Reel-to-reel players have been around since the early 1950s, and have played a huge part in the music industry’s growth. Despite the clarity and sound quality being far and above even vinyl records, reel to reel players and recordings dropped in popularity.
The good news is that in the last 12 years, reel-to-reel players have seen a huge resurgence. More and more music enthusiasts and even artists are realizing that the best quality comes from reel-to-reel systems. That's probably why you're reading this article.
Before you spend hundreds of dollars on eBay for a used machine from the 70s that may or may not be in full working condition, you may wish to consider this. You have more options now than you had years ago.
The reel-to-reel player market today includes:
This article provides information about where to buy each type of reel to reel player as well as places to have specialized restoration and repair work performed.
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Thankfully, a handful of companies have emerged that are selling brand new machines. Some of these are entirely new firms and others (like Thorens) have been around for years and are re-entering the reel-to-reel player market.
Created by Christophe Martinez, in Pleumeur-Bodou in Brittany France. After 4 years of development, the TP-1000 GE is the result of designer's expertise in electronics combined with mechanical precision. The TP (Tape Player) is a basic analogue tape player at 38.1 cm/s or 19.05 cm/s, while a model that records is in development, reference TR-1000 (Tape Recorder).
This tape player is designed entirely with modern components, benefiting from the latest technology. For example, it has an RJ45 input, allowing it to be controlled by a smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi, giving the unique ability to update the firmware.
The REW + Play function automatically rewinds the tape at the beginning and starts playback immediately afterwards; this is calculated according to the remaining tape diameter and the core diameter, which can be set on the large touchscreen.
It uses "coreless" DC motors from the Swiss brand Maxon, which avoids "cogging torque," i.e. the jerks that are prohibitive for wow and flutter.
The M 002 P is a playback-only machine that is priced at around the £10k (~$12,000) mark. It doesn’t include any internal reproduction electronics, being intended for use with external tape amplifiers – such as those made byBottlehead,Doshi andMerrell, which will set you back anything from £1,000 to £10,000 ($1,200-$12,000).
The design is closely related to the TM 1600, whichBallfinger’s Roland Schneider has been developing for Swiss hi-fi brand Thorens. The Thorens deck, which is a variant of Ballfinger’s M 002 P, was slated for launch in summer 2020 with a limited production of 100 units and an estimated price of around €12,000 ($14,400).
The tape transport is powered from an external DC power supply, supports playback speeds of 7.5IPS and 15IPS on ¼ inch tape, and has direct-drive capstan and reel motors.
The base for the compact Ballfinger M 002 P comprises the new, super compact tape transport system at just 55 mm high (2.1 inches). This consists of:
The built-in playback amplifier is based on the new audio electronics of the M 051 master recorder and features electronically balanced outputs. The right and left channel are on separate circuit boards. As is usual with studio equipment, the playback level, treble and bass can be calibrated separately for each speed via especially low-noise and low-distortion trimmers. For both speeds, 19 cm/s (7.5 IPS) and 38 cm/s (15 IPS), CCIR and NAB equalizations are available which can be switched on the control panel and are shown on the display.
The M 002 P can be operated vertically and horizontally. Both feet are included in the package for this operation. It is available in silver frosted and wooden or black finish.
In horology, a tourbillon (French: “whirlwind”) is an addition to the mechanics of a watch lever escapement to increase accuracy. It was developed around 1795 and patented by the French-Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet on June 26, 1801.
The Metaxas & Sins T-RX Analog Tape Reproducer is the first Tape Recorder to use the same concept to absolutely regulate the speed of the tape through the use of an ARM-CORTEX “controller” which synchronizes the 4 Maxon motors [2 reel motors and 2 capstan motors] with the 2 linear ACTUONIX motors which control the “Dual-Capstan” rollers on a fully retractable bar.
It is an entirely newly designed professional reel-to-reel tape location recorder and playback machine that meets and exceeds the highest demands of recording engineers and the most serious audiophiles. It is a tool to record and playback magnetic tape at the absolute highest levels according to the manufacturer.
The T-RX also combines the highest precision “milgauss” stainless steel mechanical parts mounted onto a chassis which is CNC’d from a solid block of aluminum.
The audio “SOUL” of the TRX electronics borrow from intensive recording work conducted over the past 35 years with Swiss Stellavox portable recorders which uses single ended transistor purist electronic paths developed in the 1960s. The result is a machine that is capable of recording and playback with a level of realism that gives the listener the sense of being present at the live music performance in its original venue, according to its maker.
Image: The Metaxas & Sins T-RX - $36,000 euros - Special Order
The new Thorens TM 1600 costs around 11,999 Euros ($12,800) and comes in a plinth very similar to that of new TD 1600 series, record players in black high gloss or walnut high gloss. It’s designed as playback device for half-track, quarter inch tape.
Base for the new machine is the newly developed very compact tape drive from Ballfinger and contains direct drive motors with tension controls for the reels. To keep the whole drive as compact as possible the tape path geometry was completely redesigned. So, the sensors are not located below the reels as normal, but between them above the heads.
The tape machine is driven by three motors. The reel motors are electronically commuted disc motors that use rotor angle detection by hall sensor feedback. The capstan motor is an ironless bell-shaped rotor motor from a German manufacturer that runs a round belt.
Although very compact these motors supply an enormous torque with very small torque variation and are very silent running. The head and capstan motor could be placed far from each other to generate a very high signal to noise ratio. Additionally, the power supply is external to the deck, which reduces noise level even more, and therefore extensive measures for magnetic shielding of the heads are avoided.
Thorens TM 1600 handles reels up to 10.5” with 19 and 38 cm/s. CCIR equalization for most European recordings and NAB for Americas and Asia can be selected.
The tape machine comes with a real time counter with hours/minutes/seconds/hundredth seconds. As common with professional studio machines there is an edit function with pre-listening for single hand operation.
The Thorens TM 1600 has been designed for horizontal operation, but can also accommodate wall mounting as well.
The hot rod hybrids. These are the decks that have been not only refurbished, but in many cases rebuilt, repainted, redesigned and improved both operationally and cosmetically.
Alexsander Dorin is the Creator of Alter Ego Appearance. He created Alter Ego Appearance in response to “the rapidly decreasing availability of Technicians who perform this level of rebuild.”
Alter Ego Appearance combines design with technical skill. The word custom would be an understatement as each machine is its own new creation. No two machines will ever be identical. Every single part of the tape decks are rebuilt including:
Once completed, each deck is basically a brand new machine. Technics and Pioneer models are their specialty and each deck can range between $5000+ for a Pioneer to $12,000+ for a Technics, depending on model and customer requested options.
Alter Ego offers a one-year warranty on all restoration work. Alter Ego Appearance is in Brooklyn, NY.
J-Corder was started by Jeff Jacobs, a former auto restorer with a passion for great sound. J-Corder primarily specializes in Technics rebuilds and has several variations and styles like the “McIntosh style” look below. Standard rebuilds and endless options including:
J-Corder occasionally sells decks from Sony, Pioneer and other higher quality prosumer brands.
Technics models range between $6000 for a standard rebuild to $12,000 for a McIntosh style, and up. They come with a one-year warranty. J-Corder is located in Washington State, USA.
Mara Machines Restoration offers specialized restoration services with a 6-month warranty and lifetime technical support of their restored MCI machines.
Since 2008 Mara Machines has been refurbishing reel-to-reel players; specifically, MCI JH-24 and JH-110B/C models. They sell both ¼”, 1” and 2” pro decks. This highly specialized concentration means they are really good at what they do, and their process, and quality show that.
Each machine they have goes through an extensive testing and refurbishing process before you ever lay eyes on it.
Prices for Mara Machines range from $6,500 to $16,500. Mara Machines is located in Nashville, TN, USA.
The ATR10 Analog Tape Reproducer is a newly designed tape deck based on the Revox PR99 chassis. The mechanical transport of the ATR10 is using original Studer/Revox parts. These parts are of the same accuracy and quality as those used on the large Studer studio machines.
The electronics of the ATR10, including the tape drive, the power supplies and the audio playback amplifiers are totally new designs, using new parts that are currently in production.
In order to ensure the best playback performance, while keeping the machine very easy to use, the ATR10 has several features that are only found on professional studio machines, but without the usual abundance of tape guides, buttons and knobs.
Pricing: Basic ATR10 $19,950 - Pre-Amp option +$1,500 - 2 track/4 track option + $1950 Leader Tape Sensor Option + $1250.
Image: Sonorus ATR10 Analog Tape Recorder - A Modern Plug and Play Reel to Reel Tape Deck
ReVox A77, B77 & PR99 conversions & kits available.
Based in Switzerland, Techtrader offers the famous ReVox B77 or PR99 tape recorders fully refurbished. The company offers B77 or PR99 conversion kits as well. Their products are typically found for sale on Reverb. Fully restored B77 decks are in the $6000 range while PR99 models are in the $7000 range.
United Home Audio produces tape machines in the US and their 2021 decks range in price from $22,500 for their Phase11 to $34,500 for their Ultima5 machine.
The company has now released its newUHA SuperDeckto offer a ‘cost no object’ audiophile quality tape system that useshigh-end audiophile quality boards and components throughout. The playback-only deck retails at $89,998 and the SuperRecordDeck costs $106,000. The decks are comprised of three components:
The SuperRecordDeck incorporates a new oscillator system, built specifically for UHA by a British company, that offers an extremely high degree of stability. The oscillator is on a separate board to provide maximum isolation for the audio circuits. The idea behind the design is to provide a steady sign wave rather than sawtooth waves as with older designs. This design minimizes possible distortions in the recording process. UHA is located in Stafford, VA, USA.
There are several vintage and hi-fi shops scattered around the world which may carry a reel-to-reel player or two from time to time. These outlets are too numerous and tend to serve their local market. However, there are a handful of firms that specialize in reel to reel stock deck refurbishment, stand behind their work, sell at fair prices and most importantly, know how to ship these machines. These are the shops we recommend.
Reel to Reel Haven has a number of machines for sale at anytime. They specialize in Tascam, Otari, Technics, Pioneer and Studer brands, but other quality pro and prosumer brands are sold as well. Their decks can be viewed here.
Reel to Reel Tech is located in British Colombia Canada. They have a US drop box location in Blane, WA which makes US sales and shipping easy. Reel to Reel Tech sells a large variety of decks ranging from consumer, prosumer, and pro-deck models. Inventory changes rapidly.
The Audiophiles Clinic has a number of machines for sale that have been fully restored to ‘better than new’ condition using modern components. Typical stock includes: Studer, Revox, Akai, Pioneer, Fostex, Sony, Teac, Philips, Denon and Tandberg reel to reel machines.
Just Getting Started With Reel-to-Reel? See Our Pro Tips: Reel to Reel - Buying, Playing and Optimizing The Tape Experience
These decks may be “refurbished” or sold as is.
Audiogon is a marketplace for used, higher-end, hifi and stereo gear catering to the true audiophiles. You generally don’t see much “consumer” oriented gear on this site, but if you are looking to buy a second hand set of speakers for a quarter million dollars or a hundred-thousand-dollar turntable, this is the source. Like Reverb below, they have a buyer and seller rating system in place as well as a well-defined condition rating guide. This tends to keep most sellers honest, and this is a trusted site we have used many times in the past without issue. Typically decks found on Audiogon will lean to the higher end of the spectrum.
Sadly, in our opinion eBay has become the wild west of audio ecommerce. Despite having seller ratings and buyer moderation for issues, we have had more than one less-than-ideal purchase experience with transactions of reel-to-reel players on this site. You can easily find many decks for sale. Be aware that even with return policies from the sellers, most individuals and many businesses don’t know how to properly pack a reel-to-reel player to avoid damage in shipping and that is a real issue with many sites, not just eBay. The R2R enthusiasts’ blogs are loaded with stories about eBay related issues, ranging from misrepresentation, damaged shipping and outright fraud, and as such, most experience buyers look elsewhere.
Facebook groups are generally in the same category as eBay – buyer beware. Meaning, in most cases you need to be a skeptic for everything you read, but unlike eBay, buying on Facebook means zero consumer protection. Besides the Facebook Marketplace, there are several Facebook “groups” dedicated to reel to reels. Most of them don’t allow for sales or solicitation. However, these are good places to learn more about the topic. The groups that do allow for machines to be sold include: “Open Reel tape decks," "Reel to Reel Enthusiasts," (note this differs from the similarly named group “Reel-to-reel enthusiasts”) and the group “Reel to reel tapes for sale.”
Reverb is a marketplace for musical instruments, related gear, recording equipment and the like. It has high standards for the rating of equipment, seller reviews and customer service. This is the one we use the most and trust. RX Reels sells our products on Reverb.
Reel to Reel Haven is a new name but an old company. They have successfully restored and sold over 900 decks, serviced over 8,000 and they claim they are just getting started.
The company offers reliable restoration of all decks semi pro and up. They offer a 3-month warranty and free lifetime technical support. They also give risk-free shipping when shipping via freight partners.
If you have any high-end audio equipment that needs to be repaired, calibrated, maintained or simply set up correctly, look no further than The Audiophiles Clinic, who can offer a complete service for any professional recording studio or high-end audio enthusiast. The Audiophiles Clinic is owned and run by a highly-experienced electronics engineer, acoustic engineer and self-confessed music geek. It is based in Sevenoaks, Kent, UK and in addition to equipment maintenance, including reel to reel, they offer a range of services including consultancy on installation and creation of sound rooms, vinyl restoration and audio transfer services.
Shustersound.com – maintenance troubleshooting
JRFmagnetics.com – Tape head re-lapping, making tape heads function like new.
Fluxmagnetics.com – fabrication of new replacement heads for tape recorders.
RX Reels prides ourselves on manufacturing the world's best take-up reels. Our reels are made of aviation grade carbon fiber flanges, precision-milled solid aluminum center hubs and twelve fixing screws (six per side).
These reels will protect the magnetic tape against damage and will reduce unnecessary wear on the spool motors and bearings, as well as minimizing wow and flutter during operation.
RX Reels is located in Bainbridge Island, WA, USA.
Learn more about us and why The Absolute Sound has said: "Making advanced reels from CNC-machined hubs and carbon fiber flanges pays off in terms of appearance and sound quality via lower wow and flutter. Tape heads have been praising https://rxreels.com and a few of our writers use these reels for tape playback."
See RX Reels Carbon Fiber 10.5" and 7" reels here.
This post delves into the topic of making enhancements to the actual recorded media on reel-to-reel tape. Numerous vinyl albums have been remastered, and indeed, several hundred tapes have undergone remastering from the master or near-master. These offer notable improvements in sound quality compared to the original recordings. Sonorus Audio offers a Holographic Imaging tape remastering service explored here.
Analog Audio Design's first product, the TP-1000 is wholly constructed from new components, utilizing technologies such as computer-aided design and advanced testing tools to augment tape transport and minimize distortion.
The all important heads are from AM Belgium, the same company that inherited the head technical specs directly from Studer / ReVox when they shut down.
The TP-1000 stands out as a three-motor machine using DC motors, all uniquely coupled by a belt and a flywheel to a modern design. Why? To reducing the cogging and flutter commonly associated with DC motors.