Here’s the summary on Teac and Tascam reel to reel tape decks, based on servicing these decks for the last 40+ years. To start with, Wikipedia has a good summary of the origins of Teac and Tascam. This writeup will concentrate on Teac, the consumer/stereo division, and Tascam, the recording studio/Pro audio division of reel to reels.
and a secondary write-up, with additional information:
(for the record, I have never seen a Teac TD-102)
The earliest Teac deck I’ve seen is a 7” stereo tube Concertone made by Teac, and then when Teac became popular in the US in the late 1960s, I’ve serviced a ton of the 4010/6010/7010 models and beyond.
Teac was an early adopter of the three motor transport design, meaning that the reel motors were direct drive (with a couple of exceptions), and the transports were therefore relatively simple and reliable. The capstan motor drive, by and large, was belt drive, again, with a few exceptions.
Teac – Consumer division
It’s a tough call on who sold the most consumer tape decks, Sony, Akai or Teac, as I see about equal amounts of them in for service and for sale. Generally speaking, with the exception of some of the early decks, Teacs have withstood the test of time, and have some common, easily repaired faults covered in the ‘pros and cons’ section below.
As technology progressed, a number of the higher end Teac decks had built in dbx noise reduction, which improved the signal to noise ratio by about 30-35db. This is a big improvement over the 10db provided by a Dolby B noise reduction system. The only catch is that if you record a tape encoded with dbx, then you need to play it back with a dbx decoder. The dbx noise reduction system is based on a compression/expansion principle, and the tapes will sound awful if played back without the proper decoding.
Teac made both single direction and auto reverse reel to reels, the auto reverse function using the standard foil strips at each end of the tape to trigger the reverse function. A number of decks provided a dual direction playback, while only recording in the forward direction. This reduced the tape head count from 6 to 4, resulting in significant cost savings.
From the links above, the last consumer reel to reel machine that Teac made was the X2000 in 1983. That deck came in single and dual direction models, and was available in silver and black. Substantially less models were made in ½ track high speed mode, similar to a Revox B77, called the X2000M. The X2000 had built in dbx noise reduction, and are a good sounding and collectible machine. From what I gather online, the X2000 was made until about 1986 or so.
Apparently there were two versions of the X2000, the one with the standard Teac steel heads, and a different version with the longer life ferrite heads.
Tascam is the pro/music division of Teac, and while several models were branded under both the Teac and Tascam name, Tascam did a big push towards recording studios, both small and large. They were very successful in making multitrack machines up to 1” 16 track models. Many smaller studios that couldn’t afford 2” machines would use these Tascam multitracks extensively, with excellent results.
I believe that Tascam was first to market with the A-3340 ¼” 4 track multitracking 10” machine, and many were sold starting around 1972. The previous links show an earlier Teac 4 track machine, but not many were sold. Our high school purchased one in 1976, and us high school students bashed it around without it ever failing. In 1975, Tascam brought out the 80-8, a ½” 8 track model, which was also very popular with small studios. The slight downside of both models is that they used an AC synchronous motor that could not be pitch controlled, so sales drooped a bit when Otari and Fostex introduced decks that offered pitch control available. Teac did come out with a DC motor retrofit for the 80-8, which consisted of changing the AC motor out to a DC one, and snaking a wire out the back to a small power supply/pitch control box. While some were sold, Tascam quickly brought out the 3440 and the Model 38. These units were the 4 and 8 channel improved versions of the older multitracks, that had pitch control built right into the decks.
Tascam quickly expanded into many different multitrack models, right up to 1” 16 track, in ‘portable’ (insert roll eyes here) and console/rolllaround models. Many of these were studio standards for years, and many hit records and demos were recorded on them. As the competition grew between manufacturers, Tascam did cut some corners. When you consider that the original 80-8 8 track weighed close to 90 lbs, whereas the later model 38 only weighed about 55 lbs, there’s a lot of metal that was replaced with plastic, including things like the head cover and front panels. For the most part, this didn’t affect the reliability of these decks overall, however the flip-up plastic head cover on various models broke easily, and are now missing on decks available for resale.
The last Tascam machine manufactured was the 2 channel BR-20T, which was made right to 2004. It was a silent, bulletproof machine, with a retail price of $4,000.
Teac/Tascam Pros and Cons…
While there are certain problems found only in Tascam machines, the strengths and weak points generally are the same between the two company divisions, so we’re only making one list.
Overall, the Teac and Tascam machines have held up very well over time, and are a great value and purchase nowadays. As with any tape deck, the head condition is paramount, and since almost all models had steel heads, they did wear, especially on the pro decks that were used on a daily basis. The ferrite heads used in some of the X2000 models showed wear a lot less slowly, and are a more desirable version for this reason.
Amazingly, Teac/Tascam does still support and supply parts for reel to reel decks. While some parts (certain head types) are now discontinued and out of stock, you can still buy many parts from Teac. This is obviously a big plus over other manufacturers.
While the frequency response isn’t exactly flat out of any Teac or Tascam machine (many have a 3db bump in the bass response around 40-80Hz, which is typical of many Japanese brands of decks), this provides a bit of a punch, making bass drums sound bigger than they really are. Some of the Tascam decks have an internal trimpot to compensate for this slight bass boost, resulting in a flatter frequency response.
Generally speaking, Teac/Tascam machines are reliable, with some of the common problems listed in the ‘cons’ section below. Assuming that the heads are in good shape, and a competent tech has serviced the machine, Teacs and Tascams are a good bet for a long term purchase. With many machines having been sold, good used replacement parts aren’t hard to find, (aside from things like the fragile head covers), and while expensive, JRF Magnetics in New Jersey can supply new heads.
Each tape deck manufacturer has their flaws, and here are some of the common problems with Teac and Tascam machines.
Rubber belts and pinch rollers. While only some of the very early Teac machines used idler wheels, the rubber belts are known to disintegrate and go ‘gooey’, turning the rubber belt into a semi liquid mess. Get that stuff on your fingers, and it will be there for three days, no matter how hard you scrub. Luckily most belts are relatively easy to change, either by taking off the front cover, or popping the back off.
Bad belts and pinch rollers are such a common problem with Teacs that we automatically change the belt before even powering up a deck, and here’s why:
Bad motors. The DC motors that were used in many Teac and Tascam decks are relatively fragile. If you are unfortunate enough to have a gooey belt wrap itself around the motor pulley and seize the motor, the motor will burn out within 10 seconds or so of being stalled. Usually these motors are not repairable, but good used replacements are available on eBay, generally between $150—200 USD.
Bad solder joints. This is a problem found more on Tascam home studio decks, specifically the 32, 34, and 38, but also can crop up on the higher end 4X and 5X models. Tascam used the common ‘wave soldering’ method, where components and connectors are soldered into place by putting the PC boards into a solder bath, which solders many joints at the same time. While literally all modern electronics uses this production technique, the problem is that the large motherboards used in the Tascam decks bend and flex due to heat buildup, and over time, solder joints will crack and cause intermittent audio. Usually it’s the solder connections between the top and bottom of the boards that go bad, and can be repaired, although there’s typically 100-200 joints that need resoldering for the deck to become reliable.
Seized lithium grease. This is super common throughout many Teac and Tascam models, especially on decks that have sat in a closet for 20 years. The white lithium grease that lubricates the transport hardens and dries up. This is most common on the pinch roller sleeve bearing, causing the pinch roller not to touch the capstan, and either causing a super fast ‘play’ mode, as the reel motor whips the tape through the machine, or no play at all, if the take-up reel is full. Fortunately the fix is relatively simple, and is outlined elsewhere on the site here.
Bad relays. Again, more of an issue with Tascam decks, there are somewhere between 1 and 3 relays per channel on the pro decks, which switch the play and record heads in and out of the circuits, etc. Over time, these relay contacts become intermittent, and tapping of the audio board(s) can bring the audio back. Due to the nature of the relay contacts, the relays cannot be sprayed with the DeOxit cleaner, and they need to be replaced for reliable operation. (Note that the identical intermittent audio issues can also be caused by the bad motherboard solder joints as well). While some of these relays have been discontinued, careful internet searches can find suitable replacements.
Reel tables. We’ve seen a few machines come in where the metal casting of the reel table holders to the motor shaft crack and fall apart. While this isn’t common, a Tascam TSR-8 ½” deck had this casting fall apart while the deck was in full speed rewind mode, shooting the tape across the shop. Replacing these is an easy task, but they are sometimes hard to find online.
Noisy transistors. Again, not commonplace, but we’ve had some of the ‘corroded lead’ problems in the preamp transistors on some Teac models (notably the 3340) causing distorted, noisy and intermittent operation.
Bad function switches. This affects only the 7” X series of Teac. The X-3, X-7, etc. We’ve seen the switch contacts burn out that turn the AC motors on and off, resulting typically in no ‘play’ function, or an intermittent play function. Replacement switch banks are available on eBay, however swapping them out is challenging, as a good part of the deck has to come apart to access them.