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The Traveling Tapes Project

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Are you having fun being an audiophile?

The question should have a straightforward “yes” answer. But it doesn’t, always, does it? Why would you not have a great time with this hobby? I’ll submit that — maybe, at least for some — it’s because of our obsession with equipment, tweaks, cables and the latest recommended component, any or all of which make that two-year-old acquisition look hopelessly obsolete.

Me? I am an audiophile of the old school, I like big expensive gear. I have fun going to audio shows and talking about those tiny little details that made a “significant difference” in my system’s performance. That’s fun. But like many (most?) of you, it was music that got me into all this, and at least for me, it’s my collection of old pressings that is the crown jewel of my system.

As a matter of fact, I have a great time being an audiophile because I enjoy my system, it makes me want to listen, and so I do, to hours of great music, every day that I can manage it.

The hobby has also made me many friends, especially from forums around the globe. With most of them, we have never met but we keep track in the various threads. Which brings me to the traveling tapes.

The idea originally started on tapeheads.net, but it was picked up by Rob over at one of my favorite forums, Vinyl Engine. Why not use our turntables to record a few tracks on tape and pass the same tapes from one member to the other around the globe?

Say wha–? Tapes?!?

Well yes, in case you missed it, cassette tapes have a certain following too, and I’m a sucker for things like this. There was a tiny little problem though; my tape deck has been gathering dust for ages. As a teenager, I must have recorded a gazillion tapes and then when I did the radio show, we used tapes for commercials. But this was way way back, and since then, my deck ended up in the summer-house along with other memorabilia of the era. Happily, this “problem” was easily solved, and after calling a few friends from the local audio-video forum, a couple of tape decks materialized inside my living room.

Technics RS-M240X Cassette DeckI first opted for the TEAC V-1030, which was the best choice on spec as it was a three-header. The rest of the system included my Garrard 401, the Kuzma Stogi tonearm fitted with the ZYX 1000 airy 3-X low output MC cartridge and the ASR Basis exclusive phono stage. A killer combo by all standards, almost an overkill for nailing just a few tracks.

But (there is always a but) the TEAC was also sitting unused for quite some time and when we listened to the results they had audible wow and flutter. So a second tape recorder, a rather pedestrian Technics M240X came to the rescue. Can’t say that I am satisfied by the end result, as this is not what I would call a high fidelity, but you know what? It was oh so much fun! Adjusting recording levels, channel matching and listening to the hiss and noise of a newly recorded tape was … priceless.

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The tapes went from Greece to the Netherlands and then all the way down to Australia with Asia patiently waiting its turn. Each of us is contributing three “significant tracks of our years”. My choices, since I was the only participant from Greece, came from the local repertoire. “Dynata”, a major blockbuster from singer Eleftheria Arvanitaki composed by Ara Dinkjian back in 1995; the concerto from Chatzidaki’s Gioconda’s Smile, a record produced by Quincy Jones, which captures the quintessence of the local music; and for last, a dance (Tsamikos) from classic composer Nikolaos Skalkotas, a pupil of Kurt Weil and Arnold Schoenberg. Other members from Vinyl Engine threw in pieces from JJ Cale, Fleetwood Mac, Blondie and listening to their selections brought back memories of tape swapping from the late 80s.

Sound quality is not excellent, especially by today’s standards, but does it matter? No — in fact, it was so much fun, I will be taking part next year too.

What about you? Are you having fun playing around with your gear, or has your quest for perfection stolen away the magic and joy? For me, with those old tape decks, I got to remember the times when my interconnects were not all that important; when having fan was.

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About Panagiotis Karavitis (180 Articles)

Doctor and Editor @ Part-Time Audiophile
Publisher @ Audiohub.gr

5 Comments on The Traveling Tapes Project

  1. Marco van Schoonhoven // July 28, 2015 at 1:02 PM //

    Pan, perfectly written down…
    Reading your writing here I can only conclude that me also having great fun in being a audiophile.

    This was my 2nd round with the traveling tapes, and there are more to come…

  2. For those interested in participating the tape project is still running with the tapes currently being in Australia. Check the Vinyl Engine forum thread http://www.vinylengine.com/turntable_forum/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=72713

  3. Another priceless reason to subscribe to this great website! You won’t soon see such a novel idea published elsewhere.

    I need to get a cassette deck and add my name to this list. My last cassette deck was a JVC 3-head w/continuously adjustable bias, a princely $650 MSRP in the late 80s. The 3/4″ thick MDF “Anti-Resonance” base increased mass to exceed the average high end deck.

    First track I record would be the original “Moon River” by author Henry Mancini, his chorus, and orchestra.

    Someone must still make high end cassette decks, possibly for the occasional studio or other professional use?

    A friend/retired sound engineer gave me the CD “Live In France” by pianist Ray Bryant, solo blues/jazz/swing/boogie. Overall sound quality is among the best solo piano I’ve heard; a superb balance of hammer strokes, foot pedal, sound board, pianist’s left foot tapping hard during the boogie tunes, and room atmosphere with intimate audience in Paris.

    My friend who gave me the CD said the master was a cassette, likely a Nagra pro deck. Listening to it, you’d never suspect a cassette master. Some music program is slow with sustained notes, brutal for revealing wow and flutter, which I can not detect if it’s there.

    Unfortunately, in my studio travels I had no experience w/Nagra cassette deck, but wish I did. The only upside is I suspect one brief experience with a Nagra deck would permanently ruin you for lesser performance.

  4. Gojakla // July 15, 2015 at 9:11 AM //

    This is the true essence of the hobby.

  5. I have to confess I lived through the 80s and the nostalgia listening to glass head and multi head decks, dolby A,B,C whatever. Also managed to spend too much money on HiFi in the process.

    The problem is there are different kinds of Audiophiles albeit with common features which means being an Audiophile means different things to different people.

    I personally think there are Three main groups (or those with a mix of these attributes)

    1. Those who enjoy their music so much so that they go for one that sounds best to them – even if knowingly or not, their preferred equipment adds a layer of sheen over the music

    2. Those who go for super hi-end stuff that are very expensive and looks the part – they might assume the sound is equally hi-end, accurate and faithful to the original

    3. Those who buy equipment knowing exactly what they are getting and able to critically evaluate and contrast the performance

    To add to the confusion, physics dictate that not all equipment (especially speakers) will work well in all domestic environments due to size and acoustic properties.

    It is like any other industry, market dictates that manufacturers are not always clear about what they are selling, reviews can be biased and unverified, the audiophile jargon can be overwhelming to most so it is easy for people to end up unsatisfied after spending a huge amount of money on HiFi,

    We need good, honest advice yet that can be very difficult to find. Those who give good advice are easily pushed aside by commercial interests. Its confusing times, I just hope we will have genuine a hi-end audio industry in 20/30 years time.

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