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Really Reel: Greg Beron on Tape, Part 1

11-02-2016 | By Greg Beron | Issue 88

[By way of introduction, Greg Beron has become well known in the world of high-end tape recorders for his outstanding Phasexx series. I was extremely impressed by his Phase11S when it was here back in 2013, and used it to do some seminal test transfers of several of our reference library tapes (e.g., Opus3 Records and The Tape Project) to Quad DSD using the Merging Technologies Horus A/D and Pyramix. The results were truly stellar, and we have those recordings as examples in our library of DSD recordings to this date. Greg and I are discussing a PF review project of his latest RTR, the Phase12S OPS Battery, for some time in 2017.

Greg has become a good audio friend of mine over the years, a person who shares my lifelong passion for RTR recorders…which is where I got into audio at the ripe old age of 16. (See my comments on RTR in 2012 back in Issue 61.)

003_Robinson_with_TC-630_Brasil_1971_5x7_web

Ye Olde Editor at the ripe age of 17 with his trusty Sony TC-630, Koss Pro headphones, and one of his anonymous boom mic stands, Sao Paulo, Brasil, 1970.

Greg also has a broad experience in RTR tapes that are available, and the sound of those tapes that he has scored over the years. What with the significant growth of interest in RTR tape in the past few years, and especially with Analogue Productions' announcement that Chad Kassem and company would be going into RTR distribution, the time had come to take the discussion of RTR to a higher level at PF. Greg and I discussed this, and he was quite willing to share his knowledge with our readers.

Nor is this the first time that Greg Beron has contributed to PF. He wrote an essay about RTR and high-end audio to accompany my reflections on same back in Issue 61

As a result of our recent conversations, beginning with this issue Greg Beron will be providing articles outlining what's going on in the all-too-often arcane world of RTR tapes and music. He'll share his experiences with his own library, do what he can to help you understand what your options are, and will discuss where to go in the growing world of RTR tapes for sale.

Note that in doing this, Greg will be joining the chorus led by PF's Myles Astor, a Senior Assistant Editor here, who is an expert in RTR tapes, and has a longstanding passion for them. Myles recently led a panel discussion of RTR tapes at RMAF 2016, and is a leading voice for the format. Likewise, I'll be adding my own thoughts from time to time.

A further note:  As the president of United Home Audio and a competitor in the field of RTR recorders, Greg will not be doing any reviewing of RTR decks themselves, naturally.

I welcome Greg to Positive Feedback with real enthusiasm. On the subject of RTR, he's a soul brother!

Dr. David W. Robinson, Ye Olde Editor]

001_Greg Beron

Greg Beron of United Home Audio

Anyone who has been to one of my rooms at the high end audio shows, or has been to my store, knows I like rock music from the 60's and 70's. To set the record straight, I like all kinds of music, but the Hippie music I grew up with is what I gravitate to.  Rock music kick-started not only a music revolution, but it also started a cultural revolution. When a black artist is worshiped as a guitar god, like Jimi Hendrix was, that cut through some of the defects of society and raised all collective consciousness at that time. No black, no white, just great music. There were so many other examples of great crossover artists who blurred the lines regarding who or what people were, we were all locked into the new music revolution together!

As a result, over many years I've accumulated many old rock tapes, lots of mainstream music, and also some rare jewels that I look at as snapshots of history. So I thought I would share some of these with you. Having done this tape gig for some years now, people have also been reaching out to me with tapes. Some contact me with collections from relatives or friends who don't want to store the tapes any longer, or from estate liquidations:  tapes come via lots of reasons and from lots of places. Most of these turn out to be dead ends with nothing of value, but some turn out to be jewels! Here are a few of them with their info sheets to look at.

Traffic_01

Traffic - Best Of

This tape was recorded 5/5/76, as you can see on the box label. It has some great tunes on it and I was able to get two tapes, one old stuff and this tape with the newer tunes. The old tunes like are great; here is the track listing on the other tape.

  1. "Paper Sun" (Steve WinwoodJim Capaldi)
  2. "Heaven Is in Your Mind" (Capaldi, Winwood,Chris Wood)
  3. "No Face, No Name, No Number" (Winwood, Capaldi)
  4. "Coloured Rain" (Winwood, Capaldi, Wood)
  5. "Smiling Phases" (Winwood, Capaldi, Wood)
  6. "Hole in My Shoe" (Dave Mason)

Both tapes have a surprising sound quality, and "Dear Mr. Fantasy," with that iconic melody, it's the icing on the cake for this tape! I must have listened to these two Traffic tapes a hundred times, and the quality is still fantastic.

The_Band_02

The Band Anthology - Four Tapes

For me this label sums up the beauty of these four tapes—look at the tunes on this one tape!

Does it get any better?

The sound on this tape is interesting. "The Weight" has Levon Helm's voice far right. In fact, everything begins somewhat right channel, then as the song moves along, things start to re-stabilize. On "Chest Fever" the sound is back to left / right channel balanced. The organ on "Chest Fever" really grinds the air up in the room, and becomes quite compelling. The vocals are somewhat falsetto on "I shall Be Released" and it's dead middle with a big soundstage, but the purity of the voice is a show stopper. Of course, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is just as good as any tune has a right to be, and the sound on this tape version has had me pulling it out night after night.

Yes, this is just one of four tapes—all great stuff. What a find this was!

Led_Zeppelin_Live_03

Led Zeppelin:  Live in Concert, 1971

Here we have a jewel from 1971, a live acoustic recording done in mono. The box just has the concert info on it and no real info beyond the handwritten info you see. As far as this tape goes, the stand-out for me was hearing Robert Plant in his ultimate prime sing these three iconic tunes with zero effort, even adding some vocal gymnastics to, "Going to California." Being a mono recording was also very interesting; mono has a special way of grabbing you and putting your brain in the venue for a special kind of intimacy you have to experience! I played this for someone in the audio industry, and at the end he didn't move, he just sat there with his eyes closed and motionless. I guess I finally said, "Are you OK?"… he opened his eyes and said, "I was in the room and I didn't want to come back".

That about sums up this tape's allure for me; it is so different sounding that it becomes a go-to tape time and time again. Plus these are some of my favorite Zeppelin tunes:  The acoustic "Going to California" was always an anthem back in the day, and to hear it on tape brought out a special sound that gets the job done!    

Led_Zeppelin_outtakes_04

Led Zeppelin:  Outtakes, Demos, and Rehearsals

Speaking of Zeppelin, here are some outtakes and demo tracks on two tapes. Lots of crazy bits and pieces on these two tapes! Some tunes with Plant wailing unknown words or humming the melody.

Some tunes where Page is just cutting up on the guitar, some tracks with drums just for the sake of drums...

The last tune on Reel 2 is a song I had never heard before, a blues thing that was quite compelling!

Sooner or later I'll take it off and put it on a compilation tape and freak everyone out with it!

Traffic_05

Traffic:  The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys

Here is fun bit of history:  Alternate Takes from Traffic's Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.

This is a very polished alternate take tape; I am pretty sure they could have put most of these alternate versions on the album and everyone would have been happy with them. However, they certainly are different from the album we all know, no doubt about that. "The Rainmaker" with the extended jam is lots of fun, too long for the album maybe, but I'm glad to have it!

The two acoustic tunes, four and five, are done by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and backed up vocally by the coughing girl. I call her "the coughing girl" because she coughs all through the setup when Steve and Jim are discussing where to go with the tune. Then she turns in a great vocal back up for the guys; the whole thing is so in-the-room and intimate, lovely!

Again an interesting bit of history recorded here.

Beatles_06

The Beatles:  A Selection from Past Masters

Here is something interesting to end this expose' on, no?

The final two tracks in German even. What can you say? Iconic music...

What else can one say about these tapes (I have three of them), holy smokes it's the British invasion and Abbey Road for a "Mexico" client.

How does it sound? Better than it did on an AM radio. But you can tell the recording was done fast, and not for an audiophile audience. However, with that said, I've listened to this tape countless times. The standout tunes are "Love Me Do," "Thank You Girl," and "This Boy." These do sound good in spite of whatever time and effort (or lack of same!) that may have gone into the recordings.

So, welcome to my world.

I have many more of these and more arriving all the time. However, let me caution you:  I have been burned a time or three! I had one fellow send me tapes that I knew immediately were not right. As I listened I heard slight telltale ticks and pops, till finally, at the end of the music, I heard his stylus go into the lock out groove and grind away. The guy didn't even stop the tape at the end of the LP!  So as usual, it's buyer beware…and happy listening!

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