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Sonic Perceptions, or what to listen for

Inspired by my first listening to a master tape duplicate, and derived from comments of those lucky ones who have put their experiences so well into words on “Tape Project’s” website.

Wolfgang Bleier, Austria
January 2008

For most people who enjoy listening to music on their hi-fi audio system, their pleasure expresses in a kind of musical and emotionally moving experience, drawing them deep into the music. But how can we make simple listening to music an emotionally moving experience? Buy the some of the most expensive high-end audio equipment and "Voodoo" cable connectors? Or buy an ultra-expensive CD Player, or both?

Not necessarily...

Provided a decent audio system, there are several options to listen to our favourite music, and hang on every note wishing it not to end. One possible way to hit the highs of musical experience is to get a professional reel to reel tape machine, have it serviced and calibrated by an expert and connect it to a good audio system, preferably a tube amplifier.

Analogue audio tapes can have an astounding realism that everything else just melts away.
And even more, listening first time to a 1st or 2nd generation master tape duplicate, it doesn't do it to use common audiophile terms to describe this extraordinary experience. It is truly the closest to the real thing, like being in the studio, but on the musician’s side of the glass. You'll hardly get any closer to the original master tape recording. I don't think that I have heard anything before, that could easily match that same kind of natural, rich in detail and fleshy sound. I had to get it, and I’ve got a few . . . , my first master tape duplicates. The sound quality coming from these tapes is amazingly good, like if the last pane of glass that separates you from the live music is removed, detailed and with a lifelike quality. Listening to Jazz or to classical recording on such a tape, the soundstage becomes more three dimensional with an incredible weight to the music. That sound “sounds like tape”, with very low loss of information.

"Realism" is perhaps the most appropriate definition of possible attributes of reel to reel tape machines. I can't even deny that to some extent the haptics of a tape recorder and the sonic properties inherent in manifold tape formulations may contribute to that great feel of realism.
If you appreciate music, I can only highly recommend: go and get a good professional tape machine and listen your music also on this recording format that is so different from other formats of today, or the pre-recorded tapes of yesterday (as good as some may even have been).
The trouble is the lack of good, suitable open reel tape machines out there. Not that there aren’t thousands in the field, but many that lived in recording studios or broadcast facilities have been almost worked to death. You must be prepared to invest also in some professional restoration and maintenance, good reels and professional tape material, as well as spare parts of which some are rare like gold dust. Many of the consumer home recorders can't max out the exceptional performance of professional tapes. If your budget allows, you’d better decide to get an excellent pro tape machine, or let an experienced workshop do a calibration service on your recorder, tailored to the specifications of today’s professional tapes.

If you are not sure if a tape recorder is your thing, go and find out what you want to listen for before you take the final plunge and turn down "Blue Ray", which perhaps may soon be replaced by "Violet". Find out if you want the fine musical detail mutilated in troubled digital interpolation and multiple a/d - d/a conversion, or if you want it subtly preserved with analog processing as if coming straight from the tape.

Music should move us…, and it truly does, when we make sure that sound quality is as pleasant as we can get.