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Subject: Reel-to-reel tape: The forgotten recording format

Written By: christopher on 02/09/18 at 8:29 pm

Before cassettes and 8-tracks they were the tape recording medium. They appeared in the 1920's, so they're almost 100 years old! It seems they were heavy in commercial use from the 40s well into the 80s. In fact master tapes were usually reel-to-reel for whatever reason. For personal use they peaked in the 60's. I've always wondered as we had cassettes in the 90's did they make reel-to-reel music albums? Apparently they did, but never made it big and went on until the 8-tracks appeared in the 1960s. I guess it had to do with the hassle to operate. To play a tape you had to insert the tape and connect it precisely to the other, empty tape which seems cumbersome. ::)

It was too inefficient for home use. Therefore, by the 1980's reel-to-reel recorders/players were used mainly in professional settings like record studios, government agencies, etc. R2R tapes were also used in computer data recording. Vinyl continued to be the predominant music medium while 8-tracks replaced reel-to-reel tapes (but had a much shorter shelf life in the end). So far the cassettes were the most popular tape format, bridging the gap between the vinyls and CDs in many countries like mine where the 90s were the cassette album era and CDs only got big in the 2000s. Now it's all mp3s or streaming of course. Did analog tape sound better than vinyl in your opinion/experience? Less of the popping noise? And how does the reel-to-reel sound compared to cassettes? It seems that cassettes were the only tape medium that made it commercially big in the recording industry, if only for a while.

I always loved how those magnetic tapes looked - the holes look like two eyes and a mouth:

And a portable player/recorder. Almost every player was also able to record afaik unlike record players:

Some music albums on reel-to-reel tapes:

Subject: Re: Reel-to-reel tape: The forgotten recording format

Written By: Voiceofthe70s on 02/09/18 at 8:59 pm

To answer some of your questions...they most certainly did release albums on reel-to-reel in the 60s and 70s. I was just talking about this to a friend of mine the other day, both of us being music collectors since the 1960s. I asked him "WHO the hell was buying albums on reel-to-reel, who were they marketed to??" because they always seemed to be around in those days but nobody ever bought them. Apparently there were some audiophiles who thought they were the best sound quality of any medium and it must have been just that minority of people buying them, but they did stay in existence for an unexplained long period of time for something nobody was really buying. Blank reel-to-reel tapes,however, were the preferred, in fact pretty much the ONLY method for home recording in the 1960s. Cassettes were around, but didn't really start becoming widely popular for home taping until the early 70s. I got my first reel-to-reel tape recorder in 1968. And although albums were also released on cassette in the 70s, like reel-to-reel nobody was buyng them. This, of course, would change majorly in the 1980s.

As for whether analog tape sounded better than vinyl...not entirely. Yes, it lacked the clicks and pops, but do not confuse cleaner with better. That was the main misconception people had with CDs. because they sounded CLEANER (ie no clicks, pops, etc) people equated it with BETTER, which was patently inaccurate. Analog tape though, being analog, certainly sounded better than CDs. In my book anyway. I'm in camp analog all the way.

And yes, reel-to-reels for home use be they pre-recorded albums or blank were a real pain. They would unravel, stretch, one had to trim the edges with razor blades and wind them onto the empty reel, etc, etc. It was all just too messy.

Subject: Re: Reel-to-reel tape: The forgotten recording format

Written By: christopher on 02/10/18 at 9:32 am

That's the thing - analog to me at least - sounds somewhat warmer than CDs and mp3 files. In Eastern Europe the swtich from cassettes to CDs mainly happened between the late 90's and the early 2000's so the difference is still fresh in my memory. In 2013 I bought some vinyl records, but now I wish I didn't leave those reel-to-reel tapes in my balcony where the heat from the sun + moisture most probably did them. :(

According to Discogs, in the 2010s so far there have been more reel-to-reel releases than in the 90s and 2000s combined! I guess in some audiophile circles they're having a rebirth of sorts. I don't know if I'm an audiophile, but I've always been attracted by vintage tech and music formats before my time like vinyl and reel-to-reel (8-tracks never caught on in my part of Europe).
Here are the stats for Discogs entries:

Decade - reel-to-reel entries

2010s  - 126
2000s  - 20
1990s  - 86
1980s  - 220
1970s  - 1,371
1960s  - 1,687
1950s  - 182

So reel-to-reel albums peaked in the 60s/70s.

Subject: Reel-to-reel tape: The forgotten recording format

Written By: Dude111 on 02/14/18 at 6:38 pm

REEL TO REEL IS GOREGOUS..... Some of the BEST analogue sound you will hear :)

Subject: Re: Reel-to-reel tape: The forgotten recording format

Written By: yelimsexa on 02/15/18 at 8:14 am

This also applies to the few people who tried to record off of TV before VCRs were introduced in the later part of the '70s, and many rare TV show episodes only survive due to these recordings, most notably '60s Doctor Who episodes. Of course, lots of radio airchecks from the medium's golden and silver ages survive as a result of this as far back as the 1920s. Even so, new discoveries of material recorded off of them are found, but of course, it takes a bit of work to get them transferred, and even some people transferred their recordings to the VHS/Beta format or cassette tapes when those formats were in their prime. But if you unscrew a cassette or especially a VHS or Beta tape, you'll just see that those are technical improvements on the original R2R's. There was even some special equipment that allowed you to combine these with a video reel, but it was really complicated to do and as a result, most were content with their "silent" home movies until camcorders came on the scene in the '80s.

Subject: Re: Reel-to-reel tape: The forgotten recording format

Written By: christopher on 02/18/18 at 1:13 pm

^OMG, thanks, I never knew there were reel-to-reel video recorders/players.

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