(For other accessories, check out Where to buy tape accessories).
Brand new blank tapes
There are currently just three major manufacturers of blank R2R tapes worldwide: ATR Magnetics, Recording the Masters and Capture.
You can buy either direct from ATR or from a dealer. ATR’s online shop will currently only process orders from the USA. For international orders, see ATR’s worldwide dealer listings. ATR also stocks a wide range of other accessories.
Again, you can buy either direct from RtM or from a dealer. RtM’s online shop is available to customers worldwide and the website also includes a list of dealers internationally. RtM also stocks a few accessories.
US-based Splicit, a supplier of reel audio products (and also a dealer of RtM tapes), sells ‘Capture’ audio recording tape which is “produced exclusively for us in a state of the art Certified System Quality ISO 9001 facility” (it’s manufactured in Australia by Greencorp).
‘New old’ and used tapes
In addition to the ‘new-new’ tapes being manufactured by the three companies listed above, you’ll also find people selling ‘new-old’ tapes made by the likes of Maxell, BASF, Emtec, Ampex, etc (i.e. tapes manufactured ‘back in the day’ but never used, still ‘new’ and sealed in their original packaging). Tapes can potentially remain in good working order for decades – but this is assuming that (a) they were of good quality to begin with, and (b) they’ve been kept in the right environmental conditions throughout their lifetime.
On which note, some of words of caution here. My own preference is always to buy new-new blank tapes, since (a) you know exactly what you’re getting, and (b) the price of new tape on pancakes isn’t so high anyway (it’s the reels that tend to be the pricey part). But, if you do want to go this route for whatever reason, I’d advise you to do your research. Here’s my personal take…
Tapes made by BASF, Emtec, Agfa, RMG, RMGI and Pyral are all potentially decent bets as these were previous brand names of the same formulations that are now manufactured by Recording The Masters, which are super-stable. Ampex, on the other hand, was one of the worst ‘sticky shed’ offenders so I‘d be very careful there. There’s also Scotch / 3M (which I’d also maybe be cautious about), and Maxell and TDK (which are probably okay) – but again, it all depends on how the tapes have been stored throughout their lifetime, as well as on their original quality.
You’ll also find people selling ‘new-old’ pre-recorded tapes, also still in their original sealed packaging e.g. a commercially released recording that was unpopular (hence never sold/opened). These will tend to be very low priced and often come in job lots. Again, I personally wouldn’t recommend this route, since you have no idea what the tape’s bias characteristics are, and the tape used is highly unlikely to be of premium quality.
As for ‘old-old’ stock – used, pre-recorded tape – I can’t imagine why anyone would want to use these for recording over (some do, my advice is: don’t!).
Then again, in all of the above cases, if you’re considering buying new-old or old-old stock for the reels and/or the boxes rather than the tape, then that’s another matter – if the price is right and the quality decent, you could grab a bargain (and, if you get lucky, there might be a hidden gem of a recording tucked in there too!).
I recently came across this company, the first to certify and sell refurbished R2R tapes. Their website also provides a really useful resource listing all of the major tape brands and formulations, mapping out their history and answering questions such as: can the tapes be played; can they be used today to make quality recordings; are they in any danger of degradation, etc? (They also sell empty tape reels). It looks like a decent operation, though personally I’d want to ask a few questions before buying refurbed tapes. For example, some of the blanks are listed as having been baked. Baking is useful for temporarily restoring a precious old pre-recorded tape to useable quality so that you can make a copy of it, but it’s not a permanent fix. So do your research – if you’re considering a purchase, drop them a line, have a chat. Reassuringly, they offer a ’90-day no fuss replacement guarantee’.
For tape reels and other R2R kit, head over to Where to buy tape accessories.