Those of us that are old enough to have worked with tape, like our own editor Mike Thornton, remembers it well. For example, when Mike was working in commercial radio in the UK in the 1980s, he built a mobile recording studio with a Studer A80 that had been Apple Studio’s first 16 track recorder. Although Mike moved onto digital and to Pro Tools, some artists chose to stay in the analog world but what is more surprising is that a growing number have rediscovered analog and tape and have chosen to jettison digital and work in analog with analog consoles and analog tape.
Artists including Lady Gaga, Florence and the Machine and Tame Impala have all been reported as to having recorded albums through the old-school technology for a warmer sound.
An example of a studio that facilitates this renaissance of all things analog is Linear Labs in Los Angeles, which you can find behind a combination record store/beauty salon. There is no doubt that Linear Labs looks like a recording studio from ‘back in the day’ (as Mike would say on the podcast), with reel-to-reel tape machines and vintage microphones. What's more there are no computers or plug-ins or digital recordings to be seen or heard.
The studio is the brainchild of musician, artist and producer Adrian Younge, who has recorded music with artists like Snoop Dogg and Wu-Tang Clan. Adrian has spent 20 years building out the studio, scouring eBay, Craigslist and vintage shops for equipment to record with. The result is a studio designed to make music that captures the feeling of yesterday for today. Check out this video to see what it's like inside Linear Labs…
Another studio who specialise in analog tape based workflows are London based Gizzard Recording who have been ‘rolling tape’ since 2002. The facility has been set up by music Producer-Engineer Ed Deegan to focus on working with and developing vintage production techniques. They state that they are a dedicated analogue studio, working with tape from the tracking stage to the final mix. Even the editing.
Reading the studio’s equipment list it looks like our own Mike Thornton would be very comfortable there…
“The recording equipment at Gizzard dates mostly from the late 50’s to the early 70’s. Our control room is kitted out with classic studio recording equipment. Some of which includes two Studer A80 tape machines (2″ multitrack and 1/4″ stereo) along with a vintage, one off quadrophonic Alice console originally from the legendary Manor Studios, Virgin Records studio in the 70’s. Monitoring is provided by our excellent sounding BBC near and far-field set up all topped off with a healthy collection of serious outboard and microphones.”
Secondhand Prices On The Up
An article in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that searches for the vintage machines on second-hand websites have also increased by a quarter in the last six months and the trend has pushed up the price of the best machines. They go on to say…
“In March this year, the number of searches for the analogue machines on Gumtree increased by more than 25 per cent, compared to searches in November 2018.
A search on auction website eBay now returns hundreds of the music players, including high-specification items priced at thousands, as well as tape players for as little as £100.”
David Denyer, editor of the Reel to Reel Rambler blog and luxury hifi expert told The Sunday Telegraph…
“There are machines I had an eye on four years ago for £1,000 pounds which have come back on the market now for £10,000, the prices are going up of the really desirable machines.”
What is interesting is that after 20 years, during which not unsurprisingly no new tape machines have come onto the market, a Dusseldorf-based Roland Schneider Precision Engineering has bucked the trend and announced a new tape machine in 2017 with the brand name ‘Ballfinger’.
The Ballfinger Open Reel Tape Machine M 063 H5 is a ¼“ 2-channel recorder. Here is a feature summary…
Direct drive reel- and capstan motor
Speed fine adjustment for capstan drive +/- 10%
3 speed spooling
Reel size up to 30 cm
Edit function manually one-handed or via control knob
Counter with autolocator, speed display and tape level switchable 320nW/b and 514 nW/b
3 speeds switchable from 9.5 cm / s to 38 cm / s
Playback equalization switchable CCIR and NAB
Inputs and outputs calibrated or adjustable via level control. Master control for input level
Unbalanced and balanced inputs and outputs, electronically balanced or desymmetrized
Separate power supplies for recording and playback amplifiers
High end headphone amplifier for headphones with impedances from 16 – 2000 ohms
Ready to install in 19″ rack
Equipment feets for vertical operation
Surfaces in black or silver anodized
Side panels in black frosted or walnut
Price: €10,645,00 including 19% VAT
After the machines made a big splash when he unveiled prototypes at an industry fair in Hamburg in 2017, Roland Schneider, the machine’s designer said…
“Digital media is great, but experiencing music is more than just listening to a sound file -- it’s sensual, it’s reels that turn and can be touched. When it comes to audio quality, nothing else in the analog world gets you closer to the experience of being right there in the recording studio than reel-to-reel tape.”
The designer who has built a high-end record player, watches and a Bauhaus-inspired table lamp, Roland is reported to have spent about six years developing his tape machine. Apparently he has since received distribution requests for them from more than 80 companies, including ones in the U.S., Hong Kong and Dubai.
The reporting around this resurgence all refer to the concept of a growing demand for music that sounds different than the overly polished digital recordings that have dominated the charts for the past two decades and that musicians are rediscovering the old way of producing songs. Ryan Adams and the Black Keys are just a few more artists who have reportedly recorded songs to tape in recent years. The industry press has apparently even speculated that other manufacturers such as ReVox may jump on the bandwagon to revive the format from its glory days.
What About The Tape?
As to where to get recording tape from, we understand that vintage tapes are widely available on the internet sites such as The Tape Project or second hand on eBay, Interestingly, the reports suggest that tape is more readily available in the U.S. than elsewhere.
Blank tapes for recording can now be bought directly from ATR Magnetics based in Pennsylvania as well as French manufacturer Mulann, which offers its RecordingTheMasters brand. We understand that Roland has been in discussions with Mulann, but we are not aware of any positive outcomes to collaborate yet.
More To Come…
We have another news of another analog resurgence coming up soon. Watch out for that one. If you find the jettisoning of digital technology hard to take, wait until the next article…
Where Are You On Analog And Tape Based Workflows?
Are you happy that the days of regular line-up, demagnetising and head cleaning are in the past? Or are you a fan of the tape sound, the subtle compression and distortion that comes from recording onto tape. The need to commit to tape, the thrill of the drop-in? Do share your thoughts in the comments below…