Gear Geek: Revox A77

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Popular with audio professionals, the Revox A77 may have been the bestselling 2-track reel-to-reel tape recorder of all time.

Before digital recording took hold, magnetic tape was the popular choice for recording audio, and it still has its followers. For more than a half-century, tape recorders made by Studer were sold to studios all over the world. Founded in 1948 by Willi Studer, the Swiss manufacturer was renowned for its groundbreaking mixing consoles and high-performance tape machines, including the Studer 27 (1951), considered the first professional 2-track recorder; the J37 (1964), the 4-track recorder The Beatles famously used to record Sgt. Pepper''s Lonely Hearts Club Band; and the A800 (1978), a popular 24-track recorder that was the first microprocessor-controlled multitrack. But the bestselling model the company ever built was the Revox A77.

Beginning in 1955, Studer produced a line of what the company considered recorders for enthusiasts rather than professional studios, under the brand name Revox. Revox high-fidelity open-reel tape decks were handmade and designed for audiophiles. The A77 was built to such exacting standards and with so many options, however, that it crossed over from enthusiast to pro and was embraced by broadcast and recording engineers. Like pro-level Studers, the Revox A77 was known for its precision engineering, rugged build quality, and accurate sound reproduction.

Studer introduced the Revox A77 in 1967. By the time it was discontinued in 1975, more than 400,000 had been sold worldwide. At times, Studer was barely able to keep up with orders and even had to cut back on marketing to control demand. During the years, six models were sold in dozens of configurations intended for different applications.

The A77 handled both 7- and 10.5-inch reels. Quarter-track models let you record two tracks, flip the reel over, and record two more. Full-track models recorded in mono. Half-track models recorded two tracks in one direction only and were popular as mixdown decks.

The A77''s direct-drive tape transport had separate motors for the feed reel, take-up reel, and capstan. The machine also had separate erase, record, and playback heads so you could monitor the sound either pre- or post-tape and overdub using sound-on-sound. All A77s had solid-state amplifiers and ¼-inch connections, and the pro models added balanced XLRs. Although most let you change their tape speed from 7.5 inches per second (ips) to 3.75 or 15 ips (depending on the model), a Super-Low Speed model ran at 1-7/8 and 15/16 ips for extra-long record times with limited frequency response.

Like all Studers, the Revox A77 was built like a Soviet-era tank. Not surprisingly, thousands are still in good operating order and available for sale online. If you''d rather stick with your DAW, Universal Audio offers Studer A800, a UAD plug-in that emulates the audio characteristics of a multichannel tape recorder.

Former senior editor Geary Yelton has reviewed synthesizers for EM since its very first issue in 1985. He lives in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, N.C.