Buying an old Revox
Spotlight on old recording devices. This month the Revox E36 tape recorder.
The column that spotlights interesting and rare recording equipment from the past.
The Swiss Studer company's name is synonymous with quality recording equipment and its products are the mainstay of British broadcasting and recording companies. Whilst it is unlikely that a Studer machine will come onto the market at an amateur price, the Studer's little brother, the Revox certainly does. Even from its earliest days the Revox has reflected its professional parentage.
In the days when other recorders were still using belts and idler wheels, direct drive capstan and electrical speed change were standard features as were direct drive spooling motors which had the ability to switch from fast forward to reverse without snapping the tape. With the exception of a couple of items the following are features to be found on any Revox irrespective of age: solenoid stop/start, echo effects, track to track transfers, mixing, input level presets, switched input levels, large reel capacity, switchable capstan motor and models with an internal amp provide full 'A' (source) and 'B' (record) monitoring of left and right channels plus combined monitoring in 'B' mode.
There are many variations on the basic model, one worth looking for is the 3.77. It has three speeds, varispeed and a modified pinch wheel mechanism which provides free access to the playback head for editing. The asking price is usually a reflection of age, so it can often be more worthwhile to seek an older model in good condition.
Assessing the condition of a tape recorder in a few moments is not easy, so spare a little time to run the machine through its paces, and do not be afraid to ask questions. When first switching the machine on, take note and listen to the capstan motor running up to speed. Is it quiet? If not it could mean bearing trouble and, in some recording circumstances, the mechanical noise will certainly mar recordings.
On rare occasions the motor turns but the capstan does not, because the resilient link to the capstan has worked loose. Under these circumstances the owner, fearing the worst, may virtually give a machine away even though the repair is so easy. 'Wind' and 'rewind' should be tried, with a full reel of tape, from end to end. It is unlikely that a Revox would ever fail to make it to the end, in fact quite the opposite is the case. The spooling speed can be quite frightening which raises the problem of stopping. Do the brakes work and will they stop the reels without damaging the tape? There is nothing worse than the whiplash cracking sound produced as a treasured recording is reduced to a thin strand and wrapped around the spool several times in a crazy form.
Such matters as wow, flutter and long term speed stability are difficult to assess accurately, but that is no excuse to ignore the matter. A recording made of a record with sustained clear notes should highlight wow, if the recording is played back through the same system which reproduced the record, a comparative assessment of quality can be made. A similar test can be conducted with a microphone instead of a record.
Whilst making any test recordings listen for any clicks or other unwanted noises produced as buttons are pressed or when the remote stop/start switch (if available) is operated, also check the quality of recording from a tuner or an inductive pickup (telephone mic.) if the use of either is envisaged. The reason that this point is mentioned is based on personal experience. The author owned two Revox recorders, an E36 (see photo) and a newer G36. The former had new heads and capstan and provided excellent sound quality, the latter exhibited the same high standard of performance, but, when recording FM broadcasts or telephone conversations the recordings were drowned by the most appalling noise, totally ruining the results.
When not affected in this way, recordings were accompanied by start and stop clicks, so despite its youth, twin meters and generally improved appearance, it had to go. It did however serve its next owner well, with none of the problems affecting his work, whilst the older E36 continued to give good service as it still does to this day - a classic case of 'one man's meat etc.' - so do not be put off just because the vendor is not at all happy with the equipment, make your own judgement.
One constructional point to check on the model E36 Revox is the condition of the spigots on the spool spindles; they are so small that unevenly winding spools can work their way up and lift off the spigots. The unleashing of the spooling motors' full power in this way can crack and then shear the spigots. If this has not occurred, ensure that it does not by using spool retaining rubbers.
Even if a Revox as old as an E36 is not to be contemplated as the main stereo mastering machine, it can still offer excellent facilities for creating echo and other time delay effects, providing high quality reproduction for a fraction of the cost of an inferior tape echo system - and it is stereo.
Feature by Steve Taylor
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