Reel-to-reel fasten decks have always been rarely cherished by audiophiles. It isn’t usually a aloft energetic range, stately signal-to-noise ratio, and all those stately switches and buttons. The vast offered indicate is that not everybody can means one. “It’s a honour of tenure thing,” says Myles Astor, a executive editor of AVShowrooms.com. “R2Rs are expensive, need to be frequently maintained, and there’s not that many of them around. It’s like shopping a Ferrari. Once we have one, you’re partial of an disdainful club.”
This modded R2R sounds so good it’s used in veteran recording studios. Whether listening to a best master dubs, creation celebration brew tapes, or recording needle drops to safety changed vinyl, a J-Corder is analog magic.
Although it sells for a fragment of a cost of other customized R2R decks, a bottom cost of $7,735 isn’t cheap. Prerecorded and vacant tapes also are pricey. The control row build peculiarity will provoke distant audiophiles. Some buttons and switches feel chintzy. May strife with Zen interiors.
He’s not teasing about a expense. That’s always been a story behind these commanding boxes, with their tranquil spinning reels and buoyant VU needles. Take a Ampex AG-44B, a medium studio rug renouned with audiophiles during a Paleotube era. It cost $3,250 in 1968. To put that series in perspective, Car Driver’s top-rated sports sedan underneath $3,000 that year was a BMW 2002, and we could get one for $2,850. Imagine lugging a vast box into a basement of a suburban plantation residence and explaining to your adoring arch family that we usually blew a third of your salary on a fasten player.
A high-end R2R deck—each a formidable public of motors, servos, and adequate pointing automatic tools to fill several shoe boxes—is an absurdly dear proposition. But that courtesy to fact in a prolongation comes by in a sound. Listen to a peculiarity recording on one and you’ll start to know given some trouble-maker audiophiles were peaceful to compensate so dearly for them. The UHA Phase 12 is a $24,000 bespoke rug engineered and fabricated like a Mars rover. Then there’s a Sonurus ATR10, another tech-laden tradition appurtenance that touts “Acoustic 3-D and Holographic Imaging Technology.” With a relating pre-amp, it runs $18,500. And don’t forget a exclusive Sonurus tapes. A vast reel, that will presumably conjure a practical soundstage in your vital room, goes for $225 a pop. What’s an analog man on a bill to do?
Meet a J
The answer is a J-Corder, another über R2R that customarily draws standing-room crowds on a audio uncover circuit. The bottom model, nude of cosmetic finery, lists for $7,735. Amazon and Newegg bargain-hunters competence find that outrageous, yet in a disfigured together star of audiophiles, a primo plug-and-play fasten rug for underneath 8 grand is a steal. But even that smoke-stack of bills doesn’t get we something new, usually something rebuilt and improved, like a resto-modded flesh automobile finished off with a reward paint job.
A lodge attention specializing in refurbishing and modifying selected veteran decks has sprung up.
You can’t buy a new R2R today. The Otari MX5050, a Japanese pro appurtenance that warranted a repute in a ’70s as a studio workhorse, was a final rug standing. Otari’s North American distributor sole a final MX5050 in July. At $9,300 there simply weren’t adequate orders (20 a year in a U.S.) to keep a public line humming. A cottage attention in refurbishing and modifying selected veteran decks has filled a void. The UHA Phase 12, for instance, is built on a iconic Tascam BR-20 template, while a Sonurus ATR10 borrows a grand Revox PR99 tallness for a reboot. Likewise, a J-Corder’s core DNA can be traced to a Technics RS-1500. Although it was not, particularly speaking, a pro machine, a RS-1500 was so good engineered and done that it could pass for one. Audio Magazine, that lonesome a RS-1500 in a May 1977 issue, pronounced this was one of a best R2Rs a editors had ever tested: “The opening of a RS-1500 rug leaves roughly zero to be preferred by critical audiophiles. For a professional, a vital stipulations would be in a area of input/output interfacing.” Sweet.
Professionals have given a J-Corder a vast thumbs up. Steve Hoffman, a worshiped operative who remasters and releases classical recording on vinyl and CD for audiophiles, praises a machine’s “accurate illustration of a prosaic outlay signal.” His Ruby 1520 is proudly showcased on a J-Corder website. “Almost any plan I’ve worked on starts on a J-Corder,” Hoffman says matter-of-factly. “The Doors, Peter, Paul, and Mary, all a Nat King Cole albums, America, Eric Clapton, Bread… we wouldn’t be yet it.” Amateurs like it, too. Audiophile Mike Bovaird frequently conducts shootouts during his home, pitting his J-Corder opposite a examination of flagship digital components. “Some man came over with a EMM Labs DAC2X and attempted to make a statement,” recalls Bovaird. “He couldn’t trust a J-Corder’s sound, and ran out with his tail between his legs.” To a uninitiated, a DAC2X is a large aluminum retard DAC with a master time circuit that produces reduction than 1 picosecond of jitter.
Impressive endorsements, one and all. To see what all a bitch was about, we requested a J-Corder examination unit, wheeled it into WIRED’s shag-carpet anechoic cover (not really), and gave a reels a spin. Does this R2R live adult to all a analog hype? After several weeks of tape-head soak with this 60-pound, candy-colored monolith, a formula are in.
The Brains Behind a Beast
The “J” in J-Corder is Jeff Jacobs. He is an doubtful star in a rarefied universe of R2R gurus. He’s not a hotshot electro-mechanical operative or a circuit topology genius. He’s a 68-year-old Green Bay, Wisconsin, internal who schooled all he knows about electric circuits from his TV repairman father. And while he does attend audio shows, Jacobs claims he’s not an audiophile. But he does suffer a sensuous sound of open tilt tape, and knows a good R2R when he sees one. That’s given for roughly twin decades he owned a stereo emporium that sole all a marquee names: Sony, Teac, Akai, Revox, and Panasonic. “I beheld that a usually fasten decks we sole that didn’t come behind for repairs were done by Technics,” says Jacobs. “Tandbergs, for instance, sounded good, yet we knew they’d be behind in a emporium within 6 months. Technics machines always cost a most, yet were value a money. They have a ideal multiple of sound peculiarity and reliability.” Jacobs refurbs any J-Corder personally, in a garage in Gig Harbor, a pinch on a map 30 miles south of Seattle. He becomes irritable when asked if his J-Corders are as bulletproof as a RS-1500s he sole behind in a day: “Haven’t had one returned yet.”
There’s a reason disco-era RS-1500 decks still sell for a thousand bucks. It was arguably a best consumer fasten actor ever made. Conceived when Japan’s audio attention was during a tallness of a artistic powers and prolongation prowess, a RS-1500 facilities all a common prosumer facilities audiophiles demand: 10-inch reels, non-static speed control, twin play heads for half-inch and quarter-inch tape, and clever direct-drive motors instead of belts. The vast bonus, though, was a Teflon sleazy “Isoloop” transport. Propelled by a super accurate quartz-regulated capstan motor, a captivating fasten passes opposite a heads in a exquisite U-shaped trail during such a accurate speed that there’s probably no quantifiable error.
The RS-1500 is definitely an stately selected deck. Through a 1980s, a RS-1500 was a renouned margin rug for both documentary filmmakers and Deadheads, who used it to record concerts around a country. Jacobs sells batch models, entirely refurbished, for $4,995. But he knew a customized chronicle would sound even better. The thought was to jack adult a energy to take advantage of a new fasten formulations. Manufactured by ATR and RMGI, this next-gen fasten batch can hoop a most stronger vigilance than aged fasten ever could. These are famous as “Plus-9” tapes, definition they can hoop a recording turn over 9dBs, sans distortion. Pushing a vigilance yet saturating a fasten means no hiss or credentials noise, even during low volume. “I wanted adequate extract to bruise a ruin out of a fasten and pin those needles in a red,” says Jacobs. “If we have a good deck, a prohibited recording like that sounds definitely amazing.”
To lift off this hi-fi parlor trick, Jacobs tracked down a arch operative for Crown, an American association famous for producing high peculiarity blurb fasten machines in a 1970s. After endless tinkering, a late Crown man managed to strike a outlay voltage from 0.42 volts to 0.61 volts. That might not seem like a vast energy surge, yet Jacobs compares it to building a hotrod. Electric components had to be upgraded to accept a aloft voltage, and automatic parts, like springs, brakes and drum orientation also had to be beefed up. “It’s like converting a Toyota Corolla into a race car,” Jacobs says. “Imagine a absolute engine generating lots of torque. If we don’t have a clever cessation complement and a heavy-duty back end, a automobile won’t be means to stay on a road.”
Some audiophiles insist any switch, button, and dial on their hi-fi rigs contingency be hand-milled from unobtanium ingots and broadcast a haptic disturb that creates a heart flutter. Anyone who just nodded in agreement should pass on a J-Corder. Despite all a glossy options—$500 chrome knobs, $300 gemstone inlays—deep down this is a decades-old Japanese hi-fi product. Considerations contingency be made. The cutout tolerances on a instrument panels, for example, don’t accommodate aerospace standards. Some buttons shake a bit. And nine of those buttons are done of (brace yourself) plastic. Turn a section around and you’ll see a rough-hewn corner of a MDF side panel. If we can disremember these shortcomings, a J-Corder is still one large square of audio gear. My examination rug was entirely loaded, entrance in during $10,777. The “Automotive Finish” paint pursuit ($995), a PPG metalflake called Lexus Red, total with “Piano Black Side Panels” ($495) and “Custom Black Headblock” ($125) is a kind of confidant tone palette sorely lacking in a monochromatic universe of high-end audio. Everything else, though, is rock-steady, from a industrial strength energy cord to a tradition aluminum hubs used to batten down a reels ($350). Even a reels themselves are considerable ($295/pair). Each is machined by hand, and a core hubs have most thicker flanges than a strange Technics reels. The fatter sign provides larger fortitude when fast-forwarding by Steely Dan cuts on your friend’s brew tapes.
Every strain on a tape, opposite a whole energetic range, exudes that organic analog hardness and participation that audiophiles compensate by a nose for.
The stereo components we used to try-out a J-Corder are all vintage: a 1970s Marantz Model 2245 stereo receiver, a bulletproof Pioneer PL-12D-II turntable, and creatively recapped KLH Model Fives speakers. The usually new couple in a audio sequence is a Grado Prestige Gold cartridge.
Jeff Jacobs doesn’t trust in shopping $450 master fasten dubs from The Tape Project or other online sources. Instead, Jacobs creates his possess tapes, available true from a “crappy” ’90s Panasonic DVD player, patched into a J-Corder with $5 Radio Shack cables. He claims these digital-to-analog recordings sound usually as good as a pristine analog master dubs that some audiophiles splurge on. “I went to CES one year, and plugged my J-Corder into a million dollar tube complement with $240,000 Hansen speakers,” says Jacobs. “These stoic guys were observant things like, ‘That oboe sounds off-pitch.’ Then we cued adult my tape, and everybody got unequivocally animated. They desired it. When we pronounced a source element was a CD, their jaws dropped.”
To infer his point, Jacobs sent along one of his signature brew tapes, a musty cocktail strain sampler with cuts trimming from a live unison opening in a Netherlands (Gino Vanelli’s “Walt Whitman Where Are You”) to “some strain we listened during a finish of a Richard Gere film we liked” (“Baby Angel,” by Mica Paris). Hardcore audiophiles will hurl their eyes and tell we it’s purposeless to record CDs to tape, yet Jacobs is right. This is some torpedo SQ. The prohibited vigilance prisoner on a supersaturated ATR fasten is overwhelming in a clarity and depth. Gino’s loopy falsetto on a “Walt Whitman” intro is definitely crystalline, yet yet a common digital bite. Any corner or liughtness that might have been on that CD has been mislaid in analog translation. In fact, any strain on a tape, opposite a whole energetic range, exudes that organic analog hardness and participation that audiophiles compensate by a nose for. The magnitude prolongation hits we like a velvet hammer, generally during a low end. Tapeheads soap-box about a narrowing and tummy punch of R2R bass. That’s no exaggeration. The best partial is that it all sounds so frightful accurate and natural.
Needle and Laser Drops
Jacobs likes to red line a needles when he records. If he’s not peaking during 12dB, he’s not happy. At British studios in a ’60s and ’70s, this was customary procession for stone acts. Laying down a “hot” vigilance separated a need for any Dolby hocus-pocus, that was compulsory to minimize irritating fasten hiss. Who’s Next was available during a boiling +10dB. That vigilance boost naturally dense a sound, while also gripping hiss out and superfluity integrity in.
As a Bob Ludwig homage, we cued adult a vacant tilt of ATR quarter-inch tape, ramped adult a line-in level, and done a recording regulating a Best Buy Philips DVD actor that was usually somewhat reduction “crappy” than Mr. J-Corder’s emporium beater. The anxiety CD was Mark Levinson’s expertly mastered Distinguished Friends of Cello Vol. 1. Listening to Guitar Gabriel’s baritone scream on “Trouble In Mind” sounded frightful good. Big Boy Henry’s sad outspoken on “Old Bill” was also ear-popping and conjured images of a hazed juke corner in swamps of Baton Rouge. The guitar plucks on both cuts resonated by a speakers like practical strings. OK Jeff Jacobs, CD transfers sound damn good.
For a requisite vinyl-to-tape recording, famous as a “needle drop” in geek-speak, we cued adult a uninformed duplicate of Nina Simone’s Little Girl Blue. Granted, there was a spirit of LP aspect noise. Still, initial time out of a gate? Pinch me. If we do occur to dally in vinyl arbitrage, and wish to make some CO copies of those $1,000 Blue Note discs before flipping them to some trust comment child in Tokyo, this is a approach to do it.
Sorry, Jeff. Your J-Corder definitely kills it, yet you’re wrong about CDs sounding as good as master fasten dubs. As good as laser drops sound, tape-to-tape transfers, when scrupulously sourced, sound even better. Auditioning Jazz Sampler #1, a prolongation duplicate available and dubbed by Jonathan Horwich during IPI, is like perplexing on a new span of glasses, walking outside, and seeing blades of weed for a initial time. Mr. Horwich has been recording live jazz given a mid-’60s. Drawing from his endless personal archive, he sells “Direct Master Copies” (one-to-one dubs of a master tape; $450) and “Production Copies” (two generations private from a master tape; $150) of these performances to jazz spooky fasten fiends. The standout opening on a sampler is Jeremy Kahn’s “The Shadow Of Your Smile.” When a effort sax gushes out of a speakers, a auditory prodigy is—apologies, Sonurus—acoustic 3-D and holographic. And listening to a Stan Getz riffing on “Big, Tiny, Little” is like sitting in on a live gig. Part of that is a sorcery of analog tape. The other partial is a approach Horwich available a musicians: usually twin spaced BK Omni mics. That’s a rarely unusual setup for taping a quartet, yet this sounds a approach live strain should sound: natural. Too many mics on theatre can spoil a recording, with any instrument fighting to mount out of a mix.
Should we buy a J-Corder? If we have 10 grand blazing a hole in your Apple Pay account, suffer behaving a tea rite that comes with owning an open tilt fasten appurtenance (Don’t forget to degauss a heads!), and have flirted with a thought of recording a internal rope and apropos Rudy outpost Gelder 2.0, then, yes, by all means, sequence a Tesla “Coca-Cola Red” J-Corder immediately. For everybody else: Start brown-bagging it, leave Starbucks, sushi dinners, $20 mixologist cocktails, and any other overpriced extravagance. In several years, we too could be redlining needles, usually like Mr. J-Corder.
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