Back in the summer we got wind of another brand new tape deck on the way, from French company Analog Audio Design. In an earlier blog in August I promised to find out more and report back. So, here we go… a Q&A with founder and designer Christophe Martinez, perfectly timed to coincide with the launch to market of the first of Analog Audio Design’s two decks, the playback-only TP-1000.
DD: Hi Christophe, can I begin by asking about your professional background… are you an audio man by trade, or have you to come this via a different angle?
CM: I’m an engineer by profession. For more than 25 years I worked on designing flight simulators, with a focus on electronics and firmware. More recently I worked at Mulann, which, as you know, manufactures magnetic tape. (RecordingTheMasters is part of the Mulann Group).
DD: What inspired you to design and create a new tape deck?
CM: I discovered the joys of analogue sound while working at Mulann. During my time there I participated in the industrialization of the Kerwax Replica, a high-end tube line preamplifier. The Replica was designed at Kerwax Analog Recording Studios in Brittany, France, and is manufactured by RecordingTheMasters. It’s a two-channel version of the 24-channel custom mixer at Kerwax Studios, a unique mixing desk that’s described as “a window to the golden age of recording studios”.
During my various visits to Kerwax I had the opportunity to listen to lots of audio tapes, an experience that left me with the conviction that it was absolutely necessary to enable as many people as possible to discover this amazing sound!
So, when I left Mulann in 2017 and had some free time, I saw it as an opportunity to challenge myself to design a new tape machine. What excited me was the opportunity to explore how to use today’s technology to improve on the already excellent sound quality of tape.
DD: How long have you spent designing and building your first decks?
CM: Three years of study and multiple prototypes! Two years to make a proof of concept, and one year to make and refine the final design.
DD: Did you collaborate with Kerwax Studios on the design?
CM: Not on the design, no. But in the testing process, yes.
DD: How did you approach the design process? Where did you begin?
CM: I began in my garage! I transformed it into a kind of design laboratory. In terms of the tape machine, I started from scratch and designed and built everything from A to Z. Everything was conceived using computer-aided design. For the first 6 months, I created a model to test the tape transport, which is the mechanical core of a tape recorder. After that, I designed the rest of the machine: the user interface and electronics.
DD: What choices did you make about specific areas of the design, in order to create the quality of machine you wanted?
CM: That’s a difficult question to answer since all parts of the design have been systematically explored and crafted to deliver the desired quality of sound and to ensure the reliability of the machine. If I had to highlight one thing, I’d say that particular attention was brought to the choice of the motors in order to achieve the lowest possible W&F (wow and flutter).
DD: Where did you source your component parts, or did you create some or all of them yourself?
CM: All components are new, of my own design, except for the motors themselves and the magnetic heads. The reel motors are Swiss Maxon DC motors, the capstan motor is a JMC servo motor and the tape head is Photovox butterfly head.
DD: On your website to you refer to your design as “the future of R2R” and in another article you refer to “a new generation of tape recorders”. What do you mean by this?
CM: What I mean is that the machine I’ve designed is completely new. It’s not an update, an upgrade or a reworking of the design of any old, pre-existing machines, as we can see elsewhere.
DD: Are there any specific elements of the design that you’d like to highlight?
CM: One of the most unusual, probably unique, features is the computer-controlled user interface with touch-screen control panel and digital display. Another is the Ethernet port and upgradable firmware, enabling the enhancement and addition of features over time. The port can also be used for remote control.
There’s also the fact that the entire design was guided by the end user in mind, to include various other user-friendly features such as automatic stopping at the end of the tape, and blank search (the ability to skip forward to the next space between tracks, as was the case in some cassette decks back in the day).
Customers can find all of the features and technical details online at www.analogaudiodesign.com.
DD: So, the big question: when will the TP-1000, and then the TR-1000, be available for customers to buy and what will be their retail prices?
CM: The TP-1000 (playback only) is available to order now, from this December, for delivery in January or February 2022. The price is 10,000 Euros excluding taxes and shipping.
The TR-1000 (playback and recording) will be available for purchase in early 2022, priced at around 13,000 Euros plus shipping.
DD: Speaking of shipping, how do you plan to sell the machines internationally, in terms of distribution and retail?
CM: At this point, I haven’t yet worked out distribution arrangements for international markets. So for now, customers can buy the machines directly from me.
DD: So customers are essentially buying at a wholesale price, which is a great deal! Will there be any customisable options that customers can request to the design?
CM: For the moment, I’m not offering those options, but in the near future customers will have the option of having a direct output from the repro head to enable the connection of an external tape head (tape repro) amplifier. I may also consider different coloured finishes on the sides at some point.
DD: How do you plan to meet customer demand, will you continue to make limited numbers of machines yourself, or will you sub-contract some elements of production? How many units do you plan or hope to sell over time?
CM: Well, I’ve already subcontracted production of the mechanism, but the final assembly and fine adjustments are something I’ll be doing myself for every machine. My goal is to eventually produce more than 50 machines per year. If I have a lot of customers (which I hope I do!) then I will be able to increase the numbers if necessary.
DD: And finally, if we were to take a peek into your music collection, what might we find in there?
CM: Well, I discovered the amazing sound of tape quite late in life so I don’t have much of a collection yet! For now, most of my small tape collection was donated by producers. It’s mainly jazz, classical and blues music. We have an expression in French, “ce sont les cordonniers les plus mal chaussés” (cobblers are the worst shod). Then again, that probably doesn’t apply to most audiophiles! When I have more customers, therefore money, of course I will complete my collection!
DD: Do you remember the first album you ever bought?!
CM: Yes of course. My first album purchase was Supertramp’s “Breakfast In America”.
DD: Great choice! Thanks so much Christophe for speaking with us, and best of luck with the new machines!
Everything else you need to know, including contact details of enquiries and orders, can be found at www.analogaudiodesign.com