Analogue Recorders - Functioning modalities

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Professional analogue recorders have 3 heads, one for reproduction, one for recording, and one for deleting. The latter is necessary since recording on a ribbon which has already been recorded could create a memory effect and prevent the new magnetization to take place properly.

So, these are the three heads and their functions:

Erase head (delete)

deletes a recorded signal and rearranges the magnetic particles randomly.

Sync head (recording)

acts in record mode on certain tracks and playback mode on others. This, as we shall see, allows overdubbing to take place.

Repro head (reproduction)

it is designed 'ad hoc' for the reproduction of signals. During recording listening should take place through the sync head, whereas to control the sound quality of the recording during the reproduction phase we'd use the repro head.

There are three functioning modes for the recorder, depending on the operations we need to carry out. Let's take a detailed look at them:

Input mode

This mode is used during the preliminary phases of recording, when levels are being set. In the diagram we can see how the input signal enters the sync head (and can therefore be recorded, even if at this stage this will not occur because it is not yet possible to listen to what has actually been recorded onto the ribbon) and a how a copy of the signal is sent to the output to be monitored.

Analogue recorders - Input mode

Input mode

Playback mode

This mode is used in the reproduction phase. We can see how the output signal comes directly from the repro head and is therefore reproduced with a very high quality. This configuration is ideal for the mixdown (mixing) whereas it is never used for recording. In the diagram we can see how the input signal reaches the recording heads anyhow, allowing this operation to take place. However, phase displacement between the recording head and the reproduction head thwarts real time reproduction of the recorded signal.

Analogue recorders - Playback mode

Playback mode

Sync mode

In this case only the sync head is used (which as we recall, is able to reproduce some tracks and record others at the same time). This allows overdubbing to take place [Recording ] .

Analogue recorders - Sync mode

Sync mode

Table 6.1. Rolling speed of magnetic ribbons 

Ribbon speed (ips, inches per second)Usage
17/8Cassette recorders. The worst analogue support available
33/4Portable studio recorders
71/2Semi-professional analogue recorders
15Professional 2-track recorders/ Semi-professional 24-track recorders
30Professional 24-track recorders

Table 6.2. Analogue recorders 

Width (in inches)ApplicationsTracksDirectionsUsage
1/8"

Cassette recorders
Portable studios

4
4 -8

2
1

Amateur
Demo

1/4"

ATR
ATR
MTR

4
2
4 - 8

2
1
1

Amateur
Semi-pro
Amateur

1/2''

ATR
MTR

2
8 - 16

1
1

Pro ATR
Semi-pro

1"

MTR
MTR
MTR

8
16
24

1
1
1

Pro
Semi-pro
Semi-pro

2"

MTR
MTR
MTR

16
24
32

1
1
1

Maximum quality
Standard industry MTR
Pro MTR

ATR (Analogue ribbon recorder): identifying an analogue two-track recorder

MTR (Multitrack recorder): identifying a multi-track analogue recorder