Music

Project R2R building new reel-to-reel tape machine

Project R2R building new reel-...
According to Volker Lange from Horch House, the aim of Project R2R is "to achieve the best sound quality, bar none"
According to Volker Lange from Horch House, the aim of Project R2R is "to achieve the best sound quality, bar none"
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According to Volker Lange from Horch House, the aim of Project R2R is "to achieve the best sound quality, bar none"
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According to Volker Lange from Horch House, the aim of Project R2R is "to achieve the best sound quality, bar none"

There's no doubt that digital music formats offer a convenient way to listen to lots of music on the move. Factor in on-demand streaming services and you don't even have to worry about running out of storage space on your portable device. But even though digitized music reigns supreme, demand for analog formats like vinyl is on the rise, with US sales in 2015 up 30 percent on the previous year. Austria's Horch House says that when it comes to analog, you can't beat reel-to-reel tape and has announced its intention to develop a new consumer reel-to-reel player.

Horch House was founded with one goal in mind, to bring analog master tape audio quality to music lovers around the world. Master tapes, the blueprint from which subsequent pressings are made, offer listeners access to the original studio or concert recording as edited, mixed and arranged by the engineers. The company has a number of recordings from labels like Warner, Sony and Universal available on audiophile-grade vinyl or in high resolution digital formats, but it also sells reel-to-reel tapes.

"Audio tape is the only format that can record and play back pure, natural sound in its whole and original state," says Horch House. "Every other format requires some form of interference with the original audio signal. Audio tape is therefore the only format which allows the listener to hear a recording exactly the way the original artist and producer intended it to sound, before it was altered to fit on a vinyl record, sampled for a CD or squashed down to MP3 size."

Many homes in the 1950s may well have had a reel-to-reel player as the living room hi-fi centerpiece, but advances in portable music devices and digital recording and playback a few decades later relegated the reel-to-reel to the realms of yesterday's technology. If you want to dip into the reel-to-reel pond today, you'd be pretty hard pushed to find a new player to satisfy your appetite for pure analog goodness. In fact, the company reckons that new machines just aren't manufactured anymore.

Horch House aims to rectify this and announced last week that it intends to develop a brand new consumer reel-to-reel machine, and "will be working closely with some of the industry's foremost experts in order to deliver the most accomplished outcome possible." Details are scant at the moment, but the Project R2R team is reported to already be hard at work on a prototype to demonstrate at Munich's High-End Show in May.

Source: Horch House

13 comments
bergamot69
Much though I love reel-to-reel (like vinyl, it's a wonderfully 'tactile' medium, more 'involving' way to engage with your music compared to digital- much like keen drivers will always prefer a manual gearbox to automatics), but storing them creates a hell of a lot of bulk, not to mention that storage conditions ought to be appropriate to prevent deterioration. Plus the head better be kept clean! An issue with magnetic tape is 'print through', whereby preceding or successive layers of tape wound round the reel transfer magnetic data via onto other layers. This could possibly be limited or eliminated by better quality tape, perhaps. As for getting 'master tape' quality though, any pre-recorded tape that the consumer is likely to get is going to be, at the very purest, be a 'copy of a copy', but more likely many generations of copy away from the original studio master. And unlike digital, analogue recordings invariably suffer the further they are from the master tapes. Digital remastering can clean up the signal, of course, but my personal opinion is that such recordings can sound compressed and a bit clinical- compare an analogue-mastered analogue recorded Led Zep album to the remastered versions- some of the life and dynamics seem to have been lost. I can see this product finding a home amongst audiophiles with a pre-existing reel-to-reel collection, as well as possibly home recording studios (as long as they are happy with just two channels, or want to do a lot of editing). I can't see it making waves amongst a younger generation used to digital- except maybe as a retro toy.
BartyLobethal
Tape is an awful medium for storing anything on - it stretches, oxidises and degrades. Still, it's given me an idea for fleecing cashed-up retro-dorks: I'm going to launch a crowd-funded reintroduction of the medieval hand-cart and promote it as a 'purists alternative' to cars.
IvanWashington
some issues- tape wear*noise and distortion accumulation*"head bumps"*bulk [the tapes take up nearly as much room as LP records, and the machines themselves are very heavy and take up lots of room]
Daishi
@BartyLobethal vacuum tube amplifiers are making a comeback too
MikeJanowski
This is such crap. "Audio tape is the only format that can record and play back pure, natural sound in its whole and original state"...with tape hiss, motor wobble and variable head-to-tape contact. Not saying those problems can't be minimized by good engineering...but not at a cost any "consumer" will be willing to bear. Sure, you can probably fool the bearded hipster crowd who bought into LPs last year and are looking for the next really cool thing to impress the Object of their Desires...but for me, a 38 year veteran of radio and television production...Revox, Studer and Ampex have all made better decks already...these guys don't stand a chance.
Scott House
I'll take one please! I really miss my old reel-to-reel deck.
Brian M
As they say there really is one born every minute! Tape is a terrible medium, stretching, jamming, noise, deteriorating with time etc. and I for one couldn't wait to get rid of it (both for audio and digital backups), even if the alternatives did cost more initially, now they don't)
Daniel Gregory
Tape is way to delicate. I loved cassettes. There were some albums I had on cassette AND on CD, and yet the tape always seemed to better evoke an emotional response/connection. However, leave a tape in a hot car one day and kiss that analog quality goodbye. Why aren't we focusing on the future of sound? i.e. Given the advent of 3d-printing technologies, new nano materials, lasers, and the discovery that DNA can hold information; I'm surprised we're not using quartz memory crystals yet, or a similar cartridge form that can hold Terabytes of data. Can you imagine listening to an ultra-HD digital master, with all of the tracks available to switch between/remix at will, with a read process that does no harm to the medium...and the medium is impervious to the elements and time? Holographic sound!
owlbeyou
When the coil in the tapehead reads a magnetic signal, passes through an audio amplifier and is sent through to a magnetic coil in a speaker to produce sound, there is a certain indescribable "rightness" that results that is quite pleasant to the ears. This is true for both records and tapes, but the record is more susceptible to deterioration by the nature of simple handling. With a good quality deck, tape and storage, one can have a very decent audio, and the look of the big reels turning can be pleasant as well. I'm glad I've kept my 1/2 track Revox. Today's digital audio is all about bytes and convenience and have a kind of antiseptic quality that can be perceived as clean and pure, but the intangible pleasantness of records and tape will always be there to the ones who recognize the difference. It's no wonder the formats are making a comeback.
RTM
Some of the comments sort of clump around the necessity for a "don't be an idiot" with your media disclaimer. I've owned RTR gear since the early '90's and while there were (not so much now) binder coating issues (especially then) I've had exactly zero problems with its ability to retain signal and remain stable. Digital has advantages, and it's better than it's ever been, but the thing it's continuously made to chase is analog, and there are good reasons for it. Overdubbing/Multitrack is where digital shines. For minimalist two mic, good preamp recordings, Analog's still (and likely to remain) "where it's at".