2 inch multitrack reel-to-reel

16-track and 24-track two inch multitrack audio tape transfer
gold-coloured metal audio mastering tape reel, labelled 3M 996, containing 2 inch dark brown tape

2" audio tape on 11.5" diameter spool

introduction to 2 inch multitrack audio tape transfer

At Greatbear, we carefully restore and digitise 16-track and 24-track recordings on 2" open reel audio tape.

We offer a range of delivery formats for our audio transfers. Following International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives TC-04 guidelines, we deliver 24-bit / 96 kHz high resolution Broadcast WAV files, together with MP3 audio file or audio CD listening versions. We're happy to create any other digital audio files, according to your needs. We can also digitise to 24-bit / 192 kHz, if required.

We can provide the appropriately-sized USB delivery media for your files, or use media supplied by you, or deliver your files online. Files delivered on hard drive can be for any operating system - MacOS, Windows or GNU/Linux and filesystems (HFS+, NTFS or EXT3).

2" reel-to-reel tapes vary widely in duration and in the extent of physical tape degradation, so we always assess tapes before confirming the price of a transfer.

We offer free assessments - please contact us to discuss your project.

For an introduction to our assessment and treatment processes, please see our guide to "what happens to your audio tape".

2 inch multitrack reel-to-reel machines

At the Greatbear studio, we are able to make high-quality transfers of 24-track and 16-track recordings, made at speeds of 15 inches per second (ips) or 30 ips, using our Otari MTR90 Mk III multitrack tape recorder.

2 inch multitrack format variation

track formattape speedreel sizereel hub typenoise reductionsupported
16-track1510 ½NABno noise reduction✓*
1510 ½NABDolby A✓*
1510 ½NABDolby SR
3010 ½NABno noise reduction✓*
3010 ½NABDolby A✓*
3010 ½NABDolby SR
24-track1510 ½NABno noise reduction
1510 ½NABDolby A
1510 ½NABDolby SR
3010 ½NABno noise reduction
3010 ½NABDolby A
3010 ½NABDolby SR

Scroll to the right to view full table on smaller screens.

Section of large gold-coloured tape reel with shiny brown 2 inch tape with black back coating

2" audio tape close-up, showing black back coating on spool

chunky 2 inch tape reels spinning on flat surface of washing-machine-sized tape machine, with multiple orange-lit VU meters

Otari MTR-90III Multichannel Tape Recorder

Large gold-coloured spool with 2 inch brown magnetic tape and rulers indicating dimensions

2" tape on 11.5" diameter spool with NAB hub

2 inch multitrack tape risks & vulnerabilities

16 and 24-track 2 inch reels very commonly suffer from binder hydrolysis because Ampex was the predominant manufacturer of this tape, even though non-Ampex brands tend to become sticky too. They therefore need to be treated by gentle baking in our customised incubator prior to transfer.

2 inch tape is heavy with a large surface area and therefore there is greater risk of friction as it moves through the tape transport. Due to the massive strength of the motors on large format multitrack machines, which move tape at great speeds, 2 inch tape needs to be wound in an even, controlled manner.

Problems with tape pack deformation due to age, poor winding or other stresses are exacerbated in 2 inch context, because the size of the tape and the speed of the transfer can result in severe damage to the tape and motor winders.

Problems can also arise with the back coating which was often added to professional-quality magnetic tape to help provide a more uniform tape pack wind, as it helps reduce tape friction and distortion when the tape moves through the playback mechanism.

Another significant problem common to the transfer of all magnetic tape is machine obsolescence. 2 inch large format multitrack tape machines were used almost exclusively in a professional context which means they are rarer than the ubiquitous ¼ inch domestic tapes machines, and often heavily-used. Head wear issues and a lack of spare parts is also a pressing long-term concern. On the plus side, as they were machines used in the professional recording industry they were built to be serviced and maintained. Later model Otari machines (the model we use to transfer your tape) remain robust, and with regular servicing continue to function well.

2 inch multitrack recording history

The history of large format professional multitrack analogue recording and late 20th century popular music go hand in hand. Key albums, such as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, pushed the boundaries of 4-track multitrack recording, and placed studio experimentation at the heart of musical creativity.

Until the development of Ampex’s prototype 16-track recorder in 1967, which used 2” tape, multitrack tape capabilities were limited by what could fit onto a 1” tape. 16-track recording studios boomed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, followed by the introduction of 24-track studios. Plans to develop 3” tape, which would have potentially extended multi-track capabilities further, were devised but never implemented – if they had been they would have been monstrous tapes and machines, given how heavy and big 2” tapes are!

Large format multitrack recording persisted in the recording industry until the 1990s, when it was gradually phased out in the wake of digital tape machines and file-based digital recording technology. People still record to analogue tape today, of course, but it is gradually getting more and more expensive, given the cost of the tape itself and the limited number of studios with working multitrack analogue machines.