So, the inevitable has happened.
I have bought a Studer A80-R.
This is a beast. The unit is 70x60x84 cm, and is the size of a washing machine. And it weighs around 100kg. That is even heavier than a washing machine. It has wheels though. So you can roll it around.
This is the studio recorder that the artists from the seventies used to record their material on. It came in several configurations, from 1/8” (cassette tape) to 2” (24 track). Mine is the A80-R (for ‘rundfunk’ i think) 1/4” 2 track, speeds 7½ and 15 IPS (19 & 38 cm/s). Every studio in the world had one, or several. The most prominent artists that used the Studer A80 are Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons, etc.
I came in contact with someone who has access to professional studio equipment and repairs them on a regular basis, often in his spare time. Sometimes studios get rid of these machines that are in the way, and then he takes them in and repairs and refurbishes them.
I have visited him to look at the machine that I would buy and the second time I went there, the machine was all done and I took it home. Which was not a simple task. It fitted the back of my car fortunately.
After I got it home I wheeled it inside, where it would stay in the living room for the time being. It was simply impossible to get it upstairs.
Here is a short clip:
The Studer gave me some challenges. First, the inputs and outputs are the balanced XLR type. I already have adapters to/from RCA which I used for my Revox PR99, but the problem is the line level. My other equipment is home use stuff, so it’s line level is -10dBV. The Studer, being a professional piece of equipment, uses +4dBu. This box fixes the level conversion and the physical connections.
Second, the Studer was simply too heavy to carry up the stairs to the first floor where my audio room is. So it sat in the living room, happily enjoying the family life. And, between you and me, it sounds so good in the room.
Unfortunately, after a few weeks, the left motor, the supply motor, was giving problems because the tension was not there in play. Also, rewind was not possible anymore. A search on the net and my supplier both revealed that on the board 1.080.383 there are 2 transistors that control the 2 motors.
They are BC141-16 with heatsink on them. On my deck the one for the supply (left) motor was broken. I replaced him twice, but that was not the cause of the problem. The problem was elsewhere. The transistor blows as a result of that other problem.
Further investigation revealed that there could be problems with the tension potmeters that control the tape tension (the A80 has a sophisticated tension control system) or with the motor capacitors that could be faulty after 30+ years. I tested the potentiometer and I could not find anything wrong with it. So I removed and tested all the motor caps (9 pcs.) and found they were not entirely up to spec anymore.
I replaced them all, and installed a new BC141 just tot be sure. And so far, it works flawlessly again. Fingers crossed.
So now that all the caps were replaced, i though that the tape tension was a bit off. So i grabbed the service manual and started the mechanical calibration of the deck. This involves setting the (emergency) brakes, the tape path, the capstan pinch roller, and of course the tape tension and edit mode characteristics back to the desired specification. I have bought spring scales just for this! It was fun to do and the end result is here:
So I had a Studer A80 in my living room. Now who can say that? It was always clear that it would have to be moved to the upstairs room eventually. When my brother-in-law heard about my problem, he thought it would be a challenge to get it upstairs. So one day he showed up on my doorstep. Long story short, an hour later it was done. Actually, it took almost an hour to do the preparations like attaching the rope appropriately (and carefully!), and it took just 10 seconds to go from the bottom of the stairs to the top of the stairs! So now it has reached its final destination, my “audio room”.
Being hooked up to some good sounding equipment, my trusty Technics amp and my new KEF Q700 speakers, and using my Philips SACD player as source, I made test recordings and played them back. My tape of choice was BASF 911 and SM900. The results were nothing short of spectacular! The level of OEMPF that his recorder is able to put on tape is astounding! And, those of you who are familiar with analog recording equipment will know that there is always noise (tape noise, vinyl groove noise, FM-noise, cassettes!) when working with these machines. Not so with the Studer! It is so quiet! And that is a piece of equipment that was made around 1970. Incredible.
I am still enjoying this beast. I am tempted to do the technical calibration as well to calibrate it for BASF 911 or 900, but it sounds so good already i’m not sure it would get much better, and there is always the risk of f***ing it up. So for now, i think I’m good.