Tape Machine Survey (Part 3)
A readable survey covering manufacturers from I to T.
Two series of tape machines are available from MCI, both of which use the same basic transport: the JH-110A Series, which cover 2- to 8-track on the normal tape widths; and the more expensive JH-16 Series, which handle 8- to 24-track formats and are aimed at the wealthier studios. Concentrating then on the cheaper 110A Series (about £5000 for an 8-track): these have all the normal features you would expect on a pro machine (full logic control with motion sensing, and crystal-controlled capstan motors) plus many optional extras, including a return-to-zero locator, remote control, tape velocity indicator and a pretty comprehensive autolocator. All machines can be supplied with 7½/15/30in/s, or 3¾/7½/15in/s for those needing the slower speed. An interesting feature is the 'manual velocity control', a touch-activated lever that causes the tape to shuttle in either direction at various speeds with the tape on the heads — handy for editing and searching through the tape for cues. The deck can be mounted vertically in a rack or set into a variety of console options, with electronics below or above the transport. A new 'variable-profile' console that tilts at any angle should be very useful if you have a lot of tape editing or banding to do. Specifications are what you'd expect from top professional machines: frequency response within ±1.5 dB from 30Hz to 20KHz at 15 in/s; signal-to-noise ratio 64dB for stereo at 15 in/s; and wow and flutter less than 0-4% at 15.
The Nagra range of studio-quality portable tape machines are widely used by broadcast organisations and film crews. Only mono and stereo machines are offered, top of the range being the IV Series which can run off batteries or mains power at 3¾, 7½ or 15in/s. Wow and flutter is 0.07% and frequency response within ±1 dB from 30 to 15 KHz at 7½ in/s — a spec that wouldn't look amiss on a console-mounted studio machine, let alone a portable weighing just 10lbs. So a good choice for those of you who want to make stereo recordings of live gigs, or record effects for dropping into composite albums. Expect to pay for what you get, though — around £2500 for a stereo machine. But for that you do get built-in monitoring facilities. Just as well, perhaps.
IEM are probably better known for the wide range of tape heads they have been making for many years. About a year ago, however, they started to make (under licence) two series of tape machines developed over the past five years by Optro Pty in Australia. Versions are available from 2- to 24-track, with the 1100 Series covering the 2- to 8-track range and the 1000 Series the rest. Stereo models run on ¼in tape, 4-track on ½in and 8-track on 1in; 16 and 24-track machines spread their signals across 2in tape as per standard practice. Three speeds are provided: 7½, 15 and 30in/s, and the transports feature full logic control and motion sensing, crystal-controlled capstan with varispeed and servo-controlled spool motors for smooth tape handling. Headblocks are of a plug-in design complete with equalisation pre-sets, making for very easy changes of track format. Technical spec looks very reasonable: frequency response within 2dB from 30Hz to 15KHz, signal-to-noise ratio better than 70dB and wow and flutter under 0.05% rms (thanks, no doubt, to servo-controlled capstan and spool motors). No prices were provided by IEM, but the machines are rumoured to be about one third the cost of comparable Studer models. And with their spec they certainly look to be excellent value for money.
Stellavox make a wide range of battery or mains-powered portable tape machines, much favoured by broadcasters and film companies. Mono, stereo and four-track versions are available, all using ¼in tape running at 7½ or 15 in/s. Frequency response is within 2 dB from 20 Hz to 28kHz at 15 in/s, and wow and flutter less than 0.05% at the same speed. No prices are quoted (story of our life) but don't expect them to be cheap; like Nagras they are precision-built machines with a price tag to match. Also under development is a battery or mains-powered 'semi-portable' machine that will work with ½ as well as ¼ in tape. The TD88 is to be equipped with full logic control, motion sensing and interchangeable head blocks with built-in equalisation for quick format changes. The machine should be on the market in a short while; we'll let you know when.
Stephens Electronics Inc, (Contact Details).
An unusual range of machines these, based on a capstanless transport system that uses servo-operated supply and take-up motors and motion sensing to maintain tape tension across the heads. Ingenious. All normal tape widths and track formats can be accommodated — ½in for 4-track, 1in for 8-track and 2in for 16, 24, 32 and no less than 40-track! Standard speeds are 15 and 30 in/s, with varispeed from 10 to 80in/s. Up to 14in NAB reels can be used and, we're told, supply and take up reels of differing sizes may be interchanged freely, since the self-adjusting electronics guarantees proper tape tension. Optional extras include a self-contained 12 volt battery pack, which provides over four hours of recording time. (Stephens say they can supply machines mounted in travelling cases if required, and that a complete 24-track without cabinet weighs only 54lbs.) Various remote control and autolocator units can also be supplied. Brices are fairly high — from about $12650 (£7100) for a four-track and $15400 (£8600) for an eight-track, to $46200 (£26000) for a 40-track.
Studer/Revox make an enormous range of tape machines, from that much-used old workhorse, the A77, right up to the very new A800 multitrack. In between there should be something to suit your particular application. The A77 is about ten years old now and looking a little elderly by modern standards. Transport functions are controlled by relay logic, and because it doesn't have motion sensing you can spill tape if you aren't very careful. The new B77, however, is equipped with full logic interlock and motion sensing and is more in keeping with modern requirements.
Slightly more up market are the A700/B67 variations which are available with three speeds 7½, 15 and 30 in/s) and a very healthy spec for such reasonably-priced machines: frequency response within 1.5 dB from 50 Hz to 18KHz at 15in/s; signal-to-noise ratio 65dB at the same speed; and less than 0.06% wow and flutter. A variety of console, portable and rack-mounting versions can be supplied. Top of the range at present is the A80 series, which comes in all sizes from stereo right up to 24-track. The A80 machines probably represent the present state-of-art in analogue machines; until digital recording really catches on, that is. Expect to pay for what you get with Studer/Revox equipment, though, particularly in the upper end of their range. Unhelpfully, Studer didn't supply prices for this survey, but £1000 per track is about right for such top-flight machines.
Tandberg offer a small range of 'domestic' machines, plus their top of the range model, the 10X. This is a stereo machine running at 3¾, 7½ and 15 in/s, and features the novel Cross-Field record head that is claimed to reduce distortion. It works like this: two heads are positioned either side of the tape, with one receiving the signal to be recorded and the other the bias signal. Very novel, but the extra head and its mounting plate block access to the replay head, making tape editing a rather difficult procedure. The transport features full logic interlock (but no motion sensing) and will handle 10½in NAB reels. A mic/line mixer is included on the machine's front-panel for those who need it. Varispeed and comprehensive remote control are also available as an option. The machine costs about £700 — a not unreasonable figure considering the features.
Where would we be without Teac? The A-3340S four-track turned on a lot of people to the possibility of do-it-yourself recording. Full sel-sync is featured (it wouldn't be at all useful without it, would it?) plus mic and line inputs per channel. Speeds are 7½ and 15 in/s. But the A-3340S is only one in a wide range of Teac machines. The A-7300 stereo machine has a frequency response within 3dB from 20Hz to 28KHz at 15in/s, and can be supplied with or without built-in dbx noise reduction. The transport has a dc-servo capstan, resulting in a nice'n'low wow and flutter figure of 0.04% at 15in/s. Each channel is provided with two mic and two line inputs, the former on XLR connectors. The new Tascam Series machines range from the 25-2 stereo machine with built-in dbx noise reduction, through the 40-4 (an updated version of the A-3340S), and 80-8 eight-track on ½in, to the 90-16 16-track on 1in tape machine. Custom-styled dbx noise reduction systems are available for direct interface with the 40-4, 80-8 and 90-16. All Teac machines feature full logic interlock and motion sensing and, for the price, a more than reasonable spec. Check them out today, you know it makes sense.
Concluded next month
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