My own listening tests have indicated there were two big problems with vintage 1950s professional
tape decks, specifically the ubiquitous Ampex 300 and 350/351:
1. the machines produced scrape-flutter every time the tape passed the heads, so scrape-flutter was
recorded and then compounded on playback. Dub down from a 3-track to a 2-track and you're up to 4
iterations of scrape-flutter. It adds up and it's audible.
2. the old-style Ampex play heads are very flat and wide. I have a theory that there is added
stiction from the head profile, and that it gets to effect tapes as they get older and the surface
gets either less smooth or less lubricated or a combination of both. Modern heads are more "pointy"
so there is less of wide contact area. Swap in a regular old Nortronics play head for an Ampex,
especially a full-track head, and you'll hear what I'm talking about immediately.
There is also the problem of pitch stability between the beginning and ends of the reels, but the
good producers and engineers back in the day understood this and worked around it.
I for one think the Ampex 350-style electronics actually sound quite good, as long as they are
well-restored/maintained and the tubes are good. I don't hear any difference with 351-style, but I
do have a preference for 350-style because I don't like the ancient printed circuit boards. If you
like the sound of your American-made LPs from the 1950s up through the mid-60's, then you like the
sound of Ampex 300/350/351 tape decks.
What I would say one has to be careful with when reissuing beloved old recordings is to avoid things
being too "brittle" and "bright" compared to the original. I think Soundmirror struck a really good
balance with the RCA Living Stereo, which makes me a fan of the Aria electronics. I also think Mark
Wilder did a great job on the Miles Davis mono and stereo remasters of recent years, so I therefore
must be a fan of the ATR stock electronics, too.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jon Samuels" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 10:39 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Fwd: [ARSCLIST] "Why Vinyl Is the Only Worthwhile Way to Own Music"
> As a followup note, I agree with John that the earliest tape machines had better record
> capabilities than they did playback. I also agree that high quality playback heads made today are
> better than the ones made in the 1950s. To my knowledge, the best manufacturer of tape heads is
> Greg Orton of Flux Magnetics.
> Jon Samuels
> On Wednesday, March 26, 2014 10:29 AM, Jon Samuels <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Hi Karl,
> In my personal experience, the best sounding tape machines I've ever worked with are the tube
> Ampex MR-70 and the transistor Ampex ATR-102s and ATR-104s. My understanding is that Mark Donahue
> (correct me if I'm wrong, Mark) upgraded the electronics on Soundmirror's tape machines. Whether
> they actually sound better than the ATRs original electronics, I can't say.
> Soundmirror did a superb job on the Living Stereo remasterings. This was due to multiple reasons.
> First, the engineers doing the work were very conscientiousk and did a first-rate job. (Dirk
> Sobotka, who did many of the SACD remasterings, is an excellent engineer. He used to work at
> Soundbyte here in New York. While there, I personally taught him about the proper playback of RCA
> tapes.) Second, they worked from the best available tapes. Third, they used high quality tape
> playback machines (see above). Third, they used state-of-art A-Ds. Fourth, they kept the
> three-track originals in three discreet tracks on the SACD layer.
> Jon Samuels
> On Wednesday, March 26, 2014 9:59 AM, Karl Miller <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> From: Jon Samuels <recorded
> From: Jon Samuels <[log in to unmask]>
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 7:43 AM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Fwd: [ARSCLIST] "Why Vinyl Is the Only Worthwhile Way to Own Music"
> Almost all the first Living Stereo releases from three-tracks were remastered using an Ampex 351
> tube machine (in not great condition), while the later ones were done from transistor machines
> (Ampex 440 for three-tracks and Ampex ATR-102 for two-tracks).
> Over lunch with John Newton (Soundmirror) we discussed his work on the Living Stereo reissues. He
> mentioned that the machines used for his transfers featured heads better than had been used in the
> past and that the sound they got from the tapes was likely better than what the original engineers
> could have heard. Does this make any sense to you? Would, in your opinion, the transistor machines
> have had better sound than the original machines used, yet, that would suggest that the record
> capabilities of the original machines were better
> than quality of their playback. Or, perhaps, I misunderstood John?