Adventures In Audio
The Analogue Renaissance (part 5)

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Thursday January 1, 2004
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Analogue State of the Art

The sound of analogue at its best is actually better than it was in analogue’s
heyday, thanks in the main to three people: Mike Spitz (ATR Service Co.), John
French (JRF Magnetics) and Tim de Paravicini (EAR), and to people with ears
to hear like mastering engineer Bob Ludwig. Spitz, French and de Paravicini
are all very active in restoring and improving the existing stock of analogue
tape recorders, many of which have been sadly gathering dust over the last ten
years. Mike Spitz’s ATR Service Co. specializes in restoring old Ampex
machines such as the classic ATR100 to their former glory. These machines, as
you will appreciate, are ideal for conversion to the half-inch stereo format
which many have regarded as offering the ultimate analogue sound. But the game
has been raised. Mike now offers not only restoration, but upgrading to a one-inch
headblock using heads from Flux Magnetics. Stereo on one-inch tape - each track
is almost half an inch wide! Of course, such conversion is not without its problems,
one of which is the increased sensitivity to azimuth error over such a wide
track, but the lowering of the noise floor is apparently more than compensation
for the effort involved.

JRF Magnetics also offer one-inch conversions, mainly to Studer A80 machines.
John French however goes one stage further and offers an 8-track conversion
for the Studer A827. It may seem a strange thing to do, to ‘upgrade’
a 24-track machine to only eight tracks, but when each track can be almost a
full quarter inch wide, then the sound quality should be increased in proportion.
In addition to those eight track there is another narrow track for timecode,
so this is very definitely a machine for the modern world. Apparently Disney
Imagineering have bought one for 5.1 production, which would seem like an ideal
application.

The work of ATR Service Co. and JRF Magnetics centres around the transport
and headblock, although some electronic modifications are undertaken. Tim de
Paravicini’s one-inch stereo machine goes far beyond that and is a significant
electronic re-design, superimposed on a stripped and rebuilt transport with
heads made by Flux Magnetics to Tim’s specifications. Oddly enough, Tim
uses the more elderly Studer C37 as the transport of his machine, which apparently
offers many of the mechanical features of the later A80, and is visibly tank-like
in the solidity of its construction. Tim goes further than this and uses his
own EQ curves, making the machine incompatible with others using standard EQ,
and even recommends a tape speed of 18 inches per second. This would give enhanced
top end performance while still meeting his criterion for LF performance -3dB
at 5Hz. Yes, that is five hertz!

Undoubtedly, the next hurdle is a two-inch stereo machine. Mike Spitz reckons
that azimuth problems will outweigh any other advantages in noise performance
and subjective ‘solidity’, but one of John French’s Japanese
customers appears to be crazy enough to make it a virtual certainty that one
will be built. Tim de Paravicini claims to have had the idea on the back burner
for some time but it would be, “a dream come true”. Making the heads
would be a major problem, and it might be necessary to make several samples
from which to select the best.

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