I can site a specific case where quarter-tracks may well be the best source left -- tapes that
burned up on the Universal movie lot. For instance Command Records (assumed all or most of the pop
masters burned up). The quarter-track duped tapes that I have, in many cases, sound better than the
LP records. If there were ever funding and interest in reissuing this material, I would turn the
tapes over to Plangent Process and I bet we'd get some damn good sounding CDs out there. I know the
process by which the tapes were made, and it was more careful than most mass duping.
I've also heard very good sounding mass-duped Decca (London branded) classical product made by
Ampex's duping operation in Illinois, circa mid 1960s. Luckily, UMG owns the masters to these tapes,
and have released them on good-sounding CDs.
I would say the total pool of high-quality 1/4-track tapes is more than 1%, but I do agree that many
mass-duped tapes did not turn out well, quality control was spotty, and many amateur recordists
(working in any format) make lousy-sounding recordings. It's a craft, like cabinetry, wine-making,
good writing, etc.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Richard L. Hess" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, March 10, 2015 7:15 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Tape dubbing backwards?
> On 2015-03-10 1:43 PM, Tom Fine wrote:
>> I agree with Richard in every point except I disagree with this:
>> "high quality music was never supposed to be recorded in a bidirectional
>> manner and quarter track was not a high quality music format."
> I accept your correction. With any format there is a small subset of tapes that far exceed the
> norm and we have to always be vigilant with knowing that we have one of those tapes. I think it is
> pretty obvious if we have one and then we take special care. It's well less than 1% and since my
> business does not generally do mass-duplicated commercial tapes, that could explain it. Copyright
> holders/agents thereof usually have access to something better.
> I'm leaving all the below so we have it in one place.
>> There is a small subset in the sea of fast-duped quarter-track tapes
>> that are high-fidelity and sound very good to this day. And, I have
>> heard plenty of homemade recordings, mostly made in the late era of
>> quarter-track reel decks, mostly made on high-quality Scotch or Maxell
>> tape (good slitting, smooth movement across the thin-track heads), which
>> sound excellent. I've also transferred amateur live recordings and
>> "masters" of home-brew band recordings from quarter-track tapes, some of
>> my own and some made by others. When they were recorded well, they
>> sounded very good. The last-generation quarter-track decks, like the
>> Technics 1700, the Pioneer RT-707 and RT-909 and the Teac X1000, when
>> combined with low-noise tape and not over-driven with too-hot levels,
>> made quieter recordings than Ampex 350 2-tracks in the age of
>> brown-oxide tapes. I also made plenty good-sounding quarter-track client
>> dupes onto Revox A77 machines at Sigma Sound Studios NYC.
>> The problems with many fast-duped quarter-tracks: 1) the Ampex 3200
>> transport going at 30 or 60IPS, combined with 1-mil tape (no matter how
>> well it was slit) is just not a model of stable tape handling. A stable
>> tape path is key to quarter-track success. 2) at least in the early
>> days, the recordings were made on two heads on each duper slave. Very
>> few duper employees kept those heads in great azimuth alignment all the
>> time. 3) even when recording was made on a single 4-track stack, azimuth
>> alignment depended on the care and skill of the duper operator. 4) many
>> duped tapes suffered from being several generations removed from the
>> master tape, and this became more the case in the quarter-track era
>> because the goal with tape-duping was always lower costs and faster
>> output. 4) when duped tapes standardized to 3.75IPS playback speed in
>> the late 60s, it was all over!
>> Many of the above problems also could apply to 2-track duped tapes, but
>> in many cases, 2-tracks were premium-priced niche products and a bit of
>> care was taken in their manufacture.
>> One other note about 1/4-track 1/4-inch tapes -- I've transferred more
>> than a handful of Quad discrete-track tapes, and they tend to sound
>> excellent, and the quadraphonic effects are always better than
>> matrix-decoded LPs (much better channel separation).
>> So, I conclude that while putting 4 tracks on a quarter-inch of tape is
>> non-ideal, it's not inherently low-fidelity. My experiences with tape
>> tell me that tape speed and what tape type the recordist chose to use
>> are the biggest factors about fidelity with these machines, assuming
>> they are in good working order and the heads are properly aligned.
>> -- Tom Fine
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Richard L. Hess"
>> <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Tuesday, March 10, 2015 1:19 PM
>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Tape dubbing backwards?
>>> On 2015-03-10 12:14 PM, DAVID BURNHAM wrote:
>>>> When I talked about phase reversal when a track is played backwards,
>>>> it has nothing to do with azimuth, I'm talking specifically about the
>>>> polarity of the audio, which will be inverted whether the azimuth is
>>>> correct or not.
>>> Thanks for clarifying, David
>>> I was attempting to address several different concepts.
>>> - If made on well-slit tape on the same machine at roughly the same
>>> time, and assuming that both tracks of your premium repro head have
>>> precisely the same azimuth, the azimuth error coming off the forward
>>> and backward passes will be the same. Therefore adjusting for one will
>>> automatically adjust for the other.
>>> - For any tape that I would do this with, there will not be tones for
>>> precise azimuth alignment and none of the stereo tools will help as
>>> there is only one track (unless you have a split head like the
>>> Nakamichi Dragon's inner track heads) so you cannot compare. Therefore
>>> we are relying on peaking high-frequency energy from the program
>>> content as the sole means of adjusting azimuth. While that gets it
>>> close it is not as good as using tones.
>>> - I concur with Tom Fine and others, I pick what tapes I do this with.
>>> I would not do high quality, music that way, but high quality music
>>> was never supposed to be recorded in a bidirectional manner and
>>> quarter track was not a high quality music format. However, there are
>>> always exceptions to the rule. I do not reduce my charges because
>>> these tapes also often require more post processing and other
>>> fussiness so I can afford to do some if I capture in one pass.
>>> - If you do a reverse transfer the audio will require a polarity
>>> reversal in the software to match the forward channel.
>>> - There is no absolute polarity reference on a tape, so one cannot
>>> know which of the two tracks is correct. It is a toss up as to which
>>> is correct. You might do as well listening to see which sounds more in
>>> polarity and switch the other one. Or viewing the waveform is
>>> sometimes instructive (positive peaks are usually higher than negative
>>> Richard L. Hess email: [log in to unmask]
>>> Aurora, Ontario, Canada 647 479 2800
>>> Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.
> Richard L. Hess email: [log in to unmask]
> Aurora, Ontario, Canada 647 479 2800
> Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.