International Phonograph Inc.

0139562e28d267fac31893c4b43b4c96361361df8bInternational Phonograph Inc. (IPI) was formed over 25 years ago with one thing in mind: to create the highest sound quality possible in the service of creative musicians.

The owner of IPI, Jonathan Horwich, has been recording, producing and mastering jazz and classical music since the mid 1960s. He has worked with such musicians as Stan Getz, Benny Goodman, Ravi Shankar, Chick Corea, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Gary Peacock, Clare Fischer, Carmell Jones, Tony Williams, Richie Beirach, and many others.

Drawing on his extensive experience with high quality analog equipment, Jonathan conducted his own research and testing, uninfluenced by other opinions, to locate the finest equipment available. He has incorporated this superior equipment into the construction of IPI Studios, an analog and digital state-of-the-art facility that is second to none.

The focus at IPI has always been and will always be the music and the artist. We believe that a studio and its equipment exist only to serve the musician and help him or her achieve a musical concept or goal. Hence, when a master is created for manufacturing at IPI studios, it is to the highest industry standards, preserving the artist’s vision, concept, and yes, even the joy and enthusiasm that he or she invested in the music. (From their website)

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When we inquired about their tape recording reproduction, this is what they have to say:

There are two categories of tape I produce for International Phonograph, Inc. The first is jazz newly recorded specifically on tape for this tape program. These performances are recorded using analog tape recorders. Normally, I record about 30 minutes of music so that it fits on one reel of tape. These recordings can be created with two microphones or multi microphones. The second category of tapes produced for IPI is master tapes from my library of jazz recorded over the years by me or those I associated with. These are more for the jazz aficionado who loves jazz as a priority and enjoys hearing jazz on the best media, analog tape. In some cases (almost a third, sub-category of the second) there are technical faults in the recording and I don’t post those for sale on the website. For instance, I have a master tape of Warne Marsh which is a brilliant performance but which has technical glitches. I find it stunning and exciting but some tape people do not as their priority is not the performance. Please email me about any of these unlisted recordings if you are a jazz buff. I will let you know what is available and what the technical bugs are in each case. I find the ones with the technical glitches as exciting as anything available today in jazz.

All tapes are ¼” two track, 15ips, IEC (CCIR), on 10.5 inch reels, at 250 nanowebers.

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Jonathan Horwich is a music passionist and knows a lot about recording. He lives, breath and predicates audio, music and tape!  I asked him for a sampler to evaluate and without hesitation he send me a nice aluminum 10.5″ reel inside an archival box with all the information needed.

My main listening room, which is 30′ long x 25′ wide and 10′ high, has professional acoustics installed where it were required and the actual room proof to be very flat and neutral. Early reflections has been properly controlled without resulting in a dull environment. My reference speakers are the Tannoy System 15, DMT II that I used in my Mastering business years ago. Many Gold, Platinum and Grammy awards were done with this pair. At this moment, I’m using a Crown Reference Amplifier, the Audiophile edition, full of power and dynamics. In this room, I have a Crown SX-822 custom made for me by Chuck Ziska, the Crowndoc himself, in a 1/2″ format with 7.5 and 15 ips speeds. I also have a Studer deck and 3 Nakamichi cassette decks.

Following the recommendations of the well known reviewer and audiophile Myles B. Astor concerning IPI tapes, I began my audio journey listening to Jonathan’s tape. As expected, the sound is superb, the miking technique is excellent and the “being there” sensation has been effortlessly obtained. Immediately, the selections played by Roebke, Konitz and Colby respectively, attracted my musician instincts. I felt the music, not just the sound,  but the whole music experience which only an exceptional group of musicians together with a very experienced audio engineer could get.

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Usually, with these kind of tapes, the levels are either very low and noisy or on the other extreme, way too high. In this case the levels were right where they’re supposed to be. A very dynamic, wide and natural ambience. Nice performance and nice recording. Who could ask for more?

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Now I understand why the IPI recordings has a high group of followers among the audiophile circle and the reason why some of their tapes occupies a privileged position on the “best of the best” audiophile tape copies list. Besides this, you can usually get a nice material from IPI for just $150.00, hardly covering their cost, and from time to time special offers are available for those tape lovers in their emailing list.

I highly recommend these tapes for any Jazz lover and for those looking for the “best of the best” meal to feed their precious and vintage decks all around the world. Magnificent work, Jonathan. Kudos to you and your musicians. Your years of experience has paid off!

You can get more information about International Phonograph, Inc. at:

http://www.internationalphonographinc.com/

Tell Jonathan I send you…he may give you a discount!

Carlos J Guzmán-Senior Contributing Editor

Mono & Stereo High End Magazine

Cassettes Anyone?

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One of my 2 Nakamichi Dragons

With the new tape revival around the world, more and more audiophiles are getting into the exclusive, and sometimes expensive, hobby of open reel playback. Many companies have resurrected the old “pre-recorded” reel tapes market but this time with exclusive music and performers dubbed on high quality tape from ATR or RTM, running @ 15ips on a 1/2 Track format and with such a high sound quality that right now this is the best media to take you closer to the “real thing”. In the past, the pre-recorded tapes were duplicated on poor stock tape, 1/4 tk format and 3 3/4 speed. The hiss was always high, but even though I can recall a nice and acceptable sound from many of my older brother’s tapes he brought from Vietnam. Today this is a complete different story. The copies are duplicated on real-time, direct from the duplication masters and using the best recorders they could afford from Studer, Telefunken, Philips and Nagra. Having such a copy is like having a “piece” of the Master Tape itself and I’m not kidding.

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NAD 6300 with the companion Tuner. 

Well, all this noise has been growing lately and it was inevitable that the cassette tape would take the opportunity to jump on the train as well. One of the main advantages the cassette has over the open reel is the prolific abundance of nice units still working around the world and for relative good prices. On the other hand,  the audio cassette players are more complex machines than their bigger relatives and just a small number of capable techs are still dealing with these. To make things even more interesting, some brands requires specific gadgets to be serviced, like Nakamichi for example, making the available techs list even more reduced. I know a lot of good technicians that can’t properly service a Nak simply because they don’t have the required aligning tools and tapes. Those who are adventurous enough as to attempt a service without the Nak specific tools, ends in the same way: recommending a Nak tech to their customer after the damaged is already done…

Other models require a lot of inventive and imagination on behalf of the service tech because many parts and replacements are no longer available. That’s why you have to be careful as to which deck you are going to buy and from who. For example; I collected all Teac “Z Series” decks (only 3 models were done). Later, I discovered the hard way that this specific decks are a pain in the ass to work with and only 3 or 4 techs are willing and capable to serviced it. The Z 7000, a beautiful, impressive and heavy machine is highly complex and prone to problems. At the end, I got rid of all three since every time I needed a service, in shipping cost alone, I use to spend a fortune due to its weight! (over 50 lbs)!

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My former and like “new” Teac Z-7000

Many unjustified criticism has been made to the cassette media. Every time I read something on the press about the cassette revival I have noticed the writer’s prejudice towards the cassette. They usually mention the hiss, low quality and bad sounding characteristics of the cassette tape. Sure! When you deal with a low quality, commercial duplicated tape on a crappy shell and playing it back on an even crappier machine which has not seen a Q Tip with alcohol on the heads since who knows when, hey!, that’s not a fair accusation! That’s not the same cassette tape myself, and many other cassette lovers know! Unfortunately, this handicap is similar to that of the Vinyl. Why do you think the CD took the market like a storm? Simply because even with a “cheap” player you could obtain a fair sound quality (excellent quality for John Q Public) no matter where. With cassette and vinyls you need to have the proper set-up to get the most out of it and that takes time, knowledge and money! The general consumer is always looking for ease of use, flexibility and bargains. No wonder why the CD took over, just to be displaced later by the stream and download services. Who wants to bother now with the old tape again? Only us, the remaining tape lovers who knows where the real quality and music enjoyment is…

The Machine

It has always amazed me the grade of quality and perfection the cassette tape evolved to, running at the very slow speed of 1 7/8 ips and using a 1/4 tk format in such small surface of tape! When was the last time you listened to a good recorded Chrome tape played in a high quality deck? Many people have not had this opportunity and all they remember were those tapes from dad’s car, beaten by the sun and playing in a cheap Kraco unit! How many of you have experienced a custom recorded TDK metal tape playing back on a properly aligned Nakamichi Dragon? You’ll have to hold on to your pants and I’m deeply serious. The best cassette decks can even surpassed the sound of a modest 1/4 tk open reel. Take a Tandberg 3014 A, any Nakamichi TOL model, Revox B 215 or even a NAD 6300 and compared it to a regular reel to reel deck. You’ll see what I’m talking about. I know of a former Creek engineer, Alex Nikitin, who takes a specific Tascam model cassette deck, modify it to run at a faster speed with a handful additional mods and it’s been said that it supersedes in sound to most of the open reel decks out there, and that folks is something else.

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My Revox B-215 Special Edition

Which one to buy? I wouldn’t fall into that trap because this an issue that the cassette hobbyists are never going to concur, but since I’m the author of this article, I’ll take the liberty to recommend my favorites, which are not necessarily the best by all means! Anyway, it all depends on your preferences. Are you a die-hard recording aficionado like me or are you just looking for a good playback machine? Do you want just a “deck” or are you looking for a serious machine? How much do you want to spend? You know, the usual questions to be considered in this and/or any other kind of hobby.

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One of the two Nakamichi 700 ZXE I have. We call it “the toaster”.

Let’s suppose that you are just interested to play those 300 pre-recorded cassettes you are keeping since 1988 in the closet. You’ll rarely use it for recording. You are just looking for a nice machine with nice playback capabilities and your budget is healthy. I’ll immediately refer you to a machine where the azimuth could be manually or automatically adjusted. Why? Because no matter where those tapes of yours were recorded, re-adjusting the playback head angle of your actual deck (azimuth) to the original’s recording head where the duplication took place, could guarantee a crispy and the best sound possible you could get out of any tape every time, unless your tape is such in a bad shape that it’s completely hopeless. The king of all auto-azimuth adjustment decks, and the only one with certain attributes in that department, is the Dragon. Period. You just have to insert the tape and hit the play button. She’ll gets the correct azimuth automatically and will also do the same later on side B once she goes into the auto-reverse direction if you choose that option! Yes, auto-reverse too with one of the best transports ever designed and fully direct drive. One of the most successful models ever made and marketed with over 20,000 units sold, the Nakamichi Dragon is widely recognized among the Hi End circle and even by those who are not related with the hobby. The cons are that she needs to be properly serviced  and a fully refurbished unit will cost you over $1,000.00 easily. My advice: don’t fall for the so-called “working and fully functional” Fleabay description unless it was serviced by a real Nakamichi tech! Sellers think that if they change some belts, clean and lube some things here and there, the machine is “excellent”. Not with a Dragon. Not with a Nakamichi. So, just buy a cheap one and send it to Willy Hermann in California. Prepare to invest at least $600.00 on a full refurbish service and weeks later you’ll receive back a deck working like “new”. A nicely serviced one could cost you $1,500 anyway,so, I already gave you a hint.

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My second Dragon singing!

For manual playback azimuth, Nakamichi offer other models as well and for a lower price tag: Cassette Deck 1 and DR 1. The best in this manual cal realm is the CR-7 but the price is up there with the Dragon, so, it’s up to you.

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Nakamichi ZX-7 (top) and CR-7 in my recording studio.

The NAD 6300 has a playtrim adjustment that what basically does is to increase the high frequencies of a tape. It’s like adding Treble to the sound. Unfortunately, if the azimuth is completely out of adjustment, no matter how much Treble you add, the sound could still be muffled. This deck is one of the best bang for the money in the second-hand market and you can find a good one for under $300.00 easily. The soundstage is it forte, but it is a little bit on the bright side for my taste. Still one of the best if you are on a restricted budget. There are many others from other brands as well, but this article is not a buying guide bible,so, let’s move on. By the way; for those of you who are more technical oriented, you can always adjust the azimuth of your cassette deck with a small screwdriver, as this adjustment screw is usually accessible from the front. This way your selection would be endless: Pioneer, Aiwa, Technics, Yamaha, JVC, Aiwa, Sony, you named it!

How you do it? There are specific tapes recorded with a 10 khz tone for azimuth adjustment. You play the cassette and rotate the screw until you have the strongest signal on both channels. Another method is by ear and it’s very useful for these old tapes: play your recorded tape, preferably one with high energy cymbals and high frequencies, move the screw until you get the best possible “highs”, then, with the Stereo/Mono button of your receiver, go back and forth until you hear a similar sound quality on both modes. When you have multiple decks like me, for example, I always have one main recording unit, what I call the “Master Recorder”. I do a homemade azimuth tape with the Master deck and adjust all the others to this standard. This way I can play all my tapes on any of the decks I have with excellent results.

Recording:

The rules for recording on cassettes are the same basic rules that applies when dealing with any kind of tape. You try to record as high as possible without getting the tape saturated (distortion) in order to obtain a better signal to noise ratio. Depending on the tape formulation, is the signal level you could get. Normal Bias tapes, as a general rule, are best between the “0” and +2db. For Chrome tapes you can go up to +4dB with occasional +6db and Metals up to +8db. This, of course, depends on your deck and to what kind of tape it was originally calibrated. Many variables have to be considered, but at least this is just a basic guidance. It’s  best for the user to familiarize with the deck and experiment with its capabilities and limitations. I always record at the highest possible level, but that’s me. Be sure that the heads and tape path are fully clean. It’s also recommended to de-magnetize all these from time to time. I’m not a fully believer of demag, so, it’s up to you.

What about filters? The famous and useful Dolby is included in every modern cassette deck. The original Dolby B, Dolby C and even the latest Dolby S works in a different way, but with a common purpose: reduce hiss. The last one arrived kind of late into the hobby as to be a serious contender. Based on the studio standard, Dolby SR, the Dolby S supposed to be the most advanced but not many decks has this option. DBX, Dolby competition, were also available in some decks but it never equaled Dolby’s popularity. Additional Dolby “enhancers” were developed to increase headroom,  extend the high frequencies and reduced distortion.

Teac Z 7000

Tandberg  Dyneq/ActiLinear and Bang & Olufsen HX PRO plays an important role in the high quality sound of the cassette decks. The Danish Bang & Olufsen improved the Dolby HX “head room extension” system for reliably reducing tape saturation effects at short wavelength (high frequencies) despite higher bias level. This advanced method was called Dolby HX Pro. HX Pro was adopted by many other high-end manufacturers, except Nakamichi because it really didn’t need it! Dyneq is an anti-saturation circuit, whereas ActiLinear is a headroom extension circuit, according to Tandberg technical staff.With HX PRO, the HF content is monitored & bias adjusted dynamically in accordance, inversely related. When large level HF signals are present, less bias is needed since the HF signal acts as bias for the lf/mf signals. In ActiLinear, this process takes place in the previous amp stage. The transconductance amp driving the record head outputs a current to the head, as opposed to traditional record amps which output a voltage. The bias is mixed with the audio signal ahead of the record amp. In other words, the current drive to the record head which includes bias & signal, is optimized as HF’s content varies, extending headroom. Actilinear is the HX counterpart, whereas Dyneq simply limits the hf boost during record. Maybe I’m wrong but that’s how I understand it. Be sure to look for more information and corroborate it.

Tandberg 3014A with its Dyneq/ActiLinear feature.

The problem with some of these filters is that if the deck is not working properly, Dolby mistracking can take place and the sound would be compromised. Some people opts for No Dolby at all and others prefer Dolby B or C. I have use it all and for me the most “forgiving” is the B because even without decoding  you can still listen to the tape. Not so with the C or dbx. If you are not sure, go straight with no filters at all!

What decks for recording? Anyone you like and can afford. From the Nakamichi stable I like the ZX-7. Why? Because you can still grab a good one for $500.00 or less, it’s very similar in sound to the considerably more expensive and difficult to get ZX-9, has the famous Nakamichi classic transport, the recording parameters as well as the recording head azimuth are manually adjusted and the sound is just wonderful. If you are on the “cost no object” bracket, by all means, go to the big leagues of the ZX-9, CR-7 or Dragon.

If you are looking for a more exotic piece, then a Tandberg 3014A or a Revox B-215 could be your choice. Both are excellent machines, but the Revox is easier to find service and parts for, at least in the USA. A Tandberg in good condition could go as high as $2,000. Personally, I wouldn’t go that high.

What about the classic Naks? 1000 ZXL, 700 ZXL/ZXE, 682 ZX,etc… A 1000 ZXL is the holy grail for the Nakamichi collector. A complex machine, not easy to deal with and very expensive. Over $3,000 easily for a good unit. The golden Limited…forget it! I have seen this one over $8,000 ! Does it really worth it? Ah, eh, …it’s up to you if you really like the golden finish. I sold both many moons ago, the original and the limited, because it was expensive to maintain and my wife never liked the Golden color! One thing must be said: this is one of the best cassette decks ever made in the history of audio and the sound is simply exquisite. Want a taste of the 1000’s without breaking the bank? Go for the 700 ZXL or ZXE. Similar in sound, but still over $1,000 if you find a good one. I have (2) 700 ZXE because there’s something in the sound of these classic behemoths difficult to find in other models.

Nakamichi 1000 ZXL

The NAD 6300 is the best bang for the money. Sings beautiful and record excellent. The price is good also. This model has the Sankyo transport, similar to the CR-7’s, so parts and techs are widely available. Other brands have specific models that are well accepted among the recording aficionados circle: Yamaha KX 1200, Aiwa ADF 800 (very affordable and surprisingly good), Sony,  Technics, ADS, Teac, Akai, Tascam, etc.

Buying Advice:

First, if you are serious about this forget about buying those new units available from Teac or Crosley. No good. If you want to get into this hobby you’ll have to get a good serviced, refurbished and nice cosmetics classic one, like those mentioned above. You’ll be tempted to go for the usual “nice condition, fully operational” ad of Ebay. Forget it. Ask the seller when was the last time the machine was serviced and by who. Those serviced by Willy Hermann tends to cost higher. Sometimes too much. Try to find a nice looking one for less and send it for repairs. The more complex the machine, the most expensive to refurbish would be. What you have to keep in mind is that we are talking about 30+ years old machines here and NONE could be perfectly working if service is not performed. ALL of these machines need service. Sooner or later and there’s not an alternative solution for this. You may find one that still working…until it get to your hands and start using it. Before the month ends the machine would stop working. When I buy a unit I like, I tell the seller to ship it directly to the repair shop. That way I’m sure I’m going to receive a “working like new” deck for years to come. That saves me time and money.

Top view of the ADS C-4 with its famous drawer (Atelier Series)

Conclusion:

This article is not a buying guide, neither covers all needed information about cassette decks, but at least it’s from an owner’s point of view and someone who has been dealing with tape for over 35 years now. Almost every famous audio brand from the 80’s developed its own cassette deck versions but there’s no secret that only few of those excelled in this arena. Some people hates the Nakamichi cult due to personal preferences or simply because they could never afford one. The truth is that, besides Nakamichi, there has been other brands with excellent alternatives, BUT, for me and thousand others Nakamichi rules! They were over-priced and continues to be, that’s for sure, but nobody can deny the importance this brand has in the history of the audio cassette and all the innovations that came with it. Some original inventions were introduced by others, that’s true, but on many occasions they were improved and exploited by Nakamichi in their own applications. What really amazes me from this brand is that even those 2 head modest models sounded better than many 3 head designs from other competitors. Nakamichi were seen as the leader in cassette deck technology and perhaps that’s why every other brand used their comparative Marketing against one name and one name only: Nakamichi. Always. I never saw an ad of Pioneer comparing theirs to a Technics or Sony. The same still going on today. Take a look of a second-hand “for sale” ad of a Tandberg, Revox, Aiwa,etc. The heading usually goes like this: “Tandberg 3014: The Dragon Slayer” or “Revox B-215: better than a Nakamichi” and “Aiwa 9000: a Dragon killer” Have you seen it? I’m kidding not!

Nakamichi, Tandberg, Revox. For me these are the true heavyweights of the cassette deck hey era. I know it would bring many objections, but it is what it is. You also have the rare Eumig, BIC and ASC from Europe. Or the usual and more affordable Japanese alternatives from the most popular brands. Yeah! Even Harman Kardon and their famous CD 491 was a nice one too or the ADS C-4, Luxman, Technics RS M95…OK! But let’s be honest: none of these could get the general public acceptance as “the best” like the first 3 names mentioned. At least this is the truth in cassette deck technology.

Make your final decision. I’m sure that sooner or later one of the open reel tape producers would start looking into audio cassettes as well and when that time comes you better be ready. I am. Are you?

Carlitos Guzman

 

Tape Talk: STS Digital

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…we like music very much, it is a wonderful way to express feelings and communicate with other people on a same level. We like also the sound of musical instruments, played in fine acoustic surroundings, they sound so pure and warm. Unfortunately most CD, LP and Reel to Reel tapes are bad recorded, with a harsh sound to close and without ambience. For this reason we started with STS Digital twenty years ago to do something totally different and the results are our recordings with a fine selection and series like: Extended Dynamic Experience, Celebrate the Art & Spirit of music, Siltech Test Demo CD, The Absolute Sound Reference lots of LP’s and Reel to Reel tapes.

There you go folks, Fritz and Netty de With are a couple of entrepreneurs from the Netherlands deeply involved with the audiophile world and recording as well. These fellows breathe and live music all the way and has been brave enough as to embark on this tape masters saga, now en vogue almost everywhere. They know that they wouldn’t become rich with this limited business, but at least they are enjoying what they love to do and that’s what counts!

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The Product: To begin with, the tapes are supplied in a custom, high quality made aluminum reel with the “STS” logo. The design is innovative and the color is beautiful. The very small “windows” make it difficult to thread the tape on the hub without leaving a “tape flag” protruding out as I like to thread my tapes, but this is just an small detail. The reel by itself if a collection piece.

The tape is a LPR35 from Recording the Masters (former BASF) and comes neatly packed in the reel. Then, you have this nice looking cardboard box with the production cover picture labeled to the box. It’s a high class presentation, second only to the extremely fancy “Open Reel Records” package. The STS box is a reminiscence of the glorious pre-recorded tapes of the 70’s and their 7″ boxes with the picture on it.  It’s easier and cheaper to just send a tape inside a generic box, but NO. STS prefers to spend a little more in order to give the customer something worth of the investment they do on this kind of products.

Inside, you’ll also find the “quality control” certificate, that also serve as the track list and a detailed description of their tape copy process.

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The Recording: The copies are made from the master running on a Philips EL3501 to a bank of 6 Philips N4522. The equalization is to CCIR standards, 320 nWb, half track format and the sampler I received runs @ 15ips. The recording level was right on the money: not too low and not too loud. Just where it’s suppose to be.

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They don’t use Dolby, but the noise floor were extremely quiet!

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The Sound: The sound quality is very good indeed. The instruments timbre is very accurate, the recording space is neatly distributed and you can pin point where’re every musician, the stereo image is wide and well distributed with a very detailed presence and transparency. The illusion of “being there” is extremely realistic. I have the impression that this tape was meticulously mastered and if it’s so, it was a great Mastering work. As a Mastering Engineer myself, I have found many nice recordings ruined by the Mastering process. Not this one. Well, Fritz has been doing this since the 70’s, so, he must know a thing or 2 about recording and sound quality.

Conclusion: The main complaint from John Q Public about the so called “hi end” master tapes is that on many occasions the recordings are made by obscure artists and the music they play, besides the classical titles, are a little hard to listen to for more than 15 minutes. I understand them. For a person just looking to enjoy the music and not trying to constantly evaluate their systems using these tapes, it’s hard to stick on a chair listening to esoteric pieces of music, full of ornaments, dissonances and counter tempos. They want mainstream music. Something more commercial and easier to digest. They want to listen to their favorite musicians and not to “someone” from who knows where, pounding with a mallet on a Conga drum. If these labels want to survive, they’ll have to evolve.

There’s nothing wrong with original recordings from new and upcoming talents, but hey! Sometimes enough is enough, if you know what I mean. This is what I’m constantly hearing around my circles and not only from Joe Mid Fi, but also from seasoned audio professionals as well. The de Witt’s has found a niche where they could offer the interested party the sonical quality of hi end, but with a more pleasant music from artists they can identify themselves with.

Kudos to Fritz and Netty, that by the way is a very friendly and easy going woman in charge of the administration and relationships part of  the STS equation. With Fritz behind the console and recorders and Netty on the Public Relations department, I augur a bright future for the STS label for years to come!

Carlitos Guzmán

Senior Contributor Writer

About the author:

Carlos J Guzman has been involved with the audio business for over 35 years. He has participated in many audio and music segments, including: recording, duplication, high end audio sales, musician and mastering engineer among many others. He was the owner of CopyTech Corporation, what used to be the biggest media duplicator in the Caribbean. In his mastering suite, Carlos performed over 1,000+ projects earning several gold and platinum records including a Grammy in 2002. He’s an avid vintage gear collector and specializes in cassette and open reel decks.

You can also visit his audio-related websites at:

http://mortechpr.wix.com/cassetteadventures

http://mortechpr.wix.com/cgmasteringservices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tape Talk: Yarlung Records

GRAMMY® Award winning Yarlung Records brings fresh musicians to the classical music world using minimalist audiophile recording techniques to deliver sound as close to living performance as possible. Rather than using recording studios, engineer Bob Attiyeh produces these albums in concert halls famous for their acoustics, including Walt Disney Concert Hall  and Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Los Angeles. Yarlung uses both analog tape and high resolution digital media for CDs made with special alloys, high resolution digital downloads including Native DSD, and 180 Gram vinyl, mastered by Steve Hoffman.

Yarlung Valley

Yarlung Records takes its name from the Yarlung Valley in Central Tibet, where the royal houses buried Songtsen Gampo and Trisong Detsen (two of the great early Kings in the historical record) in the Tibetan “Valley of the Kings.” Legends claim the Yarlung Valley as the magical birthplace of the Tibetan people and as a meeting place between heaven and earth. It is in this valley, at the site of  Yambulakhang Castle in our Yarlung Records logo, where Heaven and Earth touched in order to transform humanity…img_0093

“Young, Provocative, Engaging” is the slogan of this fantastic exclusive audiophile label. They have been constantly growing up to the point where they already earned a Grammy Award and has become an standard for systems evaluation in audiophile circles. It’s very hard to visit a room at any Hi End show without hearing the “Smoke and Mirrors” production playing on a open reel deck. The passion for music from which this company is driven, is highly noticeable.

When I asked them to send me a sample for review, I noticed how deeply involved they are with what they do and it was difficult not to like Bob Attiyeh, producer and recording engineer, right from the start. We connected immediately as Bob knows I’m a percussionist. We engaged in a friendly conversation by email and just as he promised me, the tape arrived weeks later, just after he returned from a business trip.

The tape and booklet were supplied in a 1/2″ tape box and it was really kind of him to send me a classic Ampex 456 aluminum open reel with the tape! Perhaps he guessed that I’m also an avid classic gear collector and decided to contribute as well. Ha!

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I proceed to get my Studer ready for the expected musical banquet. I dim the lights and hit the “Play” button on the remote control…wow! The varied repertoire full of surprises, together with a diversified gusto, is a clear example of a very careful and minimalist recording approach which evokes the era when the music performance as well as the sound quality were of equal importance for the listener.

SonoruS:

Yarlung is connected with the SonoruS Audio Project. The SonoruS ATR 10 uses Revox tape heads and motors, but SonoruS engineer Arian Jansen designs and builds everything else, from the transport to the all-vacuum tube electronics. They promise a superb performance, but at $17,500 in its standard version, certainly this is not for everyone. I wish I can hear one myself to see what’s all the fuzz about. I guess it’s a serious contender because the quality of Yarlung Records’ tapes attest for this.atr10_product_page_03_front_njpr

The Tape:

As with all these new open reel productions en vogue, the sound of this production is exquisite. A great ambience is captured in this tape and the effortless flow of music is graciously submitted with precision and focus. The instruments timbre are accurate and the performance is second to none. The piece “Game of Clocks” is a valuable tool for audiophiles evaluating Hi End equipment as it’s capable to exhibit the weakness and strength of the gear in question. The “Geographical Fugue” is highly adventurous and novel. I was so engaged in the Game of Clocks flow that when the next track opened with a loud “TRINIDAD” I jumped up in my sofa and said: “What the hell…” Ha! Very ingenious combination of percussion and vocal performance. The use of AKG tube mics add to the recording quality and in this case, it’s clearly demonstrated.

Conclusion:

The resurrection of the tape media has given a new venue for dauntless producers like Bob Attiyeh, an opportunity to explore alternative kinds of music and performers that would never show up to a wider audience around the world through mainstream labels, and for me, that’s is highly valuable. The quality achieved by the Yarlung’s team is excellent and their commitment to their label is clearly expressed in their recordings. The use and combination of new and classic technology is a delicious proposal for those who demands only the best. Bob is not playing games, folks, he’s very serious about his musicians, performance and sonic quality. Who can ask for more?

Highly recommended!

Carlitos Guzmán-Senior Contributor Writer

Mono & Stereo Hi End Magazine

Tape Talk: UltraAnalogue Recordings

UltraAnalogue Recordings was formed to record chamber music, in a natural acoustic, with custom tube electronics and analog tape – to allow you to experience the ultimate in recorded sound. Hearing analogue tape will completely change your concept of Hi-Fi sound. The master tape duplicates you receive, all 15-ips 2-track, will be as close as possible to the master tape and when played in a fine system, will bring you closer to the live musical event and allow you to experience the raw emotion in the music. http://ultraanaloguerecordings.com/wpsite/home/

This is how Dr. Edward Pong introduce you to his Hi Fi recordings realm, and let me tell you: he’s very passionate about it!

img_0070 1/4″, 1/2 Track Format @ 15 ips sampler

When I started in this Hi End magazine as a contributor, I asked Matej if I could write a column about analog tape and tape decks since this has been my specialty for many years. When my late father gave me my first open reel deck back in 1978, it was the beginning of a long and happy association with tape that has endured over 35 years. It was a SONY TC-560D. Since then, I have graduated into bigger formats like 1/2″ Masters running @ 30ips and 2″ recording tape as well in recording studios from all around the world. As a Mastering Engineer with over 1,000 projects under my belt, I had the opportunity to work with 1/2″ tape masters from all the biggest commercial labels during the 90’s: SONY, BMG, Polygram, Universal, MCA, Fania, you named it! The best Latino recording engineers from PR, USA and South America were my everyday bread. Working with these gentlemen was a privilege and a real life education that I’ll never forget. Some of them jumped into a plane in Colombia, Miami or New York after finishing their mixes, arriving in Puerto Rico hours later for me to take care of their projects while they sleep on the carpet. They already knew the quality of my work and the bond we formed along the years were enough as for they to trust their works on my ears. That was the biggest satisfaction in my career, as well as the good money, of course!

From the almost 20 tape companies specializing in the “master copies” niche, now “en vogue”, Ed Pong was the second one to answer my petition (first one were STS) and without hesitation he went to make a fresh sampler of his label, UltraAnalogue Recordings, for me. He said: “I only make 2 tapes at a time,so, give me a chance”. Talking with this guy is a real nice experience. His enthusiasm about analog sound, tube equipment, vintage mics and recording is contagious! He talks about his Studer A-80 machines as part of his family and even send me a photo of his tech, Roger, aligning one of his gems. Tony Ma is the genius behind Ed’s tube gear.

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His recording studio is right in his living room and he records straight from his Royer vacuum tube microphones to his tubed pre-amp and then to one of his A-80’s. Nothing could be more pure than that since he doesn’t use any console or sound processors while recording his projects. Now you can realize why he call his label “ultra analog” and it’s because it is simply that! Up in Canada, Ed bring his talents to his home and do the recording sessions with this simple, but effective analog chain. I have been told that he also held live presentations by his pool at home. I’ll try to get invited to one of those as it could be a good excuse to write another article…perhaps the magazine’s owner could invest into this…Ha!

Western Electric pre-amp and other analog gear connected to the A-80.

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The Sampler:

Two weeks after asking Ed to mail one of his samplers, the tape arrived at our facilities and without hesitation I opened the expected box. Inside, I found the white box with the 10.5″ aluminum reel inside, a CD and instructions giving you the specs of the tape on hand.

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The enclosed instructions specify that the tape comes on “tails” position, needing rewind and also advise you of the 1 KHz tone behind the leader in order for you to calibrate the output of your deck to O VU if your machine has that feature (pro’ decks has it). If your machine does not provide for this, Ed can supply you with a tape recorded to NAB standards. Remember that this tape is calibrated to 396 nWb/m instead of the common 250 nWb/m, meaning that your meters would be pegging all tape long and distorting on “hot” passages. Be sure to specify how do you want it before ordering.

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We thread our tape on my Crown SX-822, perfectly restored by the very well known Crown’s guru, Chuck Ziska, and rewound the tape to the “heads” position. The machine has been warming up for about an hour before the session started.  Please, be aware of the tone and be careful with your system volume. You can easily blow a driver if the volume is too high (it happened to me back in 1985 when I blew a pair of IMF Professional Monitors midranges with the cal tone of a Revox B-225 CD Player!, SHIT!).

Crown SX-822 winding the tape. Yeeepeee!

Minutes later we dim the lights and the show began. The sound filled the air with the strings and piano of chamber music as if they were playing in front of me! The presence and imaging of the performance were just excellent. My wife Carolyn asked me to try to match a live performance volume just to appreciate the sound’s nature better. My Tannoys DMT 15 System II came alive with the effortless music emanating from the Crown 15ips master copy of the UltraAnalogue sampler. I use these monitors for critical  listening because these are the ones I used to make all those many Masterings years ago. I won a Grammy with this pair, so, it’s my preferred choice. They are just very honest, natural and free of reflections thanks to my big room and professional acoustics. Even at those fortissimo passages, my Crown Studio Reference amp with its 760 watts per channel didn’t even blink while handling the strong demand of this excellent performance.

Yes! The performance. What can I say? These young and talented musicians are not playing games. They are deeply as serious as the recording from Ed Pong is. They are very articulated, with excellent tempo and technique. For those of you who loves chamber classical music and regularly attends this kind of concertos, would be just fascinated with what you are going to hear. This is a “chamber’s banquet”! I have to congratulate Ed and his visionary mission. What he’s doing with his label, which started from zero years ago, has become a favorite among the new tape reelers!  Besides, at the price he sell the tapes, we can qualify it as one of the best values out there.

Other Details:

When compared with the flashy Open Reel Records fancy box and glossy graphics, Ed’s tape looks strictly “commercial”. Similar to the masters you receive from a recording studio to make a Mastering or duplication. Nothing feisty here, except for the high class music and quality of the tape (RTM 900). This tape is the correct one since Ed records 4db+ over the NAB “0” and needs a tape that could take it all. There’s no bells and whistles. Your money is well invested just on the “core” and Ed aware me of this. For a person like myself who doesn’t belief in paying more for the reel than for the tape itself, this is just right. I don’t see how they make money for the amount they charge (I believe $250.00).

The CD Test:

Incidentally, Ed Pong included a CD with music from 2 of the main performers in the sampler: Yun-Yang Lee (piano) and Sietse-Jan Weijenberg. img_0069

Well, since I’m an avid recordist, I couldn’t resist to commit the sacrilege of recording a piece of the CD to my Crown SX-822 @ 15 ips on a virgin ATR tape. I said: “Well, let’s see what the hell is going on here”. I took the outputs of the CDP directly to my Crown…and hit record/play. Mmmmmmm, close but not the same, as the CD itself does not compare with the tape’s sound. No way José. I even found that the CD has more hiss than the tape itself. The hell with it! If you have a good tape deck don’t loose time with the CD. Go straight to the tape (am I sounding a little bit biased for the tape?) Wonder why! Ha,ha,ha!

Conclusion:

As I explained on another review, these tapes are not for everyone. Not cheap and requires a good playback system to appreciate the investment as it should be. I can buy a case of Capture 930 tape with that and record over 250 tracks…but unless I have access to one of Ed’s masters, it would never sound as good,so, why bother?

The package is not fancy, neither the aluminum reels. You wouldn’t receive a glossy plastic box either or a free ticket to the next Ed Pong’s concerts by the pool. What you are going to receive are years of cumulative experience recording excellent performances using a minimalist technique that will transport you to a “live concert” at home. Of course, it is not a live presentation and it has its limitations, but; what is perfect in this hobby? I did found the sound a little darker than the tracks from Open Reel Records tape and this could be due to the system used or perhaps the tape formula itself. That’s not better or worse, just different and completely superior to any heavily processed new recording around.

If you have the dinero, by all means, go ahead and try one yourself. The good thing about quality products is that you don’t need to mortgage your home and invest on a $100k+ system in order to appreciate it. With a reasonable and decent audio system any of these tapes would make it sing. You’ll be surprised how a good reel to reel deck with a nice recording can squashed even a vinyl’s. Don’t take my word for it. Just listen.

Long Live Analog!

Carlitos Guzmán-Mono & Stereo Hi End Magazine Senior Contributing Writer

Producer Comments:

Dear Carlos:
Wow – I’m speechless! Your words are so eloquent! You really said it all …. My focus is to record the most engaging performances with the best sound I can get, from the most enduring music of all time for the audiophile to enjoy. It’s really about the music. In fact I only record the music I love ….

Actually, I make just 1 copy at a time…. Because the recording amp for the Studer is based on the Bendex Red Bank Gold Pin 6900 tube. (Very rare, very expensive, but wonderful sound character) I just bought 2 pairs of vintage Western Electric 300b, the 1956 pair I’m going to try in the microphone pre-amp… I hope to do my next recording session with Japanese virtuoso, Tatsuki Narita in November, with them, if the sound is better…. I actually record in an indoor pool ( water covered) that is 40 x 50 , lined with cedar and high ceilings… The acoustics have a nice natural reverb…I’ve had other engineers recording here… Solo cello…

I’m not really sure I have anything to add, except ” thank you for listening & appreciation my efforts & music….”

My Thank you for writing such a wonderful review!
Best,
Ed

UltraAnalogue Recordings

 

Streaming Music: Good or Bad?

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The services of Tidal, Spotify and Deezer has been widely analyzed, compared and criticized by many. Audiophiles specifically, seems not to take it seriously but the reality is that  millions of persons stream their favorite music everyday through one of these services (there’re more, but these 3 are the most used). The majority of the subscribers are young people who engage in their listening experience using their i phones with “el cheapo” headphones and seems to be perfectly happy with it.

As a professional Mastering engineer myself, recording since 1978, I have enjoyed the flexibility, availability, ease of use and abundance of tracks available from these servers. Surprisingly, sometimes the access of thousands of songs at the tips of my finger tips supersede the audio quality while the music transcends the service limitations, I mean; do you listen to music or do you use music to keep analyzing your expensive gear all the time? On my personal case I do both, but music goes first.

If you have a great audio system and want to stream high-quality music, Tidal is one of your best choices, besides Deezer. Spotify still mp3, but when paying for their premium service the streaming quality goes up to 320/kb, but still inferior to the lossless streaming service of the above two, or at least that is what you expect, no? “What are the differences?” asked a friend of mine and I replied: Supposedly a better stereo spread, crisper at the top end (listen to the hi-hats), less ‘muddy’ in general. Subtle differences and nothing like night and day as some people argue but yes, noticeable if you know the track well and if the original recording is of high quality. This last, folks, is the most important one. If the original recording was a disaster, no matter if you use Tidal, Spotify or Mickey Mouse streaming service, the results would not be good anyway. Even Hi Rez files you download from high resolution digital servers are not impressive when the original material sounded awful in the first place.

Now, let’s cut the “Hi End” stuff and get into “reality mode” so that we can analyze these services objectively. I know that as soon as you read the word “lossless” FLAC, your Hi End instinct would kick in and just immediately you’ll say “this should sound better”…sure! But how much, really? If the 320/kb streaming of Spotify Premium sounds very good,when I A/B test on familiar songs I can hear the difference but I am not sure how well I could do on a scientifically blind test on unfamiliar music. This difference is not detectable even if you have an above average stereo or decent headphones. The better your audio system, more pronounced the difference is. So, unless you are the obsessed audiophile type who spend onerous money on your audio gears, I don’t see a compelling reason to use Tidal’s lossless streaming for double the cost, but if you have a good system, lossless is definitely worth it. By the way, this test were already conducted by a well known magazine and for each 3 attempts, only one out of three were chosen correctly, the same rate as if they were guessing! In the real world, how many musicians and audio engineers do you see boasting about the sonic superiority of FLAC audio? “Basically none, because they know that the difference between FLAC and 320/kbps MP3 is utterly irrelevant to 99.98% of what you hear in a recording. This is what happens when you use these services to make compilations on a tape. Once you record it on a tape, then is even more difficult to distinguish the difference. We have done this test many times and when the recording is good, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the two, that is; if you are only listening to the music! Some tricks make it easy to distinguish almost immediately, but that is something I would keep under my sleeve…sorry!

The fact is that Tidal sounds louder than any of the other services and it’s widely understood in the audio community that an increase in loudness of even just 1 dB can result in a higher perceived quality, all else being the same. It’s advisable, then, to take with a huge grain of salt their claims of audio quality. Bitrate doesn’t mean much when the underlying source has been bastardized. You have to listen it yourself. One of the biggest things with Spotify is the developer community. The add-ins, plugins, etc which turn it from an ordinary web stream player into your own personalized music vault. However I don’t think Tidal lossless is worth twice the Spotify premium subscription cost. That’s also up to you. One thing I must say is that Tidal is a decent service, with a lot to like about it. I’m fond of their editorial curation and the audio quality, but the apps aren’t as mature, nor as usable as Spotify’s, besides the catalog seems smaller, (admittedly infrequent) buffering is annoying, and to get Hi Fi, you’re splashing out an extra $10.00 per month. Tidal’s main differentiation is also, ultimately, a single feature. If Spotify switched on a FLAC option tomorrow, Tidal would be nowhere. That’s for sure!

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I love to use these services to make my own compilations on tape. I don’t care if it has the ultimate sound quality as long as I can find the music I want and for the music style I like, Spotify Premium offers the best selection. Where in the world could you access thousands of tracks in a matter of minutes and build your own playlist from just one source? If you take into consideration that in order to make a mix open reel tape of 95 minutes, you’ll need several CD’s or Records, for just $9.99 a month Spotify is hard to beat.

I was asked by a fellow member of a forum I also write, “Why are you wasting precious tape recording from Sporify and not play direct from it?” Well, to begin with, my first reply was: “Are you paying for the tape?” I do this because once you transfer these digital files to a very good tape, using an stupendous deck like my Crown CX-822, the quality is transformed and the sound is immediately better. Again, as long as the original recording is of good quality, transferring it to tape makes it even better, or let just say that I like it much more! I just love the Analog quality combined with the digital flexibility. Also, I only use Spotify in my personal studio to make my own playlist on tape and then listen to it in other systems and decks around my house. That’s the main reason. Try it yourself. It’s fun, easy to use and cheap!

Long Live Analog

 

 

 

The Cassette Tape Project

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Remember last week I told you about this book and how I will record a song of each of those albums from the 1980’s section? Well, I did it! It took (8) C-92 CRO2 cassettes, 187 tracks, 12 Hours and 15 minutes of the best 1980’s music representation. It was a very interesting journey, full of music and groups I didn’t even know they existed.

I used my dedicated “super-server” my youngest son custom made for me and look into each and every album of the book’s 1980 section. I selected a song of each one based on the popularity of the track and the book recommendations.

I used my Nakamichi CR-7 for this specific project because of the excellent sound and the automated features, specifically the auto-fade at the end of the cassette tape. That way, after presetting a proper level, I just left the machine and server do the rest. Later on I listened to all of them at my office’s system consisting of a Nakamichi 700 ZXE, Jolida 202 tube integrated and a pair of Mordaunt Short monitors. I programmed cross-fades of 10 seconds for a non-stop experience.

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I recorded the tapes on my basement recording studio at home. Besides the powerful server, I have some other peripheral equipment as well. Platinum Audio Studio Monitors, KRK Pro mixing powered monitors courtesy of my son William, a classic Crown and member of the AES Hall of Fame prize the fabled DC-300 A II, Nakamichi CR-7, Nakamichi ZX-7, Crown CX-822 open reel, EAD 1000 DAC, Arcam One CD Player,etc…

It took me about a week, but now I want to take my own favorites and record a long play reel tape with my Crown CX-822, using the new ATR Tape MDS60.

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I must say that the open reel sound compared to the cassette is by far superior in sound stage, presence, blackness behind the music, space and everything else, BUT, if we take into consideration the cassette tape properties against the 1/4″ open reel tape and speed difference I must say that the cassette tape developers achieved a historical angular stone in the history of audio. Of course, this Nakamichi CR-7 is not what you can call a “common” cassette deck, but still, a very nice sound indeed!

Long Live Analog!

Carlitos Guzmán, Senior Contributor Writer

Soulful Weekend in Puerto Rico!

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Some eateries and restaurant options at the new mall.

Another Sunday’s morning in my beautiful Puerto Rico. My Irish wife Carolyn and me are ready to hit the road and end with the boredom. We were looking to visit the recently opened Hi End “Mall of San Juan”. It’s been said that a “Urban Outfitters” store has a complete “analog” section with turntables, vinyls and even cassettes! Wow! For a married couple who has been related with audio tape for over 30 years, this represents an opportunity we couldn’t refuse…and off we go!

We got there early, around 11:00 AM, before the rush of people arrived. We visited the usual William’s Sonoma and Pottery Barn stores on the mall’s second level to keep my wife calm & happy, you know, but I was getting anxious to see what was all the fuzz about this Urban’s thing. After some window shopping we took the electric escalator down to the first level and just after a couple of steps I could already see from the outside an Audio Technica turntable!

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Nice Display, ah?

Once inside the store I could notice a jovial environment with good atmospherics directed primarily to young hipsters. It evokes the 80’s when I was seriously getting into domestic audio collection. The clothing is more appropriate for my 2 sons but since I was not looking into that, I simply directed my attention to the audio section. To be honest, I was expecting something more elaborated but then I realized that this was not an audio store in all the sense of the world. They had 2 Audio Technica tables there and some other “crappy” but nice looking “all in one” consoles, like those used by the elementary schools to play the “Three Little Pigs” record.

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Definitely not a Hi End option, but who cares? It’s cute anyway! 

With all honesty, I was just tempted to buy one of those cheap players just for fun and as a novelty to put it on my living room or office. Unfortunately, Carolyn stopped me with her usual “Are you kidding?” question meaning “NO”. “How many systems do you have at home right now? What do you need that little shit for?”  Well, probably she was right,so, I have to wait for a next opportunity and use an special date as an excuse…Christmas is coming! Ha!

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Some of the vinyls for sale.

The vinyls section was not what an avid collector could expect but it was highly gratifying to see young kids looking and perusing through the records. There’s hope for analog after all. I mean, they are just into this because it’s en vogue, but you have to start somewhere anyway and why not here. All pressings were 180 gm Vinyl, premium quality with colorful jackets and prices fluctuating between $18.95 and up to $40.00 for double albums. Not bad, I guess…

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New and sealed cassettes!

Then, we saw a couple of cassettes on a table that I thought were just part of the decoration, but it was not. Actually, these were new and sealed cassettes for sale! Can you believe it? Also, they had  a series of domestic recorded mix cassettes hanging on a wall labeled as “rescued” from who knows where and also for sale! Isn’t that piracy? Well, I don’t care a flying record if those are or not because I was so thrilled with that sight that I simply didn’t care at all! Suddenly, Carolyn said “Oh, oh, here we go. I don’t want to see you here with your briefcase full of cassettes trying to sell them some”. Boomer! That was exactly what went through my mind when I saw those cassettes there.

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This one I bought and it’s awesome!

Well, I didn’t took any record player, vinyl or cassette tape with me, but I bought a book full of surprises. For an avid recordist like myself, this “bible” is something I must have and I just got it! “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die”. I mean, I would take this with me inside the casket when my time comes, that’s for sure! Since I have access to Tidal, Deezer and Spotify Premium I decided to make a compilation of those 1980’s significant records on cassette and until last night I was going through Volume 4! I have just discovered plenty of new music and also read about the story behind each one of the records included in the book. Recommended!

“Festival del Límber” Ceiba, Puerto Rico.

Finally, we decided not to eat at the mall after all and conducted ourselves to the East Coast close to where we live. Ceiba is the name of the town right on the eastern extreme of the island where a Festival was going on. We arrived about 2:00 PM and immediately went to grab lunch at “Broadway’s Bar and Grill”. This is a typical Puertorrican informal restaurant and bar. They cook really good and we usually have lunch there or visit them in the evening to drink cold beers and eat some light dishes. The prices are phenomenal and they can fix you anything from  a pizza up to a very local plate of rice and beans. No problem at all! After the lunch we found some old acquaintances and share with them nice alive music from local groups and enjoyed the festivities.

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Once back at home, I started my 80’s Music recording saga with gathered information out of my new book. I choose my custom loaded Shape Mark 10 shells with Maxell XL II tape I loaded 20 years ago at my former CD & Cassette duplication plant. I custom loaded 500 C-92’s at that time in the most expensive shell duplication business has ever had, the Shape Mark 10 with their famous individually molded “bridge”, loaded with Maxell XL II or TDK SA cro2 tape. I printed it with my name on it,etc. Just under 100 remains today ready for recording. Anyway, I must have over 700 blank tapes from all brands you could ever imagine,so, I’m well stocked for the future. I’ll keep you posted about how many volumes I finally came up with of the most significant records of the 80’s cassette saga. This project could keep me busy if I try to do the rest of the decades as well! That’s for sure!

Long live Analog. Cheers!

Carlitos Guzmán, Puerto Rico

Recording the Masters: LPR 90

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LONG PLAY HIGH OUTPUT STUDIO TAPE
• Same formula as the high output tape SM900
• Back-coated
• Formats: 1/4’’
• Wider dynamic range
• Higher Output
• High level uniformity up to the highest frequencies
• Excellent winding properties
• Low noise, low distortion
•  Sounds open and transparent with a solid bottom end

Here you have the new AGFA, BASF, EMTEC, RMGI, PYRAL, MULANN or simply RecordingtheMasters tape! Who cares about the name as long as the formulas are better? And in this case, that’s the case (ha!, excuse the redundancy).

A month ago, I received a call from the RTM (Recording the Masters) tape distributor in the US, the tape legend Mr. Don Morris, kindly offering me the opportunity to evaluate the new tape product, together with some plastic NAB reels. He was en route to the Paris show and to spend some days at the Mulann tape manufacturing plant where the new RTM brand is being made. When he came back, he paid a fortune in a Express Mail package with the samples inside and I received it just overnite!

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The tapes and reels arrived in excellent condition. The plastic reels came inside a good quality cardboard box, NAB format and looking good. At least these are much better than the usual “trident” style that I hated so much. With these ones I don’t have the need to keep changing my Crown’s adapters as happened every time I come across a trident’s reel. I don’t know you guys but personally I don’t believe in paying more for an empty reel than for the tape itself. That’s how it is at the “pro” level. On domestic applications, some people love to see beautiful aluminum reels for aesthetic purposes, and that’s OK, but not me. For those occasions you can always buy a beautiful empty reel with the “logo” on it and show it off to your friends. I can understand that, but with the new tape revival some folks are charging ridiculous prices for silk screening empty reels with “brand” names on it and that’s ridiculous. Most of the time I buy the tapes on a hub or on plastic reels.

TEST:

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We put the new LPR90 on a set of flanges that I keep for that purpose and used the NAB plastic reel to permanently store the tape. I’m using my trusted and fully restored CROWN CX-822 that I use on my Mastering suite for recording my new tape. I choose a high energy material from my Spotify Premium subscription in order to record a full 90 minutes program.

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The BIAS was the same as the last tape we recorded here, which incidentally was the new Capture tape formula. It was right on the money. We ran the tape completely from reel to reel and found a nice and uniform spooling. No sticky issues and no debris at all. The slitting was perfect! We did our domestic stretch test and it has a good consistency, similar to the other Pyral tapes. The back-coat cohesion is excellent as it should be. This is a good tape.  Now, let’s get a recording here and see what happens…

RECORDING:

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Since this formula is suppose to be similar to the very HOT SM900, with wider dynamic range and higher output, well, that’s exactly what we were trying to test…and we certainly did it! We pushed it to continued over +3db material, with heavy bass and extended highs. We peg the needles to the extreme right, all the way down and this tape kept receiving all we threw at it! We even made a tone sweep with a Tone Generator at abusive levels and just when the level was ridiculous high, or when the Crown’s limitations were present, then and only then, we noticed tape saturation. When they say this new LPR90 is similar to the 900’s, I believe it!

LISTENING:

Our weekend panel test was different this time. We had more people and mostly recording pro’s. Just one audiophile to keep the balance and 3 recording engineers. The night before, I spliced the tape in 4 sections and in this order: LPR90, LPR35, Capture, LPR90. All separated by white leader tape so the audience could notice when a new tape was coming.

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Our system consisted of a fully restored CROWN SX-822, Tannoy System 15 DMT II monitors, 3 Crown amplifiers DC-300 and D 150, LAT International wires and AC cords, a custom made PC with high res card specifically made for Hi Res files playback, EAD converter and my old and trusted Pioneer Spec One preamp. Nothing fancy here. Just good vintage equipment in a 20′ wide by 28′ long and high ceilings room, in a professionally acoustical treated environment.

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I recorded “I know, You Know” from Esperanza Spalding’s album “Esperanza”. Same level, very hot for all 4 tape segments, 1 minute and a half each section, non-stop. We did it twice. Sound was spectacular, as always, with no apparent differences among the tapes except for one observation that the legendary recording engineer Papo Sánchez did: “All tapes are OK, but at least the first one, at those hot levels, seems to be more effortless in its sound presentation”. The first one was the LPR90. The panel concluded that all tapes were good and only time will tell, referring of course to the aging factor and how well they aged. They did notice, though, that the new LPR90 formula evoke the SM900 properties very well indeed!

Conclusions:

The physical properties of this new contender are very good. Nothing to complain about. It’s very clean on the tape path, take hot levels with ease and if the formula is good enough to hold the recorded program intact for a long time, we have a winner here. For those domestic amateurs looking for a high quality long play tape, with pro characteristics and good calibrated decks that could take really hot levels, the LPR90 could be an excellent choice. We are very happy to see how Mulann and its new Tape Division, “RecordingtheMasters”, is taking the tape fever very seriously. They have not forgotten the “Johnny Q Recordist” who still loves to run his Revox, Teac, Akai, Technics,etc with freshly new manufactured tape. No more paying stratospheric and ridiculous prices for a 25 years old domestic Maxell NOS when you can grab a new “pro” or “semi pro” tape like the LPR90.

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This is a good time to refurbish your old decks from the attic and put it to work. There’re still a lot of decks that are worth to restore. Yeah, I know, the prices are getting ridiculous, but you can still find a good old domestic brand in good condition and at a fair price, if you have patience. There’re people who specialize in restoring these old behemoths to “better than new” conditions for a price, of course. Crown, MCI, Studer, TEAC, Technics, TASCAM,etc. All these brands has been restored by service engineers who are also passionate about the hobby as well. Chuck Ziska from Ocala, FL is my choice for everything concerning CROWN decks. He’s the Crown Doc. No doubt about it. Then you have Marc Bischof of California restoring Studer, Technics, Otari. Chris Mara and his MCI restorations are already famous among the pro’s. Well, you got the idea, but if you insist to spend a real fortune on a restored Technics or Tascam you can always order yours custom made to your needs from one of those “boutique restorers”, like J Corder for example, at a hefty price. The options are there. It’s up to you.

Finally, the people of Horch House are coming with a new “Revox”, brand new deck in domestic and pro versions, to be available early next year! The future is bright for the tape. Open reel or cassette tape as well.

Long Live Analog!

ENJOY!

About the author:

Carlos J Guzman, El Magnifico, has been involved with the audio business for over 35 years. He has participated in many audio and music segments, including: recording, duplication, high end audio sales, musician and mastering engineer among many others. He’s the former president of CopyTech Coproration, what used to be the biggest media duplicator in the Caribbean. In his mastering suite, Carlos performed over 1,000+ projects earning several gold and platinum records including a Grammy in 2002. Audio has run in the family’s genes for ever and his father, Dr. Carlos Guzmán Sr, was among the most important popular music collector of his era.  El Magnifico is a avid vintage gear collector and specializes in cassette and open reel decks. His tape decks collection is the biggest one in Puerto Rico. Carlos holds several degrees from the University of Puerto Rico and Fort Hays State University respectively.

You can also visit his audio-related websites at:

http://mortechpr.wix.com/cassetteadventures

http://mortechpr.wix.com/cgmasteringservices

 DISCLAIMER: As with all the reviews we voluntarily do without any remuneration whatsoever, we advise our readers that these writings are for amusement only and in no way our tests are scientifically controlled. This is just a way of saying “thank you” to a hobby and passion we all share. The final word must come from your own experience with the product itself. Please use your own criteria.

 

 

Long Play Tapes:Pyral or ATR?

Studer

With the new analog tape fever en vogue, the need for fresh and new tape has also arisen and thanks God for the people of Pyral (former BASF) and the gang of ATR (former Ampex) who continues manufacturing tapes for the open reel recording aficionado. When I started in this hobby, my father gave me a SONY 7″ TC-560D reel to reel deck as a mid school graduation present. It was auto-reverse, inside a wood box and not too big. Anyway, that was the beginning of my long and happy association with the open reel world!

 

sony_tc-560d_stereo_tape_deck

In those days, TDK, Maxell, Scotch were everyday tape brands and easy to obtain at any audio store. AGFA and AMPEX were more professional driven options and not openly available for John Q Public. I loved those brilliant color boxes of TDK 7″ tape, wrapped in cellophane paper for hardly $7.50 each! Later on, I graduated to 10.5″ big reel decks and my first one was a REVOX B 77 MK II. TDK and Maxell, which I still have today, continued to be my favorites until I stepped into the Pro Audio arena. That’s when I started using BASF and AMPEX. In Puerto Rico, Ampex were a long time favorite and easily obtainable among the recording studios and was practically alone until the early 90’s when BASF started penetrating the market with new formulations and a expanded dealers network. I became BASF and AMPEX distributor, among many other brands, in 1994 and since then I have observed the legendary rivalry between these 2 tape giants. It was like Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola! The Ampex 456 and the BASF 468 were standards in our industry. Then, the Ampex 499 and BASF 911 arrived offering a little more high-frequency headroom than the former ones. Both brands evolved into newer names and owners with hot formulations like the Quantegy GP-9 and EMTEC SM-900 that I still conserve today, but these alternatives required higher end machines with enough higher bias voltage to set it up properly.

My ATR trial order tape arrived in perfect shape.

Anyway, both brands suddenly dissapear when the digital realm start replacing the analog behemoths in the recording studios and it was the time when the 1/2″ open reel was no longer the “master” send to the Mastering Studios and was rapidly replaced by the DDP tape, DAT and CD-R. Also, the famous U-Matic format was the favorite media to be send to the replication plants. People started selling their Studers and Otaris for peanuts and never thought that the analog tape would come back; but this time with a vengeance!

The Pyral LPR 35 with plastic reel. A good seller in PR.

In 1995, I bought and almost new 1/2″ Studer A-80 deck from Canada for hardly $5,000. It had less than 400 hours on it! Today, you’ll be lucky if you find that same machine for under $15,000 !!! The Tape Project from San Francisco, CA start placing the open reel tape back on the map again and made it available for those new yuppies looking to expand their expensive “cigar culture” into new horizons. Suddenly, the old Technics 1500, Otari MX -5050, Tascam and Studers re-born again but this time with a higher price tag. Even the old venerable CROWN SX and CX with a $1,800 price tag in the 70’s, are now back again fully restored and sounding better than new. All of this thanks to the analog revival fever.

 

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The New Tapes: There’s no good deck without a good tape and that is a fact. Since the open reel tapes for domestic applications were taken out of the production lines during the 80’s, the professional brands has taken over and has filled the domestic holes left by the Maxell and TDK brands.( There’s an strong rumor going on lately that Maxell is looking to start producing tape again. It seems that they are studying the market and see if this tape revival is the real thing or just another temporary whim. I’ve been told that it also depends on new machines development. At least a new open reel deck is on the horizon). Today, only the succession of Ampex and BASF still active producing analog tapes for the professional and for the recording aficionado as well. Another new kid on the block is been developed as I write this article: CAPTURE TAPE. 

BASF: On July 29, 1943, the BASF Magnetophon tape plant in Ludwigshafen was completely destroyed by a non war-related, accidental explosion of a tank car. The disaster wiped out all tape-manufacturing machinery in the factory, including the only coating machine for Magnetophon Type C tape, installed in 1936. After the war, the Wolfen plant, located in the future “German Democratic Republic” or East Germany, became a state film and tape factory called “Orwo”. In 1948, tape experts from Wolfen built a new Agfa tape factory in Leverkusen, near Cologne, which was moved to Munich in the 1970s, and finally merged with BASF AG to form BASF Magnetics GmbH in 1991. Its successor, EMTEC Magnetics GmbH, went out of business in 2004. In 2006, RMGI in The Netherlands began producing some BASF/EMTEC tape types on equipment purchased from the EMTEC bankruptcy auctions. Today, the French company PYRAL took over RMGI and is the one producing the tapes again. On January 2015, the French court ordered the sale of Pyral assets, who was operating under the Chapter 11 protection, to Mulann Industries, a manufacturer of production and testing equipment for the credit card, ticketing and smart card industries. I don’t know you guys but it seems to me that the days of the former BASF tapes wouldn’t be long…hopefully, I could be wrong.

2016-02-16 11.54.04

Ampex: Ampex is an American electronics company founded in 1944 by Alexander M. Poniatoff. The name AMPEX is an acronym, created by its founder, which stands for Alexander M. Poniatoff Excellence. At one time public, the remaining ongoing business unit (Ampex Data Systems Corporation) was acquired by Delta Information Systems in October 2014, with the original parent, Ampex Corporation, ceasing operations in October 2014. Ampex’s tape business was rendered obsolete during the 1990’s, and the company turned to digital storage products. They never managed to become a player in this field, and the company was moribund by the 2000’s. In January 2007, Quantegy announced that it will cease production of magnetic tape in April 2007 and is taking orders up until February 22.  The only remaining manufacturers of new magnetic tape for sound recording are PYRAL and ATR Magnetics. The Spitz family, famous for their Ampex machines mods and who continues to be prominent in the pro audio business, took over the former Ampex tape production and re-started its production under the commercial name ATR Magnetics. After some years of experimentation, they finally came out with a long play formula called MDS-36 that promise to be well accepted by the domestic recording arena. This is what we got from their website:

ATR Introduces New 1-mil Tape!
MDS-36 is the latest addition to the ATR Magnetics line of audio recording products. MDS-36 is the long-playing version of our ATR Master Tape that engineers and musicians have come to love. We named MDS-36 in commemoration of company founder and industry leader Michael D. Spitz. Coated on the highest quality 1.0 mil polyester film, MDS-36 provides excellent performance and reel-to-reel consistency. Our new formulation offers high output and low noise with improved recording economy, and is bias compatible with ATR Master Tape requiring minimal adjustment for optimal performance. MDS-36 is available in ¼” width and 3,600 foot length on 10.5” NAB metal reels or in flange-less “pancake” form supplied on NAB hubs.

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Which One Is Better?

First of all, let’s clarify that we are a distributor for both brands, we have been dealing with these tapes since the Ampex-BASF years during the 90’s, these tests are subjective and for amusement purposes only and we are not conducting a scientific controlled experiment, neither it is our intention to mislead anyone. Always use your own professional criteria.

 The ATR tape on our Crown CX-822.

For this “shootout”, we used one of our perfectly restored Crown CX-822 and try the new tape on recording running @ 7.5 ips and using the 1/2 track pro format. We ordered 5 tapes in the metal reels and were received almost 4 days later inside the archival boxes or what they call now: “Tape Care Box”. It’s been a long time since we have seen this type of box available again! After our first examination, it’s obvious that this tape is a little thicker than the Pyral’s. Hopefully this wouldn’t translate into more oxide residual on the heads. At first sight you may deduct that the ATR is stronger than the Pyral counterpart. We proceeded with our own “stretch” test and definitely the ATR is a hair stronger. No doubt about it. We put the tape on the CX deck and hit the rewind button, as the tape is supplied in the “tails” position.

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CX-822 rewinding the ATR tape.

We proceeded with our “residual” test where we select a higher speed, this time 15 ips, and let the machine run for a while. Let us clarify that Pyral does not endorse their LPR 35 for high speed recording. They specify it for 7.5 ips speed, but we have used it many times for 15 ips master recordings with excellent results. The ATR went first…we took a Q Tip sample of the oxide residual…a little too much for a new tape of this kind. We then repeat the test with the Pyral…the cotton came almost clean. No problem. We proceeded with a short recording session. We selected a high-res file of Keith Richards with very clear highs, strong bass and excellent mid presence. Surprisingly, and just as Dan Labrie from ATR mentioned on a dealers letter,  “MDS-36 Product Description”. Recommended operating level is +6/185 with a bias requirement identical to ATR Master. This tape is similar to the the 407, 457, LPR-35 and XLI-35 formulations. This product is intended for the home recordist and general purpose recording”, the bias needed for the new ATR formula is identical to the ones required by the LPR-35! We didn’t even have to bother with the bias adj. on our Crown.

2016-02-16 13.13.28

Identical BIAS setting for both tapes!

Recording and Listening Test: We proceeded with the recording of a 6:05 duration track with a constant  level of 0db and ocassional peaks of +2db. The ATR went first, followed by the Pyral’s. WOW! Both tapes behaved almost identical in our subjective tests: clear highs, punchy and strong bass, in your face mids,etc… The hot levels are easily assimilated by both and with all honesty, we didn’t find any substantial sonic difference among both! Well, if you want me to play the “expert reviewer” game with you and offer “false” pretensions of this tape “this” while this other tape “that”, I’m so sorry. I have never liked the game of BS reports! It is what it is. No more, no less. This is a “duration” battle that will only be solved in the long run: which tape aged better. As simple as that.

During the 80’s and 90’s some reviewers claimed that the Ampex 406 & 456 used to loss some high end after the first 24 hours of storage. Supposedly, the BASF didn’t do that. On the slitting qualities, the original BASF from Germany was also a hair better. Unfortunately, all of these has changed. During my many years as a Mastering Engineer dealing with both tapes on a daily basis, I can say that it was more of a “brand loyalty” issue than the sound itself. I did found in those days the Emtec tape to be cleaner on my heads, but from time to time we found a batch that was not as good. The infamous SSS problem were experienced by all brands during any certain time of their existence. No exceptions!

So, we recorded the same track, from the same source, with the same level, on the same deck and once finished we spliced both tapes together for our panel “blind test”. No one could identify which tape was which until we told them and that was the main idea: to avoid the “cult following” phenomena.

2016-02-16 21.33.12

Both tapes separated by a white leader tape.

As we already expected, nobody could choose which one sounded better! We could have tell them that both slices were the same tape and everyone could have believe us. The panel consisted of 2 audiophiles, 2 recording engineers and 2 casual listeners. My longtime friend and the most popular Salsa Music recording engineer in the Latin arena told me that “this is just a matter of a personal preference and brand availability”. That’s all. Oh! man, we really enjoy this kind of informal tests that we usually conducts from time to time.

The long recording test: Since we consume at least 10 rolls of LPR 35 monthly, we already know how it behaves and the truth is that we can’t complain about it. We did the same with the ATR tape. We selected 7.5 ips speed and almost 90 minutes of constant music from our High-Res files and set it to recording. For our surprise, after a little more of a 1/2 of the tape, the right channel dropped and the sound became dull. The typical situation when a head gets dirty. Sure enough, we pull the tape out of the head path, cleaned it and identified the culprit: heavy oxide residual on the heads! The same happened when we played it back on our other Crown SX 822: we had to stop the tape once to clean the heads! Could this be tape coating problem? We contacted ATR directly and they attended our concerns with their usual professionalism and courtesy. After all, I don’t want any problems with my customers either!

Playback in our other Crown machine: the SX-822 1/2 track.

After talking with Dan Labrie of ATR, a nice gentleman and a person ready to take rapid action in solving problems, he promised to replace any “problematic” reel (if any) with a new one as needed and was very helpful trying to find an explanation for this. Actually, the situation was consistent with more than one deck and I also received 2 emails from reel tape colleagues who insisted that they were experiencing the same issues! Several answers or alternatives were considered: 1- problems with the tape formulation itself, 2- problems with the back coating, 3- problems with this specific batch, 4- problems with the machine alignment, 4- storage requirements or 5- tape width is a “hair” more and the tape guides are “shaving” it leaving a more than usual amount of debris.

Conclusions: As a loyal dealer for both brands, I simply don’t have a personal favorite as long as the quality is good and the sound is superb. I still have over 200 reels from the 90’s of BASF 911 & 900 and Ampex 456 & 499. I can say that the BASF has aged better than the Ampex but it also depends on the storage quality. I have been luckier with the BASF, though. The actual Pyral formula, LPR 35, runs cleaner than its counterpart but sonically speaking they are the same! I’m not able to pick one over the other if talking about sound characteristics alone. Both take high levels without stress, highs are clear and bass is tight. They just reproduce whatever you throw at them with finesse and precision. I think that the sound quality difference that some people claims to hear it’s just a matter of brand loyalty or “golden ear” syndrome. After all, “audio” still subjective and you can choose whatever you want without the fear of going wrong because both tapes are just that good. One thing the MDS 36 is a clear winner over the Pyral is the archival box included in the price supplied with the metal reel. We also know that the tape would be available on 7″ reel and on pancakes in “eco boxes”. They already know that this formula would be heavily used by the non-professional public and for domestic applications. We also have to consider that some tapes play better on a specific deck and that’s a fact.

On another note, the debris issue associated with the MDS 36 is something to deal with and I’m very sure that the ATR people are working on it. If you are not lazy cleaning your heads and in keeping your machines in top shape, this shouldn’t be significant unless the problem gets worse as the tape gets older. This is something to wait and see. If on the other hand you are one of those who clean your deck heads after playing or recording 5 tapes, forget it! My recommendation is to order 1 or 2 reels only and try it for yourself in your deck before a final commitment. Other ATR fanatics have also told me that they have not experienced the same “problem” with their decks, on the contrary, they swear by the ATR MDS-36 tape, so there you have 2 different positions. Let’s be fair and give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, ATR still working on the formula in order to improve it.

My main worry on all this is not the debris issue because I’m sure that ATR is going to solve it. My main preoccupation is that at this moment in time I’m not completely sure how long Mulann, the owners of Pyral, would remain in the tape business. This specific tape product has gone through a lot of situations lately and I think it’s a mater of time before they finally exit the analog tape arena. Hopefully not. In that case, ATR has no other option but to improve its tape formulas to perfection. Who knows who may acquire the former BASF formulas in the future. ATR too?  After all, if that ever happens, they will get a perfect professional market dominion for many years to come!

While all this is happening, the people of Splicit from Oregon, USA are working with a formula based on the old Zonal tape. Their intention is not to compete against the 2 tape giants, obviously, but they are just looking to offer an alternative in the recording’s enthusiast niche. I’m going to test their tapes very soon and sure enough we’ll review it and report our findings. (Tape has been reviewed and the article published here and by Mono & Stereo High End magazine).

Incidentally, all my Maxell tapes from the 80’s has aged considerably better than any professional formula, including the TDK LX 50. I just took a Maxell XL-1 from 1987, bulk erased it, clean it and re-record again with incredible results! The usual drops at the beginning of the tape of course, but just after  1 minute of tape I got a clean and strong consistent sound from a 29 years old domestic TAPE!!! (XL-1). Amazing. I’m afraid I have not had the same luck with any other professional formulas.

Enjoy!

UPDATE: Before publishing this article, we send our findings to ATR. They kindly replaced the samples with new fresh tape, allegedly with the issues corrected. We tested it and in fact the problem has been fixed! The tape runs cleaner, no slitting problem at all and the sound still superb. What else can you ask from a tape? ATR Company is an example of how to handle constructive critics properly. They didn’t go “defensive” They just listened, re-worked the formula and solved the situation. That’s the way to do it.

We also received the news from Don Morris at Pyral that effective on April the plastic reels would be available in NAB format. That’s really nice. I simply hate those “trident” plastic reels. Now everything would be “standard”. Personally, I acquire my tapes “bulk” or in plastic reels as I don’t believe to pay more for a aluminum reel than for the tape itself. This is something ATR should consider too. By the way; you can buy the plastic reels alone if you need it.

If you want to buy the “archival box” from ATR, you can do so but it wouldn’t have any stickers inside (you know, those where you write the recording’s details).

About the author:

Carlos J Guzman, El Magnifico, has been involved with the audio business for over 35 years. He has participated in many audio and music segments, including: recording, duplication, high end audio sales, musician and mastering engineer among many others. He’s the former president of CopyTech Coproration, what used to be the biggest media duplicator in the Caribbean. In his mastering suite, Carlos performed over 1,000+ projects earning several gold and platinum records including a Grammy in 2002. Audio has run in the family’s genes for ever and his father, Dr. Carlos Guzmán Sr, was among the most important popular music collector of his era.  El Magnifico is a avid vintage gear collector and specializes in cassette and open reel decks. His tape decks collection is the biggest one in Puerto Rico. Carlos holds several degrees from the University of Puerto Rico and Fort Hays State University respectively.

You can also visit his audio-related websites at:

http://mortechpr.wix.com/cassetteadventures

http://mortechpr.wix.com/cgmasteringservices

 DISCLAIMER: As with all the reviews we voluntarily do without any remuneration whatsoever, we advise our readers that these writings are for amusement only and in no way our tests are scientifically controlled. This is just a way of saying “thank you” to a hobby and passion we all share. The final word must come from your own experience with the product itself. Please use your own criteria.