½ inch multitrack reel-to-reel

Otari, Teac, Tascam 8-track and Fostex 16-track 1/2 inch multitrack audio tape transfer, with Dolby C and dbx Type I noise reduction
Aluminium Ampex spool with half inch brown magnetic tape

½" audio tape on 10.5" diameter spool

introduction to ½ inch multitrack audio tape transfer

For small sound recording studios, 8-track ½" multitrack was a more useful and flexible form of recording than 4-track ¼" multitrack, and better quality than 8-track ¼" multitrack. As a result 8-track and 16-track ½" multitrack recordings are some of the most common open reel tape formats we are asked to digitise and preserve.

As explained in more detail below, these forms of analogue multitrack recording have small but significant details that affect their preservation, which we are careful to address - including tape degradation and correct noise reduction decoding.

This requires a range of similar but significantly different machines that we have collected, restored and can use to digitise your recordings at the highest possible quality.

We offer a range of delivery formats for our audio transfers. We use the International Association of Sound & Audiovisual Archives Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects, delivering 24-bit/96kHz Broadcast WAV files, together with mp3 audio file or audio CD listening versions. We're happy to create any other digital audio files, according to your needs.

We can provide the appropriately-sized usb media for your files, or use media supplied by you, or deliver your files online. Files delivered on hard drive can be for any operating system MacOS, Windows or GNU/Linux and filesystems (HFS+, NTFS or EXT3).

Due to varying tape durations and extent of physical tape degradation it’s not always appropriate to create fixed prices for our services. We’ve found that assessing tapes prior to confirming costs a more accurate and fair method.

We offer free assessments please contact us to discuss your project.

½ inch multitrack reel-to-reel machines

The ½" tape width format was used by a range of manufacturers in the small, project and home studio markets, starting the the Teac 80-8 in the late 1970s.

Teac, Tascam, Otari and Fostex all developed machines that used this tape width, offering 8 or 16 tracks with either dbx or Dolby C noise reduction internally or via external units. Teac, Tascam and Otari developed 8-track machines while Fostex in 1983 released the B16 that managed to squeeze 16 tracks on ½" tape at 15 inches per second, using Dolby C internally as a switchable noise reduction option. Tascam caught up and in 1988 released the MSR16 that also squeezed 16 tracks onto ½" tape, but offered dbx type I internal noise reduction and an additional 7.5 inches per second speed option.

We keep and maintain the following ½" tape machines that can handle almost all the ½" variations:

  • Teac 80-8, ½ inch, 8-track multitrack
  • Otari MX5050 ½ inch, 8-track multitrack
  • Fostex B16 ½ inch, 16-track multitrack
  • Tascam TSR8, ½ inch, 8-track multitrack

½ inch multitrack format variation

track formattape speedreel sizereel rub typenoise reductionsupported
8 track1510 ½NABno noise reduction
1510 ½NABdbx Type I
1510 ½NABBel BC3
1510 ½NABDolby C
16 track1510 ½NABno noise reduction
1510 ½NABDolby C
1510 ½NABBel BC3
1510 ½NABDolby S
1510 ½NABdbx Type I

 

 

drawing of tape machine with red line indicating the path of tape from spool to spool via playhead

Otari MX5050 Manual - tape threading diagram

oblique angle view of half inch tape machine with reels spinning

Fostex B16 ½ inch, 16-track multitrack tape machine

Aluminium Ampex spool with half inch brown magnetic tape and rulers indicating dimensions

½" tape on 10.5" diameter spool with NAB hub

½ inch multitrack tape risks & vulnerabilities

We often receive reels in a poor condition with a variety of physical problems with a variety of causes:

  • poor storage such as mould growth, uneven wind tension or poor tape pack / pack slip caused by long term horizontal storage.
  • age and tape chemistry such as as loss of lubricant, ‘sticky shed syndrome‘ or broken, dried out splices
  • poor handling or damage such as twisted, broken, crinkled or stretched tape and sometimes bags of tape unwound!

These types of problems and more must be addressed before a tape can be satisfactorily transferred.

½" multitrack tape, being a format often used non-professionally, frequently arrives without any notes about standard of noise reduction used, or any calibration tones - making accurate setup of our machines to match the recording more tricky. If the noise reduction standard isn't known it can sometimes be ascertained from careful listening for artefacts, knowledge of the original machine or studio used, or by comparing multiple passes of the tape using different setups.

We recently received some very early ½" 8-track tapes that had been stored poorly in an environment of wide temperature range. They were also Ampex-branded and had been played back before coming to us, while suffering from sticky shed syndrome. As a result these tapes exhibited severe delamination, where the binder and back coating were falling off the plastic body of the tape. While this is rare it can happen with some tape and in severe cases like this the recording was lost.

Machine obsolescence is a growing problem with many tape formats, though it hasn't rendered this format dead as yet. However, key parts to these machines, such as their record / repro heads, haven't been available new for many years, and we rely on our store of parts and spare machines to keep these running. It will only become more difficult to do this in the future, so it's a good idea to preserve your ½" recordings now.