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Otari MX-5050 Review (Reel to Reel Tape Deck)

MakeMineVinyl

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It's fun for me to see your pics as I have mostly just memories from those days. You may recall better than I do but if I actually do recall correctly it was JRF that originally supplied the 8 tr. heads for your recorder. In any event as is clear from your photo, they were proper built. For certain specialty heads, like those on the 1/2" machine the factory did take on the production but since it's so specialized, at first only one guy at the factory could build them and this was a production bottleneck for a painfully long period of time. I don't see any gap on your 354 heads, you are probably good for a long time. Original electronics on that? Remember Inovonics? :)

I wouldn't mind a 5050 for myself but mainly for sentimental reasons. I have a few tapes but no way to play them. I do have this however, a tiny memento from those days. I just now took these pics just for the two of us. Well, Amir too since he still has his 5050. Possibly the only extent NOS Otari reel in the world! I should send it to Amir for a thorough re-test on his Otari with a proper Otari reel! Can't be too fussy about these things!

As you know, this came in the box with your new machine. You got one to get you started cause otherwise it would be, somewhat awkward to roll tape!

Yes, the heads on the 7300 were obviously of very high quality. I assumed they were made by Otari, but I never saw a manufacturer's name on them.

The Ampex 354 I have was from the couple who ran the dance company my wife was a member of. The machine was used very little and only to make music tapes for the shows, so it was already in very, very good shape. I restored it to off-the-factory-floor condition, even having the stainless steel panels re-grained. Everything is all original with the exception of resistors and capacitors in the vacuum tube electronics which were replaced with modern parts. The playback head is new (only because the original head had an open coil), and I got it from JRF. The record and erase heads have little wear on them.

Here's the machine:

Ampex 354.jpg


And a close-up of the MX7300 transport; I was a heavy user of Scotch 250 tape.

MX7300.jpg
 
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Siwel

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Yes, the heads on the 7300 were obviously of very high quality. I assumed they were made by Otari, but I never saw a manufacturer's name on them.

The Ampex 354 I have was from the couple who ran the dance company my wife was a member of. The machine was used very little and only to make music tapes for the shows, so it was already in very, very good shape. I restored it to off-the-factory-floor condition, even having the stainless steel panels re-grained. Everything is all original with the exception of resistors and capacitors in the vacuum tube electronics which were replaced with modern parts. The playback head is new (only because the original head had an open coil), and I got it from JRF. The record and erase heads have little wear on them.

Here's the machine:

View attachment 161130

And a close-up of the MX7300 transport; I was a heavy user of Scotch 250 tape.

View attachment 161131
Nice looking Ampex. BTW, Brian whose card you have came to Otari from Ampex. Otari stole a number of people from Ampex and the MTR90 was strongly influenced by the ATR100 series of Ampex pro recorders which had an open loop transport. That’s one reason why the MTR series had no pinch roller.
 

MakeMineVinyl

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Nice looking Ampex. BTW, Brian whose card you have came to Otari from Ampex. Otari stole a number of people from Ampex and the MTR90 was strongly influenced by the ATR100 series of Ampex pro recorders which had an open loop transport. That’s one reason why the MTR series had no pinch roller.
Otari won the longevity battle in the end and was probably the last man standing. ;)
 

Tom Danley

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Those measurements shows that this deck is not even in hi-fi region. Is it poor maintenance or industry standard ?
It's measurement's aren't perhaps but it's audible performance made a deck like that possible to enjoy just fine, that looks like pretty good performance. I helped a friend record an LP master on an older 4ch deck and it was the final process that wrecked it. With so many things one can do at that stage, doing too much is often the problem or at least it was then..
 

mhardy6647

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Otari won the longevity battle in the end and was probably the last man standing. ;)
When did ATR go away? Before Otari I am sure, but I have no idea by how much.
Otari was still doing reel to reel decks as a custom order until relatively recently. Relatively. ;)

I am an Old Guy, so work with me here! At my age, the phrase the other day is as likely to mean sometime in the past decade as it is to mean within the past few days.:oops:
 

MakeMineVinyl

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When did ATR go away? Before Otari I am sure, but I have no idea by how much.
Otari was still doing reel to reel decks as a custom order until relatively recently. Relatively. ;)

I am an Old Guy, so work with me here! At my age, the phrase the other day is as likely to mean sometime in the past decade as it is to mean within the past few days.:oops:
According to Wikipedia, Ampex exited the professional tape machine business in 1983. From my understanding and observations during that time frame, Otari pretty much put them out of business. I don't know how Studer did, but the majority of new professional tape machines I saw around in film studios were Otari with the exception of portable location recorders. The standard audio format for film was of course 35mm magnetic film and Magnasync machines are what I saw most with a few vintage Western Electric in some of the older studios.

Below is (I think) an Otari in a transfer suite at Warner Bros. Hollywood Studios around 2000. There's a Magnasync 35mm magnetic film recorder to the right.

Warner Hollywood #43.jpg


And yes, I find myself talking about 'modern' recording tape etc as if it was 'modern' as in 'yesterday'. The reality is that my 'modern' was half a century ago. o_O
 
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MakeMineVinyl

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dfuller

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I don't know about when MCI went away. They made very good machines with ceramic capstans but weren't as popular as other makes. I thought they looked rather ugly, or at least uninteresting. Mara Machines sells refurbished MCI machines. MCI mixing consoles were more popular.
I've actually met Chris Mara - he's got a cool space down in Nashville at Welcome To 1979. And tracking to tape has a distinctly different workflow than to Pro Tools. I kinda like it. Course, I dump everything into Tools when I'm done tracking with tape, but...

Anyway, the MCI machines were built super modular so they can relatively easily be serviced and rehabbed without disassembling the whole machine.
 

mhardy6647

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I've actually met Chris Mara - he's got a cool space down in Nashville at Welcome To 1979. And tracking to tape has a distinctly different workflow than to Pro Tools. I kinda like it. Course, I dump everything into Tools when I'm done tracking with tape, but...

Anyway, the MCI machines were built super modular so they can relatively easily be serviced and rehabbed without disassembling the whole machine.
I thought that most of the "modern" pro-level hardware was modular.
The A80 certainly was/is. :)

1635281861203.jpeg
 

MakeMineVinyl

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I've actually met Chris Mara - he's got a cool space down in Nashville at Welcome To 1979. And tracking to tape has a distinctly different workflow than to Pro Tools. I kinda like it. Course, I dump everything into Tools when I'm done tracking with tape, but...

Anyway, the MCI machines were built super modular so they can relatively easily be serviced and rehabbed without disassembling the whole machine.
Professional machines from around the 1960s onward were modular. At Ampex, the first truly modular machine was the AG-440 from 1967 I believe. Ampex instrumentation recorders were doing the modular thing back in the 50s.

Early computers had the whole modular thing nailed. :cool:

Vacuum Tube Computer Module Size Comparison.jpg
 
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Siwel

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Otari won the longevity battle in the end and was probably the last man standing. ;)
AFAIK, that's true. Ampex closed the mag tape audio recorder division before Otari stopped making them for series production although Ampex continued to limp along with VTRs and other video gear. Sony bought MCI right around that time as well but dropped their analog product selling only digital recorders while Otari was still in the game. 3M stepped away from analog around 78-79 when they introduced the first commercially available digital multi. Studer may be the only other major manufacturer that can claim a later "end date" but that's a guess on my part. Studer did continue to sell A800s for a time after Otari ditched their distribution system in the USA. I know this because I was the Harman rep at the same time and Studer offered us commissions should we sell one, this following Otari's departure from the market. It probably will remain obscure who was actually the last man standing as a practical matter although somebody other than I will know the exact chronology.

Otari departed the scene in stages, first disbanding their three step distribution scheme, then slowly disappearing like a ghost although they are still manufacturing specialty items. This apparently includes tape heads according to their web site which also includes a list of tape heads they manufactured at the time and will still provide.....for a price. I note that the 7300 is not on the list of Otari made heads, reinforcing my memory that they were OEM sourced from (I'm pretty confident) JRF. It looks like you can still buy 8D, MTR and MX heads from them though I suspect they are hideously expensive as they are custom made.
 
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Siwel

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Anyway, the MCI machines were built super modular so they can relatively easily be serviced and rehabbed without disassembling the whole machine.
All the big boys exhibited modular construction for just about forever. As to which was the "most modular" that's an argument I can't answer, but all pro recorders from the golden era I can think of had modular electronics and typically modular head blocks (stacks) as well. That said, multi channel heads are by their nature "modules" all by themselves.

Even the MM1000 (first commercially successful 24 track) were modular to the extent that individual channels could be replaced as a whole but internally they reflected the build technology of the era. Since studio machines are expected to be calibrated and maintained daily, the requirement for "modules" was part and parcel of what makes them pro machines. Instead of replacing a mother board, you might be replacing the entire channel, but you were replacing it as a module, not at the component level, at least during tracking or sessions. Most studios stocked spare cards for their machines and such kits were available as standard accessories you'd buy to keep on hand just in case. Of course, early stuff was/could be of hybrid or tube construction which means many repairs required desoldering, soldering, chasing circuitry and failed components or even just tube or nuvistor replacement. Hard to argue those are modular but with the advent of solid state, it all went that way for pro machines in short order.

Nashville was always a center for MCI success and MCI was a powerful competitor indeed, especially in the south. Fun fact: Chris Mara rides a Ducati. Like me!
 
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MakeMineVinyl

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This is the electronics portion of my Ampex 354 - Ampex claimed that the circuit board was "easily replaced if needed". Yeah right. :mad:

Untitled-1.jpg
 

anmpr1

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This is the electronics portion of my Ampex 354 - Ampex claimed that the circuit board was "easily replaced if needed". Yeah right. :mad:
Easily replaced probably refers to the fact that you can get to it without too much difficulty. Some, from back in the day, were so jammed packed that disassembly was a major chore.

Of course solid state allowed for this sort of thing. With tubes you needed some space between components.

Below is a Studer A807:

ngzdi6yrhclnrvucevim.jpg
 

Siwel

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This is the electronics portion of my Ampex 354 - Ampex claimed that the circuit board was "easily replaced if needed". Yeah right. :mad:

View attachment 161851
Wires on a tape recorder can give you trouble, consider EMI and tape heads and their amps. We probably never heard about many of those sorts of problems since Otaris were generally used professionally, very little hifi penetration for reasons of their cost. An engineer at a radio station or pro studio would know all the tricks and certainly be able to implement anything we'd learned about our stuff as well. Every now and then EMI/RF would be a problem for a random machine in a random location (usually a rack mounted 5050 but not strictly limited). I never thought to ask at the time, but I would imagine that all the point to point stuff in your photo was far more carefully laid out than first appearances would suggest. Ampex had brilliant engineers and designers. They led the industry for years. I admired their achievements. BTW, I'm not a designer so it all looks like spaghetti to me.

That appears to be an MTR 10 (or MTR12 if it's 12", I can't decide) in that desk. Also its remote at the right hand. Nice looking console.

Fun thread for me, takes me back.
 
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MakeMineVinyl

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Wires on a tape recorder can give you trouble, consider EMI and tape heads and their amps. We probably never heard about many of those sorts of problems since Otaris were generally used professionally, very little hifi penetration for reasons of their cost. An engineer at a radio station or pro studio would know all the tricks and certainly be able to implement anything we'd learned about our stuff as well. Every now and then EMI/RF would be a problem for a random machine in a random location (usually a rack mounted 5050 but not strictly limited). I never thought to ask at the time, but I would imagine that all the point to point stuff in your photo was far more carefully laid out than first appearances would suggest. Ampex had brilliant engineers and designers. They led the industry for years. I admired their achievements. BTW, I'm not a designer so it all looks like spaghetti to me.

That appears to be an MTR 10 (or MTR12 if it's 12", I can't decide) in that desk. Also its remote at the right hand. Nice looking console.

Fun thread for me, takes me back.
I had a forum discussion with the original engineer at Ampex who had to debug all the teething problems with the 354, and according to him, there were problems with the circuits going into parasitic oscillation. I imagine that among other things, the wires were arranged and grounded just-so to to get this under control. The front panel of the electronics is a particular mess which is almost impossible to get a soldering iron into.

He shared with me some of the engineering dirty laundry which went on at Ampex in the 50s / 60s - things were not as wonderful as one would believe.

The Molex push-on connectors which connected all the wires to the PCB were intermittent when I got the machine, and this caused all manner of signal drop-outs and strange operation. I cured this by eliminating the Molex pins and soldering the wires directly to the PCB. I replaced all the capacitors and the majority of the resistors, and the machine is completely reliable now.
 

anmpr1

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I thought that most of the "modern" pro-level hardware was modular. The A80 certainly was/is.
Mark (the man) Levinson always had one foot in the pro recording scene. In the late '70s his company offered 'upgrade' circuit boards for the A80. It was supposed to be used in conjunction with Mark's Dick Burwen designed LNP-2. I know that Peter Aczel owned one for playing 30ips 'master' tapes he got from Max Wilcox. I don't know who designed Mark's Studer boards. As with anything MLAS, if you had to ask the price...

At the semi-pro/consumer level, during that same time period, you could purchase 'upgraded' boards for ReVox machines (A77/A700). I recall a mid to high end company (Audionics of Oregon) selling them.

I have no idea what (if any) effect these so-called upgrades had on the performance of stock machines.
 

Siwel

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I had a forum discussion with the original engineer at Ampex who had to debug all the teething problems with the 354, and according to him, there were problems with the circuits going into parasitic oscillation. I imagine that among other things, the wires were arranged and grounded just-so to to get this under control. The front panel of the electronics is a particular mess which is almost impossible to get a soldering iron into.

He shared with me some of the engineering dirty laundry which went on at Ampex in the 50s / 60s - things were not as wonderful as one would believe.

Interesting to hear your insight into that. Thanks! I didn't want to say it quite so directly but, yeah, that is a messy layout.:) "Looks like spaghetti to me."

To be clearer, I had Poniatoff's adaptation of Telefunken's work and especially, the video recorder in mind. I suppose that could include the 350s but old as I am, they are just a bit before my time, and to be honest, they were being replaced everywhere I went. I saw a lot of radio stations as you'd imagine. I didn't pay much attention to 350s, they were more of a curiosity to me. And, you could get Inovonics (implies a need?) electronics for them which is sort of full circle in this conversation. The ATR700 was a direct reply to the 5050 but it was a Teac. That left the opening to this market as far as Otari was concerned. The main competition was Tascam, MCI, and Ampex but Ampex was the firm I think the Japanese had in mind.

The ATR100 was competition by the time I was at Otari. I don't know what they were like to own but I thought they were a pretty slick setup all around.

 
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