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PNW audio meeting: Technics Reel to Reel

amirm

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Some of you know that I am a fan of Reel to Reel tape decks. There is no more beautiful machine than a R2R. Watching those reels turn and VU meters bounce substantially adds to my enjoyment of music. The fidelity also can be superb, and jaw droppingly good, limitations of the format notwithstanding.

Alas the last of the R2R manufacturers (Otari) just discontinued production of these units so if you want one, you have to buy a used one and refurbish it. Or get it from an outfit that refurbishes them before sale. One such outfit is the company j-corder which happens to be 15 minutes from where we live. They buy used Technics decks, bring up to spec and then add as much bling as you may want.

Jeff Jacobs of J-Corder was on hand at our February meeting of the Pacific Northwest Audio Society. Here is a shot of him, the decks and the room where the meetings are held:

093A2817.jpg


As you can see, the room doesn't have much absorption so tends to sound a bit bright.

The fit and finish on these machines is amazing. Everything can be customized from paint color of the facia to knobs and such:

093A2823.jpg


The cost starts at around $5,000:

093A2794.jpg


And climbs up to cool $15,000 with all the fancy paints and options:

093A2801.jpg


Machines look a little naked without the big reels (see on the right):

093A2820.jpg


Sadly the rear of the units are as pedestrian as they came with particle board sides and pressed board for the back:

093A2813.jpg


Claimed to fame was the tape path which is held constant on both sides, resulting in very low wow and flutter.

093A2798.jpg


Working on the unit is a nightmare as everything is built up from the front face of the unit. That means to get to anything , you have to disassemble the whole unit!

093A2779.jpg


Anyway let's talk about the sound. The demo tape that was brought was a copy of Yello's various albums!

41BUfsXVH2L.jpg


Yes, you heard that right. We were brought a dupe of a CD. I must say the experience was disappointing. My digital version of the same runs circles around what I heard there. The standard way to demo a tape is using copies of analog masters. A copy of a synthetically produced digital recording is not where it is at. The sound was very bright to me and the peaks distorted. There was no merit to tape recording that I could detect.

Requests were made for other types of music but none were brought. Fortunately Rene, the meeting organizer had some old commercial recordings of Miles Davis which saved the day:

093A2792.jpg


There were 7 1/2 ips rather than 15 and so signal to noise ratio was not great. Still, enjoyable and far better demo content than Yello.

The pre-amp was this tube unit:
093A2806.jpg


So all in all, it was a missed opportunity to showcase the format. My experience is with my Otari tape deck which is a professional unit. Perhaps the Technics sounds worse. Or it was all the fault of demo material.

093A2795.jpg


As always though, spending time with friends and fellow audiophiles was the main reason to be there. And on that front, an enjoyable time was had despite the 150 mile round trip in rain and traffic.
 

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tomelex

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I have an AKAI gx-635 and I think it was the first one to use the balanced tape transport, however, at 7.5ips full speed, it will never compete with a 15ips deck in the lows or highs, that's where the differences are. I have had to replace a lot of transistors in it but the special glass heads and motors and mechanics are running fine. However, I prefer to record to my sony digital recorder so while it is cool to watch the reels spin and the vu meters dance, I guess since I had it for so long, it is not the looks, but he audio I am after, and it does definitely have its own sound, which is pleasant enough, but not clear as it could be.

The clunk of the auto reverse though, that was kind of fun, listening to it stop, clunk sound, then start the reels turning the opposite direction, I always looked up to watch that happen, so I do know what you are saying.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Auto-reverse was one of the things I salivated after when I got into hi-fi first (as a teenager). It was a marvel of engineering no matter where it was implemented (cassette or R2R).
 

Sal1950

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When I hear things like this I'm at a loss for words, and it seems to happen regularly.
A merchant demoing a expensive piece of audio equipment with a very second rate source?
I know there are a couple outfits (who's name now escapes me) selling some very well done open-reel
recordings that you'd think he'd have at least a few of?
I just don't get it. :(
 

Mivera

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Amir do you have a nice ADC yet? Or just that board you got coming?
 

Mivera

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JS Hoover

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I have an AKAI gx-635 and I think it was the first one to use the balanced tape transport, however, at 7.5ips full speed, it will never compete with a 15ips deck in the lows or highs, that's where the differences are. I have had to replace a lot of transistors in it but the special glass heads and motors and mechanics are running fine. However, I prefer to record to my sony digital recorder so while it is cool to watch the reels spin and the vu meters dance, I guess since I had it for so long, it is not the looks, but he audio I am after, and it does definitely have its own sound, which is pleasant enough, but not clear as it could be.

The clunk of the auto reverse though, that was kind of fun, listening to it stop, clunk sound, then start the reels turning the opposite direction, I always looked up to watch that happen, so I do know what you are saying.
A Sony TC-780 from 1969 was the first rtr to use six heads in conjunction with a closed-loop/dual capstan transport. It was the most-expensive 7-inch reel-only machine, at the time, ever built ($995).
Earlier Akai models (than the 635) to use somewhat of a compromise design (not with six heads, though) of the same closed-loop drive, were: the GX-400, GX-650, and GX-1000 (which were 10 1/2", 15-capable decks).
However, in my experience, the entire "Glass Head" thing was marketing hype and the actual sound was not as good as traditional alloy-surfaced ferrite heads. The glass, actually, was too hard to create optimal coercivity with the oxide's magnetism (an example on the opposite extreme would be Tandberg...most "life-like" reproduction presence even with the clunky old 64X models, but really soft metal on the heads which often wore out within a year!). Akai GX heads, also, seemed to have the worst crosstalk as well...one could always hear the bass passages on side 2 bleeding into side 1 louder than when played on other brand machines (even if the Akai heads were all properly aligned).
 
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