R2R decks: new & vintage brands

Spanking mint: the brand new modern-day decks

Until recently, the manufacturing of open reel tape machines had for some time (as far as we know) ceased worldwide. To all intents and purposes the R2R deck was considered obsolete, gone, defunct, a thing of the past, a vintage relic of days gone by. Then, in 2016, rumours were heard that one or two companies were seriously considering creating brand new models. Some came to nothing but two, Ballfinger and Metaxas, led the way, followed by Thorens and then, later, Analog Audio Design.

You read out more about these in various blog posts –

Previous blogs on Ballfinger

Previous blogs on Metaxas & Sins

Previous blogs on Analog Audio Design

 

Previous blogs on Thorens 

Preloved: the vintage brands

Among the best-known vintage names are the Swiss brands Studer and Revox. In fact both were made by the Studer company, Studer being the professional line and Revox the domestic one. Both brands were widely available, well-made and highly respected and both are still fairly easy to find on the vintage market. And, since parts are still quite widely available, these machines may potentially be easier and cheaper to restore and maintain (but won’t necessarily be, so don’t quote us on that!).

Other well-known names include Akai, Ampex, EMI, Nagra, Otari, Philips, Pioneer, Sony, Stellavox, Tandberg, Tascam, Teac and Technics. This isn’t by any means an exhaustive list (nor does it constitute a recommendation).

To find out more, a useful resource is the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording’s Manufacturer Profiles which includes some interesting background details about several of the companies.

If you’re in the market for an Akai, Sony or a Studer deck, there are a few pointers in this August 2018 ramble: A lifelong reel obsession: Neville Roberts recalls the tape decks he’s known and loved over the years

And Ken Kessler writes about his Top 10 Open-Reel Decks for Hi-Fi News at www.hifinews.com/content/top-10-open-reel-decks 

Halfway house: the ‘hybrid’ decks

Midway between the brand new and the pre-loved, there are also tape deck ‘re-manufacturers’ making ‘hybrid’ decks combining vintage elements with brand new parts and tech. Notable examples, all US-based, include:

United Home Audio

UHA’s Greg Beron does an excellent line of Tascam-based hybrids. Check out various previous blogs on United Home Audio and see unitedhomeaudio.com

J-Corder

Based in Washington State, the ‘Technics by J-Corder’ line is, as the name suggests, a line of refurbed Technics decks, in which you can either opt for a prebuilt, ready-to-play machine, or select a base Technics model and have it customised to your specifications. See j-corder.com/tape-decks-for-sale

Sonorus Audio

Sonorus’ ATR10 is a modern two-track, 15ips, quarter-inch deck that’s based on the Revox 
PR99 chassis. It uses Studer/Revox mechanical parts and all newly designed electronics, including tape drive, power supplies, and playback circuits. More details at sonorusaudio.com

Models from UHA, J-Corder and Sonorus were featured in The Absolute Sound’s Editor’s Choice Awards 2022.

Mara Machines

While not strictly makers of hybrid decks, Mara is worth a shout-out here as “the world’s largest analogue tape machine restoration company” that specialises in restoring MCI decks. Chris Mara also offers a number of other services including tape restoration and transfers, and ‘Tape Camp’, a twice yearly weekend of analogue tape recording and networking. Find out more at maramachines.com