If you’re a fan of vintage audio equipment, you may have come across the term “tape head” before.
But what exactly is a tape head, and how does it differ from a phono cartridge?
One thing that both devices have in common is that they are low output devices that require boosting and equalization to be used as a line level source.
But do tape heads need equalization like phono cartridges?
In this article, we’ll explore the answer to this question and delve into the world of vintage audio equipment.
So sit back, relax, and let’s dive in!
Do Tape Heads Need Equalization Like Phono Cartridges
The short answer is yes, tape heads do need equalization like phono cartridges.
Just like a phono cartridge, a tape head is a low output device that requires boosting and equalization to be used as a line level source. Without equalization, the sound quality would be poor and lacking in clarity.
But why is equalization necessary for tape heads?
Well, when audio is recorded onto tape, the signal is not uniform across all frequencies. This means that certain frequencies may be louder or softer than others, resulting in an unbalanced sound.
To correct this, tape machines use a process called biasing and equalization. Biasing involves adding a high frequency signal to the audio signal before it is recorded onto the tape. This helps to reduce distortion and improve the overall sound quality.
Equalization, on the other hand, involves adjusting the levels of different frequencies to create a balanced sound. This is done using an equalizer circuit that boosts or cuts certain frequencies as needed.
Without proper equalization, the sound from a tape head would be unbalanced and lacking in clarity. So just like with phono cartridges, it’s important to use proper equalization when using a tape head as a line level source.
Understanding Tape Heads And Phono Cartridges
When it comes to turntables, the record player stylus and cartridge are crucial components that work together as a transmission system. The stylus, also known as the needle, makes contact with the record while the cartridge is attached to the cantilever arm and headshell of the turntable for translation. The cartridge then sends the signal to an amplifier for play-through via speakers.
It’s important to note that cartridges are not universal and come in two main types that fit differently on turntables: P-Mount and Half-Inch. The easiest way to determine which cartridge is on your turntable is to check for a headshell. A headshell is a piece designed to attach to the end of a turntable’s tonearm, with the cartridge screwed into the slots on the headshell to hold it properly in place.
If your tonearm does not have a removable headshell, it is still possible to identify the type of cartridge by noting the two screws on the top of the cartridge fastening it to the tonearm. This indicates that it is a half-inch cartridge.
When choosing a cartridge for your turntable, it’s important to consider compatibility with your preamp circuitry. Different cartridges may have different electrical characteristics that can affect sound quality, so it’s best to do research and choose one that is compatible with your specific setup.
The Low Output Of Tape Heads And Phono Cartridges
One important factor to consider when using tape heads and phono cartridges is their low output. This means that the signal they produce is weaker than what is required for line level sources, such as amplifiers or recording devices.
In the case of phono cartridges, this low output is due to the nature of vinyl records. The grooves on a record are physically smaller in size than the wavelengths of audible sound, which means that the signal must be amplified significantly to be heard properly. This is why phono cartridges require a dedicated phono preamp with RIAA equalization to boost and balance the signal.
Similarly, tape heads also have a low output due to the nature of magnetic tape recording. The magnetic particles on the tape are much larger than those on a vinyl record, which means that the signal does not need to be amplified as much. However, it still requires some level of boosting and equalization to be used as a line level source.
Different tape heads and phono cartridges may have varying levels of output, which can affect the overall sound quality. For example, the Shure M35x MM has a higher output than the DL-110 HOMC, which means that it may produce a louder signal when recording onto a cassette.
To ensure proper sound quality and balance, it’s important to use the appropriate equipment and equalization for your specific tape head or phono cartridge. Custom repro electronics, such as the Tube Repro mentioned above, can provide the necessary make-up gain and playback EQ for medium to high inductance playback heads. It’s also important to research and understand the specific characteristics of your equipment to ensure proper usage and optimal sound quality.
The Role Of Equalization In Boosting Signal Levels
Equalization plays a crucial role in boosting signal levels for tape heads. As mentioned earlier, tape machines use biasing and equalization to improve the sound quality of recorded audio. Equalization specifically adjusts the levels of different frequencies to create a balanced sound.
In the case of tape heads, the output signal is typically weak and needs to be boosted to line level. Equalization helps to boost the signal levels of certain frequencies that may have been attenuated during recording. This is done by increasing the gain of specific frequency bands using an equalizer circuit.
By boosting specific frequencies, equalization helps to restore the balance of the audio signal and improve its overall clarity. This is especially important for recordings that have been made on older tape machines or with less than ideal recording conditions.
The Differences In Equalization For Tape Heads And Phono Cartridges
While tape heads and phono cartridges both require equalization, the process and reasoning behind it differs between the two.
For phono cartridges, the RIAA equalization curve is used to correct the sound imbalance caused by the physical limitations of vinyl records. The curve reduces low frequencies and boosts high frequencies during recording, and does the opposite during playback. This helps to reduce groove damage and improve sound quality.
In contrast, tape machines use biasing and equalization to correct for the non-uniformity of audio signals recorded onto tape. Biasing involves adding a high frequency signal to reduce distortion and improve sound quality. Equalization adjusts the levels of different frequencies to create a balanced sound.
Additionally, tape playback EQ is defined based on the flux on the tape, and must have adjustments to compensate for loss in the head and gap. It is different for each speed, and without a reference tape, it can be difficult to achieve proper equalization. A good tape playback system also includes a phase equalizer to correct for large phase shifts through the system.
The Importance Of Proper Equalization For Audio Quality
Proper equalization is crucial for achieving high-quality audio from tape heads. Just like with vinyl records, tape heads require equalization to correct for the non-uniformity of the recorded signal. Without proper equalization, the sound quality would be unbalanced and lacking in clarity.
Tape machines use a process called biasing and equalization to achieve proper audio quality. Biasing involves adding a high frequency signal to the audio signal before it is recorded onto the tape. This helps to reduce distortion and improve overall sound quality. Equalization, on the other hand, involves adjusting the levels of different frequencies to create a balanced sound. This is done using an equalizer circuit that boosts or cuts certain frequencies as needed.
It’s important to note that there are different types of equalization used for tape machines, such as NAB and CCIR. Most vintage commercially-released tapes use NAB equalization while the majority of current master tape copies use CCIR. Since tape decks typically offer one or the other, it might be necessary to use a switchable add-on to achieve proper equalization.
Tips For Maintaining Vintage Audio Equipment With Tape Heads And Phono Cartridges
When it comes to vintage audio equipment, maintaining tape heads and phono cartridges can be a bit tricky. Here are some tips to ensure that your equipment stays in good condition:
1. Clean the tape heads regularly: Tape heads can accumulate dust and debris over time, which can affect the sound quality. Use a soft cloth and some isopropyl alcohol to clean the heads gently.
2. Use high-quality tapes: The quality of the tape used can affect the sound quality as well. Use high-quality tapes that are specifically designed for your machine.
3. Replace worn-out parts: Like phono cartridges, tape heads can also wear out over time. If you notice a decline in sound quality, it may be time to replace the heads or other worn-out parts.
4. Avoid cheap replacements: Just like with phono cartridges, it’s best to avoid cheap generic replacements for tape heads. Stick with name brand replacements or consider upgrading to a better quality head altogether.
5. Use proper equalization: As mentioned earlier, proper equalization is important for both tape heads and phono cartridges. Make sure that your equipment is properly set up with the correct equalization settings to achieve optimal sound quality.
By following these tips, you can ensure that your vintage audio equipment stays in good condition and continues to provide high-quality sound for years to come.