Most PRACTICAL, yet good sounding REEL to REEL ???

I occasionally find pre-recorded reel to reel tapes in my local thrift stores and garage sales and am thinking it's crazy not to pass them up.

So what I'd like to know is - What deck would you experienced R to R'ers recommend as:
1. Reliable
2. Good to excellent sonically
3. Not too pricey, as this is only experimental for now
4. Still repairable locally when need be

(Pretty much in that order of importance.)

I assume that a Teac would likely top this list for combined score on all three, but know zilch about which models, etc. Any comments would be appreciated.
From my experienc most of the decks that utilized one motor and hence rubber belts to activate takeup reel and other functions do not have a good chance of working properly with the correct speeds. Almost all need complete lubrication of drive parts as well as belt replacement. This goes even for the early Tandbergs and the Ampex models designed and manufactured by their home products division.

You have a better chance of success purchasing recorders with three motors. The Teac recorders fall into this category as do the Revox and the later Tandberg recorders which could utilize the large 10-1/2 inch reels. If you find a 3-motor recorder which you can see by examination to have low mileage because of its clean overall condition, you stand a good chance that it will work properly. If you find one in a garage sale or Thrift Store and can try its operation, even if it cannot be hooked up to a system, if the tape movement appears normal and the vu metters read signal, there is a good possibility that you have a preperly working recorder.

You have ambarked on an interesting challenge which can provide great satisfaction but requires a lot of time as well as patience. Good equipment with a library of tapes makes an interesting collection of appreciating collectibles. The tapes recorded at 7-1/2 ips are also sonically superior because they produce a very wide dynamic range.

Have fun!
I've seen several Tascams at local junk shops and have always had the best luck with them. Badluck with Revox. I've never used a Tandberg or Akai, although I have heard good things about the latter. The TEAC's are ok as far as reliability, but they don't sound so great. Many of the Tascam's are quartz clocked. You should do a little research in the pro-audio world though - some of the reel to reels record stripes on the wrong side, and play back that way as well - carry over from the mono era. So basically you would only get half you music (as in: out of one speaker with some analogue bleed). It is also not possible to say that one company designed this way and another never did. If you were to pay top dollar, this would not be a problem, but if you are going for curiosity and cheap, you have to worry about it.
Teac A3340 is a mid-1970s' high end deck that they made 100,000's of. I found mine for $250. The 2006 Orion Blue book is $414 > $244 depending on condidtion (DoC). Also don't forget Teacs' professional division Tascam, I found a Tascam A22-4 (Early 80s') for $225 that blew the doors off the A3340S sound quality wise (2006 Orion Blue Book = $354 > $207 DoC). However; the A3340S is a far prettier machine and also handles the 10"reels which the 22-4 doesn't. I own one of each, even though my vynal may sound better, I seem to can't part with these machanical works of art.
I sold R2R tape decks back in the mid-'70s, and our store carried Teac, Sony, Tandberg, Pioneer, and Revox. I myself owned a single-motor Tandberg 6400 (and wish I still had it), and sold a Pioneer to my sis & bro-in-law. My brother had a Sony 6300, so I'm pretty familiar with the sound of the Tandbergs, Revoxes (had one in the demo room), Sonys, Pioneer, and Teac.

Mechanically, the Teacs were good, and they sounded OK, but not spectacular. Not too quiet or dynamic. The single-motor Tandbergs sounded great; I met the late John Iverson at an audio clinic we were hosting for him. When I mentioned that I had the 6400, he said it was about the sweetest-sounding R2R made for the consumer market. It even had a high quality built-in MM phono preamp, so you could record directly from the turntable, which made some really fine-sounding tapes.

The first generation Tandberg 3-motor machines had some teething problems, but their single-motor machines were golden, if a little clunky in the operation dep't. They were simple to work on and good engineering and close tolerance mfg. yielded wow & flutter figures that approached 3-motor machines from Teac and Sony.

Tandberg invented the cross-field recording head design and technique (also used by Akai/Roberts), but Tandberg's implementation was superior. Most Japanese decks of the time had an s/n (at 7.5 ips) of around 55-58 dB. The Revox was around 62. The Revox with Dolby was rated at 66 dB. But the Tandberg without Dolby was rated at 64.

The Tandbergs also had superior frequency response. I took mine (which weighed all of about 24 lbs) to a tape deck clinic hosted by Pacific Stereo and the tech spec'ed out my deck for free. The results: frequency response at 1-7/8 was 45-11,700 Hz (plenty good for recording FM), 3-3/4: 45-20,500 Hz ('way better than Teac/Sony/Akai), and 7-1/2 ips: 35-27,000 Hz. With HO/low noise tape I could easily record albums at 3-3/4 ips with no discernible loss of fidelity. I used 7-1/2 ips only for live or direct-to-disks.

There were some later Sonys (late '70s) that could use their own Ferrichrome tape that were linear out to 45-50 KHz.

Mechanically, some audio repair techs told me that Teacs were relatively easy to work on and that Akais were complicated and difficult.