Blank tapes: Not usually the topic of an article in a high-end audio journal! But Greg Beron, he of United Home Audio fame, with its treasure trove of RTR tape recorders, knows whereof he speaks. He has lots of experience with tapes, and here shares a few comments about two tapes that are currently available. For those of us with RTR machines, his thoughts will be of real interest.
For more, read on…
A portrait of Greg Beron: The LA Audio Show 2017 (photograph by David W. Robinson)
Don Morris with RMGI-USA.com, the importer of SM900 tape, supplied me a quick reference of artists who’ve used The SM900 tape over the past few years. How about these apples? The list includes Jack White, Neil Young, Jackson Brown, John Mayer, Diana Krall, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Greg Allman, Elton John, both Marsalis brothers, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, BB King, and Prince.
Now that I have your attention….
The music world may be sizable but I think all would agree that high-end audio is a small world—some would also say it’s a fanatical world?! How about an obsessive-compulsive, opinionated, tyrannical, boiling swirling vortex of absolutes that varies WILDLY based on the person you are talking to at the time?
Yep, I figured you would agree.
So, if high end audio is a small world you can imagine how small the analog tape world is. Most people in the tape world have age-old beliefs, and aren’t about to start changing now in their more advanced years. So when I thought about doing a review on blank recording tape I knew that there was no upside in comparing the two companies making reel to reel blank tape in the world today.
Yes there are only two companies engaged in that venture at this time. However the categorically good news is there are great sources for blank tape at this time, and it is readily available! Yeah!
For many years I was always a Quantegy guy. Whether it was the 499 or the GP9, I figured the Quantegy tape ruled. As I said previously, why on earth would one change beliefs? Well, lo and behold, Quantegy shut their doors, and bam—that changed everything. I still remember calling every Guitar Center in the USA and buying their entire inventories of whatever 499 and GP9 tape they had. I stockpiled hundreds of blank tapes and that lasted me for a few years, but soon panic settled in and I realized the jig was up.
What to do now?
Well tape fans, I started experimenting with lots of blank tape: NOS stuff, as well as newly manufactured tapes. I even bought used Quantegy off of EBay. But still… To make a long story short, Don Morris with RMGI-USA sent me some SM900 to try out. To my ear, in direct comparison to the various tapes that I had on hand—from new to NOS—the SM900 had something fresh that I could get my ears around. I haven’t looked back since.
The newly manufactured tape world only has two players, and rather than compare these two in some kind of head-to-head smash up, where one wins and one loses, I am going to focus on a comparison of my beloved Quantegy tape and the new “Record The Masters SM900 Tape.”
What had been RMGI the company went through some ownership changes lately, but that’s a separate story. (For details, check out the company link at the bottom of this article.) The new name of the RMGI (or EMTEC) SM-900 tapes being produced today is “Record The Masters, SM900.” The tape is now produced in France and is readily available. Heck, I ordered two cases on Monday and I had them in hand Wednesday! Cool.
Probably at this point you are saying, “That’s all great, but tell us which tape is better. And most importantly, why?”
So let’s compare the top of the line Quantegy GP9 vs. SM-900 very briefly. Cutting to the chase:
In comparison, both tapes are compatible in frequency response and sensitivity, so no real gripe either way here.
However the GP9 is higher in distortion at output levels <10dB.
GP9 has steeper increase of distortion with output levels >12dB.
GP9 has much more complex dependency of distortion on, output level, bias and wavelength.
(Graphs and charts are immediately below to support these conclusions).
Now if you want it in layman’s terms, the SM900 just seems to get out of the way of the music better and allows the music to be captured in a more simple or pure way. (Perhaps this is the result of less distortion?) Bass is very articulate and fleshed out, the midrange is very three-dimensional, and the highs seem limitless. One can push this tape as well, and even at higher recording levels the tape holds its composure to produce some great dynamic swings.
I have SM900 tapes that are probably 11 or 12 years old, and have been shipped all over the country many, many, times, in the worst summer heat and in the worst winters. I mean, they were sitting in a super hot truck going from Washington DC to the Newport CA audio show, back and forth over the years numerous times, and they are all perfectly A-OK to this day. That’s resilient, I would say! I have also recorded and re-recorded some tapes many times, and have not noted anything unfortunate resulting from it at all.
Since the high end audio world is re-discovering analog tape it’s great that we have a source for tape—but not just any source, a damn fine one in the SM900! Those of you who have a RTR recorder, or who are thinking about making that investment, can set your mind at ease about having access to quality RTR tape at the present: this is it!
For more information, check out www.rmgi-usa.com