Why no interest in reel to reel if you're looking for the ultimate sound?

Wondering why more people aren't into reel to reel if they're looking for the ultimate analog experience? I know title selection is limited and tapes are really expensive, but there are more good tapes available now than ever before.
People refer to a recording as having "master tape quality",  well you can actually hear that master tape sound through your own system and the point of entry to reel to reel is so much more affordable than getting into vinyl.  Thoughts? 
From what I have seen, the prices range from $300-$600 per tape. That alone will keep the number of audiophiles to a minimum. Additionally, tapes take up a lot of room, which is a huge consideration for some. At one of the shows, Peter Qvortrup from Audio Note told me that space is at a premium in many of the European and Asian countries and a large portion of of the company’s design efforts are focused on space-compromised users.
Limited choice of music in this format is the problem, how can i buy on reel to reel tapes what i'm usually buying on vinyl ?  
As said, high cost and very limited selection. Also, reliability and cost to repair. 
Why would anyone even consider a format with no manufacturing support and almost non-existent media content?

And who in their right mind, would pay for this 😳


I sincerely wished, reel to reel format survived through the test of times cause it’s a much superior format in terms of SQ.
first you need the higher speed ones and that makes the most expensive media today. Needs, attention more than often, supporting material and few can adjust and maintain properly. Prerecorded tapes (HS) are at LP collector prices. Though it is nice to have and watch it spinning. I have no regrets keeping my B77.
I think the OP basically answered the question himself. I was seriously considering getting heavily into tape, as I think that it is the best sounding media. All of my a'phile friends told me not to. The reasoning was not only was it an expensive proposition, but it would ultimately take away from my continuing analog expansion. There just couldn't be enough budget to support both areas...and this reasoning is what ultimately swayed me away from getting into tape. LP collecting is expensive enough and there is always a way to expend more in this area.
Nothing beats RTR. Until you start factoring in all the things that beat it.
I'd like to make a case for RTR. I assume everyone here already has a vinyl setup. Instead of spending 2K on another cartridge or a tweak for that matter, why not spend it on a tape deck? There are reliable highspeed models that can be had for under 2K, Otari MX5050-B2, Tascam BR-20, and a few more come to mind. These two models can be found usually in working condition and need little maintenance since they were made toward the end of the R2R era. Get yourself an MRL calibration tape for $120 and you're ready to roll.
Yes, tapes are expensive, they start at $150 per reel for pre-recorded tape, but tape never was meant to replace any of your existing formats. Look at it as a treat when you get to pull out one of your master tape copy and spool it up! or think of it as eating at your favorite restaurant, you don't eat there every day, but it 's really nice when you do get to (I read that somewhere).   

Doug Sax proved way back in the early-70’s that a direct-2-disk recording is superior to tape. Unfortunately, most music cannot and will not be recorded d-2-d. For a library of great sounding recordings, buy every d-2-d LP you can get your hands on.

Whether or not the music they contain is to your liking is a separate issue. If you don’t hate Bluegrass (come on all ya’ll Yankies, fess up ;-), look for the Sheffield LP Confederation by The McNeely, Levin, Skinner Band.

By the way, Levin is Geoff Levin, formerly of the mid-late 60’s San Jose group People. They had a hit single with a cover of The Zombies "I Love You", a song I as a teenager saw and heard People perform live many times. People also did "Jesus Is Just Alright", an old song later recorded by another San Jose group---The Doobie Brothers.

The original version of People dissolved when four of the six members (the four included Geoff) demanded everyone in the group join Scientology. The two lead singers---Larry Norman and Gene Mason, declined, and left the group. Norman became a well-known figure in the Jesus Freak movement of the 1970’s (ironic that he had earlier sung "JIJA", ay?), and Mason started a band named Radio. I was subsequently in a band with the guitarist/pianist of Radio.

There are a thousand stories to be told about the garage band scene of the 1960’s. This was one of them.

As for reel-to-reel, I have a number of tapes containing live music I recorded on a Revox A77 and a pair of small-capsule condenser mics. They sound far more lifelike than do most of my LP’s and CD’s, but Buddy Miller, Iris Dement, Rodney Crowell, and Lucinda Williams aren’t on those tapes.

A quick perusal on Discogs shows a number of RtR tapes from $40.00 up to $500. Ther are over 3000 tapes available for many genres/artists. Mostly 7" reel size.
New RtR tape will run you $45.00 to $60, depending on vendor/formulation/reel size. I had an old Teac A100 (if memory serves) which was pretty nice unit, till the playback head decided to go south. By that time (mid-80's) RtR decks were more an oddity then a mainstay media playback/creation piece. Still, the sight of two metal reels turning and sound coming out of the speakers was rather cool.
That is a rich mans format, everything about it is expensive. I have come across some great deals on the upper end tape decks and have had to walk away. I know how good they sound and they really are sexy machines but I'd rather save the money for other stuff.
That said, if a nice one landed in my lap and was in working condition, I might keep it for awhile just to admire it and play with it. I grew up with a nice Teac R2R a neighbor gave me and used to tape off the air programs. I loved it but eventually gave it to my brother the musician so he could lay guitar tracks down and combine them. Worked great for that.

So that was Doug Sax. Figures. Epic talent.

D2D is indeed awesome. I have a couple Sheffield, haven’t heard in a while, will be a treat to play tonight. Not a lot of selection. Only one I recall right now has the theme song for that TV show with the cop with the parrot. Yeah that’s how long its been since I played it.

If I could buy those $500 tapes for $100, I’d be all over this. Even though that’s way more than I’d pay for a record. I do own a B77 but no prerecorded tape so it’s not used much.
As daveyf points out, the OP answered his own inquiry in his first paragraph. Many astute responses by experienced listeners here. In theory R2R seems a good proposition. The reality is the tapes are too expensive and choice is limited considerably in comparison to buying records, CDs or streaming options that are available and very affordable. Many happy music lovers are doing just fine with these far more accessible alternatives. Mapman succinctly summed it up very well. 
I tried R2R twice in the last 10 years by purchasing the Otari 5050 and later the pioneer tt-901. My goal was to create playlists from my vinyl albums and from special events. The Otari was awesome but only at 15 ips. I tried a couple of prerecorded tapes at speeds of 3 3/4 and they sounded like crap. At 15ips, I was going they tape at a fast clip and new tapes were hard to come by plus cost quite a bit. I thought I would purchase a tape project Tape to play on the Otari and the cost and the lack of availability of artists I like, this didn’t pan out.I later tried the tt-901 and recorded everything at 7 1/2 speeds and didn’t like the sound and I still had the expense and tape acquisition issue. Gave it up forever now.
Selection limits it even before all else.

Size/space is another big thing for many.

Price may be an obstacle for many, but other equipment can get as costly so it is even.

Support for machines may not be perfect and how many of them are new under warranty?

Just setting the tape up to be played is getting less and less practical, as mapman pointed out, I think.

It does look nice, but how long does that novelty last?

Completely subjective, I heard one R2R setup at an audio show. I know, the room was bad, humidity wrong, and whatever else that could have been imperfect was imperfect. It might have been, to me, the most irritating sound of the show. I was hoping for magic and I got sandpaper. Under different circumstances, maybe it would have been bearable, though. To me.
technically you are right on.  better yet, get 1" master capability.
problem: software. end.
Like vinyl, it's an expensive proposition if you don't have the media already. 
As far as sound quality goes, on a good quality machine it competes remarkably well with ANY other format . Machines are available and so are the good techs to keep them going.
Won't argue the tapes are expensive, but the OP refereed to sound quality, not so much cost.
Oddly enough, don't some of the same detractors and cloons spend as much on "Hot Stampers" ? 
The kick A tapes start at half track high speed and IMO a B-77 Mk3 with some mods. I have two. There are of course other decks. Service is sparse and getting worse unless you live in the three remaking tape Mecca: LA , NYC, Nashville, maybe Memphis...

the LiL A-77 can as Eric notes be formidable- a few well chosen mics, small really transparent mixer ... and you might end up w The Band backing Dylan on the Basement tapes.

it is actually a critical listening path I recommend, but ya need a budget, a few really good microphones and some vocal and or instrumental talent - make your own reference recordings and be there for the original event :-) get a good A to D ( Ayre made a superb one ) and you might able to speak w authority on digital vs tape.

have fun, enjoy the music.....
The Sheffield D2D also include some smoking hot horn work by Harry James - strongly recommended 

While not to everyone taste, the artist in question is Dave Grusin - certainly a guy with chops. I would ignore the ego trip peanut gallery.
For something more recent in a d2d I would recommend Eleanor McEvoy- Forgotten Dreams

it well illustrates the challenges even relatively simple mixes pose to artists trying the D2D route.

@bdp24 i always enjoy your posts:-) best to you. Was thinking about you and the Nak today. Be well
$2,000 for vinyl setup??!

i have a good friend who rescues RTR decks, repairs them, restores them, aligns them, etc. Nothing to spend $500-$700 on a RTR needing serious servicing. He gets great results! But he spends a mint in blank tape or rare recorded tapes.

I spent $75 on a nice Denon DP52F TT, restored it. Spent $75 on a Shure M97HE cartridge and put a nude Black Diamond Stylus in it, $42.

I brought both to him, aligned the cartridge and set him up. I brought some nice thrift store LPs I had.

Head to Head, he was amazed by the sound quality he was getting from that phono setup through his system. 

Now, he makes tapes from vinyl for long term listening on RTR.

Admittedly, RTR with dbx noise reduction, his playback is of tremendously good SQ. 

But RTR is WAY expensive! And $2,000 for a very good phono system???? Sure, if you have more money than brains....
Both Amazon and Etsy have per-recorded rtr tapes for about the same $ as vinyl versions. Almost all are under $30
If I remember correctly, 4 track R-R gets noisy with time, especially when the tape has not been stored cold. This is because tracks are interspersed in the 4-track format, unlike cassettes.

cassette -->            VS                 R-R --->
cassette -->                                  R-R <---
                                                     R-R --->
cassette <--                                  R-R <---
cassette <--

Of course, the 2-track format like Tape Project does not have this problem:
2Track -->
2Track -->

For a long time, I thought the creme de la creme of Analog is vinyl, and nothing is comparable. Skimming through the posts on this analog forum, so little mention of the tape format as if it is inferior or didn't exist.
My post is giving a little love to reel to reel tape, a format that I really enjoy, and just may be the format that delivers the ultimate analog experience.

Most of you have heard of, but some are still unfamiliar with the presently produced tapes by the Tape Project, Analog Productions, and others. These tapes are a direct copy of the original master tape, and they are available for purchase to play in your home. You can't get any closer to the master tape than that!

Some have mentioned the limited titles available, and I won't disagree there. But too expensive? Hmmm...look around!
As I wrote in my earlier post, with reel to reel, the point of entry is around $2000 for a machine that is capable of highspeed 15 IPS, 2-track, NAB/IEC eq. The tape is where you spend your money in this format. But again, tapes aren't meant to replace any of your existing formats, it's there for you to enjoy occasionally in addition to your vinyl.  
@woflie62 " Admittedly, RTR with dbx noise reduction, his playback is of tremendously good SQ."

I still have a Teac A-3340S and when coupled with dbx and played at
15ips it is really good. It is boxed up and in a closet with 4 or 5 amps
and tapes and bunches of cables. I suspect that the Teac would need some service to be used again.  I used it exclusively to record records
and then just play the tape.  Expensive, you bet, but tons of fun.

Clearly some kind of illness at work. 
I used to sell RTR decks, back in the day. We had a Pioneer RT 1011L, at the store, that we used for demo purposes. We had recorded a bunch of direct to disc cuts at 15 ips on it's 1/2 track head assembly. Sounded excellent. For the purpose of high quality mix tapes, RTR is great. That being said, I'd rather listen to the LP's than even the best 2nd generation recordings. I think RTR is still a viable format for live and studio recordings. For pre-recorded music, not so much. Especially true with the expense and scarcity of new, blank media. 

If some of you out there want to dabble, there are some decks out there that make decent recordings for under a grand. The TEAC 2340 (7") or 3340 (10") are reliable, long lasting decks that had decent sound. Also the Pioneer 701, 707, 901 and 907's don't take up as much space, as some, and have direct drive motors, reducing the belt replacement issue. I have seen the 4 track versions of the Pioneer deck for under $1000. I have seen Revox B77's, several versions, for under $1000. Great sound, but needing a bit more maintenance than the Japanese decks.
I used to wish that tape would become mainstream but it hasn't happened - yet.

Every account I read or heard about stated the vast gulf between the original tape and the end consumer playback medium eg CD, vinyl, cassette etc.

Even artists such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young went on record to say what they heard on studio playback bore little resemblance to what was sold to the consumer.

Alas, the industry politics deemed it unwise to offer the consumer such a high quality format for whatever reason, but I'm guessing plagiarism must have been one, and sheer inconvenience must have been another. 

Oh well, perhaps one day digital will finally grow up and fully take its place.
I've heard R2R at Axpona and while it sounded wonderful there's just limited selection of music.
My R2R is the best sounding source I have. Noisy Analog Tape Wins!

I play Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s, CD. Then LP, everyone chooses LP, then Sgt. Pepper’s R2R, people always prefer tape (my nephew, a musician, began to cry he was so moved). Then I switch from McIntosh 300 wpc SS to tubes, 30 wpc, you guessed it, tubes all the way. Analog gets the fundamentals and overtones ’right’ is what/why I think.

Yes, R2R can be a lot less money than TT. But, you need both really. R2R machines, and tapes were a wealthy man’s game when new, then servicemen started buying them in Asia, (like cameras), they became more widespread, still expensive, but audiophiles went for them, and still do.

I zeroed in on Teac’s, Dual Capstan, Auto Reverse. X1000R is terrific. X2000R same, except Cobalt Heads and it’s Meter’s needles point down, X1000R needles point up.

X2000R is the last Prosumer Deck. X1000R sounds as good as X2000R, I got 2 X2000R’s for pride I suppose, I was working, making good money, why not. I gave my two son’s X1000R’s, eventually they will inherit my tapes and machines.

I inherited a Fisher President II with a 2 track stereo deck and some 2 track tapes from the late 50’s. Amazing!. That’s how I got started. I got a 4 track forward (home musicians layered tracks using these), then settled on 4 track (two forward, two reverse) for pre-recorded content.

Here’s a nice one, and, a 2 year square trade warranty is optional, I would take that, just under $1,800. delivered, add tax. The heads are not worn, the case is in good shape. Paper simulated wood, but they give it a nice appearance.


Pre-Recorded Content is Limited by it’s end in the 80’s, however lots of great sounding content exists, and inexpensive. Hard to believe, but 50-60 years old, they sound amazing.


" RCA introduced pre-recorded 2 track Stereo tapes in 1955, and also there was the "Stacked or In-Line heads or Staggered or Displaced heads" formats. 1961 was the last hurrah for 2 track Stereo tapes. 4 track Stereo tapes were introduced in 1958-1959 to the USA, a format Tandberg of Oslo introduced, and Ampex adopted. 4 track open reel tapes soldiered on to some degree until Barclay-Crocker made their last ones in 1986. 3 3/4 IPS became a more common format for pop titles beginning in 1965"

I bought around 500 pre-recorded tapes after I realized how great they sounded, and how reliable the ancient tapes are.

I sold around 150 R2R tapes on eBay, unconditional return, and only gave full refunds to 2 customers, letting them keep the tape. One case, postal service destroyed the box (tape was fine), other case buyer said signal was weak. Perhaps his heads were dirty, why dissapoint, refund. Point is, I sold with full confidence 50-60 year old tapes with unconditional returns, think about that, and I have 100% rating. (I’m just beginning to sell LP’s on eBay).

Of course a full wide 2 track head sounds best, (4 tracks are 1/2 the width, 1/2 the amount of material for the signal. To save space, I play my 2 track tapes on my 4 track machine (boost one channel volume (it only partially overlaps the head), and cut other track’s volume.

Home or studio tapes, 2 track 15 ips are incredible.

I’m handy, have the tools, can fix anything mechanical (not electronics). Every deck I worked on, new belts, remove/replace all lube, adjust speeds, brakes, ... once mechanically overhauled, plays great. I changed the worn heads on one machine.

It is wise to get a spare machine for parts when one for a good price shows up.

If you are handy, I would take a chance on this one for sure


Totally loaded with remote control, and the rare ’Mickey Mouse’ dust cover

X1000R, loaded, warranty available, he over-state how clean it is, but


If you have to pay someone to work on a deck, see if there is a repair place near enough to avoid 2 way shipping, expensive and risky.

7-1/2 IPS is definitely preferred to 3-3/4 IPS, however, for desired content, I would buy the 3-3/4, and keep my eye out for 7-1/2, get it, sell the 3-3/4 version.

I'd beware any 7" prerecorded RTR that's on the open market these days.  Most of it will be from the 60s-70s, and if it has not been stored under optimal conditions, most will suffer at least some degree of tape delimitation and physical tape distortion.  (Note that I had several hundred reels of tape which I eventually trashed due to storage in a California basement; not a great idea!)
I wish I had kept my dads RTR back in the day along with the recordings of course. I feel this is just a money issue like buying a gun. The $1500 colt 1911 is not the expensive part. It’s the bullets or cartridges that are the real cost. I really hope someone is preserving all of this music. Losing it would be unbelievable! Maybe some people could borrow or donate some of their recordings to these streaming platforms so we can have these in our lives for generations to come. I am 49 years old and love to listen to music from the past. Etta James, Nena Simone and so on. 
Recently restored a gorgeous TEAC X-1000R for a friend..... It runs and sounds fantastic of course. He has a big advantage in that the deck belonged to his late father so it also came with probably 100 or so prerecorded/self-recorded tapes. He now uses the deck almost daily. 
open reel is a great sounding format. better than most LPs and better than CD. Unfortunately you cannot get that better sound simply by buying a reel to reel deck from the 70s or early 80s connecting it to your system and pressing play.
doing this with open reel tape and expecting spectacular sound is akin to trading in your out board phono stage and reverting back to the phono preamp stage in  your 1970s Marantz, Pioneer, Yamaha receiver from that era. Just is not going to happen.

First you need to get the deck serviced, and recapped. then you need to start looking for outboard tape head pre-amplifier, either tube or solid state.

and if you really want to go to next step, a set of hgh performance heads from JRF.

once you have done all that, then even the 7 1/2 ips quarter track tapes can sound amazingly good.

 and when you play the 15 ips tapes, they become mind blowing

why would anybody consider tape recording an ultimate sound ? tape noise between recordings irritates a hell out  me... i do understand that in 1970-80s  there was no choice and reel to reel was the thing ... not any more ... now if you enjoy tape hissing and vinyl crackling  good for you...i prefer silence  where   it suppose to be 
Tape is a natural medium. It breathes. Tape has sparkle, air, warmth and musicality, you know, things that are conspicuously absent from tape’s digital brethren. Exceptions some digitally remastered cassettes such as the 1994 Jimmy Page Led Zeppelin remasters, digitally remastered Country Joe and the Fish on Vanguard.
I agree with you. I read this thread very wistfully, because back in 1975, I bought  Sony TC 558 RTR, and I had a lot of fun making mix tapes with my turntable, and even recording off of the radio. Even at 7.5 ips, it sounded great; but I just think that for the average Joe, those days are over. At that time, it was still only for audio guys, but now it's only for wealthy audio guys.  
Proper Reel to Reel is my dream, i wish to have one.
Some of my old pictures on 35mm film:
This is from my grandfather, it was a USSR hi-fi standard in the 70’s :) 
This is a killer Studer master recorder i’ve heard in the studio in Helsinki
Portable cassette players will do until something better gets here. I’m currently listening to a Sony Professional portable cassette player. Made in Japan. Accept no substitutes. 🤗
@johnss I agree with most part of your post.
I have gone through the path of having my deck serviced, recapped, wiring head out to an external tape stage. See my system here:
What I'm listing here is the entry point to reel to reel and bringing attention to an analog medium that receives very little attention on these boards.
A few years ago, I was sold on reel to reel when I got to listen to a 15 IPS 2-Track tape played on an un-modified stock machine. Yes, it sounded glorious even through the stock 1970's solid-state electronics. I have since bought and sold over 10 highspeed decks which include, Teac, Revox, Otari, Tascam, Technics, Studer, and Ampex. The Otari MX-5050 B2 and Tascam BR-20 were very reliable and needed little to no maintenance besides cleaning, lubing, and calibrate using an MRL calibration tape. So, I'm all for getting the most out of this format by getting the deck serviced and getting the external tape stage, etc. I just don't think it's a must to start enjoying and appreciating the strength of tape.
Is it a blasphemy to mention I am looking at this DAT recorder on audiogon. I have no use for it, but it is so cute. And, it is tape so I can always say that it breaths. And gets tangled.
@glupson, I have one of those Tascam DATs, recorded many a show with it. Some phenomenal tapes that I occasionally still play today.

While I agree that reel tape is not for everyone, one thing I learned is that to really appreciate what tape can sound like is to use the deck as a transport and wire the tape heads directly to the outputs. The use an external tape head preamp. It's what I do with my Otari. I have three tape head preamps, one built into my Atma-Sphere MP-3, another I built with Roger Modjeski, and a deHavilland. All are tube designs, no solid state.

I pay $150 - $250 for direct copies of master recordings. Granted it's not mainstream stuff, but it's really good music recorded very well.


Get on his mailing list for the specials.

Analog, whether tape or vinyl,  has a flaw of noise or hiss. Digital is quiet but  has the flaw that it doesn’t sound as good as analog. So many of us accept the noise and learn to tune it out to have the more superior sound quality.
When I was considering tape, I had listened extensively to a restored Studer A820...a machine that i think is just superb. These days a restored A820 is going for a fair price, and yet the equivalent ( if there really is one) turntable is going to cost you a lot more. But, like I stated before, already being heavily into vinyl, the whole episode of tape and the Studer didn’t really make sense.Now, OTOH, if I wasn’t already heavily into vinyl, well then the tables (pun) would probably be turned!
forgot to add, you do not need to spend multi-kilo bucks to get a deck running.

you can take most outboard phono pre amp stages, convert RIAA to NAB EQ curve and you are good. have done that with the EAR 834P phono stage, as well as a few others. can also use the EAR clone phono stages from China so your total outlay for tape deck and tape head preamp can be under 1500.....
so can be less than most phono playback and turntable combos....

I have a consumer RTR from many years ago. Recorded several live performances with a pair of electret condenser mikes at 7.5 ips. In playback, the dynamic range was so high, it exceeded the 50 dB range of this machine. With a pro deck, I suspect this range could be capable of another 10+ dB, or more. However, the frequency response cannot capture all the high frequency sounds above 15 kHz, on this deck. 

As for sound quality, decades ago I recorded a LP to tape. Playback the tape and compare LP playback sound to RTR with sound level of the two matched as best as possible by ear. These two sounded different, but not by much. Many factors could have caused this. Also, this test made the signal pass through two preamps in the deck, one on the record side and one on the playback side, in addition to the magnetization process on the tape. The LP signal did not pass through the path of the RTR.

So I would not characterize that *this* RTR sounds better than LP when the recording/playback process altered the sound of the LP signal. Had both sounded indistinguishable from each other, then I'd say this RTR can be considered equal to LP. But I can say nothing about this RTR being better.
your link to the Studer image doesn’t work
Thanks for sharing the link to International Phonograph Inc., I was referring to Jonathan’s company when I wrote $150.
How difficult is it to convert a phono preamp RIAA curve to IEC? I heard this could be done but I really haven’t dig deeper into it.

your link to the Studer image doesn’t work

oops, there you go .... Studer master recorder ... A friend of mine in Helsinki own it and use it in the studio.