Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 25: Half-Full – Not Half Empty

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 25: Half-Full – Not Half Empty

Written by Ken Kessler

Ken Kessler looks again at the availability of reel-to-reel hardware – and drools with envy 

All it took were the words of a semi-troll/moron replying to an Instagram posting. Up came a breathtaking shot of a fabulous collection of 25 or more open-reel tape decks, all mint, all desirable. It’s the sort of post which makes Instagram worth checking out if you’re an audiophile (and have no love for Pinterest), joyous reinforcement of one’s obsession, so to speak. Akais, Revoxes and TEACs galore: suddenly I didn’t feel quite so perverse for owning 10 machines.

Sure enough, amidst all the replies with hearts and smiles and thumbs-up emojis came a miserable kvetch. Alas, I cannot find the posting again, so I can’t provide a verbatim quote, but the whiner complained that the reason he couldn’t find a decent deck was because of hoarders like the one on Instagram, gobbling up all the good machines.

Yes, I felt a slight twinge of guilt for having an abnormally large collection, while two of my closest friends each own four or more reel-to-reel decks, and none of us are musicians with home studios so we have no excuses. Worse, just last month I picked up a decrepit Revox D36 – see the header shot – for UK £150 (US $160) purchased because it’s historically important as Revox’s first stereo model. And if it’s D.O.A. and beyond reincarnation, it will make a perfect static display in a planned audio museum.

But then it dawned on me: the Instagram reply contained the words of an idiot. Make no mistake: I am a decrepit old fart, the sort of old codger Gen X comedians love to hold up as an example of techno-illiterate types who cannot deal with online banking, automated car parks, or self-scanning check-outs in supermarkets. In other words, a geriatric cliché who thinks streaming is what I have to do every night at 3AM.

In reality, while I can barely program a microwave to brown food after heating, I’ve been a computer user for nearly 40 years, been online for nearly 30, survived the pre-USB/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi years by setting up scanners and printers the hard way, and used a modem and dial-up internet access before these social media snowflakes were even spermatozoa. Most of my septuagenarian contemporaries, too, are able to use WhatsApp, e-mail and even their Amex and Subway and Amazon apps. Who knew!

So how did this putz miss the – literally – hundreds of open-reel decks available at any given time on eBay, Audiogon or a host of other selling sites? Last year, I managed to snag a decent, clean, working Teac X-3 from eBay for under UK £300 (US $320), a means of shopping which I normally prefer to limit to less-risky, less-expensive purchases than used hardware. There is no doubt that the Instagram crybaby was online-savvy enough to post a moan on said medium, so how is it he hasn’t heard of Google, or how it would respond to the search entry of “Open-reel tape decks for sale” with 7,510,000 results?


A classic Revox A77 – yours online for under $1,000.

A classic Revox A77 – yours online for under $1,000.


Some of you must be wondering why I am so crotchety about this, arguably over-reacting to a mini-aggression from someone I will never meet. (I hope.) Call it old age, my current state of ire due to a crumbling (UK) government, a shrinking pension fund, or a dozen other things which have nothing to do with some anonymous cretin complaining about reel-to-reel tape deck availability. But his bitching is synecdoche for everything from cancel culture to woke-ism to anything else that grownups should protest, combat, challenge and eliminate.

Had he (it could only be a “he”) bothered to use that unknown, obscure program called Google, he would have found the following available for him to acquire, just on eBay alone (and these are from the US, not my local, presuming he was from the States), all open for bids:

Pioneer RT-707, as is, $388 plus $85.00 shipping

Otari MX5050, $280.00 plus $68.82 shipping

Akai 1800, $150.00 plus $79.10 shipping

Revox A-77, $200.00 plus $49.09 shipping

Crown Series 800 Model 8800, $1,750.00, local pickup

Technics RS-1500U w/cover, $1,484.00, free shipping

It went on like this for 20 pages: half of the ads were for tape decks, the other half for parts including reels, heads, etc. I found, without working up a sweat, at least 30 machines I would have bid on if I lived in the USA, had loads of space, and wasn’t a pensioner. What was this schmuck’s problem?


Technics' hot RS-1500, which is all over eBay.

Technics’ hot RS-1500, which is all over eBay.


Sure enough, even more support arrived via an unsolicited email, and I have no idea how I got on the list. But, oh! am I grateful. During a recent visit from Kevin Root, manufacturer of the wonderful RX Reels carbon fiber tape reels, he told me of the myriad companies in the USA restoring, improving and/or pimping tape decks, especially Technics, Teac and TASCAM models, and how, if you could handle the premium pricing, it was a guaranteed way to acquire an as-new deck. Lo and behold, I received an e-mail from a company called Reel To Reel Haven.

Unwisely, I logged onto the site, and could feel my credit card straining at its leash. Their missive promised, among other services, the following:

Full-service repair work

Full restoration services

Sales of tape decks and all related products (reels, hubs, tape, etc.)

Note the last item: “Sales of tape decks.” Their selection, although biased toward pro and semi-pro users, still contained three hugely desirable, audiophile-friendly Pioneer 909s, along with four Otari MX5050s, a Studer A-810, and an Ampex ATR-700. The prices were far less terrifying than those of the luxo-machines that start at five figures, the nine decks on offer ranging from $2,500 to $9,210, which is so far below the price of brand-new decks from Ballfinger or Metaxas as to qualify as bargains, especially as they are, I presume, fully serviced.


An Otari MX5050: go to eBay and you can have one too.

An Otari MX5050: go to eBay and you can have one too.


Then it hit me in the gut. Although Reel To Reel Haven posts its showroom/studio locations as two in Brooklyn and one in Chicago, the mailing address undermined my 50 years as an ex-pat living in the UK. It was listed as Cumberland, Maine…an 18-minute drive from where I grew up. Looks like I gave up more than decent rye bread, cheap lobster and DiPietro’s Italian sandwiches.

KK note: music playing at the time of writing is Roy Drusky’s The Pick of the Country (Mercury STC60973 7.5 ips tape) via the aforementioned Teac X-3.


All images courtesy of the author.

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