Space industry tape recorders and set-top boxes
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The tape recorder is the principal instrument of the classic electronic music studio. The technical quality of the composition is limited by the decks used, and may be further compromised by how the decks are used. The factors that determine the possible quality of a recording made on any analog deck are tape speed and track width. Surprisingly, the electronic design of the deck has a relatively small effect on quality as long as drastic flaws are avoided.
The difference in price among various decks of the same format primarily reflects durability of the machine. Speeds and widths in common use today are:. You can probably find decks that run at all combinations of these, but as a general rule, the wide tapes are run at the faster speeds. The track width depends not only on the width of tape but on the number of tracks stuffed on the tape. This meets minimum standards for broadcast audio quality while remaining reasonably economical.
The tracks are actually numbered from top to bottom 1,2,3,4; but since the quarter track stereo consumer format recorded left channel on track 1 and right channel on track 3, you occasionally see controls grouped 1,3,2,4. All tape decks have two main systems: some mechanical apparatus for moving the tape past the heads, and electronics for recording on and playing back from the tape.
Sometimes these parts are physically as well as conceptually separate, but most often they are in the same box. Tape is threaded from left to right on most modern tape decks. Motion of the tape is controlled by the capstan. This is a steel shaft which is always turning at a constant speed.
When the PLAY button is pushed, the rubber pinch roller squeezes the tape against the capstan and the tape is pulled past the heads. Some back tension is necessary to keep the tape tight against the heads. When the tape is to be rewound, the pinch roller stays away from the tape and full power is applied to the supply motor making the tape zip backwards.
A low power is applied to the take up motor to keep the tape tight. There are brakes on both reel motors to stop the tape quickly and gently. Because the tape and reels can build up a fair amount of momentum, care must be taken in going from one of the fast modes to the play mode to avoid damaging the tape. Machines vary in their approach to this problem:. I mentioned earlier that the tape lifters pop out during the fast modes to keep the tape off the heads. Some decks do this in STOP mode too.
This is cheaper, since the lifters can be attached to the pinch roller mechanism. In either case, we often want to hear the tape in fast or stop modes, so the better machines have a way to defeat the tape lifters.
There are different names and different versions of this process; here are the most common:. Somewhere along the tape path is a gimmick that prevents the transport from working unless the tape is threaded tightly. This may involve a tension arm, a small wire switch, or even a light and sensing device.
Prevents accidental recording and erasure. This is most useful when there is a separate switch for each channel. Most often used in conjunction with PLAY, this starts the recording process. Allows the choice of listening to the input signal or the signal on the tape. If this is set to "tape" and the tape is not moving, you hear nothing.
A third choice on some decks allows you to listen to the tape as it goes by the record head. The basic electronic requirements for a tape deck are an amplifier and bias oscillator for recording and a preamplifier for playback.
With the most expensive decks that is all you get. Less expensive machines are usually bristling with extra features to attract the consumer. Here are a few of the extras you will find. These used to be very common because the presence of a microphone input defined the class of machine consumer or professional for determining import duty. They would be useful if they were ever very good. This allows you to do "voice-overs" as you are recording music. I guess somebody does this.
An interesting variation on this is found on many Revoxes. If only one channel is recording, both inputs mix to that channel. Allows you to easily change styles of tape. Vital on cassette decks, some of which now do this automatically. This is exquistely useful for electronic music purposes. Most decks seem to have it these days, but the range of the built in kinds is usually not very wide. The best are those available as accessories to a few decks.
These developed in the old days of radio, when they indicated the percentage of legal modulation a station was generating. On most tape decks, the 0dB point is some standard recording level. The standard used most studios for reel to reel machines is nanoWebers per Meter. They measure the average signal, and move rather slowly. This means brief peaks will not be properly indicated and may distort.
The actual recording level you use will depend heavily on the material. As a general rule, keep the meter just below 0dB, with short excursions into the red zone allowed. They do not have a flat frequency response. Most meters exaggerate the low frequency readings and do not respond to signals above 8 khz very well.
A good rule is to keep bright signals down an extra 6 dB. An especially good idea, since high frequency signals are the most likely to be distorted in the recording process. These are seen mostly in European and Japanese gear. They look much like VU meters, but they do not average the signal. Instead they jump to the highest level and fall back rather slowly. If a signal were measured on both a VU and a peak meter, the peak reading would appear higher-- tape deck manufacturers compensate for this by moving the numbers.
The result is that you record the same way on either, keeping the music just above 0 on the loudest parts. These are very much in style on Japanese cassette decks. They actually perform better than VU meters as far as frequency response is concerned, but do not average in quite the same way.
The main disadvantage is that cheap ones do not have enough segments to properly show what is going on. The best ones combine the peak and VU functions, with the highest led staying on longer than the others, which means you can always see the higest level reached in the last two or three seconds.
Most tape decks have numerical readouts that keep track of your location on the tape. These may be electronic or mechanical in design, but that really makes no difference. What really matters is what the counters count. The inexpensive kind found on most cassettes count turns of the takeup reel. Actually about four numbers go by for each turn. Since the amount of tape wound varies according to direction of operation as well as location on the tape, these meters are only useful for coarse operation.
Counters on more expensive decks actually measure the tape with a special wheel and are quite accurate. Tape decks occasionally have auto stop or locate features which react to the tape counters.
Professional quality decks usually do not have output level controls, because level is best controlled at the mixer. The fewer controls there are, the less the chance of a mistake. When such a control is provided, there is usually a switch or sometimes a "click" on the knob to set the output at calibrated level. The new four track decks have calibration clicks on the inputs also.
For quality operation, any tape deck must be carefully adjusted for the tape in use. This complex procedure will be described in the technical manual that comes with the better decks.
In order to get a good recording, the tape must be in very intimate contact with the heads. The wavelength of a 15khz tone recorded at 15 ips is one thousandth of an inch, so a separation of half that amount can be expected to cause some loss of signal. This is not much thicker than a fingerprint.
You can not expect good results unless the heads are clean. Procedure is simple, just dip the swab in the alcohol and scrub each head.
If there is anything on the head that will not come off with this method, find a technician. Cleaning at the beginning of your session should be adequate, unless you get carried away with the grease pencil. If you notice a build-up of tape oxide on the capstan or tape guides, you may clean these also. Do not clean anything else. The best decks will only give results comparable to their use. In addition to the detailed instructions in the rest of this article, the following tips are offered in the interests of quality recording.
Label your tapes carefully and thoroughly. Proper labeling reduces the number of times a tape must be played. You may put this information on the box or on the tape reel. The name of the tape and your name must be on the tape reel of course.
Analog Tape Recorders
Today, capturing family videos can be done easily and quickly with the phone in our pocket. There was a time when wedding videos, family home videos, and school performances were recorded using video cameras and then saved on VHS tapes. The first VHS tape and recording system was introduced to the world in Before the sticker shock floors you, these were created for professional use.
Analog Tape Recorders
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Analog Tape Recording Basics
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The tape recorder is the principal instrument of the classic electronic music studio. The technical quality of the composition is limited by the decks used, and may be further compromised by how the decks are used. The factors that determine the possible quality of a recording made on any analog deck are tape speed and track width. Surprisingly, the electronic design of the deck has a relatively small effect on quality as long as drastic flaws are avoided. The difference in price among various decks of the same format primarily reflects durability of the machine. Speeds and widths in common use today are:.
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A portable audio recorder is a small device that is going to help you to record what you need on the go. You can record everything from meetings and interviews to lectures at school and the latest hits from your garage band. Audio recorders have evolved in the last forty years, from small radios with tiny cassette tapes to the portable and digital recorders that we have today.
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