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The sound of magnetic tapes: comparing musical samples from digital versions and magnetic tapes Review


May 31, 2022
Analog magnetic tape has long been a reference medium used by the biggest bands on machines that are legends today, such as the Studer J37 used by the Beatles or the Studer A80 used by Pink Floyd for their album The Dark Side of the Moon.
Whether stereo or multitrack, with bandwidths from 1/4″ to 2″, tape has been used to produce thousands of albums and masters. I had the chance to see and listen to these marvellous tape recorders, and you can find all the information I obtained during my visit to the DES studios.

Sound of the Tape -- small.jpg

Today, I'd like to propose an experiment. We're going to record 10 musical samples from different digital media and in different formats: PCM 24 88.2, DSD64 (SACD), DSD 256, DXD (24-bit 352 kHz)... Several musical styles are represented: Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, such as Patricia Barber, Miles Davis, Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio, Oscar Peterson, Gnomus, Thomas Schirmann, Anne Bisson, Michael Jackson, Dire Straits, Roxy Music.
For the recording, we use a TEAC A3440 (2 tracks) and a Dolby Model 363 with Dolby SR noise reducer. The tape is a Recording The Masters SM900 and the tape recorder has been calibrated for this tape.

Teac A-3440 - small.jpg

TEAC A3440 and Dolby Model 363 SR
The reference tracks were recorded on SM900 tape at 38cm/s (15ips) with Dolby Model 363 SR, and played back with 24-bit 176.4 kHz digitization.
Before listening, let's start by comparing the bandwidth of the digital version and the tape-recorded version below: the straight line (blue) is the digital version (perfectly linear over the entire spectrum up to 88 kHz), and in white the tape, we see a linear bandwidth rising above 20kHz, with attenuation below 40Hz.

Spectrum bandwith Tape (white) vs Digital (blue) - small.jpg

Spectrum bandwidth Tape (white) vs Digital (blue)

For each of the samples below, you can listen (here) the reference version and the version recorded on magnetic tape, as well as the spectrum comparison graph:
  • Patricia Barber – This Town
  • Miles Davis – So What
  • Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio – Misty for direct cutting
  • Oscar Peterson – You Look Good To Me
  • Gnomus – Mussorgsky (Fritz Reiner)
  • Thomas Schirmann – Too Yong To Die
  • Anne Bisson – Killing Me Softly
  • Michael Jackson – The Girl Is Mine (with Paul McCartney)
  • Dire Straits – Private investigation
  • Roxy Music – Avalon

You'll find full details of how we made this test, with all the samples and measurements, here.

Which do you prefer, the digital version or the tape-recorded version?

Enjoy listening

Jim Taylor

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Oct 22, 2020
It's interesting to play both files at the same time, with a quarter-second delay in one. This allows the ear to compare percussive sounds with practically no delay, although low-frequency sounds with slow rise are essentially obscured. You sacrifice one to gain the other.

This trick sounds "wonky" at first, but the brain soon adapts to it. The results can be ..... interesting.



Master Contributor
Forum Donor
Jul 7, 2022
Northern Virginia, USA
I'll note that tape degrades with time. Your experiment is still interesting and valid as far as it goes. But those old tape recordings will have gone downhill with time.


Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Aug 27, 2018
Michael Jackson – The Girl Is Mine (with Paul McCartney)
Which do you prefer, the digital version or the tape-recorded version?
I don't want to say, because I'm a lover not a fighter! I am quite certain however that the doggone girl is mine!
Ha ha this is very interesting, I'll have to try it. I'm pretty much a digiphile but some great stuff was done on tape without sounding tape-y (The Doobie Brothers TheCaptain And Me for instance). And the absolute best demo I ever heard at an audio show was tape: The Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" through giant MBL speakers. Where did the pristine sounding tape come from? "Friends in the studio"
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