Getting real with vintage reel-to-reel tape recorders

Vintage reel-to-reel tape recorders and players
Reel-to-reel tape recorders hit the commercial market in the 1940s — and their evolution was boosted by the financial support of none other than Bing Crosby, who saw great potential in the technology. Here’s a look back at how the industry really got going, plus see some of the top vintage reel-to-reel tape recorders available from the ’50s through the ’70s.

Bing Crosby and his early Ampex tape recorders

Magnetic tape recorder born 25 years ago (from 1969)

The tape recorder resisted practical application until the development of electronic circuitry in the 1930s.

During World War II, German firms advanced the concept, and introduced a number of engineering models employing plastic tapes coated with oxide particles. These early devices, called Magnetopohons, were used by the German government for wartime propaganda broadcasts.

Just after [WWII], several Magnetophons were brought to the United States by returning military personnel and exhibited to gatherings of engineers. At such a meeting in 1946, Alexander Poniatoff saw the Magnetophon for the first time.

While others in the industry scoffed at this relatively primitive magnetic recorder as an impractical novelty, Poniatoff saw in it a potential product worthy of his technical team. Ampex set about improving the concept exemplified by the Magnetophon, and in 1947, produced a recorder which demonstrated the practicality of magnetic recording.

The Ampex Model 200 was the first professional-quality magnetic recorder to be offered commercially. It was immediately adopted by the radio broadcasting industry as a basic tool for producton and time-delay of network broadcasts in 1948 and by the music business for mastering high fidelity records.

Close up photo of old reel to reel tape player

A key figure in launching the Model 200 was Bing Crosby. At the peak of his radio popularity in 1947, Bing wished to record his weekly network shows, which the pressure of live broadcasting inhibited.

He turned first to electrical transcriptions, but the sound quality was noticeably impaired by this process, and the problems of editing and producing the show using discs were formidable. Hearing of the magnetophon, Bing arranged to test it in the production of a show. The results were so encouraging that he sought to make tape recording his standard means of production.

This led him to Ampex, from which he purchased not only the first Model 200, but the first 20.

From this point, the Crosby show was taped at a relaxed pace, easily edited down to a half-hour format and broadcast with sound quality indistinguishable from a live program.

MORE
Retro baby car seats from the '60s, '70s & '80s: Forward- & rear-facing vintage auto safety seats for kids

For several years Bing Crosby Enterprises was the exclusive distributor {or Ampex products, selling hundreds of recorders to radio stations and master recording studios. in the years since the historic Model 200 appeared, magnetic recording has taken its place alongside the printed page as a basic means by which man captures, stores, organizes and retrieves information about himself and his environment,

For those under 30, a world without magnetic recording is difficult to visualize, so basic has it become in modern life.

Descendants of the Model 200 play vital roles in man’s exploration of space, in data processing and record keeping, in research, education, communications and the enjoyment of our leisure time.

In 1969, total sales of magnetic recording equipment and tape and other recording media throughout the non-communist world will be well over $3,000,000,000, according to William E. Roberts, Ampex president and chief executive officer.

Today, the firm does a multimillion-dollar business in computer tape transports, audio recorder reproducers for broadcasting, magnetic tape, video broadcast and closed-circuit videotape recorders, receivers and systems instrumentation recorders and systems for laboratory and mobile use, and video file information systems.


Vintage Wollensak Stereophonic reel-to-reel tape recorders (1964)

Wollensak means precision in sound! Just touch a button, sit back, relax.

Let the magnificent Wollensak Stereophonic bathe you in sound, rich, and full-bodied as only stereo tape can bring it to you. Listen to the sound of the world’s greatest voices, triumphal orchestras captured precisely by the exclusive Wollensak “Balanced-Tone.”

Vintage Wollensak Tape Recorder 1964


Andy Thomas finds 8 daily uses for his new RCA Victor Tape Recorder (1957)

“It’s great!” says Andy Thomas, referring to his new RCA Victor Congressional tape recorder.

“Frankly, I bought it just for office use. But soon I was taking it home — to parties — everywhere. Push-buttons make it a cinch to operate. And thanks to “Golden Throat” tone, the playbacks really sound professional. You also get two speeds: one is best for voice-one for music. But don’t take my word. Today, ask your RCA Victor dealer to show you the Congressional (model 7TR2) in tan simulated leather. If you prefer Hi-Fi, there are 2 beautiful models from $199.95.

1957 RCA Victor tape recorder


General Electric family reel-to-reel tape recorders (1965)

It’s a new idea. It’s a portable tape recorder designed by General Electric for the whole family to use.

MORE
Jell-O Rainbow poke cake recipe (1982)

Use it to record baby’s first words. Birthday and party time fun. Dad can test out a speech. record a lecture. Teen-agers can tape jazz. Mother can tape a voice-letter to send to her son in the Service.

It’s easy to operate. Just press the button to record, rewind, play back or stop. It’s rugged. Plays back words and music with a clear, true sound on 1/2-hour reels. (General Electric is first to design Ultra-Balance into an inexpensive tape recorder. This engineering breakthrough installs a precision-balanced flywheel into the recorder’s capstan drive to give you the constant tape speed so important for faithful fidelity.)

It’s portable. Goes anywhere. Works on 4 standard flashlight batteries. Operates in any position. Special Safety Brake prevents tape from ever spilling off reels. (That’s G-E engineering again.)

The price is family-budget size. under $40. See it at your dealer’s. Try it. If you have a family camera. you should also have a new General Electric Family Tape Recorder.

General Electric family reel-to-reel tape recorders (1965)


Concord 4-track tape players (1960s)

Concord 4-track tape players - 60s


Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorders/tape players (1966)

More style, more features than any other recorder in its price class. The construction is typically Wollensak: rugged, reliable, absolutely top quality in both design and materials.

Never before has a budget priced tape recorder contained such a luxurious array of features, plus the superb new Control Central that contains a sound studio of highly versatile advantages in a hand span. Price: $149.95*

5150 ADVANCED FEATURES: Four speeds • Solid-state circuitry • Vertical and horizontal operation • Power activated push buttons • Self-contained reel locks • VU meter • External circuit breaker • Instant pause control • Four digit tape counter • Automatic shut-off • Self-adjusting braking system • Automatic tape lifters • Automatic head demagnetization • Monitor facility • Complete with protective cover lid, one microphone, one 7″ reel of blank tape, one self-threading take-up reel.

MORE
Schoolhouse Rock: A Noun Is a Person, Place or Thing (1973)

Wollensak tape players - tape recorders 1966


Vintage Sony reel-to-reel tape recorders(1970)

No matter how elaborate your home stereo sound system is, it’s incomplete without a tape deck. And Sony/Superscope brings you the most complete line of stereo tape decks in the world.

Decks that fit all pocketbooks. that suit particular systems. that meet specific needs. And every Sony/Superscope deck — regardless of price — is the finest money can buy. Each instrument is flawlessly crafted. with rigorous testing at every step of construction. Then each instrument undergoes a complete series of quality-assurance tests — performed by skilled technicians at one of the most modern and sophisticated tape-recorder test facilities in the world. So you may be sure that the Sony/Superscope product you purchase will give you years of trouble-free service.

The Sony/Superscope deck that’s exactly right for you is at your dealer’s now.

Sony reel to reel tape recorders 1970


Wollensak full stereo tape recorder (1964)


RCA Victor solid state reel-to-reel vintage tape recorders

Now RCA, the company that makes tape recorders for Gemini, offers 9 tape recorders you can buy


Woolensak Twin-Wing stereo tape recorder (1966)

Wollensak 5750 Twin-Wing Stereo Tape Recorder. Speakers swing out for play, fold when not in use. Easily detachable for strategic placement on wall, or table, in bookcase. Vertical or horizontal operation. Attractively woven speaker facings. The Wall Stereo Model 5800. The new Compact Stereo Model 5730. The new cordless Cartridge Portable Model 4100. 3M Co.

Woolensak Twin-Wing stereo tape recorder (1966)


Sony solid-state stereo reel-to-reel tape recorders (1967)

Now, from World-famous Sony, the perfect playmate for your record player — the new Sony model 250A solid-state stereo tape recorder.

With a simple, instant connection to your record player, you add the amazing versatility of four-track stereo recording and playback to complete your home entertainment center. Create your own tapes from AM, PM or FM Stereo receivers, or live from microphones-up to 6-1/4 hours of listening pleasure on one tape!

This beautiful instrument is handsomely mounted in a low-profile walnut cabinet, complete with built-in stereo recording amplifiers and playback pre-amps, dual V.U. meters, automatic sentinel switch and all the other superb features you can always expect with a Sony. All the best from Sony for less than $149.50.

Sony model 250A solid-state stereo tape recorder

Send this to a friend