Ya know, this is probably blasphemy to whatever audiophile-types lurk on this list, but I think you
get a lot more bang for the buck investing in a really good CD playback system. More "golden ears"
I've met than I care to say rail on about how "digital sucks" or "CD's sound terrible." Then, when I
ask them about their system, it turns out they are using either a first-generation CD player from
the early 80's or they are using some dirt-cheap on-sale DVD/CD player from the local big-box. CD
players are NOT all the same and furthermore external D-A boxes are NOT all the same. If you combine
well-mastered CD's with a stable mechanism and an excellent D-A unit, you'll push your amp and
speakers (and ears) as far as they can go.
Now, just as in the LP era, the majority of CD product on the market is not well-mastered, so the
garden-variety CD has a bad rap for sounding awful through no fault of the technology. This was the
same thing with a lot of rock and jazz LPs back in the day. Overuse of dynamics-compression, bad EQ
choices, and bad mixing or mic-placement choices at the session are nothing new. But, the difference
with CD's and even more so with higher-resolution digital formats, is that there aren't the built-in
distortions and limits of analog formats. No matter how superb your analog setup is, output is
audibly different from input. If you like the output better -- ie the distortions are euphonic to
your tastes -- that's one thing. But the truthful assessment is, a well-designed digital system can
get as close to output = input as the vast, vast majority of ears can hear (and certainly the
overwhelmingly vast majority of home-listening setups can reproduce).
If I had the thousands it costs to buy and maintain an ATR Services machine, and this were simply
for a listening hobby, I'd spend that money on a mechanically-superb mid-line DVD/CD player, a
top-line DAC and then take the other 2/3 of the money and invest in great speakers and room
treatments so I had a top-rate listening environment. If I already had that in place, I'd invest the
2/3 of the money I had left in a diverse collection of great listening software, paying attention
first to my musical tastes and then to sound quality since great music should soar above a crappy
recording (although it doesn't in all cases).
This is probably not the answer some want to hear, but I submit that it's by far the most bang for
the listening-pleasure dollar.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Scott Phillips" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, January 22, 2008 12:27 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Ampex ATR-102 opinion (was MD5 Hash Generators
I have overhauled several of these machines for clients over the years
from almost complete trash condition to fully reconditioned states. I am
also in complete agreement with Tom and Richard as to the ATR-102. A
wonderful sounding machine, and a pleasure to record with. Very quiet,
I am somewhat hesitant to use them on anything I might think was old /
damaged tape or tape that hadn't been checked first for bad splices and
the like. The normal wind speeds I found a little scary, as well as the
'load' mode for the tape. That said, I thought it was certainly either
at the top of my short list of the best sounding recorders ever made or
durn near it. I really only had extensive experience with the 1/2"
equipped ATR's, and with NOS heads. The transport mechanics and
electronics were, well, a bit different than anything else.... most
certainly not for the home tinkerer to repair. Parts can have a very
steep price tag, as can service if you have to pay someone like me or
the ATR folks. (Very nice people, from my limited dealings with them)
I Highly recommend the ATR-102 for studio master recorder use, if you
are going to use analog tape. As Richard and Tom are aware, I worked for
Sony doing prototype QA on the Sony APR-5000 recorders. They are also
very good units, very good sounding, gentle on tape and very versatile
in use, but if the ultimate fidelity is what you are looking for and
price is not an object, the ATR-102 is hard to beat.... the A80 series
is not a bad place to be either. The ATR will likely hold its value
better than almost any other RTR deck... the cult following is that
In Richard's position, IMHO, he has made very good choices based on his
work load and the type of work he takes in... an ATR still sees a good
deal of recording studio use, but it isn't that much of a format 'quick
change' artist, and stocking spares would be crazy expensive for little
advantage in his situation. I don't know as much about the work that Tom
takes in, but I imagine it is similar in many ways. Your situation ???
LOL.... well, if I had all the cash it takes and wanted a 'personal' RTR
machine, I'd take a 102 anytime. Not in my budget anytime soon
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Ken Fritz
Sent: Monday, January 21, 2008 8:12 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Ampex ATR-102 opinion (was MD5 Hash Generators
I think it's great that this forum will, after one posting and a
reply, change the greeting from" Hello Mr Fine," to Hi Tom. I hope I'm
not taking undo leeway.
I did take the one day seminar at ATR and it was quite an experience
in more ways than one.------- Sue and drove our F350 Club cab from
Richmond Va. to York, Pa. the day before the seminar. For me, the next
day was going to be a BIG day. I woke up at 5 AM, got up and took a
shower at 6. I put on my Mitchum deodorant, shaved with a razor- not
the electric job and put on a new pair of jeans, topped off with my gold
and silver Virginia belt buckle. For a 65 year old dude, I LOOKED SHARP.
Betti, Mark's wife, told me not get there early because they open the
door a few minutes before 9 AM. I'm never late for anything, so I left
at 8:15 and planned on waiting in the parking lot with my tongue
panting. My hotel was 4 miles form ATR's office.
First I took the wrong ramp on the highway, picked up a nail and
after 5 miles going the wrong way, I finally turned around and drove on
an almost flat tire. I pulled in their lot, called AAA to fix the
tire. They didn't. It was still flat when I left ATR at 5 PM. The
least of my problems.
I was overdressed, the only audiophile in the group of 6. All the
others were studio owners, two of which were there to pick up their
ATR's. One was a 1 inch 2 track and the other a 1/4 inch 2 track. 9 to
12 was classroom time on theory; Tom, you said "It's Basic Tape
Recorders and Machine Alignment 101.''
After lunch, we spent the rest of the day going through all the test
and alignment procedures on the two machines the lucky owners were there
to pick up. We all had the opportunity to perform all the
adjustments on both machines using the Sound Technology 1510
Analyzers that ATR employs to set up all their machines. When you're a
9'th grader in a College class you keep your ears open and your mouth
shut. However, I asked a few questions that were relevant to the the
tasks at hand. With a little studying on the subject, I just might
When it came close to my turn I realized that my Mitchum wasn't
working--the first time. Bill, ATR's tech, was over the shoulder while
each attendee spent the 45 minutes going through the procedures with
detailed explanations as to what was going on. I really should've
recorded the procedure on my Ipod. My turn--- I passed with the excuse
that I'll go through it again when I pick up my machine.
I'm just old fashioned, but offending someone for the sake of learning
something you've paid to learn, just doesn't compute. My day will
come.---------By the way, the tire was still flat when I left
the facility at 5 PM, thanks AAA, and my deodorant was on holiday.
I think next time will be better.
On Jan 21, 2008, at 6:42 PM, Tom Fine wrote
> Hi Ken:
> A great place to learn a lot is to take one of ATR Services'
> seminars. I forgot if you said you had been to one already or not.
> Good luck with your endeavors.
> -- Tom Fine
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Ken Fritz"
> <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Monday, January 21, 2008 5:33 PM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Ampex ATR-102 opinion (was MD5 Hash Generators
>> Hello Mr Fine,
>> It was gratifying to read your reply as well. It cited additional
>> views of what it takes to end up with a good machine
>> along with fortification of the views expressed by Richard Hess.
>> In 1958, when I was in high school, I purchased a new Ampex 351-2.
>> For a few years, I recorded bands around the Wisconsin area until
>> marriage and a few kids eliminated that. I sold the machine and mikes
>> to a good friend of mine who put it in his closet and never used it.
>> Two Christmases ago, while visiting my family in Milwaukee, I called
>> him and bought it back. I always took good care of my things so it
>> looks just as if it rolled off the Ampex line. It probably has no
>> more than 1500 hours of use on it. I realize caps need to be replaced
>> after that amount of time and will probably do so at some time. Not
>> having ANY program material on tape I subscribed to The Tape Project
>> and now have 3 tapes to play. WOW!! ---it's a start!
>> I realize I need to begin learning about tape recorders and
>> recording in general. Opinions such as yours are important to someone
>> who has just about everything to learn.
>> Thanks, Ken Fritz
>> On Jan 20, 2008, at 8:52 AM, Tom Fine wrote:
>>> 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
>>>> 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
>>>> 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
>>>>> 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.