Reel to Reel
In 1954 Reel to Reel was the first format to offer 2-channel stereo.
the beginning all Stereo pre-recorded Reel to Reels were 2 Track
7½ IPS and recorded in Real Time (1:1), they were quite expensive
relative to LPs. That is until 4 Track and high-speed duplication were
implicated to save tape and lower the retail price. One company to
retain Reel Time recording on quality tape stock after the switch to 4
Track was Bel Canto who produced popular recordings of their own and released Mercury Living Presence Classical RTRs.
In the 1960's-1970's most pre-recorded Reel to Reels came from Ampex Stereo Tapes, Stereotape and Columbia
and were duplicated at high speeds, many were excellent just not as
realistic as the real time duplicated ones. Most classical music was
recorded at 7½ IPS, most Pop/Rock at 3¾ IPS. Besides Reel to Reel's
being available on store shelves of such outfits as Muntz Stereo
Tape, Columbia Record Club also offered an excellent selection of
pre-recorded Reel to Reel tapes.
In the early 1970's came the return of Real Time (1:1) pre-recorded tapes. Ambisonic and Sonar
offered 4 Track 7½ IPS recordings on Scotch 206 1.5 mill mastering tape
on 7-inch reels for $19.99. 2 Track 15 IPS recordings on 10-inch reels
for $34.99. To give you an idea how expensive this was, high speed
duplicated 4 Track 7½ IPS Reel to Reels from Ampex and others were
priced $6.95 - $8.95. Also Direct To Tape Recording Co.
offered custom duplicated Reel to Reels only available direct from them
also recorded at Real Time (1:1) but on 1.0 mill Agfa mastering tape.
In 1974 Ampex quit making pre-recorded Reel to Reels, followed by Stereotape.
Then Columbia withdrew Reel to Reels from the stores and they only
offered them through Columbia House, including new releases. Barclay-Crocker sellers
of pre-recorded Reel to Reels, stepped up and begin Releasing 4 Track
7½ IPS Reel to Reels duplicated at slow speed (4:1) Dolby B encoded.
Later offering dbx encoding as well. Barclay-Crocker signed many major labels London, DGG, Philips, etc. and minor labels such as Vanguard, MHS, Unicorn, etc.
In the late 1970's Sound Ideas
started releasing Reel to Reel / LP combos so one could hear for
themselves the superior sonic qualities offered by their masterings on
Scotch 206 1.5 mill Reel to Reel tape. Like other audiophile Reel to
Reels two versions were available: 2 Track / 4 Track 7½ IPS on 7 inch
reel for $50.00 and 2 Track 15 IPS on 15 inch reels for $75.00. They
came in large presentation boxes the boxed Reel set in the bottom
surrounded on all sides by foam and the LP lie on top. Sometime during
the early 80's Sound Ideas disappeared without a trace, could be the
1986, two years after CD was unleashed upon the world, Barclay-Crocker
went out of business citing low sales due to improved cassette decks
and the advent of CD as the reasons. Barclay-Crocker is back now
selling Mens Fine Soaps and Toiletries on their web site. Later that
year Columbia also quit selling pre-recorded Reel to Reels through
Columbia House. Pre-recorded Reel to Reels can still be purchased on
Up until this year pre-recorded Reel to Reel was officially
dead, however there is a new company preparing to release 2 Track 15
IPS pre-recorded tapes.
2 Track 15 IPS premium quality pre-recorded Reel to Reel tapes have made a comeback!
Reel to Reel premiered as a 2 Track format, 4 Track was invented in an
effort to bring down the selling price of pre-recorded Reel to Reels. 2
Track is the superior format for many reasons, including wider track
width per channel and no reverse crosstalk from the other side as 2
Track tapes are one sided.
B. and Paul Stubblebine have started a new company that is releasing
pre-recorded 2 Track 15-IPS Reel to Reels. Their first four 2 Track 15
IPS RTRs should be available by the beginning of 2007. Progress
and news will be announced on our 2 Track Tape Project update page. Music titles, technical information and pricing is at The Tape Project
Otari MX-5050BIII 2 track 10.5 inch Reel to Reel
NAB/IEC Selectable Equalization
High Speed Version: 15 ips/7.5 ips
Low Speed Version: 7.5 ips/3.75 ips
general, the faster the speed the better the sound quality. Slower
speeds conserve tape and are useful in applications where sound quality
is not critical.
15/16 IPS (inches per second) or 2.38 cm/s — used for very long-duration recordings.
1 7/8 IPS or 4.76 cm/s — usually the slowest domestic speed, best for long duration speech recordings
or 9.52 cm/s — common domestic speed, used on most single-speed
domestic machines, reasonable quality for speech and off-air radio
recordings. Most Rock and a few Classical and Jazz pre-recorded Reel to
Reels were recorded at 3¾ IPS and the resulting sound quality is
greatly diminished. They did this to save on tape cost thus being able
to offer the tape at $1.00 less than the 7½ IPS version.
or 19.05 cm/s — highest domestic speed, also slowest professional. Most
Classical and Jazz and a few Rock pre-recorded Reel to Reels were
recorded at 7½ IPS and the resulting sound quality is very good to
excellent. The best surpassing any other format analog or digital in
15 IPS or 38.1 cm/s — used for professional music recording and a few audiophile reference pre-recorded Reel to Reels.
or 76.2 cm/s — used for professional music recording where the best
possible treble response is demanded, e.g., many classical music
Tape Storage Tips
Follow these steps and your tapes should last practically forever:
1. Never store in direct sunlight or near any source of heat.
2. Don't leave your tapes out for dust to settle on.
Avoid high humidity. If you live in a high humidity environment, you
may want to invest in a dehumidifier for that room. Or at least stick
up a bunch of silica gel packs. Playing a tape on one or two rainy days
won't hurt them. But repeated long term exposure to high humidity is
brutal to the binder and could eventually lead to the dreaded so-called
4. Never store the tapes in a fast wound position. Always store your tapes at "play" speed.
5. Store tapes vertically.
6. Clean and demagnetize your deck regularly.
Never ever touch the tape surface with your bare fingers. If you must
touch a tape (such as when making a splice), handle it by the edges as
much as possible. Be sure to wash your hands to rid as much dirt and
oil as possible. Wearing sterile latex gloves is best.
Add generous leader tape to your reels as it makes threading easier and
if the leader breaks it is easily replaced and you won’t lose the
beginning of the first selection in a mishap.
The care & maintenance of 50 year old RTR tapes
mid-to-late 1950's 2-track prerecorded reel-to-reels are in good to
great shape and sound excellent! The acetate tapes of the fifties also
purportedly held their high frequencies well but they are prone to
When it comes to these 50 year-old tape recordings,
proper storage (temperature and humidity) plays the most significant
role in their state of preservation. Avoid fast-forwarding a tape that
has been stored for years and to make sure that the machine you intend
to use for playback has first been properly degaussed (heads, guides,
etc.) before you thread up your tape.
If you must go forward or
backward on such a tape, do not simply hit the STOP button on your
machine (particularly if it is a ReVox). Always try pushing the
opposite directional button alternatively (<< or >>) and
gently rock the tape back and forth, until things slow down a bit
enough to then hit STOP. Otherwise, you will probably wind up with
another break in the reel.
Also: most importantly-add a generous
bunch of leader at the front and at the back end so if the machines
tries to snag a tape, you will sacrifice less precious leader! Replace
each and every splice with modern splicing tape, whenever it is
More on tape types
of the best recordings in my collection are Reel to Reel tapes from the
mid 1950's to the 1960’s. These early Reel to Reels are recorded on
Acetate tape which can be hard and brittle I do not fast-forward or
rewind. I leave them in a played condition and I have been quite happy
tape was used in the mid 1970’s to mid 1980’s as it didn’t break like
Acetate tape however unknown at the time it can suffer from Sticky Shed
Syndrome causing squealing which can sometimes be temporarily cured by
"baking".I have pre-recorded polyesters as well and have only had
two have squealed.
Acetate – can be hard and brittle, do not fast forward or rewind and you will be fine.
especially Back-Coated Polyester has been a problem as the
tapes sometimes develop Sticky Shed Syndrome or Loss of Lubricant
both can cause squealing which can sometimes be temporarily cured by
"baking". There is no permenant cure, other than baking and
re-recording to another tape. Here is an excellent article on
tape baking: Baking Audio Reel to Reel Tapes Which Have "Sticky Shed Syndrome" by Dave Luepke Also an article offering a possible permanent solution to Sticky Shed Syndrome by Jeff Koon
Mylar – is now the formula of choice it is stronger than Acetate and will not break so easily or stretch like Polyester.
10 Recommended 4 Track 7 1/2 IPS Reel to Reels
1. GOULD: Latin American Symphonette
GOTTSCHALK: A Night in the Tropics, Grand Tarentelle Abravanel, Utah Symphony Orchestra
Vanguard / Barclay-Crocker VAN 0275 (Dolby)
is my favorite recording in any format for music, performance and
especially sound quality. In have owned this since 1978 in nearly every
format. I my opinion Barclay-Crocker's best sounding 4 Track 7 1/2 IPS
Reel to Reel tape! Barclay-Crocker's sound quality is superior the
great Analogue Productions LP version as well as the Vanguard SACD! The
Barclay-Crocker 4 Track 7 1/2 IPS tape has a little more tape hiss but
it has more impact and sounds extremely realistic.
2. DeLUCA: African Safari / Alster - Bel Canto ST-34 (Real Time Duplication)
Really cool music that never made it to any other format and some of the most realistic sound I have heard.
3.STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps / Ozawa -
Philips / Barclay-Crocker PHI 9500 781 (Dolby) - Uni-directional
recording, meaning Barclay-Crocker only recorded on one side of the
tape because of the huge dynamic range of this recording otherwise
there would be reverse crosstalk. Fabulous sound when Dolby decoded and
the most exciting Rite of Spring ever.
4. FRANKIE LAINE: Hell Bent For Leather! - Columbia CQ 378
Frankie Laine sounds so great, he's in the room with me, the arrangements are perfect and so is his voice!
5. PETE FOUNTAIN: South Rampart Street Parade - Coral Stereotape ST74-57440
laugh Pete Fountain's New Orleans style jazz is great. This is the best
sounding and most interesting musically of the 4 I have.
6. HERRMANN, BERNARD: Battle of Neretva - Entr'acte / Barclay-Crocker ERS D 6501 (Dolby)
An excellent Herrmann soundtrack and great B/C sonics
7. KHACHATURIAN: Gayne Ballet / Fistoulari, London Symphony - Everest T 43052
Excellent performance and sound, this is the complete ballet and it includes some really cool music not in the suite.
8. DELIBES: Coppelia / Bonynge, Suisse Romande London ffst / Ampex K 80245 (Double Play)
Another great ballet musically and sonically.
9. IAN & SYLVIA: Northern Journey
Vanguard Stereolab / Ampex VTC 1695
Excellent recorded folk music.
10. GRIEG: Peer Gynt / Fjeldstad, London Symphony
London ffst / Ampex LCL 80020
Superb musically and sonically.
What I use to hold-down my tape.
These are removable labels from Avery 05463 and make perfect hold-down taps which can be used over and over again.