With the resurgence of reel-to-reel tape decks, it is being said that reel-to-reel tape is the new vinyl, however, there is no comparison other than they are both ways to record and listen to what has been recorded, much like apples and oranges are both food that is fruit. Where anyone can go to one of the numerous used record stores and grab some great discs, it is not the same quality of sound as with what is available using today’s high quality reel-to-reel tape, paired with a quality recording process. Hands down reel-to-reel tape is superior and that’s what audiophiles crave.
If you are just getting into reel-to-reels, here is a look at both reel-to-reel audio tape recording decks and the tape reels themselves.
About the Decks
There are three categories of reel-to-reel machines:
Consumer: These reel-to-reel machines were much like purchasing a record player from Sears in the 1960’s and 70’s, many times the speakers were built into the lid of the tape-recording device. Such brands as Sanyo, Toshiba, JVC, Aiwa, Sony, and Concord, Akai, Sony, and Teac were available for casual at home use.
Semi-Professional: In the 1970’s along came semi-professional reel-to-reel decks. These prosumer audio decks had more features than the original consumer audio decks and were more durable as well so the at home musician could frequently move between functions without breaking something. Here are popular brands that were used by home studio musicians; Tascam, Studer, Otari, Revox, and Fostex.
Professional: These machines were designed for 12-hour recording sessions, they were used in studios and other commercial applications, they do make noise so were often housed away from the actual recording studio and were operated by a wired remote. Some professional reel-to-reel decks are made by Tascam, Studer, Ampex, 3M, Otari, Sony, Nagra, Crown and MCI.
About the Reels
The most common sized tape reels are 5”, 7” and 10.5” (usually referred to as 10 “). There are two common types of spools or reels, NAB and CINE aka Trident. Back in the day NAB were used professionally in studios while CINE was for home use. Most consumer reel-to-reel decks played commercially released five- and seven-inch tapes, while 10.5” was for master tape copies. For playing vintage commercially released tapes you will need CINE reels, however for current and vintage master tapes you will need a NAB hub adapter.
Typically, the take-up reels are made from metal or aluminum, however RX Reels are 10.5” ¼” tape spools made from carbon fiber! So why are RX Reels carbon fiber take-up reels different?
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“What’s in a reel?” you may well ask. Well, a lot more than simply being a device to store audio tape – Neville Roberts delves into the detail!
Martin Pipe takes up his tape with this superbly-made reel from the USA.
Thanks to RX Reels careful balance, fast-winding is quieter than with lesser articles due to a considerable reduction in vibration - which is itself a good thing, for the life of your deck's reel motors. The lack of physical noise during playback isn't the only audible benefit - I also found that the stereo image was more solid and better defined. Quite frankly, it's highly unlikely you'll find a better spool for your deck.