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Ampex ATR-102 and why analog tape sounds so good
Wednesday, 12 January 2011 16:06

Ampex ATR-102Analog tape sounds amazing on the right project, which is why we have gone to significant effort and expense to have a custom modified Ampex ATR-102 two-track mastering tape deck right here in the studio.

The ATR-102 is the last mastering deck to roll off the Ampex assembly line before they ceased manufacturing in the late 1980's. Our machine was sourced from the University of Wisconsin, from where it was shipped directly to ATR Services for a complete internal rebuild with the highest grade components. This rebuild also included an exchange of the stock electronics for Aria Class A Reference Series electronics and flux magnetics mastering grade half-inch heads which gives it maximum transparency and detail.

Our ATR-102 was initially biased and aligned for Quantegy GP9 half-inch tape, but this tape has been unavailable since Quantegy closed its factory doors in 2007. Today the only companies producing analog tape are RMGI (formerly Emtec/BASF) with their 900 and 911 series tape, and a new company, ATR Magnetics, a sister company to ATR Services. ATR Magnetics have produced arguably the best sounding analog tape around. It is similar sounding to Quantegy 456, while able to maintain a higher operating level similar to Quantegy GP9. Our ATR-102 is now set up to run the ATR Magnetics tape.

Why analog tape?

Analog tape has the ability to subtly compress a mix in a very natural manner, and has what can only be described as a 'gluing' effect - giving a mix more cohesiveness by controlling and absorbing transient peaks in a way that no other compressor can hope to do. Analog tape can also add subtle harmonic distortion which helps to give a mix depth and width while softening harsh mid and high frequencies and adding a robustness to the lower frequencies.

The Ampex ATR-102 tends to work best on rock, metal and hip hop styles, and even folk or acoustic-based music that needs 'warming up'. Where it doesn't work well is when a mix is already quite compressed, dull or heavy in the low frequencies - in these cases the tape only tends to exaggerate these areas.