Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

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Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by bpwmurphy »

Bonjour mes amis, I hope you are all well.

It has been a tough January - may we all survive it...

I have an opportunity to buy an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Seems to be in decent nick, only two channels not working. Lots of other upkeep recently performed.

Should I take the plunge? What hellishness am I jumping into?

I'm mad for the idea of getting away from the laptop for recording, and the limitations/necessity for full performances it would bring.

Not that I'm gonna become a full "tape only" guy, as I'd also be very on for having a nice hybrid setup etc.

But am I making a rod for my own back? What's the learning curve like?

I'm very into doing things the long/hard way, but is this a step too far?

EDIT: To be v clear, I have ZERO experience with tape, but am an enthusiastic man and very much enjoy doing stupid/silly things...

All thoughts and insights most gratefully received.

Thanks buddies,

B
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Re: Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

This is a heart over head matter.

If you have very deep pockets it will be fun, albeit sometimes frustrating fun. If you don't have deep pockets I'd walk away. Just the cost of a single reel of tape will make your eyes water. Spare parts are expensive and increasingly rare, as are experienced servicing techs who know what they're doing. DIY maintenance is possible but you'll need some expensive equipment to do the job right.

So my advice? There are plenty of digital standalone multitrack machines on the market that will give all the no-computer immediacy and focus you seek, but with far greater reliability and much simpler integration with your DAW... and cost a fraction of the price when you factor in running and servicing costs of a 40 year old tape recorder.
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Re: Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by James Perrett »

I'm assuming that this is an 8 track machine if you aren't too concerned about 2 tracks not working. If this uses half inch tape then you are looking at a tape cost of around £120 for half an hours recording time. While it is possible to re-use tape, you need to budget for at least a few reels if you will be using it regularly.

You may also need to budget for a technician to service it for you unless you are confident with electronics. The important thing to check is the head condition - how wide is the wear pattern and can you see any head gaps that are starting to open up?

Do you have a mixing desk to go with it?

I have a reasonable collection of tape machines here but I rarely record on tape these days because there are more reliable alternatives easily available these days.
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Re: Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by Mike Stranks »

James Perrett wrote: Mon Jan 30, 2023 12:51 am I have a reasonable collection of tape machines here but I rarely record on tape these days because there are more reliable alternatives easily available these days.

... and James has these machines for a very specific reason... One of his many talents is to transcribe material from 'old' formats into the digital domain... which, in my experience, he does with considerable skill. So, for him, it's not a style-choice, but a business-driven reason...

... and as someone who had no choice but to use tape when I started over 50 years ago, would I consider 'going back'? Never, never, never! :)
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Re: Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by ken long »

Good machine. Easily serviceable but won't be cheap, especially if you need to source replacement parts. You'll want to budget for some calibration tape and basic sundries in addition to all the costs previously mentioned.

If you "enjoy doing stupid/silly things" then this should be right up your alley!
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Re: Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by Nazard »

We had one of those machines, trolley mounted, back in the ‘80s, very impressive when lit up and everything whirring away, but less so when not, but at least there was a service network back then.

Since you would be new to tape, an alternative would be to try a tape machine that would be easy to sell on if the tape experience was short lived. A Revox B77, high speed, serviced comes to mind, or alternatively an A77, although high speed variants are now less commonly available. Revox are modular, parts are available and the machines quite easy to fix, which makes them a good buy, albeit slightly expensive, but at least you would get your money back if you sold it on. But if you like the B77, you could then buy a multitrack and master to the B77, just like we did in the day!
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Re: Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by Arpangel »

It seems exciting, and it will be for awhile, then it just becomes a pain, and gets used less and less, I’ve got a couple of tape machines, they are under the stairs, in a cupboard.
There are so many ways to get "that sound" these days, that require little effort, and more importantly, little money.
I know it’s about the "working method" and vibe etc, but honestly, that’s got little to do with making music as efficiently and as hassle free as possible.
Check out this video, if you still want to go ahead.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mqLX-Q5Yvw
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Re: Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by tea for two »

I'm kind of giving my age away a bit here but I've never used any tape except to make cassette mixes in the 90s lol.

So I kind of get the nostalgia for such tape machines.

Still if I had used such tape machines then I reckon as Mike said never again lol.
Also as James unless it's a requirement for commercial professional purposes.

Buuuut if it's an itch you gotta scratch and you have money to burn then why not.
White Stripes wanted the "tape sound" for their 2003 album Elephant : the "tape sound" been discussed a fair amount here on SoS.

You may well find it calming soothing whiling away hours on it tinkering, fixing things seeing how things work on it (or you could be pulling your hair out lol).

It's also worth considering what then : after you scratched the itch.
I've purchased stuff I've hankered after, once I got it scratched the itch it was like meh what do I do with it now shrug.

I would have suggested if you are in London why not pop into Toe Rag Studios in Homerton. They specialise in Tape recordings (White Stripes recorded Elephant there).
https://www.soundonsound.com/people/lia ... ag-studios
I reckon be a neat way to find out what you are letting yourself in for.
But I'm not sure whether they are open at the moment, things altered for various independent small businesses during lockdown.
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Re: Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by OneWorld »

bpwmurphy wrote: Sun Jan 29, 2023 8:54 pm I have ZERO experience with tape, but am an enthusiastic man and very much enjoy doing stupid/silly things...

All thoughts and insights most gratefully received.

Thanks buddies,

B


I wish there were more people like you around whenever I get around to selling old clunkers and other such 'nostalgia' and bric-a-brac :smirk:
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Re: Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by sonics »

I'd spend a little more time questioning your motives. Back when we could only record to tape, we had to work with its limitations, and put up with all the extra work recording to tape entails compared to digital. The extra time and money required for maintenance, tape and simply the time wasted in the operation of the thing are considerable.

The whole "tape sound" issue is a non-starter. Plugins, of which there are now hundreds, can emulate any flavour of tape and/or preamp saturation you want. Why be stuck with just one?

bpwmurphy wrote: Sun Jan 29, 2023 8:54 pm I'm mad for the idea of getting away from the laptop for recording, and the limitations/necessity for full performances it would bring.

Is this the issue? What exactly is stopping you from committing complete takes to digital? I'm sure you could set up a 24-channel recording setup for the same price as the Otari.

bpwmurphy wrote: Sun Jan 29, 2023 8:54 pm But am I making a rod for my own back? What's the learning curve like?

Yes. You'll waste lots of time that should be spent recording/writing/learning instead.
If you want to get into maintenance, the learning curve is fairly steep.

bpwmurphy wrote: Sun Jan 29, 2023 8:54 pm I'm very into doing things the long/hard way, but is this a step too far?

That's admirable, but this is not the route. You can learn more engineering skills (and more quickly) using modern digital equipment.

bpwmurphy wrote: Sun Jan 29, 2023 8:54 pm EDIT: To be v clear, I have ZERO experience with tape, but am an enthusiastic man and very much enjoy doing stupid/silly things...

Then if you understand what you're getting into and still want to go ahead, good luck. I wouldn't...

All the best for whatever you choose to do. :thumbup:
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Re: Buying an Otari MX5050 mkiii

Post by Arpangel »

sonics wrote: Mon Jan 30, 2023 6:50 pm
The whole "tape sound" issue is a non-starter. Plugins, of which there are now hundreds, can emulate any flavour of tape and/or preamp saturation you want. Why be stuck with just one?

To the OP, this whole thing about the "tape sound" is basically very confusing.
Tape, if done properly, can sound very good, extremely good, then there are the different flavours of noise reduction, which can change the sound.
There is no major "obvious tape sound" so be prepared to get a bit creative and a bit OTT if that’s what you want. You’ll probably have to drive it hard, and muck about with EQ settings, and tape speeds, use Dolby on record, but not on playback, it’s not easy to get tape to sound bad, it’s still a very high quality medium, that has a "nice" quality to it when done well.
It’s like valves, people expect them to sound "warm" and have some sort of magic, but a high end valve processor will sound perfectly clean in normal use, until you start to abuse it, really badly.
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