You may remember that back in 2018, the Munich High End Show saw previews from two companies of the world’s first modern open reel tape decks, which were on their way to market after a couple of decades with no new production of tape machines. The first of the companies, Ballfinger, has since released several such machines, while the second, Metaxas & Sins, sadly seemed scuppered for a while following the sad death of a good friend and valued supplier (of key parts for the deck being created).
The good news, however, is that designer Kostas Metaxas has remained very much on the case behind the scenes and, as a result, his new T-RX tape machine is now ‘hot off the press’.
“The first machines have just been delivered to customers and I’m currently working on the next production run,” reports Kostas.
“I was hoping to show some new developments at the 2020 shows in Munich and Basel, but sadly both shows have been cancelled,” he adds. “Essentially, the latest version of the T-RX will have a detachable headblock so that the customer can select the head types, and so that the machine can accommodate up to 1/2″ heads.”
“I wanted to see how far the medium of tape could be pushed”
So what do we know about the new Metaxas T-RX design?
For one thing, it’s been a real labour of love. “I wanted to see how far the medium of tape could be pushed,” says Kostas who, in 2003, began an ambitious project to create his own library of reference-quality analogue recordings, which he uses in the process of designing his high-performance Metaxas audio components.
“Of course we’re all talking about how superior analogue tape is compared with more modern audio formats. But that doesn’t mean that the best is behind us – far from it! I’ve spent a lot of time researching state-of-the-art machines from the 1960s, 70s and 80s and, despite their obvious quality, like all things they were limited by the technology of the time.”
“Take motors for example (and this is just one example). At the point when tape machines ceased production in the late 1980s, precision motors were still in their infancy. Fast forward 40 years and now they’re vastly more refined. So imagine what they can achieve in a modern tape deck.”
Actually there’s no need to imagine, since you can now find out in practice: Metaxas combines cutting-edge Swiss motors and technology (six DC motors in each deck) with the most inert chassis design to deliver a significant improvement over vintage designs.
“Like a Formula One car”
“The R2R decks of the previous century basically developed their own motor circuits in conjunction with the motors available at the time. And, since many of these machines saw intense service, the motors had to be ‘tractor-like’, not ‘Formula One-like’,” says Kostas. “In contrast, the Maxon motors that we now use feature inbuilt digital encoders with 1052 samples per revolution, so they’re incredibly precise. Braking is achieved through the motor rather than requiring actual mechanical brakes (which would wear out in time). Each motor has its own PID controller, which is then overall controlled by an ARM Cortex processor (similar to the serious computing in an expensive iPhone). In addition, we use a true ‘dual-capstan’ design with independent capstans to control the speed between rollers – again with 1052 samples/revolution.”
“Like a Formula One car, the ‘suspension’ (i.e. the springs) are tuned to a very low frequency as we found that this affected the sound quality. The tensiometers form a feedback loop to regulate the precise speed of the two reels to make sure that the tape doesn’t spill. At the same time, inbuilt protection keeps accidents at bay.
“The ‘plug and play’ headblock allows the use of different brands, types and sizes of heads from 1/4″ to 1/2″, butterfly or straight heads – and you can also even add three playback heads on the same headblock to compare them, similar to having three tonearm/cartridge combinations on a turntable. To support this flexibility, the playback and record modules have small plug-in PCBs that can be used to adjust the equalization to suit whatever head or speed you use.
Finally, the actual playback and record electronics can easily be replaced by your own electronics if you so desire – all very simple to do.”
How to buy
“I was in the process of setting up supply via my distribution network, but obviously the current measures in place around the world to slow the spread of coronavirus are changing everything,” explains Kostas, “so for the time being I’m only able to take orders direct.”
“Prices are on application, since there are different options depending on customers’ individual needs. These are likely to vary quite widely between, say, a customer who’s a recording engineer buying for professional purposes, and a customer who’s an audiophile buying for personal home listening.”
“At every opportunity, I’ve tried to build a machine that allows infinite experimentation to be able to wring out every possible benefit of the tape format.”
Find out more
If you’re in the market, you’ll find contact details online, as well as details of the full Metaxas product range, at www.metaxas.com
Watch a demo from the Athens Hi-Fi Show (January 2020)
Setting up: Kostas demonstrates how to use your TRX