Tape Grade / Performance Level
Reel to Reel Warehouse created a new tape classification system to help users compare tapes within their historical performance levels for better matching with their equipment. See more information on performance levels here.
1-Standard and Early High Output Tapes
2A-Low Noise / Low Output
3-Low Noise / High Output
4-High Output / High Bias +3
5-High Output / High Bias +6
6-High Output / High Bias +9
8-EE Extra Efficiency
Reel to Reel Tapes were produced with 5 different base materials:
- Paper – the Earliest tapes had a paper backing with an equivalent thickness of 1.5mil, providing the SP (Standard Play) length. If properly stored, these tapes will play on current reel to reel machines.
- Acetate – Cellulose Acetape was first used in the 1930s in Germany as a tape backing. Mass production of audio tape for both professional and consumer use in the US started in the late 1940s and continued through the early 1970s. Although much weaker than Polyester tapes and subject to environmental changes, Acetate continued to be used for a long time due to its lower cost, and the fact that when the tape breaks is doe snot stretch. Professionals preferred this quality for a long time because any tape breakage could be fixed without damage to the recorded material – an important quality.
- PVC – Tapes made of PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) were mass produced by BASF and Scotch for a relatively short time.
- Polyester (Mylar) – Polyester tapes were introduced in the mid 1950s with two major advantages: The tapes were much stronger, and the backing was not as affected by environmental changes. 65 years later, the this has been shown to be true, as many of the tapes made have shown little degradation, and can be used today. The only disadvantage of Polyester – when compared with acetate – is that the tapes can stretch under rough handing, and this ruins the recording. Professionals moved to Polyester as the tapes got stronger and professional equipment improved tape handling, so stretching was no longer an issue.
- Polyester back coated – Tapes with a carbon back coating were introduced in the late 1960s. Advantages of back coating included lower winding tension, improved wow and flutter, and better winding properties. Unfortunately many – but not all – of the formulations with back coating are problematic.
Reel to Reel Warehouse offers tapes in both refurbished and used conditions. Here are the types:
Refurbished – These are tapes we have put through our refurbishment process, and we offer a 90 day replacement guarantee.
Used – These are tapes that are sold “as-is” for collector or testing purposes. We do not guarantee them. They can be Acetate tapes in good condition, or formulations with known potential problems.
Type / Formulation
This is the manufacturer’s model or formulation code that (in most cases) can be used to describe the tape formulation. Some companies changed formulations under the same type number, and in those cases we have to develop some other method of differentiating the tapes, like reel design or color.
Reel to Reel warehouse covers the most popular reel sizes, from 5″ to 10.5″. Two reel sizes, 5-3/4 in and 8-1/4″ were never commercially sold in North America, but were popular in Europe. Since we source our tapes globally, we offer all of these sizes for sale on this website.
For every tape formula, there were normally a variety of lengths produced based on reel size. On this website we focus on the 5 most popular reel sizes:
|Reel Size||5″ (13 cm)||5-3/4″ (15 cm)||7″ (18 cm)||8-1/4″ (22 cm)||10 1/2″ (26.5 cm)|
|SP Standard Play||600 ft (180m)||900 ft (275m)||1200 ft (360m)||1800 ft (550m)||2400 ft (720m)|
|LP Long Play||900 ft (275m)||1200 ft (360m)||1800 ft (550m)||2400 ft (720m)||3600 ft (1100m)|
|DP Double Play||1200 ft (360m)||1800 ft (550m)||2400 ft (720m)||3600 ft (1100m)||4800 ft (1440m)|
|TP Triple Play||1800 ft (550m)||2400 ft (720m)||3600 ft (1100m)||4800 ft (1440m)||7200 ft (2200m)|
Reel to Reel tapes came in a variety of thicknesses. They are classified below in their types. In reality. the thicknesses varied slightly from brand to brand within the category depending on the tape formulation.
SP – The earliest tapes used a 1.5 mil backing in either paper or acetate and later PVC or Polyester (mylar). These tapes are referred to as SP or Standard Play ON a standard 7″ reel, that translates to 1200 feet or 360m of tape. This is the standard thickness used for professional recording, due to the higher stress the tapes would see in use.
LP – In the 1950s manufacturers learned how to make Acetate tapes with a 1.0 mil backing, and together with a thinner coating of oxide, get 50% more length on a reel 550m or 1800 ft. on a standard 7″ reel. Polyester tapes were made with this thickness and later this became thr most popular tape type for consumer use.
DP – In the 1950s “Double Play” tapes were made with a 0.5 mil backing and the standard oxide coating of the LP tapes. They were also popular, but the thin tapes were often problematic as they could stretch and crumble easily. Some manufacturers used a 0.75 mil backing and a thinner oxide coating like BASF, AGFA and MAXELL, to improve on tape reliability. Use with caution.
TP – Triple play tapes used the thin 0.5 mil backing of the DP tapes with a much thinner oxide coating. These tapes were optimized for slower speeds and normally had a lower output – sometimes up to 9 dB lower than standard tapes. They were used to make long play party or mix tapes that could play unattended for many hours. The best TP tape made by far is the Maxell UD. Use with caution.
Reel to Reel tape production was concentrated in only a few countries. The United States, Germany, England, and Japan were the main producers, with some plants in Italy, France and the UK. Understanding where they were made – and which plants the tape comes from – can give clues to the technology used to produce the tape and the ability for it to be used.
When the tapes were also provides clues on the tape’s quality and longevity. Some of the tape formulations, like the Scotch 111, were in continuous production for 25 years. Many improvements were made during those years, so if possible, it is best to source from the later production. You can tell the production dates from the packaging design.