The Tape Project: Reel-to-Reel Audiophile Albums
By James Grahame
The Tape Project was founded to bring "master tape sound" into the living room. Each release is recorded onto 1/4" half track analog reel-to-reel tape at 15 inches per second. They claim, "You just aren't going to get any closer to the original master, short of buying a record label or two."
The current catalog consists of 10 hand-picked albums, including Sonny Rollins' seminal Saxophone Colossus (1956), Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby (1961), along The Robert Cray Band and Malcolm Arnold conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. There's even a brand new album by Jacqui Naylor that was mastered exclusively for The Tape Project.
The process starts by creating a 1" duplication master from the original analog master tape, which is then dubbed to a bank of finely tweaked Ampex ATR-100 decks. The result is the highest-quality "home format" analog copy possible.
The Tape Project is the brainchild of Dan Schmalle, who is also the driving force behind Bottlehead Corp, who manufacture a range of well respected tube amplifiers and modifies tape decks with the CCIR/IEC1 playback equalization required to play these tapes.
I'll let them explain: "We ended up choosing the Technics RS-1500 as our starting point. They are attractive looking machines, they offer the versatility of both 1/4 track and 1/2 track playback heads and three tape speeds, and most importantly they have what we feel is a superior tape transport path, the isolated loop. The RS1500 uses a servo reel control system combined with dual pinch rollers on a single capstan to maintain constant tension on the tape. This results in very stable, low flutter playback.
The one possible shortcoming of the RS 1500 is its lack of IEC playback equalization. In actual practice this is not such a big issue, because the quality of the playback electronics in all of these late 20th century prosumer grade machines is dismal. The only way to get the full benefit of the sonic quality of Tape Project Tapes is to use better outboard playback (repro) electronics anyway."
The project gurus suggest twinning your modified RS-1500 tape deck with the $4000 Bottlehead Repro tape preamplifier, along with whatever high-end audiophile amplifier and speakers you have lurking in your mansion's listening room. A charter subscription includes all 10 albums from the 2007 catalog and retails for $2000, including shipping within the USA and Canada. They also offer a Selective Subscription that allows you to choose any six of the ten titles for $1200.
There's no word on the titles lined up for the 2008 catalog, since the team is still working hard to fulfill their current order backlog.
Bottlehead S.E.X. Amplifier - Get Your Tubes Glowing [possibly nsfw]