Actually Obsolete Audio: Fun with an Otari 8-Track Reel-to-Reel

Super artsy shot where you can't really see anything

A lovely piece of aging technology, the Otari MX-5050 MKIII-8 is a 1/2-inch 8-track analog tape machine. It's not as huge and glorious as some other models that are out there, but it's also not nearly as expensive to operate. Which means, at current tape prices, about \$2.40 per minute -- whereas a 2" 24-track machine (at 15ips) would cost about \$7.50 per minute. Fortunately I happen to have a few reels of 1/2-inch tape to play with.

Here's the back story on this beauty: it came from a local TV station, who wanted rid of it. Darren and I went to pick it up and noticed something else sitting in the transmitter building where it was housed... A pair of vintage Universal Audio LA-3a's! The LA-3a is the little (solid-state) brother of the LA-2a, which is pretty much one of the most-used compressors in the whole recording industry. LA-3a's can be heard on just about every guitar track from the 70s. So we asked nicely if they thought they'd need those junky (ahem) old things, and the technician from the station somewhat reluctantly let us take them as well! Darren fixed up and sold one of them, and the other he fixed up for us to use.

But back to the Otari... we hooked it up to our super-old Mackie mixer and recorded a few rehearsals with it. Aside from being helpful in allowing us to hear ourselves, the thing sounds incredible due to magnetic tape's natural compression (when you push it a little bit) and softening EQ curve. It will almost certainly make an appearance on our future recordings, even if we track and edit the tunes in the computer and then use the Otari as a giant plugin.

8 Track Recording At the Farmhouse - 1 of 4 8 Track Recording At the Farmhouse - 2 of 4 8 Track Recording At the Farmhouse - 3 of 4 8 Track Recording At the Farmhouse - 4 of 4

Modified Tuesday, May 09, 2023