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Identifying BASF Reel to Reel Tape Types

Identifying BASF Reel to Reel Tapes

When you see BASF tapes for sales on Ebay or from private parties, most of the time they come in gray or black plastic boxes, and you can’t tell from the package what tape you are getting. The good news is that all of their tapes are identified with a code printed on the green outer leader tape. There are huge differences in quality between them, so you have to be careful with what you are buying! In general, all BASF tapes give good performance today except for the Studio Series / LH Super / Ferro LH, which should be avoided.

The length / thickness of the tape is in the number portion of the code for all BASF tapes.

52 – SP (Standard Play), 52 micron (1.5 mil)

35 – LP (Long Play), 35 micron (1.0 mil) – BASF LP tapes we made with the same oxide coating as the SP tapes.

26 – DP (Double Play), 26 micron (0.75 mil) – Unlike US made DP tapes, BASF used a combination of a slightly thicker polyester (0.75 micron) and a slightly thinner oxide coating optimized for 3-3/4 ips, which made this tape type more popular in Germany than in the US. In the US the SP oxide coating was placed on an ultra-thin 0.5 mil backing, which made DP tapes more difficult to use because they were so thin, and they consequently got a negative reputation.

18 – TP (Triple Play), 18 micron (0.5 mil)

Early gray BASF plastic hinged boxes with the “Gothic” lettering

LGS 52, LGS 35, LGS 26 – Olive green leader – Older type 1 tapes with a PVC backing, similar to Scotch 150 or Ampex 341 / 541, or Agfa PE31. Use with older decks or newer decks with a standard tape setting. BASF brough out their classic three small window reel with this packaging, made of clear plastic,  with the red BASF logo label affixed to the center of the reel.

SP52, LP35, DP26, TP18 – Olive green leader – These tapes had a formulation similar to LGS on a polyester backing.  These tapes perform similar to LGS, and are often confused for the later, and much higher performance LH Series. They are not the same and are not worth the extra money.

BASF Reel to Reel Tape Olive Green Leader Examples

Later gray BASF plastic hinged boxes with modern lettering

SP52, LP35, DP26, TP18 – Olive green leader – same tapes as above, in the mid 70s this changed to a darker green leader tape. You can tell the older formulation from the newer one as it is not as polished and more orange in color when compared with the LH Series.

SP52 LH, LP35 LH, DP26 LH, TP18 LH – Olive green leader and later, dark green leader – This series of Low Noise (Type 2) reel to reel tapes were manufactured from 1969 to 1986. This is the formulation that made BASF’s reputation worldwide as a top reel to reel tape producer. This tape is known for its excellent quality, with flat frequency response and excellent stability and tape to head contact, with excellent performance at 3-3/4ips (particularly the DP version). Advanced R&D made sure this tape would last a long time, even when stored in adverse conditions. Today, it might shed more that other tapes of this vintage, but our testing has confirmed that the super flat and linear frequency response has held up.

Regardless of the tape type, all BASF tapes of this vintage has the same BASF clear plastic reel.

When buying sealed NOS tapes make sure to look for the LH logo on the plastic, otherwise you might be paying full price for the older standard tape formulation. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!

BASF Reel to Reel Tape Olive Green Leader Examples

Black BASF plastic boxes with grey translucent hinges

In the late 1980s BASF tapes were renamed for the US market, although the same tapes were available overseas with the standard BASF codes. For a number of years, they were supplied with anew single thread reel design. Later, the reels were changed to the classic BASF three window reel in translucent gray plastic.

Performance Series – SP52 LH, LP35 LH, DP26 LH, TP18 LH – The newer generation LH Series with the same formulation.

Studio Series – SP52 LH SUPER, LP35 LH SUPER, DP26 LH SUPER – A higher performance type 3 (low noise / high output) tape that unfortunately is known for squealing (SBS). Avoid.

Ferro LH SeriesSP52 Ferro LH, LP35 Ferro LH, DP26 Ferro LH – A later generation with of the LH Super tapes, that not only exhibit squealing (SBS) but sudden binder failure as well (SBF). These are rarely found in the US but were popular in the 1980s in Germany and Europe. Only found with the gray three window reel.

The TP 18 Ferro LH was just the older TP 18 LH in the red package.

Professional Series (LPR and DPR)LPR 35 FE SUPER LH and DPR 26 FE SUPER LH – BASF’s famous back-coated +3 (type 4) tape was one of the world’s best of that type with excellent winding properties. Found with both the single thread and gray three window reel. Tapes labeled Professional Series are thin on the ground in the USA.

Later, these three tapes were only available in cardboard boxes with the formulas clearly marked on them. The LH series simply became the LP 35 and DP 26 tapes, and these can be confused with the earlier (type 1) LP 35 and DP26 tapes from the late 1960s and early 70s.

We offer the full range of BASF tapes refurbished in our store.

How to Identify Tape Types?

What is a Low Noise tape? Is it just a marketing term? What does High Output mean? What about High Bias? Its confusing for newcomers…and even for those with experience! We developed a new classification system to help people understand how to use their tapes by breaking them up into a category system with 8 tape types. We recommend that you use the tapes that your machine was biased for when it was made, unless you have it calibrated to the newer formulations.

High Bias formulations will playback louder and have accentuated high frequencies when recorded on older machines set up for the older tapes. Older standard bias tapes will sound dull and lifeless when used on machines set up for newer tapes, unless the machine has a tape selector.

  • Type 1 – Standard Tapes – These are the formulations that started it all. Most tapes sold through the 1950, 1960s and even through the 1970s are standard tapes. Classic types are Scotch 111, 102, 140 Series, 150 and 215, BASF LGS or LP35, or Ampex 341/541/641. In the early years most formulations were similar brown oxides. Most non-branded red/brown oxide tapes from this period are standard tapes.
  • Type 2 – Low Noise – The first Low Noise tape was released by 3M in the early 1960s in the gray oxide 201/202/203 Series and later copied by Ampex and Audiotape. Low Noise really meant something – the formula provided 3-4 dB better dynamic range due to a lower noise floor. At the time, low noise was *not* a marketing term, it was a real difference in formulation.
  • Type 2A Low Noise / Low Output – These are low output formulations for DP and TP tapes that used a thinner coating to get more tape on a reel. Output can be up to 9 dB lower than standard tapes. These include the Scotch 290 (and the improved 214), BASF TP, and Ampex 661.
  • Type 3 – Low Noise / High Output – Higher output tapes started coming on the scene in the late 1960s, that added the higher output in addition to the lower noise, for an additional 3-4 dB dynamic range. The Scotch 207 is a great example of this. Tapes from Japan like the TDK SD and Maxell UD also has a higher bias requirement, and they sounded brighter on the older machines – which is why people liked them!
  • Type 4 – +3 High Output / High Bias tapes were released in the late 1970s, like Maxell’s UDXL, Fuji’s FB or the Ampex 406, or the Agfa/BASF 468 Series. These work well with the newer machines
  • Type 5 – +6 High Output tapes like the Ampex 456, Basf 911 or Scotch 250 / 226 for professional use are for decks that can handle the output and are biased specifically for them.
  • Type 6 – +9 High Output tapes like the Ampex 499, 3m 996 / GP9, and the new ATR tape.
  • Type 7 – Ferrichrome, sold by Sony for a while in the mid-late 1970s / early 1980s.
  • Type 8 – EE, Extra Efficiency, based on the “Chrome” cassette formulations released in the 1980s to compete with cassettes. Not compatible with machines that lack the tape selector for this tape type.

Read more about these formulations on our Tape Grades and Performance Page.

Reel to Reel Tape Preservation Research

As part of my own fundamental research undertaken to launch Reel to Reel Warehouse, I stumbled upon this excellent research paper by By Mike Casey, Associate Director for Recording Services at Archives of Traditional Music / Indiana University. This is a 70 page document with a ton of great information on identifying tapes for archiving and preservation purposes. I suggest you download it and keep it as a reference guide.

Among the many points made in the paper, it is clear that preservationists do not see long term issues with most reel to reel media (at least the good stock) as long as it is kept in the proper environments. It’s one more reason to be confident that you can use old tapes for your own applications without fear they will self destruct or ruin your machine – as long as it is the right formulation!

Another well known paper used for further technical analysis of tape degradation is from Richard Hess – here is describes many of the terms used in this website:

New Ampex / Irish / Quantegy Tape Listing

In addition to the experience we gained from working with Reel to Reel tapes for nearly 50 years, we did extensive research on all of the brands and tape formulations to figure out what was out there – not only in terms of the information shared on the forums and by various organizations – but from doing our own tests on tapes found in the thousands we have procured.

The biggest knowledge gap was found in the public information available on the Ampex tapes, so we decided to revise the list for public use, based on our experience. There were many formulations missing, and we took a stab at identifying all the types of tape sold under the Shamrock brand. Please download the new listing below:

New Ampex, Irish and Quantegy Tape Listing 9/2020

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