player electronics. I have heard similar improvements when this approach is applied to a Studer A810 and Revox PR99.

With regard to tape prices, most are quick to grab their torches and pitchforks when they learn of how expensive these tapes can be. Once your blood pressure normalizes and you’ve uttered you final cuss word, please consider this. A high-quality BLANK tape can cost between $70 and $90. When you buy from such labels as Ultra-Analogue or Yarlung, or the Tape Project, you are getting a one-to-one copy, meaning tapes being sold are dubbed one at a time from a copy that is often just one separation from the master. I have several tapes that were copied directly from the master! Analog tapes cannot be played back endlessly and some level of wear will occur as the tape is continually played. So, as these tapes are dubbed for sale, the master copy will wear out requiring another master copy to be produced from the original master allowing copies for sale to continue. The original master(s) also have a lifespan. This is why you are paying up to $450 a copy. And forget about 3.75 IPS tapes. Some 7.5 IPS are very good, but 15 IPS should be the benchmark for any analog tape you consider purchasing.


Tape porn…! I love it…