Analogue tape recording lives another day

Foo Fighters frontman, Dave Grohl, created a documentary about his love for pre-digital recording back in 2013. The film, Sound City, explained how reel-to-reel analogue recording is far from dead in the music industry. But who is keeping this old vintage equipment alive? Here’s how EZO bearing supplier, SMB Bearings helped Soundlock Engineering to repair these much-loved vintage tape recorders.

According to analogue enthusiasts, analogue recording adds grit and distortion to tracks, providing a sound and recording experience that digital equipment cannot match. Digital music has a tendency to sound very clinical and while some producers try to emulate the analogue feel in post-production, it’s never quite the same.

Soundlock Engineering was formed in 2008 by Chris Roberts to service and refurbish sound equipment that the music industry is desperate to keep in working order. The company was recently challenged with refurbishing two Studer A800’s. These legendary tape machines were introduced in 1978 and have recorded classics from Metallica, Stevie Wonder and Tom Petty.

Upon investigation, it was clear the bearings needed replacing, despite only having completed 900 hours of recording. Considering some tape machines can manage 20,000 hours, it seemed the original bearings were not up to scratch. Bearings play a vital role in the rotation of the tape spools.

The Struder A800 is a piece of serious precision engineering. Roberts had to source high quality bearings and after a search online, he discovered SMB Bearings. The technical team recommended Japanese EZO thin section bearings to ensure unbeatably smooth rotation of the tape spools.

After refurbishment, Roberts performed a ‘wow flutter’ test on the equipment. This quantifies the amount of frequency wobble in audio tape machines caused by irregular tape motion. The measurement had to fall under the specification set by Studer at 0.04 per cent. The wow flutter measurement was well within acceptable levels, partially attributed to the quality bearings installed during the repair.

“It was a privilege to help Soundlock Engineering with their tape machine repairs,” explained Chris Johnson, managing director of SMB Bearings. “We often supply for many niche projects requiring small or miniature bearings thanks to our stock of 2.6 million bearings.”

Dave Grohl has the right idea — long live analogue tape recording. The industry doesn’t want to let go of old tape machines anytime soon but retaining their longevity depends on high quality, expertly engineered bearings.

For other businesses facing a similar need for flexible small or miniature bearing supply, contact [email protected].

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