Here are a few notes showing how we overhaul a typical reel-to-reel tape recorder, and how the pricing of a reel-to-reel deck can vary from under $100 to over $5000.
A typical reel-to-reel that hasn’t been service in 20+ years will develop numerous problems, even if stored in the original box and packing material and put into the back of a closet. We have found that a typical deck like this that hasn’t been turned on in a long time will require 2-4 hours of labor to bring the deck back to life, not including the cost of parts. We buy many decks through other stereo stores that take trade-ins, from collectors that buy estate pieces, and from people that contact us through our website here, via Craigslist, eBay or Facebook, etc. More often than not, the comment from the seller is “the deck is in mint condition”. All you need to do is look at the electronics section of Craigslist to read similar pitches time and time again, but when you ask when the last time the equipment was serviced, the seller either can’t tell you, or will respond “well, it worked fine when I stored it 15 years ago”.
What we do here to every deck that comes in for service or as a potential sales unit is:
- Clean all switches and controls with DeOxIt cleaner.
- Carefully check all belts, pulleys and the pinch rollers for hardening, stretching, gooiness and overall wear, and replace as required. Unless we know that the deck has recently been serviced, we usually replace the main capstan belt before even powering up the belt, as a gooey belt can instantly wrap itself around the capstan motor, and destroy the motor within seconds.
- Check FF and REW for proper torque and speed, right to the end of the tape in both directions.
- Check takeup and supply reel tensions, especially on decks that are known to drift.
- Check for head wear even before taking frequency response measurements.
- Check frequency response from the line input to the line outputs.
- Check frequency response and levels from a calibration tape in play mode on all speeds.
- Check frequency response and levels in record mode, and set bias, eq, and level trimpots.
- Test run the deck for a minimum of 24 hours to ensure longevity of the deck. You’d be surprised how often a deck develops a secondary problem a few hours after it appears to be in good shape.
Yes, you can find decks for sale in any number of places, and many clients bring us decks that were supposed to be in mint shape, but had problems a few reels of tape into use. Some of these decks need minor repairs or adjustments as indicated above, but sadly, some decks are beyond economical repair once some basic tests are done.
Things that add to the price of a reel-to-reel
You will find reel-to-reel pricing all over the map, from giveaway prices, to ‘over-retail-I-think-I can-get-this-for-a-deck’ price. With us, the pricing is consistent based on cosmetics, head condition, features and overall performance. What will add to the base price of a tape deck is:
- Original box.
- Original manual.
- Original takeup reel (can get up to $130 on ebay by itself!).
- Original NAB (10”) hubs can add up to $200 to a deck.
- Mint condition or new wood side panels on decks that come with them.
- Dust cover (not many were sold, an uncracked original can sell for $250 on eBay)
- Wired or wireless remote control (again, up to $250 on eBay).
- Auto reverse feature- can add up to $500 depending on the make and model.
- New old stock, meaning it’s a never used, 0 hour deck that has sat in the box for the last 30-40 years. These decks almost always need servicing, but the price goes up exponentially for a pristine unit.
Price Range of reel-to-reel decks
Much like a used car, a refurbished reel-to-reel tape deck will have a wide price range, starting at under $100, and going to $5000 and beyond. From a tech reseller like ourselves, you definitely get what you pay for. Ask yourself what you need the deck for. Is this a long term investment, as a showpiece item for a vintage stereo system, or do you simply need a deck to transfer a box of old reel-to-reel tapes to disc, in which case, you may not need a deck to last 10-15 years, and if the tapes were recorded on a mono tube machine, the best quality playback deck isn’t required to transfer these old tapes.
Rather than list every one of the 40-60 reel-to-reel decks that we typically have ready for sale, or are pending repairs or parts, we’ll list a few of the standard models that we get in on a regular basis, with a typical price that we’d sell the decks for. Pricing is in Canadian dollars, with a rough US dollar equivalent in brackets after the Canadian dollar amount (based on a USD to CDN exchange rate of 1.3, current for 2016-2017, the time of this writing).
Decks under $150 ($110USD)
For people that simply want to transfer a few reel-to-reel tapes to disc, a reel-to-reel deck in this price range will generally fill the need. We’ve also had musicians that want to experiment with tape loops or tape speeds purchase these lower end decks, as they specifically don’t want the best quality recordings, they want sound effects!
A deck under $150 will generally be a recorder made prior to 1973, and could be as early as 1965 or so. The most prevalent brands here in North America were Sony and Roberts/Akai, and some older Teac units. A lot of European brands (Grundig, Telefunken and Philips to name three) were also popular, but due to the mechanisms, many of these decks are written off by us, so it’s rare that we’d sell a European model at this point.
The more popular Japanese brands like Sony used a single motor for the whole mechanism, and failure of the motor, specifically with the Sony decks is relatively common at this point, and replacements are very difficult to find. If we find the motor to be strong with good torque, then we’ll sell one of these decks.
Also, decks from us in the $150 range are completely mechanical mechanisms, with no solenoid or logic controls over the transport.
Other less popular inexpensive decks had speakers built either into the tape recorders themselves, or had speakers in the lid that covered the tape deck, and some lesser known brands (Realistic, Toshiba, and Sanyo) actually made reliable transports, while the overall fidelity wasn’t stellar. Again, these are entry level decks at this point, designed for you to transfer tapes with, you generally won’t get 10 years of regular use out of these decks.
Once in a while we will get a deck in that works flawlessly from a mechanical and electronic point of view, but may be missing some cosmetic pieces (the correct knobs, or a missing head cover), or may have a wood/pressboard case in iffy condition (scratches, water damage, etc.). If you can handle an ugly ducking, and are only concerned about sound quality and reliability, you can get into a better deck in this manner.
Some typical decks would be:
- Entry level Akai models, such as the 4000 series
- Good working Roberts decks from the pre-Akai days
- Good working European decks such as Grundig, Telefunken, Philips, etc.
- Older Teac models such as the A-4010, A-1200, A-1250, etc
- Less popular RTR manufacturers, such as Sanyo, Toshiba, etc.
- Older (pre-1977) Realistic models
- All Sony single motor models, generally pre-1975
Decks from $150-300 ($110-225 USD)
In this price range, you’re getting into a more reliable and better sounding (better frequency response) deck, typically in the early to mid 1970s. Akai made the 4000 series, a typically bulletproof and good sounding deck, along with other Akai models in the mid 1970s. Sony had a few models that were more reliable three motor mechanisms (Sony TC-645, etc), and a bunch of Teac models that were all 3 motor units. Don’t forget that the Realistic TR-3000 was actually a Teac X3, with the same performance and quality, just a slightly different looking faceplate. The aforementioned decks are all 7” reel models. At the high end of this price range, you may also get into a 10” reel-to-reel, such as a Pioneer RT-1011 or similar, The Akai GX-600 or GX-630 are solid performers, as are some of the entry level 10” Teac models such as the A-3300 and similar.
Typical decks in this price range would include:
- 3 motor Sony decks (TC-645, etc)
- Many Akai 7” GX series decks from the mid-1970s
- Most 7” Teac models
- Entry level 10” machines, some scratch and dent models, such as Pioneer RT-1011
- Older Teac 10” machines (A-6010, etc)
Decks from $300-600 ($225-450USD)
In this price range, you’re getting into the top of the line 7” reel-to-reel machines, and either a really nice condition entry level 10” machine, or a higher end machine with a bit of head wear, or a deck with some cosmetic issues. 7” machines include:
- Akai GX-77 – 6 head, auto reverse, EE tape capable
- Akai GX-270- auto reverse
- Akai GX-265 auto reverse
- Akai GX-255 late model, auto reverse
- Pioneer RT-701- rack mount
- Pioneer RT-707- rack mount, auto reverse
- Teac X-7R- late model, auto reverse
- Teac X-700R- late model, auto reverse
- Teac A-2340 4 channel unit
- Tandberg 7” models- solenoid controlled
In the 10” reel types, you’d be looking at excellent condition entry level 10” models, such as:
- Akai GX-600
- Akai GX-630
- Other Akai single direction 10” machines
- Revox A77 series
- Mid-level Teac decks such as A-6300, etc
- Midrange 10” Sony decks, such as the TC-755, 756, 758, etc.
- Some semi-pro decks, such as early Teac A-3340 4 channel models
- Teac 32, 34, semi pro machines
- Scratch and dent higher end 10” decks such as the 4 channel Akai GX-630DSS
- Tandberg 10X
Decks from $600-1200 ($450-900USD)
Now you’re playing with fire! If you’re budgeting this amount on a RTR deck, you’re opting for high end, long term performance on every level. Now you’re into really nice 10” decks, including several semi-pro units, auto reverse, rack mount, etc. In this price range, typical examples of decks would be:
- Akai GX-635, GX-636
- Pioneer RT-901, RT-909
- Teac X-1000, X-2000
- Teac A-7300
- Revox B77, A700, PR-99, G36 tube deck
- Sony TC-765
- Tandberg 20
- Higher end semi pro machines, some 4 channel, Teac A-3440 and 34, for example
- 2 channel semi-pro machines, as the Otari MX-5050, Teac 32
Decks from $1200-2000 ($900-1400 USD)
Going higher in the food chain, now you’re into the top of the line consumer machines, and a whole bunch of semi pro and pro models. Decks in this price range from us will show minimal, if any head wear, the cosmetics will generally be excellent, and any decks listed here may have original boxes, owner’s manuals, remote controls , original NAB hubs, etc etc, which all add to the value of the selling price. Decks include:
- Akai GX747, 635, 636
- Revox B77, PR99, A700
- Pioneer RT-909
- Tandberg 20SE
- Revox G36 tube deck in mint condition
- Pro and semi pro decks, including ½” 8 track models such as the Teac 80-8, Model 38, Otari 5050, etc
- High end 4 channel decks such as the Teac model 44, A-3440, Otari 5050 4 channel versions
- Top of the line 2 channel pro decks such as the Tascam 42
- Technics 1500 and 1700 series
- Pro 2 channel decks like the MCI JH-110, Ampex 440, 350, etc
- Play only versions of certain pro decks such as Studer A810, A807, etc
Decks over $2000 ($1400 USD)
You have now entered the realm of studio decks and audiophile home decks, and there’s overlap here, as many high end audiophiles will use pro studio decks in their homes. Tape handling is generally better (lots of pro decks are used for archiving rare and old tapes that may break due to being brittle on lower end machines). Decks in this price range can go as high as $15K ($11K USD), depending on the machine, and the condition thereof. Some examples are:
- Studer A807, A810, B67
- High end 8 track ½” machines
- Multitrack studio recorders, ranging from 8 to 24 tracks, and from ½” to 2” tape
- High end Otari, Ampex, 3M and other units
- Rare tube machines, generally the likes of Revox, Ampex and others.
Note that the above lists and examples are by no means complete, they are just some guidelines on how we price decks. An AS-IS, un-serviced machine should be priced significantly less than what we have priced out here. We welcome repairs of decks purchased elsewhere, we’ll bring them back to as-new condition!
We generally have anywhere between 40-60 decks in stock, with usually about 20 or so ready for sale, the rest being in the queue, waiting to be serviced. Some of those will be scrapped if they aren’t worth repair. If you’re looking for a specific deck, and have a price in mind, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your specifics, and if we don’t have stock of what you’re looking for, we’ll hang onto your email, and will advise you when a deck comes in. Some of our offerings are always on eBay