The Enduring Appeal of Magnetic Audio Tape Series – II

Although there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to terminology, by ‘tape deck’ I mean a tape recording and playback machine that must be connected to an external amplifier and speakers to replay sound.

A “tape recorder” is, for me, a machine that not only records, but also replays sound without having to be connected to an external amplifier and speakers. Some tape recorders are capable of making extremely high quality recordings, surpassing the performance of many tape decks. In general, however, a tape deck is the preferred addition to a vintage hi-fi system, which will already include an amplifier and speakers.

A third type of machine is the “tape player.”  Almost all in-car tape systems and some portable compact cassette and 8-track machines are only capable of playing pre-recorded tapes. I am not aware of any open reel systems that do not offer a recording feature.

Cool factor – Aesthetics of the equipment

Tape decks come in all shapes and sizes, and also in quite a few finishes. Most of the hi-fi systems manufacturers during the 1960’s 1970’s and 1980’s offered tape recorders.

Some tape manufacturers, such as Revox and TEAC are primarily famous for making tape machines, but also offered other audio equipment.

Sony was initially best known for making tape machines, quickly evolving into an audio equipment designer and manufacturer (and global electronics giant) throughout the era of VHFSE’s focus, from the 1960’s to the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.

The ultimate in visual cool are the ‘big reel’ open reel decks. These machines are designed to accept long (e.g. 3600 feet) spools of tape mounted on reels up to 10.5-inches in diameter.

VU Meters

Big reel machines often have large, professional-looking illuminated VU meters.

In 1979 Pioneer tape decks were equipped with attractive “fluoroscan” electric blue bar displays, but most of the highest-end tape decks retained conventional analogue VU meters with their swinging needles and bi-coloured signal level gauges.

VU meters are a valuable feature of tape decks, helping the operator to optimise input signal level when recording (to minimize audible noise without introducing distortion).

They are often seen fitted with metal reels, the take-up reel sporting the logo of the tape machine manufacturer, the feed reel emblazoned with the logo of the tape manufacturer.

Tape decks, then, are perhaps the most visually impressive components of any vintage audio system.

Watch for our next post in the series:

‘Setting Line-in Levels When Recording to Magnetic Audio Tape’

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Tape Deck, Tape Recorder, Tape Player

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