When I started in this hobby, the audio cassette were clearly winning the race over the open reel tape. My father, one of the biggest collectors of popular music in my country, used to have an excellent selection of audio components at home. We kept (2) SONY open reel decks with some other McIntosh tube ancillary equipment,etc. For us, audio and music were not just a hobby; it was our passion. My father conducted a radio program for over 30 years, my elder brother became an audio technician after returning from Vietnam and I converted myself in a Mastering Engineer with over 1,000 albums under my belt, several gold & platinum records and finally a Grammy in 2002. In other words; I have been dealing with tape for over 35 years now in all kind of formats.
The tape fever is “en vogue” now, as it was the expensive cigar trend during the 90’s. It could be nostalgia or the impression that analog sounds better than digital, who knows? The thing is that today we have noticed a solid resurgence of the tape media in significant numbers. Specialized techs are restoring and improving the old Studers, Technics, MCI, Crown, Ampex…you named it! Pyral (former BASF) and ATR (former Ampex) still producing tapes for these machines and other entrepreneurs have taken the iniciative of duplicating 10.5″ open reel tapes direct from the Masters and have made them available for the reel to reel aficionado. The Tape Project from California was one of the pioneers of this tendency and today over 15 companies has followed their steps into this “new” audiophile niche. Some offerings are more sophisticated than others and the prices fluctuate between $150.00 and $350.00 per project. I have already seen Tape Project tapes selling for $500.00 !!! I know; it’s not for everyone and not many people could afford this as we would like to see, but hey!, reel to reel machines neither are for everyone!
Having 2 excellent restored CROWN open reel decks on my collection from the Crown Doc himself, Mr. Chuck Ziska of Ocala, FL, I got the curiosity to try out one of these so called “Direct from the Masters” copy and see what is all the fuzz about. By coincidence, I met the Marketing Director of Open Reel Records of Italy, Mauro Max, and we established a good rapport through emails, i messages,etc. Anyway, through an special arrangement Mauro send me a sampler of their 2015 selections directly from Italy through DHL…and after just 3 days I received the tape in my house.
The packaging was excellent and the precious contents arrived intact. Following the box opening, I found a first class presentation of what a tape recording with this kind of pricing must be. A glossy black finish box with explicit instructions of how to open it were included (see the first photo above). Inside, instructions of tape handling, a life time warranty and the advisory words of test tones at the end of the tape were also part of the package. But what about the reel? Oh! the reel…magnifico!
A golden color Darklab 10.5″ metal reel with a BASF 1/4″ tape was supplied. The beginning of the tape or “heads” came with a white leader tape. The logo of the Open Reel Records has been silk screened on the flanges in white color letters. Besides the obvious reel, a high quality booklet is added describing the recorded material of the sampler with clear details: artist, title, duration,etc. Everything looks and feel as it should be: a first class product! I mean, between the tape itself and the metal reel we already have over $100.00 easily…
I took it out of the cardboard sleeve and proceeded to thread the tape on my CROWN SX-822. I selected the 15ips speed and rewind the tape in order to start the listening session.
It’s always nice to see a Crown spooling the tape.
Once the tape was in the proper playing position, I just turned the main lights out and hit the PLAY button. It opens with a classical selection of Vivaldi played by Enrico Dindo on his Cello. Just as I expected, the sonic quality is completely exquisite. Then the Jazz of Thelonious Monk Live in Milan hit the air waves and this time the Tenor solo filled the room with presence and authority…and the beat goes on. Ten segments of different music genres are included in the sampler and each and every one excels in its recording quality and duplication process. The sound you’ll hear at home, in your own tape deck, promises to be a unique audio banquet. It wouldn’t equal to a live presentation, but with all honesty, it’s as close as it could be. No bulls’. Their minimal miking approach pays its dividends in a unique way. The space, ambience, presence, soundstage and instruments separation is very well obtained. Also, the instruments timbre is completely accurate. Folks, this is no joke here. This is the real deal and for those of you who can afford it, I can’t insist enough that you wouldn’t be dissapointed in any way.
The speed is accurate and the levels are not humble. Hiss is minimal and the blackness behind the music is clearly there. The combination of years of experience in the recording industry, excellent equipment, high quality materials, superb musical performance and the pure duplication process makes the acquisition of any Open Reel Records project an investment you’ll never regret!
They duplicate in a production studio at Milano, Italy. They use a Studer A-812 as source master, that distribute via a Studer 169 mixer to a bank of Studer A-807 as recorder. After testing a lot of configurations, the one selected has proven to be the best to ensure the optimal analog chain result. The Studer 169 mixer in the production room is the twin of the one they use on stage during their recording sessions.
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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 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. He’s an avid vintage gear collector and specializes in cassette and open reel decks.
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