In the "few hundred dollar" range, I'd put the Otari MX-5050
BQII in the list of recommended machines.  Otari is one of the
last (if not the last) company still making new reel-to-reel
machines.  They may still have parts for the Otari MX-5050
BQII (worth giving them a call just to confirm).  The Otari
MX-5050 series are plentiful, so finding cheap machines for
parts should be easy if necessary.

The Otari is certainly not in the same class as the Sony APR,
Studer A807, or Revox machines already suggested by others
and which can also serve as transfer machines.  But the Otari
also costs significantly less, and can still give these more
expensive machines a good run for their money.  And since
your goal is strictly auditioning, the Otari MX-5050 BQII
should work just fine.

Note - the MX-5050 BQII (4-track) should not be confused
with the more common MX-5050 (half-track).  The MX-5050
BQII has 4 meters (and 4 reproduce amps) that display all
4 tracks simultaneously (as opposed to a quarter-track
stereo machine which only has two meters, two reproduce
amps, and displays one stereo pair at a time).  The MX-5050
BQII would not only allow you to audition, but with its
4 meters it would also allow you to easily identify format
(mono, two-track, quarter-track).  Identifying format will
help you better anticipate the transfer services you will
need down the road.

The Otari MX-5050 BQII comes up once in awhile on eBay
(maybe one every 1-2 months).  Here's an example of a
related 4-track Otari which could possibly do the job for
you and still fits your budget:

Another great 4-track machine (comes up rarely) is the
Revox C274, but this will run you closer to $1k.  At this
price point, the Studer A807 becomes a contender.  But
the Studer A807 only has 2 reproduce amps, whereas the
C274 has 4 reproduce amps (and 4 meters).  The C274 is
a close cousin to the A807 as they share many parts in

As for multiple headstacks, since you are only auditioning,
you can get by with just a quarter-track stereo configuration
(quarter-track head, two reproduce amps, two meters).
The signal will not be as strong when playing mono or
two-track tapes on the quarter-track heads, and your EQ
might be off a bit, but it will still work well enough for
auditioning.  And you just have one head configuration to
deal with.  But if you purchase a quarter-track stereo
machine, you won't be able to easily identify format.  For
format identification, you'll want a 4-track machine (4
meters, 4 reproduce amps).

In summary: for an all-in-one solution for pure auditioning
with slightly weaker audio signal with some formats, and
format identification capability with just one headstack,
consider a 1/4" four-track machine with 4 meters and 4
reproduce amps.

Any solution requiring either a custom headstack (two
playback heads on one headstack) or multiple headstacks
is going to put you well over the $500 mark.  Plus you add
the complication of switching headstacks or electrically
switching between heads - depending on how comfortable
you are with these tasks.

Eric Jacobs
The Audio Archive

---- Original message ----
>Date: Tue, 7 Jun 2005 06:06:53 -0700
>From: RA Friedman <[log in to unmask]>
>Subject: [ARSCLIST] Reel-to-reel tape recorder for auditioning archival
>To: [log in to unmask]
>A few hundred dollars has become available to purchase a ree-to-reel tape deck
so that we can audition what I believe are mostly 1/2 track and possibly 1/4
track stereo reels playing at
>3 3/4 or 7 1/2 ips. It's conceivable there are some 15 ips, but most likely
not. I'm assuming we will need two decks, one for each head configuration.
>Any recommendations as far as units, dealers, re-builds, etc?  We are not
planning on using the deck for transfers, but we'd like something that will
have a long useful life and won't be a huge maintenance headache.
>With any luck, transfers will be done by an outside specialist. We need a unit
that can give us some indication of what's on the tapes and will have minimal
impact. Luckily the tapes have been stored under cool, dry conditions and none
appears to have sticky-shed or surface/support breakdown even though some are
acetate rather than polyester.
>RA Friedman
>Assistant Project Archivist
>Historical Society of Pennsylvania
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