Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 29: Tonbridge AudioJumble 2023

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 29: Tonbridge AudioJumble 2023

Written by Ken Kessler

Like the recent AXPONA hi-fi event in Chicago, deemed by all to be a roaring success, the latest Tonbridge AudioJumble in early March was certainly one of the best, but for an unusual reason. The Howes family which runs it had chosen to have only one gathering this year, bypassing the autumn fair, so the professional dealers needed to maximize the selling opportunity. All the tables were filled. As for the public, they, too, had to attend for an annual, rather than semi-annual fix of vintage and pre-owned hi-fi equipment. Early arrivals were plentiful.

As ever, the hardware on offer at the AudioJumble gives a street-level view of what British enthusiasts are craving. Over the years they’ve arrived lusting for Radford electronics, BBC LS3/5A loudspeakers and Garrard 301 or 401 turntables. All were present in some capacity or another in March – I saw a nice pair of 15-ohm Rogers LS3/5As for only £1,200/$1,490, and some hugely desirable Radford solid-state units – but the ongoing revival in interest in both open-reel tape and cassettes continues unabated. Nobody after a decent deck could fail to score something worthy.

While I concentrated mainly on finding out which open-reel decks were up for grabs, there were a number of interesting and/or rare cassette decks, including a slew of Nakamichis, but it was a mint circa-1978 NEAL 302 that caught my eye. This is a fascinating UK brand, best known on my side of the Pond for supplying recorders to police forces throughout the land.


A Ferrograph Series Seven, in its carry-case for mobile recording.


This year's TonBridge was well-attended.


Like the Sony TC377, Akai 4000DSs are always plentiful at the AudioJumble and still represent a cost-effective way of entering the reel-to-reel community.


MkII and MkIV Revox A77s – my fave machines.

As I have bleated countless times, I am now in the midst of a moratorium on buying anything – machines or pre-recorded tapes – because I am at that stage in life where I must downsize. Besides, no sane person has nine reel-to-reel machines and six cassette decks. Regardless, there were plenty of superb machines which caught my eye, especially a couple of superb Ferrograph Series Seven reel-to-reel decks – like NEAL, a UK manufacturer of great repute.

Away from tape decks, I was also up for acquiring one of the underpriced Quad 405 power amps or perhaps one of the plentiful 34 or 44 pre-amps, but mainly because I have a sentimental attachment to the brand as its history was the first book I authored. As I write this column, my listening room floor is covered with amplifiers old and recent, the former being gently reintroduced into my system with a Variac. I look forward to hearing my only all-tube tape deck, a Revox G36, played through its contemporary electronics, including a Dynaco PAS3 and Stereo 70 combination.

Also in the spirit of the AudioJumble, as well as the nostalgia which has overwhelmed me of late, I have now taken delivery of Steve Smith’s ValvePower amplifiers, which no anachrophile could possibly resist. Smith manufacturers BRAND NEW – note the shouty all-capitals – Leak Stereo 20 and Quad II power amps. They massacre the originals because they’re better-built than Leak or Quad ever achieved back in the day, while the custom-made transformers are of a standard which exceeds the original spec. Through LS3/5As or Tannoy Mini-Autographs, the sound is magical – vintage and modern at the same time.

If you're a masochist, visit because the bad news is – I believe – that they’re UK-only offerings. When I tell you that a pair of his astounding Quad IIs sells for £850/$1,055 including UK delivery, and the equally magical Leak Stereo 20 is only £1,200/$1,490, you’ll know exactly how I feel when I see the US price of Magnepan LRSes…


A cool portable from Telefunken, the Magnetophon 2o4 TS, a circa-1966 solid-state quarter-track machine with a built-in 6-watt amp and three speeds.


I've always loved TASCAM decks, so it broke my heart to have to pass on this 2-track Model 32 to go with my 22-2.


An early Philips machine, ideal for playing those horrible British pre-recorded mono tapes. for £25, a no-brainer for someone with a collection  to feed.


Another deck I would have jumped at before swearing off buying any more is this amazing Akai 77 – a space-saving rival to the superb Pioneer RT-707 – and there were two at AudioJumble to torment me.


For the money, it's hard to beat this TEAC 3440 4-track recorder.


Lacking a number of bits but ideal for a restorer was this Revox E36, one of the company's earliest stereo decks. 


Here's an absolutely mint example of the hugely successful Tandberg Series 15, a superb compact deck.


Most Otari MX5050s are well-worn, but this looked to be intact and useable.


This AIWA 1800 deck was immaculate and found a home with a savvy cassette collector. 


This Fostex 8-track, like the Otari, shows signs of wear, though clearly in reasonable shape, but multi-track machines have fewer takers at the AudioJumble than two- and quarter-track decks.


A Walter Playtime recorder, a classic example of cost-effective British tape deck engineering back in the 1950s. It's a single-speed 3.75 ips mono recorder with four-tube-plus-metal rectifier amp, loudspeaker and crystal mic.


Header image: Quad gear was plentiful at the AudioJumble, as expected given the huge affection for this British brand.

All images courtesy of Ken Kessler.

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