¼ inch reel-to-reel

All speeds and track formats of 1/4 inch reel-to-reel audio tape restored, transferred, digitised
Clear plastic 7 inch reel containing quarter inch brown magnetic audio tape. In the centre of the reel is gold Grundig trefoil label.

¼" audio tape on 7" diameter Grundig spool with cine hub

introduction to ¼ inch audio tape transfer

Quarter inch reel-to-reel (aka open reel) analogue audio tape was one of the most widespread audio tape formats of the 20th century, and is still used by specialist recordists.

At Greatbear, we regularly and carefully restore and digitise all variations of quarter inch audio tape.

We clean and restore tapes by hand, and use high-specification Sony, Studer and Tascam playback machines, to provide high-quality transfer services for projects ranging from single tapes to many hundreds of reels.

This page gives details of our transfer services for stereo / mono recordings on ¼ inch tape. For our multitrack services, please follow this link: ¼ inch multitrack reel-to-reel →

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).

¼" 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".


¼ inch reel-to-reel machines

A high-quality reel-to-reel transfer starts with the best possible analogue playback machine: clean, demagnetised and calibrated. We use Studer A80 RC, Sony APR 5003 and Tascam BR20 machines for ¼ inch reel-to-reel transfers. All our machines are kept in excellent working condition and regularly calibrated. We own test tapes, tension gauges and test equipment so calibration and repair are easier to achieve.

Tapes are recorded via Benchmark ADC1 or Lavry AD10 external high resolution converters to RME HDSP audio interfaces into one of our MacOS, Windows or Linux based audio servers.  At this stage any other editing or digital processing for restoration of tape content can be performed if necessary.

  • 3 x Sony APR 5003 with a JRF Magnetic Sciences modified head assembly for 4 track and 2 track stereo tapes.
  • 2 x Studer A80 RC with a JRF Magnetic Sciences modified head assembly with DIN (butterfly) and NAB repro heads also drilled for easy azimuth adjustment.
  • 2 x Tascam BR20 stereo decks
  • Studer A80 R customised with no fixed heads or guides for winding and cleaning of fragile tapes.

We have the correct repro heads and machines for the following ¼ inch formats:

We can transfer tapes recorded at the following speeds:

  • 1516 inches per second (ips) a.k.a. 2.38 centimetres per second (cm/s)
  • 1⅞ ips (1.875 ips; 4.76 cm/s)
  • 3 ¾ ips (3.75 ips; 9.53 cm/s)
  • 7 ½ ips (7.5 ips; 19.05 cm/s)
  • 15 ips (38.1 cm/s)
  • 30 ips (76.2 cm/s)

We can decode the following types of noise reduction:

  • Dolby SR
  • Dolby A
  • Dolby B
  • Dolby C
  • dbx Type I and II
  • Telcom C4

We can handle tape on NAB and AEG / DIN hubs, as well as the common ciné (aka trident) hubs.

¼ inch reel-to-reel tape formats

tape speed in inches per second (ips)1516
1 ⅞
3 ¾7 ½1530
full track mono
twin track mono
quarter track mono
twin track stereo
quarter track stereo
Dolby A
Dolby B
Dolby C
Dolby SR
dbx Type I
dbx Type II
Telcom C4
cine hub
NAB hub
AEG hub
3, 5, 7 inch
10 ½ inch reels
12 ½ inch reels

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

Reel-to-reel rape machine with tape spinning and play button lit up

One of our beautiful Studer A80 RC machines with JRF Magnetic Sciences modified head assembly

Reel-to-reel tape recorder with multiple gauges and switches and 2 large aluminium spools of tape spinning

Sony APR 5003 with JRF Magnetic Sciences modified head assembly, in action at Greatbear

clear plastic 7 inch reel containing quarter inch brown magnetic audio tape with rulers indicating dimensions

¼" audio tape on 7" diameter spool. Other common spool sizes are 3", 5" and 10.5"

¼ inch reel-to-reel tape risks & vulnerabilities

We often receive reels in a poor condition with a variety of physical problems with a variety of causes:

  • uneven wind tension or poor tape pack
  • poor storage, leading to mould growth
  • age and tape chemistry, leading to loss of lubricant, ‘sticky shed syndrome‘ or broken, dried out splices
  • poor handling or damage such as twisted, broken, crinkled or stretched tape and sometimes bags of tape unwound!

These types of problems and more must be addressed before a tape can be satisfactorily transferred. For an overview of our processes, see 'what happens to your audio tape?'

¼ inch reel-to-reel recording history

The reel-to-reel format was used in the very earliest tape recorders, including the pioneering German Magnetophon tape recorder machines of the 1930s. Originally, this format had no name, since all forms of magnetic tape recorder used it. The name arose only with the need to distinguish it from the several kinds of tape cartridges or cassettes which were introduced in the early 1960s.

Inexpensive reel-to-reel tape recorders were widely used for voice recording in the home and in schools before the Philips compact cassette, introduced in 1963, gradually took over. Cassettes eventually displaced reel-to-reel recorders for consumer use.

High-speed reel-to-reel tape recorders rapidly became the main recording format used by audiophiles and professional recording studios until the late 1980s when digital audio recording techniques began to allow the use of other types of media (such as Digital Audio Tape (DAT) cassettes and hard disks).

Many recording artists still use reel-to-reel tape because of its ‘warmer’ sound compared to digital formats.