You’ve no doubt heard the rumours. You may have read a few teasers. Perhaps you wondered whether it would actually happen. It’s happening. In May 2018, high-end audio brand Metaxas & Sins will launch one of the world’s first modern day open reel tape recorders. If you’re familiar with the unique work of creator Kostas Metaxas, you’ll know to expect something extremely special indeed, where superlatively authentic sound meets breathtaking design.
“Reel-to-reel is the new vinyl!” has been the headline-grabbing message across the worldwide audiophile press in recent years, hailing the unexpected revival of the format. Demand for vintage tape decks has risen sharply as those-in-the-know feverishly pick over the more serviceable models still in circulation. Why? For the simple reason that, as musical formats go, open reel tape is the incontestable master of superb sound. But what if you don’t have the know-how to bring an old machine back to working order? And what happens when the supply side runs out?
Until now, buying a brand new open reel tape deck wasn’t an option. There weren’t any. Production for both consumers and professional studios ceased a couple of decades ago thanks to the advances of the digital age. But what digital technology offers in economies and conveniences, it can never match in soul-stirring, heart-rending, authentic, visceral detail – qualities we were never going to want to live without for too long.
One man in particular wouldn’t dream of living without “the whole musical truth,” as he calls it. And so, while many people discussed the idea of developing a brand new, modern-day reel-to-reel tape recorder, Kostas Metaxas quietly got on with the job of doing it.
While his name may not be the first to spring to mind when you think ‘reel-to-reel tape’, dig a little deeper into his credentials and you’ll realise that he’s the perfect man for the job. Metaxas entered the world of hi-end audio in 1981, carving out his own unique niche and developing a strong worldwide following, not to mention amassing a raft of enviable reviews. Throughout his 35+ years in the industry, however, his business has deliberately remained a family concern. Every Metaxas & Sins product is a bespoke, limited edition hand-made creation crafted from start to finish by Kostas himself alongside his two sons (playfully expressed as ‘sins’ in the company’s name).
What initially stands out about a Metaxas & Sins product is its unmistakeable design. Far from the usual black or silver box of electronics, this is where hi-fi meets modern art. These pieces are magnificent, avant-garde sculptures. (Turns out Metaxas was already an award-winning designer in a number of other fields, having crafted several world-renowned creations for the likes of Parisian luxury collectibles brand S.T. Dupont.) But don’t imagine for a second that this is a case of ‘all style and no substance’. From the moment you hear it, what stands out about a Metaxas & Sins product is the musical performance. This is state-of-the-art listening. Not a simple matter of sound quality, but rather what Metaxas calls “truth in sound”. You don’t just hear it, you feel it. His company’s tagline, “be there”, is less a motto, more a guiding principle. Which is where the link to open reel tape comes in…
Metaxas has been a committed fan of open reel tape from the outset. For him, it never went away. Its infinitely superior qualities have remained his yardstick in every hi-fi product he’s created. What’s more, he firmly believes that in order to create excellent-sounding hi-fi products in any format, one must first have a detailed understanding of the recording process – which is why Metaxas is currently one of the most prolific analogue tape recording engineers in the world. He doesn’t record music to sell, but rather for his own professional research and expertise, fine-tuning his ear and his skills as an engineer. “There’s no doubt that the absolute best ‘source’ for reproduced music is analogue tape and that reel-to-reel tape recorders are the best way to record and capture music, bar none. This is a fact, not open for discussion,” he affirms.
Over the years, Metaxas has worked particularly closely with Stellavox and so, to honour his love for that brand, the design of the new Metaxas open reel tape recorder will draw heavily on the classic Stellavox SM8 – with the full blessing of Stellavox’s founder Georges Quellet.
The Metaxas & Sins ‘GQT’ (Georges Quellet Tribute)
The Metaxas & Sins ‘GQT’ (Georges Quellet Tribute) is a portable analogue tape machine designed for on-location recording as well as for home or studio playback. Biased for either SM468 or SM911 1/4″ analogue tape, it operates at 15ips using a brushless DC motor in a purely mechanical operation. In other words, it’s built like a large mechanical Swiss watch mechanism – with absolutely no logic controls or other computer-controlled components. The circuits use 100% discrete transistors and feature parts comparable in construction to those found in decks crafted in the 1960s and early 1970s before the introduction of logic controls and 5534 operational amplifiers.
“The result is a ‘kinetic art object’,” says Metaxas. This is typical of the company’s approach, in which time-honoured design and craftsmanship are married with cutting-edge innovation and genuine invention. For a designer with a deep respect for the classics and a keen urge to reinvent and take them forward, it was irresistible. “Magnetic tape technology is extremely complex. It places the highest demands on detail and precision in design and engineering,” says Metaxas. “But its sound qualities have never been bettered so it’s 100% worth the challenge. For me, it’s absolutely essential that open reel tape continues to exist – and indeed thrive – alongside other formats. I’m genuinely honoured to be playing a small part in making that happen.”
Metaxas & Sins will launch the ‘GQT’ (Georges Quellet Tribute) open reel tape recorder at The Munich High End Show on 10th-13th May 2018 in Hall 1.0, Stand DO1a.