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Basic Repertoire

Reel to Reel


In 1954 Reel to Reel was the first format to offer 2-channel stereo.

In the beginning all Stereo pre-recorded Reel to Reels were 2 Track 7 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 7 IPS, most Pop/Rock at 3 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 7 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 high prices?

In 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 eBay

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!

Stereo 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.

Doc 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

Tape speeds

In 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

3 IPS 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 3 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 7 IPS version.

7 IPS 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 7 IPS and the resulting sound quality is very good to excellent. The best surpassing any other format analog or digital in sonic realism

15 IPS or 38.1 cm/s — used for professional music recording and a few audiophile reference pre-recorded Reel to Reels.

30 IPS or 76.2 cm/s — used for professional music recording where the best possible treble response is demanded, e.g., many classical music recordings.

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.

3. 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 "sticky-shed" syndrome.

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.

7. 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.

8. 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

Most 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 breakage.

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 encountered.

More on tape types

Some 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 with them.

Polyester 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.

Polyester 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

GOULD: Latin American Symphonette
GOTTSCHALK: A Night in the Tropics, Grand Tarentelle
Abravanel, Utah Symphony Orchestra
Vanguard / Barclay-Crocker VAN 0275 (Dolby)
This 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
Don't 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.

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.