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Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

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Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

Postby Elephone » Fri Feb 22, 2019 3:10 pm

Hello. I've been asked to transfer some reels to digital files, but the customer still owns the original machine they were recorded on and it's in very good condition. It's mostly speech and some singing.

Would playing from this machine (a Philips EL3542) potentially provide more faithful results than a solid state machine in similar condition? I suppose the valves of this machine are likely re-colour the sound during playback?

Thanks
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Re: Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

Postby James Perrett » Fri Feb 22, 2019 3:48 pm

I'd suggest going for the best available. Technology in areas like head design and transport stability improved over the years and the Philips machine is just a standard domestic machine so won't give a particularly high quality. Using something like a Revox or even on of Philips' later Hifi machines is a very different experience to using an early 60's domestic machine.

Having said that, if the absolute highest sound quality isn't required and that Philips machine is really working properly (hopefully the belts have been changed in the last few years), it may well be easiest to use it - especially if the alternative is buying a used machine where you don't know its history. Buying a used reel to reel can be a bit of a minefield - domestic machines will usually need new belts at least, while more professional machines may be well used and require a complete overhaul.
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Re: Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

Postby Tim Gillett » Fri Feb 22, 2019 5:08 pm

I owned an EL 3542 many moons ago. The main weakness is probably adding some noise to the tapes even if the machine still has "as new" performance. This extra noise will probably be the main "colouration" rather than the fact that it uses valves.

It was an ingeniously designed machine but limited in reliability by the compromised one motor setup. All such single motor machines tend to be mechanically complicated, meaning usually more things to go wrong compared to 3 motor machines.

Agree with James. It depends on condition and how important is absolute fidelity to the recordings. The old Philips is late 50's , 3 speeds, and quarter track mono. All 3 speeds machine may be needed with those tapes.

You will need to be careful in connecting it up to modern equipment as the sockets are unusual now (banana sockets plus DIN?) and the circuitry being valve is more fussy as to what is connected to it. A modern DI box might be a good way to match impedances to a modern iinput. I wouldn't use the loudspeaker output unless it was correctly loaded with an external speaker or the correct loading resistor which from fading memory was about 5 ohms.

I wouldn't use it for transfers myself as there are better, newer, more reliable machines out there, not least Revoxes but also many later Jap machines such as certain Sony and Teac and Akai models but not all. The Sony TC 377 has the three speeds and quarter tracks but solid state and 20 years younger. But these days almost all reel tape machines are now old. It's condition, condition, condition. It can be tricky as James says.
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Re: Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Feb 22, 2019 6:27 pm

Elephone wrote:I've been asked to transfer some reels to digital files, but the customer still owns the original machine they were recorded on and it's in very good condition.... Would playing from this machine (a Philips EL3542) potentially provide more faithful results than a solid state machine in similar condition?

As others have said, assuming it is a working machine, the 'valve sound' is unlikely to be an issue, and any colouration is likely to be the least of your problems anyway!

Firstly, whether the machine is actually in good technical and mechanical condition may be a rather different thing from it looking nice... But if it really is in good mechanical and technical nick then using it to replay the tapes would be the most convenient option, obviously -- just because it will have the right head format and alignment, the right speed options, and the right replay EQ settings.

However, the technical performance certainly won't be as good as a more modern transport, especially in the areas of noise, probably in bandwidth, and in tape speed stability too. So there is an argument for playing the tapes on a machine with a modern, gentle tape handling transport, good modern heads, quiet electronics and so on...

The only issues with that are (a) you don't appear to have a suitable alternative machine to hand... and (b) finding a suitable alternative machine -- specifically a quarter-track machine with the right speed option(s). It may also be necessary to adjust the head alignment to match that of the recorder for azimuth and also for head height to minimise the crosstalk from the adjacent recorded tracks, and possibly a need to alter the replay machine's EQ (I presume the original would have used CCIR EQ...).

Depending on the age of the tapes to be transferred, you may also have issues with 'sticky-shed' to deal with, too.

All in all, not a job to dive into casually...

H
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Re: Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

Postby ef37a » Fri Feb 22, 2019 9:42 pm

In principle yes, use the best machine you can find but there is a snag to that IMHO.
Azimuth, the Philip's heads might be worn and a different machine might need the replay head re- aligned to get the maximum HF off the tapes, and there probably won't be a lot to start with!

Now, if you borrow someone's B77 they are not going to thank you for diddling with its heads, I doubt you have the equipment to set it back up correctly? With the original machine you can have a twiddle and get the best result which, by the way could be different for each tape.

The DIN output could have a 470k resistor or higher in series and so you need to go into the high impedance input of an AI, hopefully one of one meg Ohm. Use the shortest possible cable between the units.

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Re: Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

Postby Mixedup » Sat Feb 23, 2019 7:34 am

Lots of 'ifs'. But...

If the machine is genuinely in good nick
If the tapes are usable and don't need bakjng
If you know how to hook the machine up
And if the client has only ever heard these tapes played back on this machine

...then I'd use the original machine.

Otherwise, it's a lot of effort and I'd probably seek more expert help!
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Re: Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

Postby Mike Stranks » Sat Feb 23, 2019 10:31 am

Mixedup wrote:
Otherwise, it's a lot of effort and I'd probably seek more expert help!

And that's my cue to recommend James Perrett of this parish. Has all the gear, knows what he's doing and did an excellent job of transcribing a late-60's tape for me a year or so ago.
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Re: Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

Postby James Perrett » Sat Feb 23, 2019 11:25 am

It would be worth saying(as it has been mentioned a couple of times) that you are very unlikely to need to bake any domestic reels made in Europe or Japan. The biggest problem is likely to be brittleness with any acetate tapes in the collection.
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Re: Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

Postby Kayvon » Thu Mar 07, 2019 1:42 pm

James Perrett wrote:best available. Technology

He does some great stuff with tape...
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Re: Transferring tape reels to digital... use original machine or best available?

Postby ken long » Thu Mar 07, 2019 4:34 pm

If the tapes are quarter track, and you don't have a quarter track machine, then you have no choice but to use the original. The advantage also is you won't need to re-align the heads (probably).
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