State of the Ark

September 15, 2010

Despite all the stuff I’ve managed to dispose of in the last few years I’ve still kept three Reel to Reel tape recorders…even though one of them (an Akai 4000DB) doesn’t work. I thought that perhaps I ought to have another try at repairing it. In theory it shouldn’t have failed as it is the newest (from circa 1977), least used and most expensive (dolby noise reduction and stereo) tape recorder I’ve ever owned. Amazingly, updated versions of this machine were still available until as recently as 1984. The early 1960s Cossor machine in its cream “suitcase” case (which may even be valve-powered as it takes so long to “warm up” !!) still never misses a beat. It has that wonderful “warm” sound which you don’t seem to get any more. Perhaps something to do with the sheer weight of the chassis or its limited frequency response ?? But it doesn’t appear to have any meaningful way of me connecting it to an amp or speakers let alone my computer. So transferring old recordings to mp3 is left to my (t)rusty Philips 4302. But this small tape recorder, although reliable is merely a 2 track machine that won’t accept reels bigger than 5 3/4″ in size. Hence my need to restore the Akai 4000DB to health. I’ve a stack of 4 track 7″ reels I’d like to play for one final time just to see what treasure/rubbish they contain….

So I was pleasantly surprised to find someone selling not just the appropriate replacement belts but also detailed instructions on how to fit them. Once the mechanics are removed from the cabinet It’s not all that easy to even see the drive belt let alone remove and replace it. I won’t mention how I put it all back together and then found a ball bearing on my tool tray…assumed the worst….thought I’d missed refitting a ball bearing on the end of the flywheel….took the whole thing apart again…. found that I had refitted the ball bearing after all…and had to put it back together once more. Such fun. Anyway the important thing is that the Akai now plays tapes once more. I quite enjoy the sensation of threading a tape around the head and onto a spool. But it’s difficult fast-forwarding to find anything in particular. You just have to let the tapes play through in real time. Hard to imagine that once upon a time this equipment was state-of-the-art. Now it’s state-of-the-Ark. But at least it was designed to be repairable. You couldn’t dismantle and repair an mp3 player…….

5 Responses to “State of the Ark”

  1. dirigibledave Says:

    Have you tried pressing both fast forward and play down to speed through the tapes?
    Worked on every r-to-r I ever had. Sometimes you needed to press both fully down, sometimes it’s a case of experimenting until you got the balance just right.
    Never liked it when both had to be fully down,in case it stretched the tape, but I didn’t find any evidence of it when I did.
    Worked on most cassette recorders also.
    Just remember to turn the volume down – that screech of recording at multi-speed is not good for the ears!

  2. Dave Roberts Says:

    Love all of this retro technology stuff. Reel to Reels are magic beasts and I always wanted to own one to be like my mates. We used to record our own radio shows playing at being disc jockeys and editing away all of the crap ( mostly crap ) for fun! Looking forward to hearing any gems that might be on your tapes. Could be rich pickings on your tapes or ….. not! Please share those that tickle your fancy. Agree with the wizzing through tapes method used above But I did ruin a few cassette tapes too. Aaargh!


  3. Trouble is, sorting through my old stuff is a full time job…and I already HAVE a full time job!!

  4. dirigibledave Says:

    yeah but, I’ll bet you know some of what you’ve got …

    like I know perfectly well that on my reel 3 I’ve got Peel sessions by Edgar Broughton Band, Third Ear Band, The Groundhogs, which luckily I’ve found since, but also “Thanks be” by Tapestry, who I’ve never heard of since and must see if there’s anything on the interweb, even though I’ll end up with a million knitting recipes looking. And ‘The entry of Christ into Liverpool’ by the Liverpool Scene with the very wonderful Adrian Henri who fell of stage the last time I saw him (in a great month where Rod Stewart and Roger Chapman did exactly the same in the same hall!)

    Oh yeah, and ‘Silence is requested’ by Welfare State and John Peel, which is astoundingly weird in a White Noise way, and from a very rare BBC album featuring a fine pair of bumper boots on the cover – something that Converse have never managed to reproduce properly BUT SHOULD!

    And tape 4 has a Pink Floyd tv recording of ‘Moonhead’ with the spoken bit, from the Moon Landing night, an interview with Rick Wright, Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters (separately) from February 1968 for the school magazine, and the beautiful roughs of ‘The Narrow Way’ for the studio part of ‘Umma Gumma’, which Peel used to play on Night Ride.

    er .. I’ll shut up, with a whenever you get around to it I’ll bet there’s some treasures on there and hopefully you’ll rant just as much. Enjoy.


  5. Of course I know what SHOULD be on the tapes. The problem is my younger brother used some of them once I had left home. I played one last night. After 2 minutes of RNI from 1970 an audio recording of BBC1TV “Match of the Day” from 1975 filled the rest of side one!! Side two was more interesting with Kenny Everett introducing “Abbey Road” to the world by playing the thing in its entirety. I wonder how many 1000s of people recorded that at the time to save on the cost of the LP.


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