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Last Manufacturer of Pro Analog Audio Tape Closes 550

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the reel-too-real dept.
goosman writes "Quantegy, the last manufacturer of professional reel-to-reel analog audio tape in the world has closed their plant in Opelika, AL leaving a reported 250 workers without jobs, according to the Opelika-Auburn News. Emtec (the former BASF, which used to be AGFA) was the last European manufacturer and ceased manufacuring in 2002. An audio account of the closing can be heard at NPR."
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Last Manufacturer of Pro Analog Audio Tape Closes

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  • Irony (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Embedded Geek (532893) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:39PM (#11270899) Homepage
    Does anyone else find it ironic that NPR has posted a digital stream of this story about the analog tape industry?
    • Re:Irony (Score:5, Funny)

      by xjerky (128399) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:42PM (#11270936)
      Well, at least it recursively explains why they had to shut down.
    • Re:Irony (Score:5, Funny)

      by jaavaaguru (261551) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:46PM (#11270962) Homepage
      My soundcard's not working. Does anyone have a copy of this story on reel to reel tape?
    • Re:Irony (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tumbleweed (3706) *
      Ironic, no. Logical, yes. Inevitable, certainly.
    • Re:Irony (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dun Malg (230075) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:25PM (#11271310) Homepage
      Does anyone else find it ironic that NPR has posted a digital stream of this story about the analog tape industry?

      No, irony would be an employee at OSHA dying in an accident caused by unsafe workplace conditions. This is just the radio media reporting on something having to do with outmoded audio tape. If they had claimed that the plant should have stayed open because reel to reel tape is an ideal medium for distributing radio content while they themselves don't use it, that might be considered irony.

    • Re:Irony (Score:5, Funny)

      by tuxter (809927) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:03PM (#11271553) Journal
      I find it ironic that you use the word irony in relation to a metal oxide storage medium.....
    • by Zach Baker (5303) <zach@zachbaker.com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @11:13PM (#11272013) Homepage
      I see that people have criticized your use of the word "irony." Irony, as it's commonly defined, is an often-misunderstood topic and many people who are familiar with it are annoyed with the misapplication of the term. Here is a guide to understanding irony that may help.
      • Irony describes a result that is the opposite of what would commonly be expected under the circumstances.
      • From that definition, you can see that there must be a common expectation in the first place. If an event happens that is merely coincidental or unrelated to the circumstances, it is "unlikely" or maybe "unfortunate" but not ironic. Even if something is coincidental in a regrettable, cynical, extreme, or unusual way, that does not make it ironic.
        • Example 1: Rain on your wedding day -- regrettable, but your wedding day has nothing to do with the weather. Not ironic.
        • Example 2: Running off with the best man on your wedding day. Ironic.
      • If an event is appropriate given the circumstances, it is "fitting" or "apropos," not ironic. Even if something is fitting in a clever or unusual way, it cannot be ironic. In fact, apropos and ironic are more or less antonyms.
        • Example 1: A traffic jam when you're already late -- something that just makes a bad situation worse is appropriate to the circumstance. Not ironic.
        • Example 2: A traffic jam on a newly-opened expressway. Ironic.
      So technically, I must say that no, the event you mentioned is not ironic but is better described as...
      [ ] extremely unfortunate
      [ ] weirdly coincidental
      [X] amusingly apropos
      [ ] oddly fitting
      [ ] poetic justice
      and I hope you find this post useful.
      • by Bertie (87778) on Thursday January 06, 2005 @06:48AM (#11273815)
        Actually, if you check the latest issue of the Oxford English Dictionary, you'll find the definition of irony is:

        "David Blunkett losing his job as a result of intrusions into his private life"

        See also: "Proof that God has a sense of humour"
      • Incorrect. The definition of irony is whatever someone reading the word irony understands it to be, no more and no less.

        If I say IANAL or 1337, are you going to complain that it's not a real word? Why would you be concerned when the 10,000th person uses irony to mean coincidence? Have you not clued in to the Slashdot dialect yet?

        Someone please mod me and the parent to which I'm replying off-topic so that others don't have to waste their time.
  • Great story (Score:5, Informative)

    by SIGALRM (784769) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:39PM (#11270902) Journal
    Almost 60 years ago, the story was different. "In 1945, after capturing several German 'Magnetophon' tape recorders from Radio Luxembourg, the American Signal Corps recorded a speech by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to be played to the people of occupied Germany. Due to a shortage of recording tape, the speech had to be recorded on a reel of used German tape. Due to a problem with the German tape recorder, the tape was not completely erased and the voice of Adolph Hitler was intermittently heard along with Eisenhower's voice. This caused a great deal of fear and confusion among the German people
    Wouldn't you have loved to be there for that little mishap? Here's a little more info [quantegy.com] on that story in case you're interested.
    • Re:Great story (Score:3, Interesting)

      Due to a problem with the German tape recorder, the tape was not completely erased and the voice of Adolph Hitler was intermittently heard along with Eisenhower's voice. This caused a great deal of fear and confusion among the German people

      Something similar [cox.net] happens at the end of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Apparently, the master tape wasn't fully erased after its last use!

      It's faint, but there's an unmistakable orchestral version of the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride" playing. Interestingly, both

  • by sakusha (441986) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:48PM (#11270982)
    I didn't know there were even 250 people who still used analog reel-to-reel tapes. Perhaps there were more people making the tape than using the tape.
    • by Squareball (523165) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:28PM (#11271322)
      Those poor people.. how would they have ever seen it coming?
    • Well, I have an old Revere machine. But all I listen to on it are the odd tapes I pick up at auctions.

      I have a few good tapes. One is a 'Christmas 1954' tape, recorded by a geek-Dad. They hand the microphone around and all the family say what they got for Christmas. At the beginning the say 'and this, hopefully, will be syncronized well with the film.'

      Definitely a 1950's AV-nerd geek event!

      Also, some sound tracks of 'I Love Lucy' episodes, that might not even exist in any other form. Who knows...

      It
  • Damn (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the arbiter (696473) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:48PM (#11270987)
    Seriously, Quantegy was the last munufacturer of the 2" analog reel-to-reel tape that is used in high-end recording studios. And of the 1/2" tape used for analog mastering.

    A dark day for those of us who loved the old analog sound.
    • The "analog sound" -- which basically equates to rolled off high frequencies -- can easily be replicated digitally.
      • Re:Damn (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        No. You're wrong. There's a certain compression that highly-driven tape produces, which is much more complex than some lowpass filter.
      • Re:Damn (Score:5, Informative)

        by Jeffrey Baker (6191) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:58PM (#11271082)
        The finest consumer tape deck ever produced, the Pioneer RT-909, had a frequency response to 30kHz. Studio decks that record at 15 inches-per-second have response clear out to 40kHz and beyond. A CD has response to only 22.05kHz, and even studio digital equipment has a hard time working up to 48kHz.
        • So true... (Score:3, Informative)

          by John3 (85454)
          When I was at MIT (circa 1980) there was a recording studio down the hall from TMRC in building 20 [mit.edu] (it was across the hall from an old anechoeic chamber...but I digress). The was pretty much abandoned and used by a small group of students for recording punk demos. The actual studio was isolated from the control room completely...the studio was on springs to completely prevent sound from bleeding through to the control room. The recorder in the control room was an old Ampex rack-mounted 2" 4-track machine..
      • I hate to be like this, but you are so wrong. It's not high-end at all.

        The difference is in resolution, much like a digital camera. A one-megapixel image is OK for a 3x5 picture. A five-megapixel image is OK for an 8x10 print. But if you really want a big picture (24x36 or larger), full of detail with no visible pixels, you still gotta go with real film.

        And tape is exactly the same way. Digital recording is wonderful (I wouldn't go back to analog for a million bucks) but if you want the detail, ana
      • That's simply not true, or there would already be a software plug-in which does so. Many producers and recording engineers, even those who work with pristine-sounding top-40 pop acts, still regularly use tape reel-to-reels to "warm up" the sound after initially recording and editing the music in ProTools or its ilk. This is often done right before sending the recordings off for mastering.

        In fact, there has been quite a resurgence in the use of analog gear in the past few years, so it is disappointing to se
    • Re:Damn (Score:2, Interesting)

      by madprof (4723)
      That's the kicker. Analogue tape can produce a certain sound which producers sometimes love. It's not about the accuracy.
      Having said this it can't be long before some manufacturer brings out a piece of software that can mimic the sound of analogue tape...
    • Re:Damn (Score:5, Funny)

      by Atrax (249401) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:56PM (#11271066) Homepage Journal
      A dark day for those of us who loved the old analog sound.

      It's OK, you can build a cheap simulator withtwo cell phones and a crinkly plastic bag.

      (takes tongue back out of cheek)
    • Re:Damn (Score:2, Interesting)

      by limegreenman (719290)
      It may be one of those scenarios where they have enough stock to easily cover the market for the foreseeable future. For example, the plant that my preferred watermarked paper comes from has been closed for about 5 years, but they're not likely to run out for another 10 years or so based on current rates. I'm also aware of a whisky and a clothing-soap in the same situation.
    • Do you likewise lament the loss of the 78? Vinyl has great frequency response, yet it has been replaced. The advantage of digital outweighs tons of the disadvantages, and most of those disadvantages can be overcome by throwing more bits at it.

      This does sadden me, but I won't miss things like tape bleed-through and analog hums at every connection.
      • Re:Damn (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ajlitt (19055)
        Ah bleed-through. It's to my generation what the pops in vinyl were to my parents. That and the Dolby test tones. And that special noise when the head crosses from leader tape to mag tape. And the SQUEEEEEEK-clunk of the auto-stop. And q-tips and alcohol cleaning sessions. And trying to find the best deals on XLII tape. And untangling a tape jam. And taking apart a cassette to splice out a crumpled segment.

        Oh, you kids today, with your CD authoring programs, and laser cleaning discs. In my day, if
  • by BigBuckHunter (722855) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:49PM (#11270991)
    Or did they buy the audio division when Ampex went to "Ampex Data Systems"? If I am to believe the article, then there would be no further sources of 2" reels. There are a lot of 24 track studios out there that still use this tech.

    BBH
    • That's okay, there's an entire decade of music reels that can be recycled. Finally, a use for 80's music!
      • Finally, a use for 80's music!

        Now wait a minute, younster. 80's music already performed one of the most important feats in history: the end of Disco . . .

        hawk, who remembers the horror
    • There seems to be at least some supply of this tape around, though, some of it even still says "BASF" on it just one example [malelo.com]. Google for "2 inch audio tape" for more.

      So it appears there may be a reasonable supply of this stuff still around, and if they're "restructuring" maybe they'll make more before that supply runs out, but likely they were making _way_ more than demand called for, so... don't expect that $150 for 2500 feet price tag to drop when they do open their plant back up.

      I don't know if "a lot"

  • In other news... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:50PM (#11271010)
    Eastman Kodak, the last remaining manufacturer of silver halide professional photographic film ceased production today, 1500 workers in Rochester, New York are now without jobs.

    Maybe not today, but soon...
    • They closed their Australian manufacturing plant recently, at the loss of several hundred jobs.

      I suspect, however, that there will continue to be a small level of demand for film from analog photography hobbyists for many years to come. It might become a cottege industry, but there'll be an industry of sorts.

  • by eap (91469) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:53PM (#11271029) Journal
    The article says they're just closed for restructuring. This is vague, but it may not mean they are closed down permanently.
  • Market demands (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fishbowl (7759) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:56PM (#11271059)
    If there is a market for 1/4", Maxell will reintroduce XL. Or some Chinese plant will start making it.

    Pro tape, especially 2", is staggeringly expensive. And it still offers some qualities of sound which take a significant effort to duplicate with digital. Yes, this is aberration, but it's a desirable *analog* aberration, and studios that use tape contribute sort of a gestalt to the overall product, an organic quality.

    I'm a big fan of digital, and I don't really care about analog tape, but I do sympathize with the folks still using 1" and 2" decks.

    Digital recording is only *just now* getting to the point where it can truly take over. (It's been there for playback for decades, sure, but production is another story.)

    But it's always been expensive to do 2". In the day, we'd get tapes that had been used once in a voiceover studio and bulk erase them.

    Oh well... I feel sorry for the plant workers and anybody still using an ampex console. Somewhere I think i still have a Teac 4-track 1/4", and boxes of unused, or only partly used, tapes. Ebay time?
    • Re:Market demands (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jeffrey Baker (6191)
      Good reel-to-reel 1/4" decks fetch several hundred dollars on eBay, so you may as well. Collectors buy up recordings in that format, too, but most of the recordings currently offerend on eBay are complete crap.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:56PM (#11271062)
    I work at the BBC World Service, broadcasting in (approx) 42 different languages around the world - and we still use analogue tape for about 80% of our programmes! We are slowly being digitised, but believe it or not, analogue tape is great to work with, quick to edit, and extremely reliable, both for playback and archiving... I'm no luddite, but as someone who has to deal with on-air disasters, I know that tape recorders don't crash.... Our latest digital system runs on windows 2000... Say no more.
  • by tentimestwenty (693290) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:57PM (#11271074)
    Now that there are so many digital recording formats, with various numbers of tracks, it is essentially impossible to create legacy recordings. Many programs we use today won't even run in 5 years let alone 100 and all we will have is basic 2 track mixdown masters of many records.

    With tape you could use whatever you wanted to record a record, it all got put to the same tape and in most cases the tape lasted a very long time, 50 years plus. Better yet, often times the recording equipment was better than the tape playback so as time went on you could get better sound off the same tape because technology had advanced. Digital is locked in stone forever, never to reveal any improvements. Even as a crude 2nd step backup there is the potential to bounce your multi-track masters to multi-track tape for preservation.

    Steve Albini, one of the world's best recording engineers has a good lecture about the importance of tape here [mtsu.edu]
    • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:45PM (#11271426) Journal
      tentimestwenty wrote:

      With tape you could use whatever you wanted to record a record, it all got put to the same tape and in most cases the tape lasted a very long time, 50 years plus.

      This is true only in an optimal sense. In a very real and practical sense, it's not true at all. Many tapes are stored in only moderately optimal facilities, and a lot are stored in attics, sheds, and basements. A major scourge is the "Sticky shed" syndrome as described here [geocities.com], for example. while the old Ampex tapes were major culprits, in my own personal experience I have seen a large number and variety of tapes suffer similar fates.

      Several months ago I had to resurrect a number of video tapes that had a similar problem. In short: tape is not as archival as vinyl. The question of archival quality audio reproduction is a hot topic being debated in library science. AFAIK, there have been no real concrete conclusions to the problem. From what I can gather, it seems very likely that the 21st century will simply disappear from history.

      I hope that's not true, but there are an awful lot of extremely obvious and seemingly implacable problems facing archival audio and video storage.

      RS

      • A major scourge is the "Sticky shed" syndrome

        Yep. I used to work for a government agency that recorded missile telemetry on 1" 14 track analog tapes. If you stored them in a tightly controlled temperature/humidity environment they'd last a long time. The problem is that's relatively expensive, and it's not always clear what you most important reels are. We were asked to retrieve some data from a tape that was only about ten years old and it came off the reel like masking tape. We were able to restore

    • You are so right...think about how many formats digital has abandoned (8" and 5-1/4" floppies come to mind first) but I can still play my 1/4" reel-to-reels nearly thirty years after first recording on them.

      And music never sounded warmer than when recorded through the old Ampex tube electronics with a bit of dB boost to saturate the tape. Even if you got some distortion (and occasionally it was desired) it was a cool distortion and not the digital crackle you get from today's electronics.

      I've been slowly
  • A small group of the best employees will get together and buy up enough of the equipment to keep one line running. They will buy the rights to the Ampex name and continue as a boutique manufacturer for high-end enthusists.
  • by Momoru (837801) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:59PM (#11271090) Homepage Journal
    Great. Now I guess i finally have to upgrade to an 8-track.
  • ...being around to hear "last buggy-whip manufacturer goes out of business" last century. Truly the end of an era.

    I remember even ten years ago, when my DJ company would get shipments of new music on vinyl, the Canadian record companies were having to bring the records in from the U.S. because there were no pressing plants left in Canada.

    And now there's not even any analog tape being made in N.A.! Does anybody else smell a cottage industry opportunity?
  • one of my friends is a huge analog fan when it comes to his music making, all analog equipment, especially when it comes to sound processing and such, and he refuses to use computers in the process, but even he now uses a hard drive based 16-track recorder with a cd writer in it...previously he used a 4-track analog tape recorder.

    analog can be of high quality, particularly when it comes to balanced signals and such for all your inputs...but analog reel to reel? I can definitely see why that's going.

    First
    • Reel-to-reel with a fat bandwidth (that you can actually measure with a ruler), and high inch-per-second rate is currently unbeatable in dynamic range and frequency response.

      As the proud owner of 2 brands of 24/96 cards (the good ones...or I would have 'settled' for a much cheaper 24/192 card--you know who I'm talking about) I can honestly say that analog--even my limited 1/4" experiences--is far more flexible with signal, has far more 'air' to it--a sound guy term for something we can't quite describe..
  • by algae (2196) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:04PM (#11271130)
    To those of you who are saying "BFD, nobody uses analog tape anymore", have a good look at the liner notes of one of your audio CDs (and don't you dare say "BFD, nobody uses audio CDs anymore."

    Somewhere in those notes, there'll be a logo that says either AAD, ADD, or DDD. If your CD is either one of the first two, then the original instruments were recorded to 2" tape. If it's the second, then the 2" tape was mastered to 1/2" tape.

    A LOT of professional recording studios still use this technology. For one thing, if you send too much signal into an analog tape, you get a nice sounding tape compression, whereas if you send too much signal into a ADC, you get really horrible sounding digital clipping.

    \/me wonders what several hundred recording studios in L.A. are gonna do now.
    • For one thing, if you send too much signal into an analog tape, you get a nice sounding tape compression, whereas if you send too much signal into a ADC, you get really horrible sounding digital clipping.

      That's why you use high-resolution ADCs and run them at a safe margin less than full scale. Then, when you load the file into your mixer, you take the arctangent of each sample to get soft clipping.

  • Not dead yet (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jsdkl (48221)
    Open reel recorders are still in wide use and will be for some time still. This is just one plant (granted, the last one in the US) laying off its employees and going through Chapter 11 restructuring.

    I have a few open reel recorders that get regular use, including a fairly new (less than ten years old) Tascam unit.

    Analog audio recording is similar to motion picture film (I have some cameras for that, as well) - digital (so far) just can't compare. There's a special magic to it that can't be replaced.
  • by Artful Codger (245847) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:21PM (#11271267)
    The magic word is "restructuring".

    Quantegy bought the reel tape business from AMPEX... and they're apparently failing as a company.

    This will probably resolve itself as:

    A) Quantegy gets its act together and the plant reopens, or

    B) Quantegy goes under, plant is sold and it reopens.

    As others have pointed out, there's still a significant pro market, and many audiophile types, so there's enough market for the right supplier.

  • by SomeoneGotMyNick (200685) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:24PM (#11271289) Journal
    From the post: the former BASF, which used to be AGFA


    The company will just change names and start over again. The new name will actually be....


    (..pulls four scrabble tiles at random..)


    QMAZ!!!


    Holy Cow! Triple Word Score!!

  • as an audio guy... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Daneurysm (732825) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:29PM (#11271330)
    I have a really tough time believing that all of the analog tape ('pro gear' type, as measured in inches...ha) is going to be gone soon.

    As an 'audio guy' I have encountered so many 'analog heads' that I think for the wound-up-no-clue-audiophile-asshole market alone this would be worth somebodies while to maintain.

    ...I only wish I could be one of them. Analog recording offers so many advantages (read: quirks) to the producer/recordist...and not to mention the highest bandwidth available in analog audio media.

    Once again, before I ramble too far off topic... I don't believe it. There are far too many studios run by far too many producers which insist--for one reason or another (read: valid or not)--insist on nothing but analog...high quality analog....1" reels, 2" reels...1/2" reels....for mixdown, for final masters...etc. I simply do not believe it. Too many 'big name studios' operate with this techonlogy as the centerpiece of their of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. There's something to think about.

    While I am continually saddened at the migration away for more sturdy analog ancestors of our current-day digital equipment, I simply do not believe that such a market--small but used to paying top-$$$ for everything....even tape--would be abandon outright.

    I'm either in disbelief like denial, or disbelief like 'I genuinely don't believe it'
  • leaving a reported 250 workers without jobs

    I'm not too sympathetic to these people laid off. They've known this was coming for at least 10 years.
  • NPR's logo is almost identical to Sun Microsystem's logo for java.
  • I don't understand how the last manufacturer of this type of tape in the world could go out of business due to financial problems. If this type of tape really is still somewhat widely used as many people have noted, why didn't they just raise their price to whatever level they needed in order to be profitable?
  • I remember feeling much the same way when the last U.S. vacuum tube manufacturer went out, and for that matter when the last vinyl record plant shut down. In a way, I'm surprised that professional analog recording held out as long as it did. Well, maybe not ... recording studios had a huge investment in high-end multi-track gear, and it never was cheap.

    Does this presage the end of digital tape storage? Probably not for a while, the cost per bit is still pretty low once you've made the investment in drive
  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:30PM (#11271735)
    reminds me of that story when I was growing up (in the 70's, when tube vs transitor was getting to be in vogue).

    the story goes that two engineers were arguing about the sound merits of tubes vs transistors. the tube guy liked the 'sound' of tubes and thought this was the correct sound. the transistor amp just didn't sound right to the tube guy.

    the transistor guy went back to the lab and re-evaluated his design and changed a few things. he returned to the bake-off and gave the tube guy another listen.

    "its sound great now! what did you do?" asked the tube guy.

    "well, I analyzed the distortion, hum and feedback problems your tube amp had and I installed filters and network to create the same set of intermod and distortion you find pleasing"

    morale: its not really the components, its the implementation.

    that said, I'll take an average digital signal over even a high-end analog one anyday. noise, hum and distortion are NOT my friends.
    • by Animats (122034)
      The engineer who did that was Bob Carver of Phase Linear. He characterized the highest rated tube amps and built a transistor amp with the same transfer function. In blind A/B/X tests, "high end" listeners couldn't tell the difference.

      Didn't sell.

      Then, almost as a joke, he designed the Carver Silver 7 [wardsweb.org] tube amp. 20 tubes per channel. $25,000 each. Two huge chassis per channel. Huge transformers. Same transfer function.

      Named the "best amplifier of the decade" by The Absolute Sound.

  • by wheatwilliams (605974) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:36PM (#11271780) Homepage
    Tom Scholz, legendary engineer/bandleader for hte rock band Boston, just last month gave an interview published at Gibson.com where he stated that he knew he was going to have to give up on analog reel-to-reel in the next year or two, because nobody would be manufacturing the tape anymore. He has switched to ProTools but hates it, and says he has to have an extra full-time professional engineer on his payroll just to operate ProTools. And he goes on and on about the specific limitations of digital recording (frequent computer crashes) and the digital medium, and the audible superiority of analog tape.

    "Classic Sound of Boston is Still Tom Scholz, Still Recording on Tape"

    http://www.gibson.com/absolutenm/templates/Featu re Template.aspx?articleid=175&zoneid=2
    ------------ -

    The big problem here is that analog tape is the universal archival medium.

    100 years from now, engineers will be able to play back 2-inch 24-track tape if it's been carefully environmentally preserved. But in 2104, who will be able to access and remix the individual tracks on an IDE hard disk of an elaborately mixed album recorded in Cubase SX 2.2 optimized for a Motorola G4 processor running Mac OS X 10.2? Nobody. All we will have, if we are lucky, is a 16-bit CD with a stereo mix.

    In 1997 I interned at Crawford Productions, a huge broadcast post-production facility in Atlanta Georgia. The Martin Luther King Foundation brought in Reverend King's entire library of sermons and speeches, which were on 1/4 inch reel-to-reel and cassette, for archival restoration. While Crawford made DATs and CDs, they explained to the Martin Luther King Foundation that they were also re-copying everything to fresh 1/4 inch analog tape, and that this would be the preferred archival method and the tapes they should most jealously protect.

    What now?
  • by flinxmeister (601654) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @11:41PM (#11272167) Homepage
    ...primarily cost efficiency.

    Labels don't give people a million dollars and say "come back when you're finished" anymore. They give you 2 months and $30k.

    Faced with this, the goal becomes good quality quickly. Sure, people argue about the warmth and crispness of analog. But what most analog purists miss is the outright efficiency of digital recording.

    If you've ever recorded a song, you know that no matter how good you are there is almost always a better take (with a very few exceptions). When that $30k is all you have, it is imperitive that the take be the best one.

    With tape, it's take...stop...evaluate...rewind...record. And pray fervently you don't accidently overwrite something.

    With digital, you can literally get 10 times the work done. takestopevaluatetakestopevaluate. There is no waiting, and if you screw up you hit 'undo'.

    Even most of the folks that do have a million bucks and want to record onto analog promptly dump to digital for mixing. And the 'warmth' and 'crispness' of analog is largely a myth as of about 5 years ago (when ADATs started to die their long deserved death). Play a 2 inch recorded track vs a protools recorded track and 99.9% of the people out there will never know. A good producer/engineer can work wonders with good preamps and outboard gear.

    So yes, it's a sad day...but not nearly as monumental as purists would have you believe. People who depend on this stuff for a living dumped this along time ago.
  • Alas, poor Analog... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ktakki (64573) on Thursday January 06, 2005 @12:02AM (#11272285) Homepage Journal
    ...I knew ye well.

    Having spent most of my teens, twenties, and thirties in recording studios (as a musician, engineer, producer, and owner), there's a lot I'm going to miss about analog recording on tape.

    • First of all, there's the act of opening a fresh reel of Ampex 456 tape -- the polymer scent, akin to the smell of a new car. You'd place the reel on the deck, thread it carefully, and then fast-forward to the end and rewind to the beginning. This would "seat" the tape so it would align with the transport. But it was almost a ritual act, the first step in recording a new project.
    • After each take, the tape would have to be rewound, either to the top of the track or to the punch point. It was an enforced pause, a chance to let your ears cool off for a few seconds or a minute, maybe take a sip of coffee or beer. I'm not the only engineer who missed this.
    • Flipping the reel: maybe once in a blue moon I'd lay a backwards guitar or piano track, or record some backwards reverb (one of my favorite effects). But when one of the channels on an old Ampex 24-track deck went south, flipping the tape and copying the track over to another track was our quick and dirty workaround (it was only a reference track anyway, and the deck was fixed the next day). Of course, nowadays we have hard drives and we all know that they never ever fail.
    • Splicing: okay, I'll readily admit that in the early '90s Digidesign Sound Designer made me hang up my razor blade and splicing block forever, but it was a hell of a useful skill at the time. I had a lot of fun in the pre-sampler days making 1/4" tape loops (some of them were 20 or 30 feet long and ran around the room, using microphone stands as tensioners).
    • The essential qualities of analog tape: head bump and tape compression. The first is really a quality of analog decks, a low-frequency emphasis between 60 and 200 Hz, where the belly of a kick drum sound lies. Tape compression allows you to selectively saturate certain tracks, like snare drum, where the effects of distortion actually work in your favor. Attempting the same thing with digital only leads to madness. Note that there's a DSP plug-in available for ProTools that simulates these qualities.
    • Longevity: properly stored and cared for, analog tape lasts decades. Perhaps even a century or more. Sure, there was that problem with 3M reels and flaking back in the '80s, but that was nothing that an hour in a convection oven at 200 degrees couldn't cure (heh). I have reels from the '70s that I can still listen to. Compare this with my own personal dead media problem: I have to keep a Mac 512K running if I want to be able to access MIDI sequences I wrote back in the mid-'80s. The software won't run on anything past System 3.2, and the file format is proprietary and not published anywhere (Opcode Sequencer 1.5). I've done straight-through conversions to a standard MIDI file format, but you lose certain features that way (named tracks, loops, etc.). Without a standard multi-track digital audio format that works across platforms and software packages, one that can be perpetuated for decades, musicians, producers, and record labels will find themselves in the same conundrum. Remember that a tape recorded on an Ampex deck will (theoretically) work on a Studer, an MCI, a Tascam, or an Otari. Think 20, 50, 100 years from now. Think reissue, remaster, box set.


    I'm not about to start the analog vs. digital flamefest. I see more good about digital than bad, but there are a few qualities of analog (particularly the last point above) that are worth preserving.

    k.
  • by Sir Ancestor (843025) on Thursday January 06, 2005 @04:04AM (#11273441)
    I am not sure about Emtec but BASF is not former AGFA!!! Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik (BASF) is German chemical and plastics manufacturing company originally founded in 1865. Agfagevaert Gruppe, Dutch Agfa-gevaert Groep, is German and Belgian corporate group established in 1964 in the merger of Agfa AG of Leverkusen, W.Ger., and Gevaert Photo-Producten NV of Mortsel, Belg. The merger established twin operating companies, one German (Agfa-Gevaert AG) and one Belgian (Gevaert-Agfa NV, which in 1971 became Agfa-Gevaert NV). Controlling interest in the group was purchased by Bayer AG in 1981.
  • Analog vs. digital? (Score:3, Informative)

    by mrjb (547783) on Thursday January 06, 2005 @04:26AM (#11273515)
    I used to use quantegy (quantigy? formerly Ampex) tapes in my ADAT machine, a digital 8-track recorder that records 42 minutes of 8 channel, 48 khz digital audio on what is basically an analog VHS tape. Of coure, ADAT tapes aren't the same as reel-to-reel tapes- the packaging is different. I suspect that division will still be running for quite a while, as digital ADAT tapes tend to have better compatibility across machines than analog reel-to-reel. Still I have a hard time believing that not a single studio is going to record anything (analog) on (analog) tape anymore. Not because I don't think harddisk recording hasn't caught up with analog technology, but because the natural compression of tape gives quite a pleasant harmonic distortion to the sound recorded on it. Also, harddisks crash and burned media gets unreadable. For longer-term audio storage, tape is still the medium of choice. Given this, what's the alternative to reel-to-reel tape?

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