When I was first asked to review a 10½ inch NAB spool that offered to combine high performance with good looks, I was a little sceptical. Yes, I can imagine that a well-designed spool can improve the look of a tape deck, but I couldn’t see how it could improve performance. However, I like to keep an open mind and therefore agreed to take the new carbon fibre tape reel from RX Reels for a spin.
When I first received the RX Reels spool, I could instantly see that it was a high-quality product. The reels are supplied in a durable library storage box with a custom foam insert to protect the reel for many years. The spool flanges are made from upcycled aviation-grade carbon fibre, which RX Reels says offers superior performance by combining high strength and durability with light weight. Also, the company advises that these new tape reels will neither warp nor bend, unlike conventional aluminium or plastic reels. Kevin Root, the man behind RX Reels, explained that carbon fibre comes in many grades, with the highest quality being aviation grade. Normally, the cost of aviation grade carbon fibre would be prohibitively expensive, but Root’s location in the USA’s Pacific Northwest provides him with access to new, high-grade raw carbon fibre offcuts that are usually discarded by local military and aviation manufacturing industries. Root recycles this unused material and turns it into the RX Reels’ flanges. The resulting flanges offer the perfect balance of strength to weight, as carbon fibre is twice as stiff as steel and five times stronger.
To complement the carbon fibre flanges, Root uses custom-made, professional-style NAB hubs. The hubs are precision-made from solid aluminium to tolerances below two thousands of an inch. Each 2.3mm thick flange is joined to the hub with six screws, as opposed to conventional hubs, which have flanges secured with just three screws. Furthermore, conventional spools use screws that pass through the hub to secure the flange on both sides. The RX Reels’ flanges are separately fixed with screws on each side so twelve screws are used per spool to give a very secure fit. The hub also features a nano-machined surface, which is designed to grip the end of the tape, making it far less prone to slipping and aiding the threading of the tape. The handmade RX Reels are made in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The proprietary construction process allows the company to offer six different design options for the reels – two carbon fibre weaves, two rich wood grains and two marble finishes.
My review sample was fitted with the black carbon fibre flanges and it certainly looks stunning. Fitting the reel to my Studer A810 was easy and I can confirm that the nano-machined surface of the hub does indeed grip the plastic leader on my tapes really well, so threading was a doddle. As all pro-tapes are unidirectional and are wound tail out, I fitted the RX Reels spool on the left and wound my tapes onto it to play them. As I would expect from a premium product, the precision-made spool showed no signs of rattling or scraping the edges of the tape. I now understood how using an RX Reels spool could result in sonic improvements. A spool that is even slightly out of balance can affect the tension on the tape as it is playing, and this can result in tiny amounts of wow and flutter, especially at the faster professional speeds of 15 or 30ips. This ‘micro-flutter’ can have an adverse effect on the sound. On the other hand, a perfectly balanced spool, such as the RX Reels spool, ensures a consistent tension and this was evident with every tape I played using the RX Reels spool. Somehow, I had a sense of a slightly wider sound stage with clearer instrument imaging in comparison with using a standard spool fitted with aluminium flanges and a plastic hub.
The RX Reels 10½ inch carbon fibre tape spool with the NAB hub for ¼ inch tape is available in six finishes, priced at $239 US each. Bearing in mind that you will be using it with every tape you play, I really do consider that the price tag is justified. Not only do these reels look great, they help to bring out the best performance from your tape deck.
Find out more and order online at rxreels.com