“If, in 1999, you were told that vinyl would enjoy such a massive revival that in 2019 HMV would be opening a flagship store in Birmingham stocking 25,000 records, and that turntables and LPs would appear in mainstream TV ads for watches and life insurance, you’d have laughed in disbelief,” notes audio journalist and R2R junkie Ken Kessler in Hi-Fi News. “But then you would have paused, because both records and turntables were never entirely out of production. But reel-to-reel tape? Never in a bazillion years.”
Reel-to-reel tape, unlike LP or cassette – both of which have seen revivals, was never a popular, let alone populist format. “At any time between the end of WWII, when open-reel tape left Germany and was rendered commercially viable by Ampex and others in the USA, and the mid-1980s when machine and blank tape production started to decline, it was either the province of professionals for studio or field use, or of high-end audiophiles.”
So why the R2R revival, asks Ken…
“It has one, and only one reason for revivification and that is its sound quality. To my ears it is superior to any other format available to consumers. This seemingly hyperbolic claim may strike you as Kessler having a weird senior moment, but others, of far greater gravitas than I, share the same pro-tape affliction.”
What’s more, he can prove it. “One can perform side-by-side demonstrations, and the only listeners who will disagree about tape’s supremacy are those who have invested heavily in LPs, CDs or cassettes. Or have impaired hearing.”
So how is the revival manifesting itself, and what leads Ken to believe that the format has more than just a few cranky fans?
And if you missed it, check out our quick chat with Ken from Hi-Fi Show Live a few months back (ah, remember the good old times of live events before the Covid-19 lockdown – happy days…).