Bay Area Studio Engineering

Servicing Analog Equipment since 1981...
plus a good selection of Ampex, MCI and Otari Parts for Tape Recorders


Why YOU should NOT have and use a Professional Tape Recorder in your studio !!!


Folks ask me all the time IF having and using a fully Pro Tape Recorder
in their studio is worthwhile or even a good thing.

Often that is a long conversation about the history of Audio recording,
the development over time of the quality of the Tape Recorders and Audio Tape,
and the skill and knowledge required to actually correctly use Tape Recording.

So here are a few points in OPPOSITION of using Audio Tape Recorders....

1) Audio tape is ALL ANALOG.  
This means there is a less large dynamic range, and possibly more noise....
especially when you record things incorrectly.

2) Digital sounds just fine to you...
and the end product is going to be digital anyway.

2b) Mixing Music with a Mouse, while viewing a Computer screen
is just fine for you.  

3) Almost ALL of the 'old-School' recordings you love the sound of
were recorded onto Audio tape.
But you're recording a bunch of Digital beats, with one singer.

4) Since you cannot punch-in and correct small musical errors
or other faults when using Tape Recorders,
it helps make Musicians play their parts well and complete.
But none of the musicians you usually record are very good....
they can't play well, they can't sing well.
So you need to clean up a lot of bad shit all the time.
  Digital allows you to fix things easily.
Digital also allows you to 'cheat' as much as you want... or need to.
Cutting and paste a few 'good' notes or beats and then spread them throughout the whole song.
Or even correct the timing of a sampled snare... or pitch correct a bad singer.
    It is much much harder to do the 'cheats' in music using Analog Tape
    I've seen a well known Musican (with alas Platnum sales)
sloppily beat on a set of drums, then pick out a good snare hit,
a good kick drum beat and so on, then choose a pace for the song,
then spread those few chosen notes out throughout the whole song digitally.
Same for the bass lines, sloppy playing but he picked out a few notes,
pasted them in.   Same for the Piano chords.
A horrible sloppy bad player, but with a computer,
he was able to make it all sound OK.   Of course nothing could be actually played on stage
or live.... but he'd hire 'real' musicians when that happened.  
All vocals were pitch corrected, and many single words redone many times.
But often that is the quality of the people you will be recording.
If that is the case, you shouldn't be using Analog Tape !!!

5) Using Audio Tape also means you have to become a MUCH better recording Engineer !
Audio Tape limits you from recording things poorly - incorrect low levels or way too hot levels,
not using compression when needed, bad or no EQ if needed, and so on.
    Using Audio Tape is NOT as easy as using digital....
it takes skill and talent and experience to get things sounding right !!
Plus there is nowhere you can learn how to actually use a Tape Recorder correctly.
If you are NOT a very good Recording Engineer....
  Digital will help save your ass.

6) You don't have a recording console and have just one or two mic preamps, and a couple of mics.
While Tape Recorders sell cheaply these days, you need to have a good large console
to be able to fully utilize a Tape Recorder - especially when Mixing to Analog Tape.
You need to have analog compressors, EQ's and such when using Analog Tape.

7) Owning and using an Analog Tape Recorder costs money !
Any Tape machine you can buy is now OLD - some VERY VERY old now !!!
That means it will require Maintenance and Repairs.... which is COSTLY.
Many Tape Recorders are just worn out now... with bad heads, weak motors, worn down parts.
Parts are getting harder and Harder to find, and when found are often COSTLY !
If you are on a very very TIGHT budget, Digital is better for you.

8) There are fewer and fewer 'Real' techs left
who have years of experience fixing Tape Recorders....
and who have worked in Major Studios back in the good days of Analog Recording,
and very few who still even will work on tape Recorders.
Almost ALL good experienced Techs are old now - many Retiring, others passing away.
There isn't a good Income anymore, repairing Analog tape Recorders and the like....
since fewer and fewer studios use Tape Recorders and Large-Format Consoles now.
So more and more 'good' techs are saying it isn't worth staying in Business anymore.
I myself, have stopped doing On-Site studio repairs, so you will have to
bring in your 2 inch machine to my shop... which may mean renting a small truck.

9) While the cost of Tape Recorders has dropped, the cost of Audio Tape has risen...
2 inch tape now costs about $ 400.00 a roll.

10) You have NO experience using a Tape Recorder.
Most of the time that means you won't know when your Tape Recorder isn't working correctly
or up to spec.     Plus you won't know even how to record with Analog Tape...

There are technical 'faults' usually very minor, with analog Tape Recording,
but they are there in the basic overall function of a tape recorder:
Minor Wow and Flutter, very minor speed varations, and tape print-through,
as well as a little high (but pleasing to the ear) distortion.
Also because of the design of Tape recorder heads, you get a low head frequency 'bump'
which raises and lowers low end frequencies a little....
Digital avoids Wow and Flutter, speed variations, and completely removes 'print-through'
and the low end 'bump'
.     But It usually adds a 'lifeless' overall sound,
adds in a harsh musical sound, and a lack of overall Fatness.   Usually Musical 'richness'
is completely eliminated with digital, but you're recording digital beats and a single singer...
And today everyone is listening to music with the worst of all possible speakers anyway... ear buds !
So fuck 'em... go digital !!!

Digital 'tests' and 'specs' out very well in almost all audio tests,
much better than Analog Tape recorders !

But go and try recording a square wave in digital at say about 8 kHz...
With analog you'll get a distorted but visable square wave on an oscilliscope...
but with digital you'll get a nice sine wave... meaning you'll get a completely different wave-form !!!!
That's like 1000 % distortion with Digital !!!     But who cares, they are all listening on Ear buds !

11) You think you will be able to fix your Tape Recorder yourself.
But you don't know electronics.   and there are NO good local TECHS around.

12) There are no good Techs nearby.....
As I've said, most good Techs are retiring, or have stopped working on Tape Recorders.
So often the nearest GOOD EXPERIENCED TAPE TECH is hundreds of miles away.
Getting a good tech to drive or fly to your location will be expensive
- if you're lucky enough to even find one who WILL travel !
  I myself no longer do any On-Site studio repairs - Only Drop-Off Shop work.

Most newer Tape Recorders are Computer driven.  
The Studer A820 has, as I recall, 4 complete computers inside it....
All of which must correspond to one another correctly for the machine to operate.
And those computers are now over 20 years old...
Unless you have all the necessary cards to swap out,
fixing a computer error is near impossible, even for a very experienced Tech.
    Many computer driven machines have IC's that are no longer available.
    Many use EPROM's which the manufacturers said would last about 10 years or so...
and they are all well over 20 years old now.   Sooner or later they WILL fail.
None of the computers you currently use at home or at work are more than 5 years old....
but all the ones in Tape Recorders are now OVER 20 years old !!!

14) Finally having and using a Tape Recorder means you have to work on it ALL the time !
You have to Align it up frequently.     You have to De-Mag it daily.
    Clean the Heads and Guides frequently.     Lubricate it.   Replace the motor brushes.
    Exercise all switches weekly.     Check Tensions and Transport functions
With Digital you don't have to do anything.
    So if you're Lazy.... go Digital.

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