Reel-to-Reel is Real!

Last year's report here of a rumored new Revox reel-to-reel tape deck proved to be not false but merely premature.

This year one was announced by Horch House, the company that reissued the six LP Oscar Peterson Exclusively For My Friends box set.

The new machine's roll out schedule calls for a trade show presentation in the fall of 2106, magazine reviews (probably in Germany) in the fourth quarter and a public release and sale of "early bird orders" early in 2017 with full distribution and sales commencing second quarter 2017.

However, in my opinion, the major news isn't the machine but rather pre-recorded tape availability for at Munich High End 2016 Horch House had for sale Sony/BMG titles that included the Bernstein Rhapsody in Blue/American in Paris recording just issued by Analog Spark using the three track master tape, and the famous audiophile classic The Reiner Sound, along with some DGG (UMG) titles.

I got into a heated discussion with a woman from Horch House who insisted that "master tapes" were used to produce the new Sony/BMG titles, when I insisted that those tapes do not leave the east cost of New York and so there was no way they were shipped to Germany! Then I realized these are three track originals. The three track was used to produce the vinyl release, with the mix "live" to lacquer. So, i imagine, at the same time, someone, perhaps Ryan K. Smith who cut the lacquers for the LP, produced a two track tape that was sent to Germany. Such a tape could legitimately be called the "master tape". I'll check with Ryan upon my return to America.

It would be interesting to compare the new Analog Spark LP edition cut directly from the three track master and played back on a state of the art vinyl playback system, with the new third generation tape edition that is commercially available, played back on a state of the art tape deck.

The point though is, it appears that the master tape flood gates are about to open with the majors now being willing to license catalog for real time, 15 IPS 1/2 track reel-to-reel tape production! This is big news. And why wouldn't they? They've got their digitized versions, which they consider now to be the "masters". Why not also derive income from the titles with a tape licensing agreement?

The only reason would be the ease with which such a tape could then be copied by an unscrupulous buyer and duped for re-sale. But why bother when you can get an earlier generation for about the same price since the tape and the transfer time are the biggest costs? And consider that once digitized anyone can copy and send such copies to anyone in the world?

So, imagine UMG/Apple licensing or better yet producing 15 IPS 1/2 track editions of Beatles tapes instead of the bullshit purported Beatles "master tape" copy of The Beatles I heard at High End Munich? My 96/24 file from original vinyl killed it.

This is going to get mighty interesting, especially for the well-heeled, though from what I've heard, there's already been plenty of illicit, unlicensed duping going on. It's time to bring it up from the underground into the legal sunlight.

I'm also thinking of the purveyors of copies duped from master tape copies that instead of being thrown in the dumpster at the dawn of the digital age, were salvaged and are being duped and sold "underground". Two things can happen here: the legitimate owners of these tapes (you cannot believe how many studios and/or mastering houses did dump their tapes once they were digitized) can try to license titles for release, paying royalties, and in some cases, with these copies shipped to Europe for instance for lacquer cutting during vinyl's heyday being the best or only surviving copies, these tapes can also emerge from the underground for lacquer cutting use for LPs.

I also heard at the show that a widow of a recording engineer for a major label discovered a "truckload" of tapes after her husband's passing, and sold them to an individual. Who knows what's there and what opportunities there might be for legitimate rather than bootlegged releases?

This is a major development! At least for the wealthy music lover/audiophile.

firedog's picture

Let's say a catalog master tape that was the master for cutting an LP, like the Beatles or the Stones is copied and sold.
What is this called: 2nd generation? 3rd generation?

In your experience, how close is a copy like this to the quality of the actual master?

Also, won't the quality go way down if, say, hundreds or thousands of copies are made of the master?

PeterPani's picture

also from Horch House (Well Tempered Clavier from Gulda - six reels). I also bought from dubious sources claiming to have master tapes. Regarding sound quality, in most cases the tapes are superior. And in many cases analog vinyl sounds better. Vinyl from digital nearly never sounds better than an analog tape copy of digital. So no way to answer your question. But, believe me, if tape is done right and you are lucky that it is copied from a good source tape: analog heaven. For a music lover it is worth the effort and the pain to install good reel to reel (which means the preamplification must be tubed :-)

AZ's picture

If they make a direct copy from the master then it's a 2nd generation tape. Groove Note tapes is a good example.

But that's not always the case.

The Tape Project, for example, does not use the actual masters to produce their copies. The first thing they do is take the masters and produce an intermediate master (1" if I'm not mistaken). Then they make their copies. So in this case you get a 3rd generation tape.

Rodan's picture

Thanks for your informative update on the new ReVox and the apparent acceleration of the release of titles to the "reel" consumer market. However, you mentioned the ReVox machine would be available in the "fall of 2106." I hope that's a typo, because the 90 year wait makes it certain that I'll be decomposing long before it's available for audition.

Keep up the good work!

Best regards,


Bob Levin's picture

I'd be perfectly happy with a stack of blank reels and time to dub my frequently played vinyl.
I probably wouldn't do as I did in my 'yoof' and dub several LPs onto a 7" reel at 1 7/8, though.
Great piece of classic German industrial design, too!

TommyTunes's picture

I'm been very skeptical of these European tapes, with the Tape Project they have been very up front and having paul stubblebine involved gave credence to the effort. I've purchase 13 of their tapes and have not been disappointed. However now that I see Horsch House has released The Planets by Steinberg/BSO I'm going to take the chance. That version has been my personal favorite since I first bought it in 1972.

mobileholmes's picture

One thing that's definitely improved since the '70s and '80s is the ability to miniaturize the "housekeeping" functions of an open reel deck. I'm working on a Technics 1500, replacing the electrolytic capacitors, and capacitors in the signal path. It's a rat's nest in there, which makes repair and troubleshooting a nightmare. There should be a healthy market for replacement boards that do away with all the drifting resistors, hard to find ICs and the junky electrolytic and ceramic capacitors, and fit in the standard slots. You could also do away with some of the rat's nest. It's a miracle that the 1500 sounds as good as it does. The first thing the signal "sees" after leaving the heads, is a crappy 1uf molded tantalum electrolytic (not exactly audiophile grade coupling caps, being the kind of junk used in midfi gear of the '70s). New boards could be DC coupled, eliminating that kind of travesty.

mobileholmes's picture

For anyone caring: I measured the dissipation and Q of the tantalum cap. Dissipation was .044, and Q was 22.4. A nice quality film cap had a dissipation of .003 and Q of 248.

warpig's picture

OK so any idea on a price point? The lower the price point the more that will be sold. The more sold the more tapes they will sell.

Barretter's picture

It's a nice idea that reel-to-reel tapes are being made again but the prices being asked are eye-watering. The Horch House ones seem to be about 400Euros each. I know they're 15ips half-track stereos which is the highest domestic quality but that, in a way, is another problem as you need a fairly big machine to play the 10.5 reels 7.5ips quarter track would suit the majority of machines out there, but I think these are being produced for the hi-fi elite to whom price is no object.
The machine looks much more like a late Lyrec than any Revox model previously available.

palaeo7's picture

...are about to open.

No they're not, and you're kidding yourself that a handful of tapes of zero interest to 99.9% of audiophiles is anything other than a lure to sell the machines -- which is all Horch are interested in.

Where's my evidence for such a claim? Well, below is the email I sent to Horch House as soon as I saw this announcement. More than 3-months on, I have yet to receive any reply to my offer...

Congratulations for bringing open-reel back! May I ask if you would be interested in an opportunity funded by myself that could increase the success of this format immeasurably. What I propose is funding the first 'rock' release (say, 'Crime of the Century' by Supertramp) to include duplication costs for 1000 copies, the financial return for these yielding ~ €400,000 for Horch House. Your company takes 50% of this sum in no-risk profit and you re-invest the other 50% (€200,000) in the next batch of releases (of which, say, 4 would be possible assuming an estimated cost of ~ € 50,000 for each release). Then, when these 4 are sold (for in excess of € 1.5 million), 50% is again invested in the next 15 releases -- a snowball effect. All the financial risk would be borne by myself, and all I ask in return is that you provide me with a copy of each 15 ips tape released and that I select the titles. After ~ 250 releases (4-5 rounds of releases), I would pass music selection over to Horch, if required.

Obviously, it is in my financial interest to select titles that I know will sell (and sell-out quickly), and my interest here is simply that of an audiophile and music lover. The endless jazz saxophonists / audiophile female vocals / rock-bands-that-few-care-about type releases are why the promising SACD format is dying a lingering death, and in your open-reel revival there is finally the (last) chance to release the sort of music that most who are serious about audio reproduction will want to hear and own in the best possible analogue quality -- e.g., the back catalogues of Bowie, The Doors, Zeppelin, The Stones, Pink Floyd, The Police, The Beatles, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Nick Drake, Cat Stevens, Joy Division, Roxy Music, Kate Bush, Brian Eno, Genesis, etc, etc.

I hardly need add that in so doing we effectively preserve much of our recent musical heritage that is currently being lost to master tape decay and digitisation/disposal. For those masters that have already been lost (e.g., Doors first album, Drake's 'Five Leaves Left', the Clash masters) the 2nd-generation copy-master could be used as necessary. The modern tendency to re-release vinyl from digital masters makes analogue-sourced open reel duplication perhaps the only remaining hope for all of those who know or remember what unfettered analogue audio sounds like, and I applaud you in your decision to revive open-reel. However, as for all new formats software is the key -- and I doubt that the format will gain any traction at all if it is confined to the Miles-Davis and Mercury-Living-Presence-classical model.

Is this proposal of interest at all? I am very far from wealthy, but I miss the high-fidelity analogue audio that I used to take for granted in my youth and am ready to put my money up-front to bring it back if possible. I could invest a maximum of ~ €50,000 (half of my life-savings...), assuming that such a sum is sufficient.

best regards,
Dr. CWBDP (my details removed for posting to AP)