¼ inch multitrack reel-to-reel

Tascam ¼ inch 4-track / Tascam 388 Studio 8 ¼ inch 8-track / Fostex R8 ¼ inch 8-track / Fostex E8 ¼ inch 8-track audio tape
Aluminium Ampex 10.5 inch mastering spool, with quarter inch brown magnetic tape

¼" tape on 10.5" diameter Ampex spool with NAB hub

introduction to ¼ inch multitrack audio tape transfer

Multitrack analogue tape recording on ¼" tape was the most common and affordable way to record sound and music in the late 20th century. The large user base for ¼" reel-to-reel tape recorders in general meant ¼" tape was very common, easily purchased and relatively inexpensive. As a result many musical experiments in this era started on ¼" tape and we often are asked to preserve and digitise these.

With our collection of Teac, Tascam and Fostex ¼" multitrack machines, we can support all track formats and noise reduction standards, digitising your projects to high resolution Broadcast WAV audio files in one pass.

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. For an introduction to our assessment and treatment processes, please see our guide to "what happens to your audio tape".

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

¼ inch multitrack reel-to-reel machines

Over the years competing manufacturers, mainly Tascam and Fostex, created a range of home or semi-professional multitrack open reel tape recorders. Tascam tended to use ¼" tape for 4-track and stereo master recordings. Fostex differentiated their designs by squeezing 8 tracks onto ¼" tape using Dolby C noise reduction.

Tascam also created the ‘legendary’ Tascam 388 Studio 8 machine, using ¼" tape running at a fixed 7.5 inches per second and dBX noise reduction to record 8 tracks. These recording consoles have become quite collectible now, have a built in mixing section and resemble a forerunner to the cassette-based Portastudios.

Unfortunately all these variations of ¼" multitrack tape are incompatible by track format, tape speed, reel size or noise reduction used. As a result every variation of machine must be owned and maintained to cater for all types of recording!

Luckily here at Greatbear, our Tascam 34 / Teac 3440 ¼ inch 4-track multitrack, Fostex Model 80 ¼ inch 8-track multitrack, Tascam 388 Studio 8 ¼ inch 8-track multitrack, and Fostex E8 and Fostex R8 ¼ inch 8-track multitrack machines and can support the gamut of ¼" multitrack tape formats.

¼ inch multitrack format variation

track formattape speed in inches per second (ips)reel size in inchesreel hub typenoise reductionsupported
4 track7 ½7 ½cinedbx Type I
157 ½cinedbx Type I
7 ½10 ½NABdbx Type I
1510 ½NABdbx Type I
8 track7 ½7 ½cinedbx Type I
157 ½cineDolby C
1510 ½NABDolby C

 

reel-to-reel tape machine with large aluminium spools spinning

Tascam 34 4-track machine, 10.5" spools with NAB hubs

reel-to-reel tape machine with clear plastic spools spinning

Fostex Model 80 8-track machine, 7" spools with cine hubs

aluminium 10.5 inch reel containing quarter inch brown magnetc audio tape with rulers indicating dimensions.

¼" tape on 10.5" diameter spool with NAB hub

¼ 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
  • 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.

1/4" multitrack tape digitising can also have specific machine related challenges:

  • Early Tascam models often suffer from poor quality wave soldering which can cause many faults as these machines are over 30 years old.
  • Fostex multitrack machines were a 2 head design and when too worn replacement heads are not available.
  • Different noise reduction types could have been used and if not documented it can be tricky to establish which type and decode this correctly.
  • All the small width multitrack machines were designed and marketed for home and project studios and as such had lower quality parts and can be harder to service.

¼ inch multitrack recording history

Tascam is the professional audio division of the TEAC Corporation, known as a primary manufacturer of high-end audio equipment in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1973 TEAC converted their consumer quadraphonic tape recorders for use as home multitrack recorders. The result were the popular TEAC 2340 and 3340 models. Both were four-track machines that used ¼ inch tape. The 2340 ran at either 3¾ or 7½ inches per second and used seven inch reels while the 3340 ran at 7½ or 15 inches per second and used 10½ inch reels. The 2340 was priced at under U.S. $1,000 (£3,337 in today’s money), making it very popular for home use.

The introduction of the multi-track cassette recorder phased out the reel-to-reel ¼ inch tape from the market in the late 1970s.