Ask an expert: Reel to Reel inc Akai GX 625

Ask an expert

I’m swapping e-mails right now with a friend of mine who owns an Akai 1710L reel to reel and is enjoying putting some of his albums onto tape, and indeed listening to his many recordings. Then he managed to obtain via a Freecycle site, umpteen hundred plastic tape spools, 5000ft of Quantegy 406 SP mastering tape, various reels of coloured leader tape, splicing tape, blocks and even chinagraphs. He declared himself to be in tape heaven. He was even offered a Leevers-Rich editing desk, with four manuals. We’ve been discussing Ampex studio quality tape and how to quieten Oilite bearings among other things.

I'm aware that Dave Cawley and Alex Nikitin demonstrated their Akai GX625 at the Whittlebury Hall show a while back. Well you don’t fool me. I know a tape revival when I see one.

Yes, I have spotted open reel recorders being used as a source at the Munich High End Show. High speed analogue tape is a very clean and impressive sounding source, even studio people agree. I’m not sure it could ever come back in the home, as using an open reel is a hassle, but they sure look the part. Sony’s Elcaset was the next best thing and more domestically palatable.

That said, the country has obviously risen up to free itself from the tyranny of ones and noughts flashing across the memory chips of portable digital devices nationwide, and voted with their feet for a magnetic particle coated, polyester film based music format! The only debate now is which is it to be; fans are lining up behind two camps. First the hardcore 'open reelistas' to whom seven and a half inches per second on quarter inch tape is the absolute minimum for decent fidelity.

In the other corner are the arriviste Compactistas, believers for whom 1963 was the 'year zero'. These folk can be seen buying the last remaining stocks of TDK SA 90s from Richer Sounds at 99p each, happy in the knowledge that their well set up cassette decks sound far better than anyone could possibly imagine.

Me personally, I straddle both camps but I love magnetic tape. It sounds superb playing back recordings made from my turntable to my Sony Walkman Pro. Tape can sound great, and it's still amazingly simple to use; just press 'record' and 'play', cue up that stylus and come back 20 minutes later to turn the record over; job's a good 'un!