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Advice on buying first reel-to-reel deck

Discussion in 'classic' started by paulfromcamden, Jan 23, 2023.

  1. paulfromcamden

    paulfromcamden Baffled

    Oh dear. I keep looking at reel-to-reel tape machines. I don't need one. I'm not sure I even really have a use for one... but I'd really like to try one out.

    I suspect this is a bit of a minefield and it would be easy to make an expensive mistake so I wondered what advice members who 'keep it reel' might have?

    From what I can tell the Revox A77 seems like a safe choice. I'm kicking myself a bit that I didn't go for the recently serviced one that sold here recently...
  2. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    The use is the key. You need to figure out what want to use it for first really as that will help select the machine. Sounds like a flippant question, but it isn’t intended to be. If you are considering buying high-end master tape copies etc (e.g. Acoustic Sounds or whoever is doing them now) then you need 10” reels and 7.5 plus 15ips, i.e. you need a studio-grade machine like a Revox. If however you intend something more like making mix-tapes then you can have a lot of fun with a much cheaper 7” reel 7.5ips machine such as an Akai, Sony, smaller Teac etc. If you want to do old-school field-recording then a Nagra or Uher. If you fancy a 4 track, 8 track for old-school music creation then that is something else again and you want a Teac 3440, Tascam R8 or whatever.

    I have an Akai 4000db I found at the local auction for next to nothing. After a little mechanical servicing (new pinch roller and belts, some cleaning and re-lubing) it is a great machine, not transparent, but it sounds superb - it adds a slight organic punch and thwack somehow (I’d happily use it as a mastering FX!), so great for mix tapes etc. I’m sure the Akai could be made to sound more transparent with a recap and a couple of fresher transistors, but I like it as-is as I’m not looking for that (I have digital, e.g. Audacity, Logic Pro etc). The Akai absolutely kills my WM-D6C to my ears, and they go for a heck of a lot less too! Someone was selling one here a week or so ago.
  3. paulfromcamden

    paulfromcamden Baffled

    Thanks Tony - that's a useful way of looking at it. I certainly won't be stumping up for high-end master tapes and my Zoom H6 does everything I need in a field recorder. It really is for playing with, making mix tapes, a fun way to play digital-only releases etc.

    I'll confess I really like what the Isotope tape plug-ins do in Logic etc which has also made me curious to have a fiddle with the 'reel' thing (sorry!)

    I'm drawn to Revox partly because of their reputation for reliability. I'm probably not the best person to be doing any mechanical servicing. I suspect they're also a straightforward proposition to sell on if I decide to. The Akais are quite a bit cheaper though..
  4. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    This is what I love about my Akai. I dumped some stuff created in Logic onto a tape and it just lifts it somehow. Obviously it is adding very subtle amounts of ‘wrongness’; noise, pitch instability, compression etc, that is the only explanation for the subjective “improvement”, but it works a treat to bring a bit of a ‘70s studio feel to an otherwise totally digital creation.
    Caret likes this.
  5. Pine Marten

    Pine Marten pfm Member

    I've had my Akai 4000DS since student days, late 70's, so have a serious amount of stuff on reel to reel, John Peel, my mates bands and late Fathers Jazz band, brothers band, all recorded at gigs in the 80's and 90's. Now, the old Akai is quite tired, it still works, but clutches etc are well tired. The heads on them seem to go on for ever however, but there are issues with certain transistors and ic chips which can make these machines , er "troublesome". Check out the "Tapeheads " forum, or indeed the UK based Vintage Radio Repair forum. I bought, after a lot of careful research and dismissing a lot of less than "kosher" used Revox A77 and B77 machines, a very late A77 mk4, WITH GOOD HEADS!!!!!. Just about everything else is an easy sort out. Beware faulty VU meters, expensive to replace and very hard to fix. I always wanted a Revox, or a Ferrograph Logic 7! I also have a quite rare Uher portable, a 4400 stereo. Bought as a non runner, didnt neeed a lot to sort, again good heads!
    The good thing about the Revox A77 is, at least they are a relatively easy machine to sort, lots of parts out there and people who are knowledgable about them. They also sound good!
    For a good all round rugged "semi-professional" machine, I would suggest a nice sorted A77. The smaller 7" jap machines were very much a domestic machine, usually single motor, with belts and clutches, which wear and give trouble. The bigger Akai, Sony and Technics 3 motor decks are very nice, but getting silly price-wise now, with little in the way of spares. I would avoid anything valve, old mono only stuff like Brennel and Ferrograph etc. Stereo Ferrographs like the series 7 and logic 7 were good machines,in their day, but have not aged well, perished rubber bits a particular problem!
    paulfromcamden likes this.
  6. madmike

    madmike I feel much better now, I really do...

    I've a Teac A3300 which I bought from a guy with his tapes of recorded music from vinyl. His musical tastes coincided with mine so it was a plus point. They look so good in your system. I have had revox A77s before this and I find the tape loading a bit awkward. I hanker after a B77 but the prices are just out of my budget.
  7. Mignun

    Mignun pfm Member

    If all you want to do is to listen to 4 track stereo 7" pre-recorded tapes (and why not? Many were excellent, albeit mostly issued Stateside and now starting to appreciate) and make the odd recording now and then, one of the smaller 7" decks makes a lot of sense. My favourite budget machine is the Sony TC-377, which has great F&F heads and generally sounds better than the Akai 4000 equivalent. For a bit more money you have the Sony TC-645, which is a real bolide; same three F&F heads but now three motors, proper transport keys and an overall step up all-round from the TC-377. The great thing with a 7" machine is that the tape is far more affordable. And if you go for a Sony then the matching Type R-7MB take-up reels look very cool and came in different colours - silver and black being most common, but also red, and the rather rare gold.
    paulfromcamden likes this.
  8. canonman

    canonman pfm Member

    Shameless plug for my Akai 4000DS in classifieds. Might even haggle a bit.
  9. paulfromcamden

    paulfromcamden Baffled

    Hmm. It hadn't escaped my notice... : )
    canonman likes this.
  10. Tumeni Notes

    Tumeni Notes pfm Member

    Having just completed a transfer to digital of my reel tapes from the 1970s and 80s, my general feeling is that of gently nursing my deck(s) into retirement.

    Unless you're looking to acquire collections that folk have recorded live or off the radio in the past, looking for the pearls amongst the dross, then, as suggested above, I think there's a clear dividing line with very little middle ground - take it seriously, spend-a-lot, for replay of high-quality, perhaps limited edition new-release tapes, or production masters offered on eBay and such, OR - treat it as a bit o' fun and not be too upset when things break, tapes shed their oxide on the heads, etc.
    paulfromcamden likes this.
  11. Jono_13

    Jono_13 Duffer

    My dad had a Tandberg 3000x in the 70s for having a way of playing music for what seemed like hours without having to get up and flip a record, kind of an early playlist. I think as a bit of fun they are very appealing.
    If I was buying now something like a Technics RS-1500 would be high on the list.
    paulfromcamden likes this.
  12. paulfromcamden

    paulfromcamden Baffled

    Sadly the £3k required would necessitate selling the rest of the hi-fi : )
    Jono_13 likes this.
  13. sktn77a

    sktn77a pfm Member

    True, but any 50 year old tape machine is going to need replacement rubber parts (belts, pinch rollers, etc) which, if you're handy, may not be too difficult. But anything more than that and you may end up with a very nice looking doorstop!

    I just "serviced" my 30 year old SONY ES three head cassette deck. Changing the rubbers on that was like brain surgery..... Never again!!!
    booja30 likes this.
  14. Jono_13

    Jono_13 Duffer

    In that case I better get my neighbour to sell me one of his on the cheap.
  15. Pine Marten

    Pine Marten pfm Member

    The only rubber bits on an A77 is the pinch roller, which seem to survive well, mine is the original, and counter belt, replaced during rebuild as quite a bit of stripping needed. However a recap is a good idea, particularly the high voltage electrolytics on the psu board. Cheap enough. I replaced all the electrolytics and tants, quite a time consuming job, but reatively easy as most of the circuitry is on easily removed daughter boards. I made a list and sourced from CPC. I've heard that some of the kits on a certain site are less than top quality components. Some A77's suffer from disintegrating adjustment pots. Mine hasnt. Perhaps they used better ones on the last batches. By the serial no. late '76. Almost everything is available from Revox Online in Germany.
    Oh and Teac did make some seriously nice machines. A sadly departed mate had a cracker X10R.
    paulfromcamden likes this.
  16. cubastreet

    cubastreet Espresso Fiend

    I've had heaps over the years, from car boot finds as a kid, to the akai I bought then sold for 10x the price as a teen, to the Sony tc 378 I bought at a market in Amsterdam one birthday (also a few 377s plus a fancier sony), to the teac 2340? (7" version of the 3340) to my current technics rs1700.

    I've loved them all. The technics is a cut above the rest and it's my favourite looking rtr ever, but they're all great fun.

    Just find one in full working order with good heads and give it a go. You might find it all a big faff or you might end up with one in every room.
    paulfromcamden likes this.
  17. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I see your ES and raise you my WM-DC6 (thread)!

    PS I’m really dreading having to recap that thing as it is a late one with surface-mount components and some caps are really close to other parts.
  18. foxwelljsly

    foxwelljsly Me too, I ate one sour too.

    OT, but I do wonder what happened to the cupboard full of little R2R Nagras they had at my university for field recording when we went digital in the mid-90's.
    paulfromcamden likes this.
  19. paulfromcamden

    paulfromcamden Baffled

    I spotted this photo of recording engineer Marta Salogni on Facebook with an Akai 4000 lurking in the background.

    Because I'm a bit shallow it's gone back on my 'maybe' list.

    ToTo Man likes this.

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