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I want to use audio tape for creative resampling. I would like to record something to tape, and then play that tape back at various speeds (extreme speeds, like 8 times faster or slower) and record the output.

What sort of device, if any, might have this functionality? What terms should I be looking out for? I'm interested to learn about types of devices rather than specific products, unless there's one that's a sort of standard.

I'm loosely familiar with reel-to-reel machines but haven't used one and don't know what features they tend to offer, and I'm aware that cassette recorders are fairly common but I've not run into one with a usefully variable speed. I don't know if any other formats exist to investigate. I am specifically interested in a mechanical device (with all of its quirks, qualities, and problems) rather than a digital approximation.

  • You could look into professional video tape decks, such as D5 or HDCAM. For example Sony SRW-5100, which can shuttle HDCAM tapes at 50x speed with recognizable picture, but I'm not sure at what point the audio becomes muted. pro.sony.com/bbsc/ssr/cat-videorecorders/cat-rechdcamsr/… – Elliott B Dec 9 '13 at 1:54
  • Hey Bob, if you want to playback 8x faster, that's 8 octaves up, so 20K/8 = 2500 hz, that being the lowest frequency you can record for 8X playback. Many years ago I had access to a variable playback reel to reel but it could only do + and - 1 octave, or 1/2x to 2x. I think you need access to something in a special audio lab--check NASA! – filzilla Jan 21 '14 at 23:42
  • @filzilla That's really the core of my question, what sort of device would that be? Is a variable-speed reel-to-reel a thing that exists, or am I barking up the wrong tree? – Warrior Bob Jan 22 '14 at 15:24
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    I don't recall who made this unit, it was some 40 years ago that I used it. I bet it was a DIY thing. Would be great it you could hook up with an x-Ampex R&D Engineer like Rein Narma. – filzilla Jan 23 '14 at 18:14
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The more important question here is why are you not doing this is what ever software you are using?

But in response to the question at hand...

As for tape decks the older Tascam 8 track and 2 track machines (at least the ones I have) do have a speed control but it is in the form of a pitch + or - selector with no units. There is no direct indication of how much it speeds the deck up on playback. In terms of slower speed you can always put your finger on the reel to create drag and slow the deck down as much as you like. As for speeding it up that would be tough if you want to go higher than the speed the pitch knob offers. Off the top of my head I cant think of how to do this with out hacking into the electronics. You could try to hit the fast forward button and apply some drag to the reel to get the speed you want but be warned, I have no idea what this will do to the deck. The motors in these decks are fragile and may not stand up to this kind of playing around. For what its worth tape deck companies spent a lot of time, effort, and money making sure that the deck always spun at the same speed (to ensure repeatable playback).

On a side note, tape for these decks is getting super expensive as companies are stoping production of it. You can find a used 2 track or 8 track reel to reel easily for a few hundred bucks on ebay but they are VERY heavy and I imagine difficult to ship. You may be able to get old tapes for them cheap as well but the tape wears out over time and has a very real very present recording lifetime. The old tapes also have a nasty habit of disintegrating onto the record/playback heads and gumming them up.

Another option is early tape based digital delay units. Before digital delay was invented delay units used a small loop of tape that would have a record head separated from a playback head by a small distance. A loop of tape was then placed over them and the signal put on the tape and then played back a bit further down the line. I dont remember if you moved the head or changed the speed of the tape to change the delay time. You maybe able to modify one of these units to play back a sample at higher or lower speeds if you hack into the circuitry a bit. Keep in mind these units are sought after an may show a premium in their price.

  • To answer your question (which might've fit better as a comment on my question) I already am doing it in software. It's easy enough. I just want to try doing it with a mechanical device too! – Warrior Bob Jul 22 '14 at 19:15

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