Reel-to-reel audio tape recording
Reel-to-reel audio tape recording, also called open-reel recording, is the form of magnetic tape audio recording in which the recording medium is held on a reel that is not permanently mounted in an enclosed cassette. In use, the supply reel (feed reel) containing the tape is placed on a spindle or hub; the end of the tape is manually pulled out of the reel, threaded through mechanical guides and a tape head assembly, and attached by friction to the hub of the second, initially empty takeup reel.
Reel-to-reel systems use tape that is 1⁄4, 1⁄2, 1, or 2 inches (6.35, 12.70, 25.40, or 50.80 mm) wide, which normally moves at 3 3⁄4, 7 1⁄2, 15 or 30 inches per second (9.5, 19.1, 38.1 or 76.2 cm/s). All standard tape speeds are derived as a binary submultiple of 30 inches per second. The tape in a compact cassette is 0.15 inches (3.8 mm) wide and normally moves at 1 7⁄8 inches per second (4.8 cm/s). By writing the same audio signal across more tape, reel-to-reel systems give much greater fidelity, at the cost of much larger tapes. In spite of the larger tapes, less convenience, and generally more expensive media, reel-to-reel systems, which first started in the early 1940s, remained popular in audiophile settings into the 1980s, and have reestablished a specialist niche in the 21st century.
Reel-to-reel tape was used in early tape drives for data storage on mainframe computers and in video tape recorders (VTRs). Magnetic tape was also used to record data signals for instrumentation purposes, beginning with the hydrogen bomb tests of the early 1950s. Studer, Stellavox, Tascam, and Denon still produced reel to reel tape recorders in the 1990s, but as of 2017, only Mechlabor continues to manufacture analog reel-to-reel recorders. Currently (2020), there are two companies that manufacture magnetic recording tape: ATR Services of York, Pennsylvania, and Recording the Masters in Avranches, France.