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ARSCLIST  April 2007

ARSCLIST April 2007

Subject:

Re: commerical reels history (was Boston Pops question)

From:

Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 7 Apr 2007 09:40:46 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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If it was issued on tape in 1956, it would be exclusively 2T. 1956 was the breakthrough year for 
home-playable stereo tapes. I have plenty of audio-oriented magazines from this era plus first-hand 
remembrences from those who were there. The first 2-track stereo tapes started trickling out in 1955 
and I think RCA might have jumped in by Christmas buying season 1955. Mercury, Columbia and others 
jumped in in 1956. At that time, there was still a little bit of a format war between the 
in-line/stacked heads advocated by Ampex and the staggered heads used by at least one other company. 
Ampex came out with its first "A" home stereo playback deck in 1956, but it had a 2-track 600 deck 
out by 1955, available as a special order item I believe. Since Ampex made the duping equipment used 
by the vast majority of releasing companies, they won out and stacked heads became the standard. 
This was of course very advantageous to Ampex because they were first to figure out how to mount two 
heads in a 1/4" assembly and have good performance vis-a-vis crosstalk and frequency response 
(2-track 300 available as both an instrumentation recorder and a special-order audio recorder in 
1953). They had figured out 3-track 1/2" in 1953 and indeed had developed a prototype 3-track 300 
machine, which was detailed in International Sound Technician magazine of 9/53. They did not 
commercialize (ie make available as a catalog item) 3-track 1/2" until late 1955.

The early stereo 2T tapes were duped at max. 4x speed and do indeed have good sound quality if the 
duping house kept their equipment aligned. By the way, the first Ampex-based duping line, before 
Ampex developed their own, was developed by Leon Wortman in NY and detailed in a 1951 Radio & TV 
News article. Wortman's line made full-track or half-track tapes. Commercial half-track tapes were 
available as early as 1951 or 1952, but there was only a very small consumer market for reel to reel 
machines at that point. Anyway, the 2T stereo tapes circa 1956-58 generally sound good if hissy and 
hold up over time due to wide tracks. Some are on acetate so develop vinegar in some cases. Tape was 
generally 1 mil so printhrough is an issue. Some of the earliest was 1.5 mil. The first pop and jazz 
reels by some companies, including Mercury and Kapp, were equiv. to 10" LPs, ie shorter than the LP 
version. Mercury and RCA classical, for two, generally had same amount of material as the LPs. 
Because this was a new format sold at a premium price, a lot of QC attention was paid by the 
reputable companies in this era, so the net quality is very high. Akin to what happened when stereo 
LPs came along.

The availability of stereo tapes for consumers led to an explosion of home tape machine models. I 
have the annual Audiotape Directory of Tape Recorders from 1956-61. There was a blossoming of 
companies early on, with all manner of machines. By 1961, it was winnowed down to the big players 
we'd all remember plus a handful of small fry.

In 1958, quarter-track duped tapes started appearing and quarter-track player/recorders hit the 
market soon after. The record companies liked quarter-track because, even at a premium, I was told 
2T was not very profitable and took sales from profitable LPs. Quarter-track was half the tape costs 
and I think the record companies figured it could be a side-by-side market to stereo LPs without 
cannibalizing the stereo LP sales. This ended up true since stereo LPs became ubiquitous and 
quarter-track reels survived all the way to the Quad era (where they became true 4-track reels) and 
then died out along with the home market for reel decks.

Old quarter-track reels are mixed bag. The early stuff released at 7.5IPS can be quite good if QC 
was good and if the tape hasn't warped on the edges and thus has left-channel dropouts. Later was 
terrible, duped at too high speeds, distortion prone, often released a low-fi format (3.75IPS), etc. 
I laugh at how much Beatles quarter-track dupers go for on eBay. Those tapes usually sound terrible, 
especially compared to the CD reissues. Yeah, they likely sound better than your original Capitol LP 
that has been played to where it no longer tracks, but not better than much else. I've also seen no 
evidence that any different stereo mixes were used for these than the stereo LPs from Capitol. And 
they were duped in the USA, by Bel-Canto or Ampex Tape Duplicating, despite lies perpetrated on 
eBay.

Anyway, that's about it for a history brain-dump early Saturday here. The excitement about duped 
reels in the hifi press dwindled after stereo LPs came along, but some of the hifi mags maintained a 
tape-review section until the late 60's.

For me personally, the 2T mid-50's tapes are always worth getting at garage sales as long as the 
tapes aren't moldy or obviously warped/curled and the price is cheap. But the real prize for me is 
quad reels from the 70's. That's where you hear what producers intended for quad since they are true 
discrete 4-channels and not some unworkable matrix like the records. Some producers had very 
interesting ideas, some liked flying sounds around your head  -- same as the short-lived 
multi-channel SACD remixes.

I should say here, if anyone has a stack of quad reels they want transferred to 4ch DVD-Audio 
format, ping me off-list and we'll talk. If the music is the least bit desireable to me, you'll get 
yourself a free transfer to a newly usable medium.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Richard L. Hess" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Saturday, April 07, 2007 2:42 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Boston Pops question


> At 01:13 AM 2007-04-07, Roger and Allison Kulp wrote:
>>The 1954 one is one of the first three records RCA made for commercial release.The Lp 
>>(LSC-1817),came out four years later.It is one of the legendary Living Stereos.Before it was 
>>reissued by Classic Records in the late 90s,it sold for as high as $850.00-$900.00.Now it runs 
>>about $350.00.(I bought mine at a Sallie  Army.)It was also issued on a stereo reel tape,in 1956.
>
> And at least some copies were two-track, as I have one. The 2T sound is almost as good as the CD 
> reissue.
>
> Cheers,
>
> Richard.
>
> Richard L. Hess                   email: [log in to unmask]
> Aurora, Ontario, Canada       (905) 713 6733     1-877-TAPE-FIX
> Detailed contact information: http://www.richardhess.com/tape/contact.htm
> Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes. 

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