Tape Machines Survey (Part 2)
A readable survey - this second part covering manufacturers from O to S.
Otari make a wide range of two, four and eight-track machines, available at very reasonable prices. The MX5050 Series comes in two and four-track on ¼in tape, or 8 on ½in, and all models feature full logic interlock with motion sensing. Various versions have integral or separate electronics packages, allowing a possibly more compact layout of equipment where space is at a premium. Professional XLR connectors are used, switchable between the two standard line-in/line-out levels of +4 dB or -10 dBm. Speeds are 7½ and 15in/s with varispeed available as an option on certain models. For ease of adjustment a built-in test oscillator is featured, plus front-panel bias and equalisation controls. Top of the Otari range is the console-mounted MX7308 eight-track on 1 in tape, available with speeds of 7½ and 15 in/s or 15 and 30 in/s. To ensure stable tape motion, a direct-drive capstan motor is used. The resultant wow and flutter figure of less than 0-06% at 15 in/s shows they have probably made the right choice. Frequency response is claimed to be within 2 dB from 30 to 18K Hz and signal-to-noise ratio greater than 65 dB — a creditable spec indeed. Prices are also impressive: between £700 and £800 for a 2-track, £1500 for a 4-track, £2800 for an 8-track MX5050, and £4725 for the MX7038.
Compteurs Schlumberger, (Contact Details).
Although probably better known in Europe for their rugged broadcast machines, the F400 Series from Schlumberger may be of interest for mastering. The machines are available in mono and stereo formats on ¼ in tape, and run at 3¾, 7½ and 15 in/s. Features include full logic control of deck functions with motion sensing; wide-range varispeed; and built-in amplifier and loudspeaker for monitoring. Prices aren't cheap, though — around F35 000 for a stereo machine — but the machines are certainly built to last.
Scully make a small range of stereo, four and eight-track machines, designated the 280 Series. Speeds are 3¾ and 7½ in/s or 7½ and 15 in/s. A choice of either ac-servo or dc-servo capstan is offered, the advantages of choosing the latter being that wow and flutter is a lot lower (0-08% at 15 in/s with ac and 0-04% with dc-servo). Plus you can easily slap on a ±20% varispeed option, which isn't offered with the ac-servo equipped versions. Full logic interlock and motion sensing is a standard feature. The electronics are located in a 'penthouse' bridge over the console-mounted transport and slide out for easy machine line-up and routine adjustment. Alternatively, the electronics package can be located away from the transport if that's your requirement. Frequency response is a reasonable ±2 dB from 30 Hz to 18K Hz at 15 in/s, with signal-to-noise ratio quoted as 68 dB for all three track formats (stereo on ¼in, 4-track on ½in and 8-track on 1 in). In case you need to run tape for longer than a 10½in reel lasts at your chosen tape speed, the 284 Series, which take 14 in reels, may be worth considering. Unhelpfully, no prices were supplied by Scully but these are only a phone call away.
As well as several possibly 'domestic' machines (no disrespect to them, but this survey just hasn't the space to include ¼-track machines that run at speeds no faster than 7½ in/s) Sony also offer two 'semi-professional' models. The TC 766-2 is equipped with a closed-loop dual capstan drive system, which helps hold down the wow and flutter, and four heads — normal ½-track erase, record and replay, plus an extra ¼-track replay head. (A handy feature if, for some reason, any of your older tapes were recorded in that format.) Speeds are 7½ and 15in/s, and both 7 and 1O½ in reels can be used. Full logic control and motion sensing ensure that the tape is well treated during all movements. Each channel has a mic and line-level input, plus independent front-panel controls for mixing between them. Also on the front-panel are a pair of three-position switches for altering bias and equalisation to suit the particular tape being used. The more up-market TC 880-2 is similar to the TC 766-2 but doesn't have mic/line mixing. But this is more than made up for by the machine's extra facilities: optical metering with switchable VU, ppm and 'peak-hold' characteristics; calibrated input and output controls; and varispeed. Prices weren't supplied by Sony, but the TC 880-2 should leave some change from £1000.
Soundstream Inc, (Contact Details).
For a couple of years now Soundstream have been working on a digital tape machine. Currently, two, four and eight-track versions are available, with 16 and 24-track versions in the pipeline. The advantage of digital recording, in which (in essence) the analogue audio signal is converted into a sequence of fixed-level pulses, are manyfold — frequency response is remarkably flat (within 1-5 dB from dc to 17KHz), noise level is very low (up to 85 dB below peak level); and wow and flutter practically zero (the accuracy of the reconstructed analogue signals is almost that of the precision of the crystal used to 'chop' the signal up into discrete bits). Sounds very impressive doesn't it? But there is one, fairly overpowering drawback: if you record a tape on a digital machine, you have to play it back on one. So until a fair proportion of studios and cutting rooms have digital tape machines, engineers and producers won't commit their master tapes to digital form. Prices are also pretty high at present, but will certainly come down as more and more are sold, and the technique gradually becomes accepted; as accepted it will be... eventually.
Continuing next month
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