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October 03, 2022 9 min read

The Reel to Reel Player Pro-Tip Series 

We get asked a lot of questions about reel to reel players. These range from how to buy one to recording, playback and to maintenance of both tapes and decks. We thought it would be helpful to assemble a list of tips and suggestions from our reel to reel customer community as well as some notable experts around the industry, their advice is below. 

Looking for a great player? See Our Ultimate Guide to Reel to Reel Players

Buying a Reel to Reel Player

Do your research. Learn proper tape-handling techniques and investigate to see what type of deck meets your preferences and needs (be it tape speed, reel-size accommodation, track count, etc.). Some decks are geared for the consumer market and some are geared towards prosumer/professionals, so before dropping that well-earned cash of yours be sure you know what you’re getting. 

Submitted by Dave Polster, Well Made Music

 

No matter what you buy for a second-hand deck (unless you can afford a new Ballfinger), budget the same amount again for a full service. If in doubt, buy a Revox or Studer machine. Best support for spares, lots available, etc. Expect occasional breakdowns so your blood pressure doesn't skyrocket. 

Submitted by Ken Kessler, author and industry columnist

 

Do your research first. Look long and hard at the market before you indulge. Trying to find a quality machine will be difficult, have access to a qualified audio engineer, as reel 2 reel devices are electro mechanical and need lots of tender loving care. If you find a possible machine, have it tested and checked, once deemed serviceable enjoy your new toy. Ensure you have your device set up for the tapes you will be using. Getting the machine fully serviced and heads checked is critical. Main brand machines will still be easier to find and run-maintain. DO NOT PAY SILLY MONEY. 

Submitted by: Steve H.

 

I see so many posts from people new to R2R. They may or may not have a functioning machine. Their first stop is the FB pages; asking for specific help on whatever ails their machine. I would encourage those who are NEW to R2R, to first obtain all the operating and service information you can find.

Submitted by: Tim B

 

For someone LOOKING to get into reel to reel....Do not think you MUST procure a deck from a refurbisher who makes the machine look fancy and charges thousands of dollars on top of a "base" price. Nor do not think you have to spend even maybe multiples of the aforementioned at a place selling uber expensive "like new" or even new decks. No, you do not have to spend between $6 to 15K or even much more. Scour reputable used hifi shops. You just might find an Otari prosumer machine for less than 2 grand that the shop owner knows and can demonstrate that is in proper working condition. If you shop on Reverb do not be afraid to send the item back for a full refund if it is not as advertised. Happy hunting. Spend your new found savings buying a handful of "master" recordings. Or even more applicable in many cases, straightening out the acoustical properties of your listening space. 

Submitted by Pete K

 

Buy from someone reputable. 

Submitted by: Will

 

Read all the caveats / advice at reeltoreeltech.com and analogrules.com There is tons of information there which will both 1) establish if you REALLY WANT to get into it and 2) learn how to avoid $$ on common mistakes. 

Submitted by Jefferson D.

 

Whatever you think it's going to cost, double it. 

Submitted by: Two Guys Audio

 

The best MC-cartridges cost $10,000+ and you still don't have the perfect sound of a tone head. And after three years you have to buy a new one. A perfect tone head cost $150.... 

Submitted by: Tim Burr

 

I have been using R2R since 1963 going from mono to stereo. Get the best R2R deck you can afford. Check with reputable sites from users who service, sell, and use them for the best advice especially for prices. If it seems too much for that unit, it probably is. No machine from the 70's is in Mint unused condition. If it hasn't been used it still needs servicing. Finally, if you want to transfer either from R2R to PC or From PC to R2R get a good DAC and if from PC subscribe to a high def source. A FLAC converter will send quality music from your PC to your analogue R2R and sound great. 

Submitted by: Alan Karlin

 

On used units, check heads—visually and especially recording heads. 

Submitted by: MMSR

 

Don't let the old school technology scare you off! It can be intimidating learning the difference between a pinch roller and a capstan, what they do, how to thread a tape through your particular deck and how to keep your deck clean and running smoothly but once you do the joy of listening to the purest analog source on earth is yours! 

Submitted by: WaynesWorldFL

 

reels for open reel tape players

Buying Reel to Reel Tapes

If you are looking for the best sounding sources, 15ips 2 track prerecorded tapes are hard to beat, particularly from top sources. It takes reasonably deep pockets or excellent DIY skills for the equipment and very deep pockets for the tapes. However, it is cheaper than fancy watches, fast cars, yachts, or multiple spouses. 

Submitted by: Larry Toy

 

Ensure you have your device set up for the tapes you will be using. 

Submitted by: Steve H.

 

Buy NEW reel to reel tapes for recording like RTM or ATR brands. Older tape, even quality ones, are chancy, even sealed. Finally, if you want to transfer either from R2R to PC or From PC to R2R get a good DAC and if from PC subscribe to a high def source. A FLAC converter will send quality music from your PC to your analogue R2R and sound great. 

Submitted by: Alan Karlin

 

Buy new tape. 

Submitted by: Hobie1dog

 

Don't bother with old tape. Buy new. Old tape only gunks up your tape path. 

Submitted by: Barry B

 

Having just bought a dud pre recorded reel on eBay always check if it has been play tested ask the seller. If they haven’t ask them to either half the price or hard pass, or have your heart broken when you want Deep Purple made in Japan but get Sting instead. Fell for it twice now, never again. 

Submitted by: RoDe

 

Always use the best tape ATR or SM 900 Recording the Masters and no old tapes. 

Submitted by: Technics fan

 

Shop carefully and know that buying new music R2R can cost up to $450.00. 

Submitted by: Anonymous

 

Don’t mess by playing tapes that are 40 years or less old. Buy new tapes, which are excellent even better than those made back these years. Two major brands manufacturing these (today are) ATR Magnetics and RTM. Both are top winners and trusted quality. You can never go wrong using these. Also buying new tapes stimulates the market and makes it grow. What would we do without newly manufactured tapes? Not much and our beloved machine is just good relics for the museum! 

Submitted by: Jean-Louis Coupe

 

Always store tapes “tail-out." 

Submitted by: David Susilo

 10" Revox reel to reel player

Image by: Dana Holmes 

Obtaining the Best Reel to Reel Player Sound 

Professional open reel to reel tapes can offer the ultimate in sound quality - many will say the quality exceeds that from the best digital formats. Of course, copy-master tapes and the machines required to play them are not cheap, and it is vital that your machine is set up properly so that you get the best from your investment and hear all of the qualities that reel to reel has to offer. 

Submitted by: Neville Roberts, Reel to Reel Industry Columnist 

 

Ensure you have your device set up for the tapes you will be using. Getting the machine fully serviced and heads checked is critical. 

Submitted by: Steve H

 

Patience. The use of R2R comes from an era when the attention span of a human was more than the 5 secs (and reducing) it is today. R2R is to be enjoyed as a whole process, nothing about it is done quickly. Load the tape, listen to the whole tape, no skipping, turn it over, listen again, and so on. See it as therapy hifi in a hectic and increasingly trivialized world. Turn off the phone, tablet, pc, and enjoy the R2R. 

Submitted by: Chris Willcocks

 

Don't let the old school technology scare you off! It can be intimidating learning the difference between a pinch roller and a capstan, what they do, how to thread a tape through your particular deck and how to keep your deck clean and running smoothly but once you do the joy of listening to the purest analog source on earth is yours! 

Submitted by: WaynesWorldFL

 

In the 60's, 70's and 80's, Reel to Reel was the most premium quality of recording you could own. Even albums recorded to Reel sounded better than the original album. Reel to Reel had a full rich sound that you could get nowhere else, including digital. Reel players are hard to get today but worth the price if you can have the ability to obtain one. 

Submitted by:Timothy Appling

reel to reel player for open reel tapes

Maintaining the Best Sound from Your Reel to Reel Player

Keep the heads and transport clean and demagnetized. Anything the tape touches should be cleaned and demagnetized regularly at a frequency dependent on usage. 

Submitted by: Chris Willcocks

 

One of the most important things I can recommend is to keep the head stack clean and demagnetized!

Submitted by: Randy

 

It is vital that your machine is set up properly so that you get the best from your investment and hear all of the qualities that reel to reel has to offer. If you don't have the necessary expertise yourself, make sure you have someone on hand who does.  If you do have the skills, all you will need is a suitable calibration tape (such as an MRL alignment tape) to set the playback levels, and a signal generator (a simple one will suffice) for setting up the recording levels. 

Submitted by: Neville Roberts,Reel to reel Industry columnist 

 

As a novice and relatively new to reel to reel recording and playback, I would recommend researching online for tips, troubleshooting, and general information. I would recommend locating a copy of the factory manual for your tape machine. 

Submitted by: Anton

 

After you purchase a Reel to Reel machine, if it was not professionally serviced, then at least do some basic maintenance like cleaning the heads, and tape path with alcohol and Q tip swabs. Get a demagnetizer and follow the directions for demagnetizing the heads. Then lay the machine down and lubricate the capstan (s). Inspect and replace the belt(s) if they show signs of cracking or are gooey. That is a good place to start. 

Submitted by: Chris Byrne

 

Don't let the old school technology scare you off! It can be intimidating learning the difference between a pinch roller and a capstan, what they do, how to thread a tape through your particular deck and how to keep your deck clean and running smoothly but once you do the joy of listening to the purest analog source on earth is yours! 

Submitted by: WaynesWorldFL

 

I would encourage those who are NEW to R2R, to first obtain all the operating and service information you can find. 

Submitted by: Tim B

 

Clean the tape path before recording. Store the tape only after play. Avoid storing the tape after fast winding. Do not leave tape on the machine for an extended time. If you have a cat, look out, they love when the tape runs out! 

Submitted by: Pat Jagiolo

 

Conclusion

We hope this compilation of suggestions has been helpful in answering your questions about reel to reel players. A huge thank you to our RX Reels  community for their advice and tips.

If you have tips or adviceon these topics that you'd like to share please send it to info@rxreels.com and include your name for attribution. Please include a note if you'd like your tips to be anonymous. 

RX Reels prides ourselves on manufacturing the world's best carbon fiber reels. Learn more about us and why Ken Kessler in PS Audio Copper Magazine has said: "I must say that I have never seen any spools built like the RX spools, nor did I expect to see performance gains of the level which both the 10.5-inch and now the 7-inch delivered."

 

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Kevin Root
Kevin Root



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