Unlike my usual threads expounding the virtues of reel to reel machines or posting a short clip of a song, this time, I'm going to post a little tribute to what is equally important: the tape you use.
Of course, Maxell was the top of the line as far as I was concerned. Maxell discontinued production of them at the end of 2002. Fortunately they put out plenty of warning, so I bought a major stockpile of them to last me for many years.
There were three grades:
UD (Ultra Dynamic)
This was the standard grade, most widely used version. Low noise, high output. This is a "can't go wrong" tape.
Then there was high grade, XLI.
This was the best stuff ever made. It had a better low end than the UD. Plus, it is "back coated" with a thin layer of carbon which ensures smooth winding, no static buildup and thus, no dropouts.
This stuff is very highly sought after and a new roll on Ebay will now fetch twice the original retail selling price.
Finally, there was XLII "EE" tape.
This is a special formulation. Only a few machines were ever set up to use it. Its silence and dynamic range is unsurpassed. Not surpisingly, this stuff is now very, VERY hard to come by. And when found, it is very expensive as it was when sold new.
And here is a standard Maxell nrand reel, which was standard in every roll of tape sold between 1975-2002, except for the XLII formula, which featured its own modified version, with the "XLII-EE" logo painted on the reel in place of one of the traditional "M's".
Although the recent Maxell tapes were nice, the packaging left something to be desired. Here is are a couple of earlier versions, which featured beautiful packaging as well as high performance tape:
An earlier UD
And the stunning black and gold UD-XL, which was the predecessor to XLI:
Speaking of classy tapes, few tapes are or were as upscale as the long defunct Scotch Classic, which not only included a sharp looking reel, excellent quality tape, but also a protective sleeve and a faux-leather tape care box:
Maxell didn't have a monopoly on the market by any means. For years, stiff competition came from TDK.
TDK produced some very fine quality tapes. But I don't think they were as good as the Maxell's. But one line was definitely the most colorful. Check out this box of AUDUA
The TDK classic reels were pretty nice as well.
Later on, TDK revamped its product line. It's top of the line was the very fine quality G X tape
But the reel that came with the GX was the oddest looking reel I've ever seen.
Sony was also a player in the reel to reel game (is there any format, past or present where Sony didn't have a presence?).
Their flagship tape was the ULH (Ultra Low Noise High Output).
It sounds good. But unfortunately, Sony reel tapes have a reputation for being supersensitive to humidity and thus binder failure, which results in tapes making an irritating squealing as it plays, the tape pack shedding and clogging up your headstack, and finally the tape gradually melting together-rendering them unplayable.
One of the rarest tapes out there was by the famous name Denon. They only produced a couple of machines, and only, to my knowledge, one kind of tape, the DX-1101B
Today, the only quality tape left on the market is Quantegy. They were formerly known as Ampex. They have several grades of tape, most for use in studio applications. But for use in a home system, the 407 is about on par with the Maxell XLI.
I don't really care for the Quantegy reels. So what I like to do is buy a generic reel, such as this one, and fill it with Quantegy tape and use it in a tape care box.
[Edited 2004-11-21 04:37:01]