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.