greatbear analogue and digital media > audio tape transfer > ¼” reel to reel tape

¼” reel to reel tape

Tascam BR-20 quarter inch tape machine we use for reel to reel transfer to cd or wav. It's playing a 15ips NAB reel on Ampex branded tape.

¼ inch reel to reel transfer to cd, wav, mp3

We are specialists in digitising and reel to reel transfer of audio tape of all speeds and track formats to high resolution digital audio wav files up to 192KHz broadcast wav (BWAV) files or other formats such as FLAC, audio CD or mp3. Quality is important to us and a high quality reel to reel transfer starts with a good analogue playback machine, clean, demagnetised and calibrated. We use Studer A80 RC, Sony APR 5003 and Tascam BR20 machines for transfers. All our machines are kept in excellent working condition and regularly calibrated. We own test tapes, tension gauges and test equipment so calibration and repair is easier to achieve.

Tapes are checked for condition, and laced onto an appropriate machine and listened to. Playhead azimuth is always adjusted for the best quality playback. Quite often tapes are sent where the owner has no information about the speed, track format or content. We are happy to view and assess tapes like this.

Tapes are recorded via Benchmark ADC1 or Lavry AD10 external high resolution converters to  RME HDSP audio interfaces into one of our MacOS, Windows or Linux based audio servers.  At this stage any other editing or digital processing for restoration of the tapes can be performed if necessary.

We offer a range of delivery formats including

  • Broadcast WAV (B-WAV) files on hard drive or optical media (CD) at 16 bit/44.1 KHz (commonly used for CDs)
  • 24 bit/96 KHz (the minimum recommended archival standard)
  • anything up to 24 bit / 192 Khz.

You can then open and remix your old recordings in modern Digital Audio Workstations (DAW’s) such as Ardour, Cubase, Logic or Pro-Tools, etc.

¼ inch reel to reel tape formats supported

  • We have the correct repro heads and machines for the following quarter inch track formats:
    • Mono
    • Half track Stereo NAB
    • Half track Stereo DIN
    • Quarter Track mono / stereo
    • 4 track discrete / multitrack
    • 8 track discrete / multitrack
  • We can handle tape on NAB and AEG / DIN hubs.
  • We can transfer tapes recorded at the following speeds:
    • 1⅞ inches per second (ips)
    • 3.75 ips
    • 7.5 ips
    • 15 ips
    • 30 ips
  • We can decode the following types of noise reduction:
    • Dolby SR
    • Dolby A
    • Dolby B
    • Dolby C
    • dBX
    • Telcom C4

closeup of dolby 365 noise reduction frame used to decode dolby a noise reduction on reel to reel transfers to digital audio wav files

reel to reel transfer problems

Open reel tape can be quite old and be in poor condition. We can cope with broken, tangled, poorly stored tape and tape exhibiting the signs of ‘sticky shed syndrome‘. Tapes with sticky shed need careful and slow heating, usually referred to as tape baking which we can offer.. Quite often old splices break due to the splicing tape breaking down which need to be respliced.

We often receive reels in a poor condition with a variety of physical problems with a variety of causes:

  • poor storage such as mould growth, uneven wind tension or poor tape pack
  • age and tape chemistry such as as loss of lubricant, ‘sticky shed syndrome‘ or broken, dried out splices
  • poor handling or damage such as twisted, broken, crinkled or stretched tape and sometimes bags of tape unwound!

These types of problems and more must be addressed before a tape can be satisfactorily transferred.

Sony apr 5003v headblock closeup transferring a reel to reel to cd.

reel to reel tape history

The reel-to-reel format was used in the very earliest tape recorders, including the pioneering German Magnetophontape recorders machines of the 1930s. Originally, this format had no name, since all forms of magnetic used it. The name arose only with the need to distinguish it from the several kinds of tape cartridges or cassettes which were introduced in the early 1960s.

Inexpensive reel-to-reel tape recorders were widely used for voice recording in the home and in schools before the Philips compact cassette, introduced in 1963, gradually took over. Cassettes eventually displaced reel-to-reel recorders for consumer use.

High-speed reel-to-reel tape recorders rapidly became the main recording format used by audiophiles and professional recording studios until the late 1980s when digital audio recording techniques began to allow the use of other types of media (such as Digital Audio Tape (DAT) cassettes and hard disks).

Many recording artists still use reel-to-reel tape because of its ‘warmer’ sound compared to digital formats. There is also a constant and continuing need to conserve, preserve and offer access to audio recordings on open reel tape by offering reel to reel transfer.



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greatbear analogue and digital media ltd, 0117 985 0500
Unit 26, The Coach House, 2 Upper York Street, Bristol, BS2 8QN, UK

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