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Author Topic:  2" reel to reel tape in recording studio
Tony Palmer


From:
Lincoln, RI USA
Post Posted 14 Dec 2015 6:10 pm     Reply with quote

Is this done anymore? Is it desirable once again?
Does this give a studio still using one, priority, or brand it as too old school?
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Brett Lanier


From:
Vermont
Post Posted 14 Dec 2015 6:41 pm     Reply with quote

Lots of studios still use tape. I see more studios with both options these days than one or the other. Sonic differences or preferences aside, there is definitely something to be said for the commitment aspect of recording on a tape machine, and that lends itself better to some projects more than others. I also just like hearing the rewind sounds in my headphones!
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Brett Lanier


From:
Vermont
Post Posted 14 Dec 2015 6:46 pm     Reply with quote

On a somewhat related note; a friend of mine recently opened a record pressing plant in Burlington VT and business was booming from day 1.
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Mark van Allen


From:
Watkinsville, Ga. USA
Post Posted 14 Dec 2015 6:58 pm     Reply with quote

Some analogish things, quality LPs for example, are becoming more desirable again for new releases. A lot of people around here want to record to 2" until they find out what the tape costs. A roll of ATR runs nearly $350 for 14 minutes or so of recording time at 30 IPS. and then there's machine alignment… Winking
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Rick Campbell


From:
Sneedville, TN, USA
Post Posted 14 Dec 2015 7:18 pm     Reply with quote

Analog tape is preferred by many big time artist and producers. I prefer the warmth of the sound over digital, but digital is so much more versatile with what you can do with it, such as editing, etc. There's several companies that make software "plugins" that simulate the analog tape sound. Personally, I use Slate Digital Virtual Tape Simulator.

My ideal session would be the 2" reel to reel, and having all of the players in the studio at one time. Today there is so much having the guitar player one day, the fiddler another day, etc.... that I think it hurts the sound of the record. Very good, seasoned, studio players, with good charts, can pull it off, but many players can't, in my opinion. You lose the interaction between musicians when they record separately. I don't do near as many sessions as I used to and a lot of it is because I turn them down due to this. They often tell me to play all the way through a song and they will pick what they want to use. Well, in this case, I either can't hear the other lead players so I can't interact with them, or they have them in the headphones and I feel like I'm playing on top of them...... Which I was taught not to do.

Some of the classic recordings were done with everyone there and the producer could say to one player..."why don't you do this and the other player do that' etc,..." and thus the magic happens.

On my own recordings, I do all the music and vocals myself, but I've got a picture in my mind of the overall project as I record and I try to make it as "live" sounding as possible.

RC
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John Macy


From:
Denver, CO/Rockport, TX
Post Posted 14 Dec 2015 7:32 pm     Reply with quote

Both of our control rooms offer Pro Tools HD as well as 2" 24 track tape. The vast majority of clients choose the digital option, mainly cause of tape price. We have a few that stay on tape, some that track to tape and then transfer to digital for overdubs and mix, and finally some that track and overdub in digital, then transfer stems to tape and mix from that.

I do like the bar raising that tape demands, but plenty of my clients treat Pro Tools like tape ie setting up 16 or 24 tracks with destructive record.

The tape simulator plugins are getting better, though not quite the same for me. For me, outputting Pro Tools into a console for mixing gives me the results I tend to like the best. Of course, no matter what the format is, getting it right going in is the biggest key to sounding great...
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Bob Hoffnar


From:
Austin, Tx
Post Posted 14 Dec 2015 10:55 pm     Reply with quote

A thing I see pretty often is that studios have a house reel of 2". They track to tape then dump into pro tools. There are some places around Austin that stay in the analog realm all the way to mastering.

Thankfully there are still plenty of recordings being made with the whole band in the room around here. There is even a trend with bands playing direct to two track. No mixing.
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Rick Campbell


From:
Sneedville, TN, USA
Post Posted 14 Dec 2015 11:13 pm     Reply with quote

Bob Hoffnar wrote:
A thing I see pretty often is that studios have a house reel of 2". They track to tape then dump into pro tools. There are some places around Austin that stay in the analog realm all the way to mastering.

Thankfully there are still plenty of recordings being made with the whole band in the room around here. There is even a trend with bands playing direct to two track. No mixing.


Good news! That goes a long way to explain why I enjoy the music coming from TX so much.

RC
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mtulbert


From:
Plano, Texas 75023
Post Posted 15 Dec 2015 5:31 am     Reply with quote

Here are some thoughts for the tape people.

1. Dynamic Range. Analoge tape's dynamic range is much less than digital.
2. Noise reduction. 24 Tracks on 2' tape gives you a head gap slightly better than 1/4" 4 track stereo. Now if you use Dolby you are faced with calibration tones at the beginning of the reel to make sure that if you go to a different studio the dolby will perform the same as the original. If you use DBX depending on the material, one can hear the pumping of the noise reduction.
3. Warmth....Love this term. That is the bias of the tape coloring the sound IMHO. Ampex had come out with tape that would allow you to either increase the signal to noise ratio or give you more head room. Depending again on your choice, this could attribute to the "warmth.
4. Alignment and calibration. Not for the weak of heart and it consumes a huge amount of time. You are safe if you do your entire project in one studio, but moving around can lead to problems.

If you were to hear a band live in a studio and then immediately hear the playback either digitally or analog, the digital domain will IMHO come closest to replicating what you heard live.

The entire vinyl thing to me is humorous. If you want to see the short comings of it take some low fequency material and pan it all the way to the left or right. Try to master that. The lathe will automatically dump it in the center. If you were able to get a pressing of bass on one side or another and had the levels set to today's standard the needle would jump right out of the groove.

Not trying to be controversial here. This is what I experienced in my years in Nashville and the struggles we had to make the best possible sounding records we could. Today however, the records have one big advantage and that is the vinyl used is a much better quality than could be had in those days.

Finally it takes a steady hand to cut and splice a 24 track master. Done it a few times; made sure the 2nd take was usable just in case!!!

I do miss the fact that recordings are not done with the entire band in the room. It made the engineer's life easier and the synergy and energy of the players interacting with each other led to some amazing recordings.

Happy holidays to all.
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Jack Stoner


From:
Inverness, Fl
Post Posted 15 Dec 2015 6:31 am     Reply with quote

I have a musician friend that has started an "old school" tape recording studio. His studio is Oxford, Fl.
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Tony Palmer


From:
Lincoln, RI USA
Post Posted 15 Dec 2015 8:34 am     Reply with quote

I'm not sure what recording the whole band in the room has to do with reel to reel tape recording?
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Bill Hatcher


From:
Atlanta Ga. USA
Post Posted 26 Dec 2015 5:54 pm     Reply with quote

Tony Palmer wrote:
I'm not sure what recording the whole band in the room has to do with reel to reel tape recording?


if you had the whole band in the room and didnt do any overdubs....you could record straight to 1/4" two track. it would sound great and the cost would be better than two inch. trouble is....you need a great engineer and a nice sounding room.
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mtulbert


From:
Plano, Texas 75023
Post Posted 27 Dec 2015 6:29 am     Reply with quote

Hi Bill,

I did plenty of straight to 2 track sessions in Nashville when money was an issue. You become an expert at cutting and splicing as well as balancing everything properly.

The main reason I always liked having the entire band in the room was to get the interaction among the players. You also know how the entire song is going to be arranged which makes mixing easier. Multi track was an insurance policy just in case you missed something.
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David Mitchell


From:
Texas, USA
Post Posted 8 Jul 2016 12:45 pm     Reply with quote

As a recording engineer since 1970 and having to use analog recorders as well as purchasing them and maintaining them I would compare that to a modern day pedal steel player going back to using 1960's Sho-Bud Permanent's, Fingertips and Crossover's to make your living with.
Big warm tone, looks impressive but a PITA to work with. Thank God analog recorders have been replaced by 24 bit digital. I still love nice discreet transistor analog consoles like the API Legacy and Trident TSM I had but I wouldn't give 50cents for a semi truck load of recorders. The last Scully's and Ampex's including an Ampex MM-1000 2" 16 track still working I gave away. Just plain gave them away to a young kid building a studio. I'll take a loss in warmth, tape hiss, wow and flutter anyday for good digital. Oh and when you get to the end of a $150.00 roll of 2" that only records 5 songs at 30ips you will notice the grand piano is no longer in tune for overdubs because the machine was running at a different speed. Studers done the same thing. People that cut their teeth with a modern DAW don't even have a clue.
Not to mention the amount of heat all those motors produce. If analog is still being used it's the young people that think old is better. Can you imagine Lloyd Green showing up to a session with his old fingertip Sho-Bud. Yes he could but it certainly would have to be at the request of someone else.
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 8 Jul 2016 7:46 pm     Reply with quote

The posts by mtulbert and David Mitchell are gold and spot on. Confirms my long held belief that those old enough to have worked with analog tape during their long careers were happy top see them being replaced with digital, be it ADAT, DA-88 or protools/ other DAWs. I started on analog MTRs but live firmly in the digital domain now but it's important to remember that not all analog MTRs were created equal and many of the lesser machines had crap for electronics and heads and couldn't record/reproduce a waveform accurately to save their lives. The overwhelming consensus at the time ADAT and DA-88 arrived was that for the first time you could buy a MTR, albeit modular ,capable of faithful reproduction of the signal going into it w/o spending a fortune.
IMO a blind test would reveal (as it has in the past) that many of the sonic advantages of analog are a result of confirmation bias and those that are real can be modeled to be virtually indistinguishable . When put to the test the parties involved in guessing whether it's A or D get it right about 50% of the time.
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 8 Jul 2016 7:50 pm     Reply with quote

Bill Hatcher wrote:
Tony Palmer wrote:
I'm not sure what recording the whole band in the room has to do with reel to reel tape recording?


if you had the whole band in the room and didnt do any overdubs....you could record straight to 1/4" two track. it would sound great and the cost would be better than two inch. trouble is....you need a great engineer and a nice sounding room.


Why bother with tape at all, cut straight to disk like real men do Very Happy
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David Mitchell


From:
Texas, USA
Post Posted 8 Jul 2016 8:40 pm     Reply with quote

werner can testify too. The Universal Audio Apollos with the many plugins doing real time processing in my opinion have pretty much made yesteryears recording studios obsolete.
I was reading an article a couple or three decades ago in Recording Engineer/Producer magazine and they had interviewed Norbert Putnam a former Muscle Shoals player who had built one of Nashville's state of the art studios at the time. He had spent roughly a million on equipment and control room design. He said he had an engineer that asked him to come over to his house one night because he had some audio gear he wanted to show him. This was about 7 years after Norbert went in business. The engineer had one of the early Alesis ADAT machines which were just 16 bit but it was a brand new ground breaking device back then. The engineer played him some stuff that he recorded himself in his home studio and showed how it had zero noise, zero flutter, used vhs tape that was cheap to buy by the shopping carts full and it sounded pretty darn good. Even had tape location set points. He asked the engineer how much he had paid for it and after the engineered answered Norbert said "Oh my God! and their selling those to consumers?"
Norbert said right then I could see the hand writing on the wall. He said the following week he put his studio along with all the equipment up for sale while it was still worth something.
That was decades ago. Look what we have today!
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John Macy


From:
Denver, CO/Rockport, TX
Post Posted 10 Jul 2016 10:54 am     Reply with quote

Well, Ive been around and started cutting to tape in 1971 and there are many aspects of it I love. I'd say I cut to ProTools 75% of the time, but anytime a client wants to cut to tape, I'm great with it. Especially on the more rocking stuff where I can utilize hitting the tape to get a sound we like. I have all the plugin tape simulators, and they kinda sound the same, but not completely to my ears.

I think one of the main reasons I enjoy tape is a vibe that it gives a session. Just like the way a studio looks, or the history that it has, or how it's lit can create an atmosphere that inspires players, recording to tape creates and intensity that can make players play better, and I'll take any so called disadvantages of tape to help achieve that. Also I love the little mental reset you get during the rewind time. Not all sessions are better on tape, especially quiet, acoustic things, but overall, it works well.

Being a commercial studio owner, you also need to give clients what they want. Most of the busiest studios here in town offer both options...just my opinion..

Also, when I first read this, I went and printed 16 minutes of an A440 tone on a piece of tape and played it back with a strobe tuner and it was in tune the whole way through (Otari). I do remember some Ampex MM1100's that wouldn't do that though. Our Studer A80's held up the same...
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David Mitchell


From:
Texas, USA
Post Posted 10 Jul 2016 1:38 pm     Reply with quote

The only thing I miss about magnetic audio tape is the smell of it in the morning. It did make things smell like a recording studio. Hard drives really don't stink that much. My last 15 years of owning a commercial studio which employed a $175,000.00 API Legacy analog mixing console I had zero request for analog tape. They wanted good mic pres, eq (which I had 28 channels of API 550L 4 band in the console), Microphones (I had a lot my best one was an original Neumann M49). I never heard a word about analog tape. The tracks were so tight, clean and punchy nobody seemed to miss it. I employed both digital and analog when the first Mackie hard disk 24 channel recorder came out. I had it hooked to an old blackface MCI 400 console that use to be at Buddy Killen's soundshop. The impedance mismatch made the biggest fattest killer studio sound me and other engineers ever heard in our life. At this same time I had my 24 track analog machine (MM1200) and Mackie digital recorder hooked to a custom built roll over box that had 48 relays to handle the inputs and outputs of both 24 track machines. No patching, just flip a toggle switch on the MCI console and I was hooked up to another 24 track. Great for customers wanting to mix their old analog tapes. As far as new recordings the analog never got used but I did work day and night once I got the Mackie hard disk 24 track. I was the first guy in town to have hard disk recording. The two other hit making studios Robin Brians and Rosewood here in Tyler were still using analog tape and Robin still had ADATS. Robin cut the first 3 big ZZ Top albums on an MCI JH24 but that was many years before this. Greg Hunt recorded LeAnn Rimes "Blue" a little later in Protools but had an MCI JH24 up till then. About a year after I got the Mackie digital I got Steinberg Nuendo which I have remained ever since. Later Robin Hood got Nuendo and still uses it. At the time it sounded better than Protools. Protools HD now sounds as good. I'm sure things have changed since then and the young people want analog tape now, Dan-Electro and Silvertone guitars, RCA ribbon mics, etc. I'm still waiting for a 20 year old to request a first year Sho-bud Permanent or Bigsby to record with although that might not be a bad idea! What I miss the most about the old days is everyone and I mean everyone showing up at 9:00am in the morning to cut an album. We had fun, go to eat, come back and have more fun then get paid and be home by supper.
The last of those sessions I experienced on direct to computer 24 track recording. Pure pleasure! Most of the time if a member said "I think I need to fix that" I'd say "hold on" and do the editing on the fly and they would say "You're Magic". Customers loved it and I got fast at it. The real beauty was mixing the songs as we recorded them. Not stopping and having a mixing session but constantly tweaking the stereo mix as they laid the tracks down. By the time it was recorded it was nearly mixed. I'm retired now at 62 and I would still be recording commercially today if I hadn't got AML leukemia 7 years ago. I had a bone marrow transplant and had so many complications I'm still fatiqued from it but thank the good Lord I'm still alive. I remember reading last year they have a device now that you put between your analog multitrack and DAW and it lets you have realtime non-linear recording in your DAW with the sound of the analog tape. I forgot what it is called. John Macy was talking about the challenge of destructive recording and I had to laugh. I can tell some horror stories about destructive recording even with digital. My last experience was on a Ray Price session here. Fortunately Tommy Detamore was able to salvage it. The sound as well as the great voice of Ray Price was there but only one problem. Ray's voice was running at 48.000 hz and the girl who was on the tracks voice was running at 44.100. When Tommy got Ray's track it didn't match. Either the girl sounded like she was just coming down off a helium hit or Ray sounded like a bullfrog. Lesson learned. I called Ray once Tommy called me but he was already on his bus to Canada. The great Tommy Detamore rerecorded the tracks doing a key modulation and made it work. Produced by Bobby Flores. I can't remember her name but she sang in Garth Brookes band at the time. Gail?
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 10 Jul 2016 7:36 pm     Reply with quote

David Mitchell wrote:
... I remember reading last year they have a device now that you put between your analog multitrack and DAW and it lets you have realtime non-linear recording in your DAW with the sound of the analog tape.


That would be the CLASP system. they take the audio straight off the repro head during the tracking and feed the DAW, not sure if it ever caught on but Neil Young and Dave Cobb used it.

Great post BTW, hope you're health is improving.
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David Mitchell


From:
Texas, USA
Post Posted 10 Jul 2016 9:15 pm     Reply with quote

That's right werner. Clasp system. I haven't heard any results yet either.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post Posted 13 Jul 2016 2:02 pm     Reply with quote

I worked in recording studios from about 1975 to 1995, so I lived through the transition from analogue multitrack (2" 16-track) to digital (1" 24-track). David Mitchell has given us a good rundown on the pros and cons, but the big plus for me with analogue was the discipline it imposed at the recording stage. There was an art in recording each instrument in such a way that it could be retrieved in good order, rather than just chucking everything on and worrying about it later. So your monitor mix was much closer to the final than it would be now, and you had to have a good idea early on of where you were heading artistically.

Call me old fashioned, but the more amazing technology you have enabling you to do absolutely anything, the harder it becomes to decide what that thing might be. Nothing like a blank sheet of paper to give you writer's block Smile
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David Mitchell


From:
Texas, USA
Post Posted 13 Jul 2016 3:44 pm     Reply with quote

You are so right Ian. I am so thankful to have lived in that era. Back then either you was a real musician or your recordings sounded awful. In those days I could hang with the best of them as an engineer or producer but as a musician I couldn't carry their cases. Now with all the non-linear editing programs even I have made myself sound good. Remember how tape degraded the more you erased and recorded. It takes me so many takes and so many tracks there would be nothing left of the sound. I use to admire those studio bands who could nail the whole song in one take and sound like a finished record. As a producer like Ian said you had to think everything out ahead of time and if you were to get 5-6 people in the same room together you had to plan way ahead of the record date because the best studio players often have a small one or two day window then you might not get them for another year.
Now with email we can get things recorded by anybody, anywhere, anytime if we have the money. I have done much of that lately as a steel player by wiring my part in. Great world to be living in today but a much more challenging and adventurous world of yesterday.
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John Macy


From:
Denver, CO/Rockport, TX
Post Posted 13 Jul 2016 6:49 pm     Reply with quote

Spent a nice day today tracking to tape--quality songs and players, no click track and everyone had a great time. It did remind me of one thing I don't miss about tape--dragging a carry on bag with 4-6 reels of heavy 2" tapes through the airport on the way to work on a project in another city...a hard drive in my pocket is a lot easier!!
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werner althaus


From:
lincoln, NE
Post Posted 13 Jul 2016 6:59 pm     Reply with quote

Ian Rae wrote:
I worked in recording studios from about 1975 to 1995, so I lived through the transition from analogue multitrack (2" 16-track) to digital (1" 24-track). David Mitchell has given us a good rundown on the pros and cons, but the big plus for me with analogue was the discipline it imposed at the recording stage. There was an art in recording each instrument in such a way that it could be retrieved in good order, rather than just chucking everything on and worrying about it later. So your monitor mix was much closer to the final than it would be now, and you had to have a good idea early on of where you were heading artistically.

Call me old fashioned, but the more amazing technology you have enabling you to do absolutely anything, the harder it becomes to decide what that thing might be. Nothing like a blank sheet of paper to give you writer's block Smile


Pretty much nails it. When you watch some of those "classic tracks" videos where they go back and revisit a classic album you'll see some guy , usually the producer of the album, put up the analog tape, push the faders up and it sounds like the record because it was captured that way. Things had to be recorded properly, with EQ and proper dynamics and levels, otherwise you'd raise the noise-floor afterwards, and so forth. All of that can be had in the digital realm as well but the technology fosters ignorance IMHO , giving rise to the "mixer" phenomena. back when it was the engineer who mixed a record, now you have to hire Chris Lord suchandsuch to make sense of the mess captured by socalled engineers.
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