Horch House to develop world’s only current reel-to-reel tape deck

Could this be the most surprising development in hi-fi since Neil Young’s Pono Player? Except with one small difference: we’re talking analogue. Very analogue.

The analogue uprising

As audiophiles and music lovers around the world continue to debate whether hi-res digital actually makes an appreciable difference, one thing remains clear: the analogue resurgence is going from strength to strength. Vinyl sales are now growing faster than any other format and turntable sales shot through the roof in 2015, as more and more music lovers rediscover what a core of audiophiles never forgot: you just can’t top analogue sound quality.

Audiophiles, meanwhile, are going one better, knowing that when it comes to analogue, tape sounds even better than vinyl. Obviously we’re not talking about the cassette tapes of the eighties Walkman era, nor of those old 8-track bricks from the days of flares and swirly orange carpets. The audio grail in question is, of course, reel-to-reel tape.

‘PROJECT R2R’: reel-to-reel returns

Austria-based Horch House is excited to announce the initiation of ‘PROJECT R2R’: the development of the world’s only brand new reel-to-reel tape deck.

Launched in 2012, the Horch House brand has already developed an impressive reputation for capturing the magic of original analogue master tapes and delivering faithful (and fully licensed and approved) copies on reel-to-reel tape, vinyl records and in various digital formats. Now, the company is also turning its attention to bringing the once essential reel-toreel deck from its current vintage status back to centre stage – where it belongs. As is typical of Horch House, the company will be working closely with some of the industry’s foremost experts in order to deliver the most accomplished outcome possible.

In developing their much-admired processes for creating astoundingly high quality copies of original analogue master tapes, Horch House’s expert team of sound engineers undertook meticulous research and development, calling in input from some of the world’s leading specialists (think of folks whose client lists include Sir Paul McCartney, Sony and Abbey Road Studios and you get a sense of the level of know-how involved).

This same high level of input will be applied to PROJECT R2R. The aim? “To achieve the best sound quality, bar none,” says Horch House’s joint owner and project leader, Volker Lange, whose excitement about the project is palpable. “My passion for audiophile tape machines goes way, way back,” he explains. “This will be the realisation of a lifelong ambition. And it’s an absolute honour and privilege to be working with a team of this calibre”. In fact the team is already hard at work and hopes to be in a position to show a prototype of the new deck at Munich’s High-End Show this coming May.

Why now?

In 2013, The Absolute Sound shocked readers by concluding that a reel-to-reel deck absolutely crushed the highest-rated turntable-based system ever reviewed by the magazine. “I have never heard rock and roll reproduced more powerfully and realistically in my home or at a show in my entire life,” concluded reviewer Jonathan Valin. The deck in question was billed as ‘new’, but was in fact a highly modified TASCAM Pro deck.

Reel-to-reel tape recorders and players have been around for a long time, with the earliest models emerging in the late 1800s. Their popularity surged in the 1940s and 1950s, when the process of manufacturing magnetic tape was more or less perfected; from then until fairly recently in the history of audio recording, they were the music industry standard for making master recordings. From the 1950s until as late as the early 1980s, reel-to-reel tape decks were a big part, if not the centrepiece, of most home entertainment setups. But then the 1980s saw a rapid advancement in portable tape recording and playing, as well the advent of digital recording and playback, and so the reel-to-reel deck became a ‘vintage’ item, much like the humble vinyl record.

Fast forward to 2016 and there is currently no company in the world that manufactures reelto-reel decks, whether consumer or studio machines. Meanwhile, the resale market of vintage machines is seeing strong and steady growth. Why? Quite simply because the sound quality is as good as it gets. Better than vinyl and far better than anything that digital technology can produce.

There is also a small but equally growing handful of audio companies who are currently working to reissue original analogue recordings on reel to-reel tape, among which Horch House is a leading light.

“Our current catalogue is just the beginning,” says music producer Thilo Berg, joint owner of Horch House alongside Lange. “I’m keen to speak to any and every music publisher in the business with a view to delivering the widest possible portfolio of high quality analogue master tape copies to as many people as we can”.

Seems we had better get our hands on a new tape deck…

foto: Paul Downey/Flickr/CC BY 2.0