What Reel to Reel Tape Should I Use?

If you ask someone on what the best tape to buy is, you will get a lot of different answers. The real answer is…it depends. This section will try to explain!

If you are a professional or using equipment meant for professionals, your machine was set up for a certain tape type, and your will want to stick to that type (or as close to it) as possible. Most professional machines do not have a bias or EQ adjust, and if you choose the wrong tape the sound will suffer…not because the tape is bad. It’s just not calibrated to that tape. The newer pro machines are also designed to handle the high output the new tapes can provide. VERY IMPORTANT –  if your machine is set up for the newer high bias and high output tapes, older formulations will sound dull and lack high frequencies.

If you are a consumer or hobbyist, there are many more considerations. Your machine was calibrated for the tapes available at the time your machine was produced, and will likely make the most accurate recordings with the tapes released at the time. Newer tapes have a higher bias requirement and a much higher output capabilities, capabilities that go beyond what most of the older consumer machines are capable of using. If you ask a professional, they will probably suggest one of the newer high output tapes they are used to working with. These newer tapes might not be the best choice for older machines that were not designed for their capabilities. New tapes are also relatively expensive and might not be worth it for non critical applications. Also, the newer tapes might accentuate the higher frequencies as well. Many of the later machines have a tape selector, making it possible to use some of the newer tapes, and if you are lucky you have a manual bias adjust that gives you even more flexibility to use a wider range of tapes new and old. Also, refurbished tapes are significantly less expensive than new ones.

If you are recording non-critical source material (records, other tapes, FM broadcasts), consider some of the lower cost type 1 or type 2 tapes with your older machines.

If you have an older machine without a tape selector, consider trying the type 1 or type 2 tapes. The later higher output tapes (like the TDK SD or Maxell UD) can also work, and they will accentuate the high frequencies in your recording, and might play back louder. Depending on the source material, you might want this effect.

If you have an newer machine with a tape selector or bias adjust, you get the best of both worlds. Consider using the higher quality tapes for your top source material, and the older tapes for non-critical material. For example, my TASCAM 3030 with the bias adjust knob turned all the way to negative allows me to make great recordings with older tapes like the Scotch 150, Ampex 341 or BASF LP35.

If you are recording live music, copying master tapes, or using the tapes for mastering purposes, consider buying new tape, which is available today from Capture, ATR Magnetics, and Recording the Masters. At this time we do not carry new tapes, but hope to in the future. We also offer high quality mastering tape from the last batches of BASF and EMTEC on our site – the other brands are unfortunately not usable.

The bottom line is that you should choose your tapes based on your application!

Reel to Reel Warehouse House Favorites

Type 1 (Standard) – These are the best formulations that have stood the test of time and can be used safely today. 

Ampex 341/541/641

Audiotape 1271, 1861 High Performance Tapes, Capitol Sound Tape

Scotch 102, 150, 215

Basf Standard

Type 2 (Low Noise)

Scotch 203, 212

Audiotape 1277, 1871 Low Noise

Type 3 (Low Noise / High Output)

Scotch 206/207

Maxell UD


AMPEX 632, 642


AGFA PE 46/66 or PE 39/49

Type 4 (Low Noise / High Output +3)

Maxell UDXL / XLI


AGFA PEM 268, 368 or PEM 469


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