I'll second a lot of Richard's thoughts. If I did commercial-master quality music tape transfers
often enough, I'd own an ATR for sure, and I'd be getting enough $$ from that kind of work to afford
a professional tech to keep it running. They're not necessarily fragile machines, and not really
finicky at least as I've noted in the limited time I've spent using them, but when they break, it's
a complex electrical-mechanical system that is not for the basement tinkerer to fix.
My pro-grade platform of choice is the Ampex AG-440B, with plenty of tweaks to make it run very
quiet and sound very smoothly. One major tweak for older Ampex decks, by the way, is simply putting
in better heads. For instance, Ampex stock AG-440 era full-track head has a bass "bump" and a slight
"presence bump" typical of Ampex heads. Replace it with a Nortonics or more exotic flavor and
suddenly you can garner almost ruler-flat frequency response. There are other tweaks. Anyway,
AG-440's are cheap and plentiful and a decent basement tinker CAN make one run very well, thus
saving the pennies for a JRF or IEM headblock restoration/alignment, which I consider mandatory for
a professional-grade machine restoration.
I also sing the praises of the Technics 1500 series decks. These are gentle on tape, steady on
speed, offer a variety of playback options and are of fine sound quality (not commercial-music
master grade but good enough for just about any other content). I had one of these decks converted
to full-track because I get a surprising number of old brown-oxide 7.5IPS full-track spoken-word
reels to do. Few machines treat an old tape more gently than the Technics transport.
In the end, though, I think a good transfer/restoration man or woman has to rely on their ears and
judgement much more than their equipment. Talking up one's gear has been the age-old marketing dodge
for audio folks, and really tells a client very little about how good a job you'll do. An excellent
body of work can be done on what's considered adequate gear and a terrible body of work can be done
on state-of-the-art ultra-tweaked gear. What you get when you engage Richard's services is not
really the roomful of APR's and Studers. It's his experience and judgement and proven track record
(and, in Richard's case in particular, his willingness to freely share all kinds of important
information and advice). Same with me and anyone else who does good work on this list. Something to
keep in mind ... experience and good references beat gear lists as a barometer of good work any day
of the week.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Richard L. Hess" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Saturday, January 19, 2008 10:00 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Ampex ATR-102 opinion (was MD5 Hash Generators
> Hello, Mr. Fritz,
> An ATR-102, especially one refurbished my ATR Services in York, PA, is held in high esteem by
> many. There are some who are concerned about its use on sticky archival tapes, but it is my
> understanding it can be properly set up for those tapes and sticky tapes should be rendered
> temporarily non-sticky prior to playing by baking.
> I got into this business slowly and began adopting a variety of tape machines that appeared to
> meet my needs.
> It is my goal to do an excellent job with as few different platforms as possible. My current
> mainstay in reel-to-reel machines are the Studer A80 and the Sony APR-5000.
> ATR-102s are very expensive in good condition and while they are superb, I have been able to find
> refurbishable A80s and excellent condition APRs at much lower prices. My goal is to minimize
> expenses so
> (a) I can keep more of the money to run my household
> (b) keep my pricing competitive and reasonably affordable
> (c) have some money to feed my location recording, photography, and travel hobbies
> The APRs are my machine of choice for most formats as they adapt to different formats much easier
> than most machines. The A80s are my machine of choice for NAB and DIN (Euro) stereo and full-track
> mono formats of high-quality material as they sound slightly better than the APRs. They are more
> difficult to change formats on. In fact, I keep one dedicated as NAB playback and a second
> switches between full-track mono and DIN playback, as needed. I am in the process of transforming
> a third machine into a 15/30 machine to handle the few 30 in/s masters I'm currently seeing.
> At the very high end, I think the choice of AVAILABLE and MAINTAINABLE machines comes down to:
> Ampex ATR-100, Studer A80RC, Studer A820/2CH in alpha-numeric order. Each machine has its
> proponents. I do not lust after the other two as I'm not sure what owning them will provide that
> the A80RC doesn't. The A80 is perhaps the most maintainable longest term as it is a relatively
> simple machine and all but one of its 31 bearings are stock, standard metric ball bearings.
> There are several more esoteric machines, including the Nagra T-Audio, Stellavox, and perhaps some
> other German (Telefunken?) machines that are not commonly available in North America. The Nagra
> would be probably the most common of these.
> While the difference between the APR and the A80 RC is noticeable, I'm not sure any potential
> further improvement that MIGHT be made by the A820/2CH, the ATR-100, and the others is worth it or
> could be justified by my client base.
> I do find the Studer A810 close to the APR, but in a single blind test that I've run by several
> people the end result repeatedly is A80, APR-5000, A810 from best to good. I do have specific
> tasks that I continue to use A810s for as they do certain "stupid tape recorder tricks" better (at
> least as I have them accessorized) than the APRs. The A80s are not accessorized for many "tricks".
> I am planning on having varispeed available for them.
> I handle half-inch tapes on both the APR-5000s and the APR-16. Some 1/4-inch tapes (specifically
> 8-channel ones) may be handled in the future by a "FrankenSony" combination of an APR-5000
> transport and the APR-16 electronics. Four-channel 1/4-inch tapes are handled by two "FrankenSony"
> pairs of APR-5000s. 1-inch tapes are handled on the APR-16. I do not handle 2-inch tapes.
> As I said, having a "stable" of different machines is not the mainstay of my equipment strategy. I
> would rather have one of the best models supported in depth than one each of the three best. I
> have enough indecision in my life. For 0.150-inch tape, my mainstay is the Nakamichi Dragon, of
> which I have six, all currently up and running in the studio to do 6x ingest. I also have one each
> Tascam 234 and 238 machines to handle 4- and 8-track cassettes and other oddball formats.
> While I have a specially configured A807 for tape prep, it's infrequently used today, and I
> happily traded my A807 MK II for an A80RC. Despite the photos on my website, the current
> reel-to-reel machines in the studio are the APR-16, five APR-5000s, two A80RCs, and a Racal Store
> 4DS and please read all the notes about that machine in my blog before purchasing one.
> At 09:20 PM 2008-01-19, Ken Fritz wrote:
>> Mr. Hess,
>> Being an audiophile, who is contributing as much as possible $ $$ to the music industry, I
>> have one question I'm sure you can address.
>> I've navigated your web site with particular attention to your
>>stable of RTR machines. I realize that you need a variety of machines
>>to accommodate the variety of material supplied to you for
>>restoration. I've not seen an Ampex ATR machine. It is apparent to me
>>that you need more than a "machine for all seasons" and that may
>>be why the ATR isn't in your studio, if it is that. May I have your
>>opinion on that machine.
>> Regards, Ken Fritz --- an audiophile addict.
> 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.