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The Reel-to-reel tape format (also known as ‘open-reel’) was initiated in the late 1920s with the Anglo-German ‘Blattnerphone’, which was based on magnetisable steel wire passing across the heads from the supply spool to the take-up spool. This led on to the development in the 1930s of the ‘Magnetophon’, which was introduced by the German AEG company, and employed magnetic tape rather than wire. Early recordings tended to be disappointing, but considerable progress was made over the next 20 – 30 years in the formulation of the magnetic coating, which significantly improving the quality of the recordings.
1/4 inch open-reel tapes come in many formats but generally fall into two categories: “domestic tape” and “studio” tape. Both types can have a variety of playing speeds and tape lengths, giving a range of playing times as indicated in the table:
|Reel Size||Length||Speed (ips)|
|(inch)||(cm)||(ft)||1 7/8||3 3/4||7 1/2||15|
|5 or 7||12 or 18||1200||2:08||1:04||0:32||0:16|
|7 or 10.5||18 or 26.5||2500||4:24||2:12||1:06||0:33|
Domestic reels: Typical spool diameters are 3.25 inch, 4 inch, 5 inch, 6 inch and 7 inch. Usually the recording speeds are either 1 7/8 ips (inches per second), 3 3/4 ips or 7 1/2 ips and they are often quarter-track (4 track) mono or stereo.
Domestic reels are transcribed using either a Revox B77 deck or a Sony TC-377 deck for tapes running at 1 7/8 ips.
Occasionally we receive tapes running at 15/32 ips or 15/16 ips – these are speed-adjusted using software designed for the purpose.
Studio reels: Typical spool diameters are 7 inch and 10.5 inch, and they are usually half-track (2 track) stereo recordings running at 15 ips or 30 ips.
1/4 inch Studio tape to CD transfer is performed using one of a pair of Revox B77 professional decks, catering for all speeds from 3 3/4 ips and above in both quarter- and half- track format.
|Domestic reel-to-reel tape (up to 7 inch)||£20 / hour / reel|
|Studio reel-to-reel tape (up to 10.5 inch)||£25 / hour / reel|
|Baking of reel-to-reel tape||£8 / reel|
Most reel-to-reel tapes that we receive for transfer to CD are found to be in perfectly good condition. Sometimes though, reels will arrive exhibiting signs of SSS – a noticeable ‘squealing’ sound as the tape is played, which is often accompanied by excessive wow and flutter and the shedding of sticky iron oxide particles on the record / playback heads and pinch roller. This is commonly due to the reels having been stored in less than ideal conditions (possibly extremes of temperature /dampness etc.) where the magnetic tape absorbs moisture from the air causing the break-down of the binder used to hold the magnetic particles onto the base film.
At Audio Restored, we use a Carbolite type 201 laboratory oven (with over-temperature safety cut-out) to’ bake’ tapes suffering with SSS at a carefully controlled 55 degrees C for 24 hours. This technique drives out the moisture in a slow and controlled way, allowing us to transfer and retrieve the recorded content to digital.
Be advised – never attempt to play any tapes exhibiting SSS – it may well destroy the tape and its recorded content. Contact us to discuss a solution.