I probably wasn’t the only reel to reel tape user who breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced in January 2015 that the Mulann Group had acquired the assets of PYRAL who had been manufacturing the RMGI branded reel to reel tape but had ceased operations in 2012. So I was interested to find out what Mulann had been up to in the intervening 18 months especially since the recent rebranding of the tape product to ‘Recording The Masters’. Who better to ask than Nadine Patry, Chief Marketing Officer …
I started by asking Nadine how the Mulann Group had got into manufacturing analogue reel to reel tape as it didn’t seem to be an obvious or easy business investment decision.
“Mulann has a long history as experts in magnetics, mainly in the card business with magnetic stripes. Jean-Luc Renou, our CEO, met with Pyral Magnetics who were in difficulties, and so Jean-Luc decided to buy the assets of Pyral including the factory in Avranches (France), the product rights and all of the manufacturing equipment. I have to say that the manufacturing machine for magnetic audio tape is very large, very complex and very beautiful! We were very impressed by the quality of the machinery which is one of the last of its kind in the world.
“Of course we realised that audio is a niche business and analogue audio tape is a niche within a niche! However we realised that the business had value and so we decided to buy and recover the business.
“We started by trying to understand this business niche better and figure out what kind of story we could tell within the pro-audio industry. We feel we got involved at an important time due to the resurgence of vinyl. By 2012-13 the pre-recorded music business became organised into two primary activities, downloads & streaming, and then products for those who want to own and hold the music in their hands. This is vinyl, something that has a different meaning, especially for those people who still want to own and listen to an entire album, rather than song by song which is more common in the download market. So in this way, through vinyl, the music industry is recovering some loyal consumers.”
I responded that I could see that vinyl is making an impact both in re-releases of classic albums and in the release of new material, but I wanted to know why Nadine thought that reel to reel tape could fit into that story?
“Last year we had one year of activity and already we can see that there is new activity in reel to reel recording, maybe driven by the needs of vinyl, and we see a number of existing tape machines still in operation and machines being repaired. So we see in studios that demand for tape is growing and also for hobbyists as well, both for recording and for playback of pre-recorded material. So we decided we had to interact with the end user to better understand why the demand for tapes was growing. For this reason we created the new website ‘Recording the Masters’. So we are trying to reconnect this ‘tape’ community, where tape machines are still in use, and try to help when people ask advice on how to calibrate machines or maybe when they need to find replacement parts for their machines.
“Also to give advice about which tape to choose [for a particular application]. So we will do this through the website, speaking about best practice and also informing on the trends for improving tape formulation and performance.”
I asked whether a 100% analogue recording chain was the most important aspect in terms of the marketing tape or whether devices like the Endless Analog CLASP have a role to play in the future of tape.
“People have recording practices which are very different from studio to studio. Some people go to analogue after the mix to create the chemical magic of warmth, especially by pushing recording levels and then they go back into digital.
“Some other people record entirely in analogue but of course they are normally obliged to convert back to digital [for most distribution purposes]. So we think that analogue and digital are not in opposition but are complementary. Each of them has a value. Of course digital is faster, cheaper, easy to manipulate and copy but analogue is unique in its own way.”
I asked Nadine if she thought there was a market segment for vinyl releases which are certified as having been having produced with a 100% analogue chain?
“Sure there are some studios which are 100% analogue. In fact we have a partnership with Kerwax Recording Studio in Brittany, which is 100% analogue but in the end you still need to convert to digital for the major markets. Having said that, for vinyl releases we can clearly hear the difference between music which has been recorded digitally and music which has been recorded entirely in analogue. So we are beginning to connect with labels releasing vinyl but it is the beginning of that particular journey.
“For the moment we want to consolidate our community, explaining how to use tape, but to say again, not to complete with digital, but to compliment it. We have young people coming to us asking how they can get into this experience, so we want to connect these young people with our more experienced analogue recording professionals.”
Thinking about the hi-fi marketplace, I asked Nadine if they were talking to any of the companies who are beginning to manufacture new reel to reel machines such as United Home Audio in the US and Horch House in Slovakia who are developing a new tape machine to be sold under the famous Revox brand? And was she aware of the beginnings of a new reel-to-reel pre-recorded music sector, also being pioneered by Horch and Revox?
“For us, it is currently a small element of our sales but it can grow as new machines come on to the market. Machine and tapes are so connected together, and you know old tape machines need a lot of maintenance if they are truly to reveal the sound of analogue tape.
“We have seen that some people in our community are helping people to replace their tape heads, I mean with brand new components, and of course the electronics can also be upgraded; but anyway it is amazing that machines like the Studer Revox B77 are still working; they designed those machines to last for a long time!
“Our company is open to any project, to new ideas, that’s the feeling of the team. We want to carry the torch because it we stop then it could get very difficult to find tape in the future. We want to create new products and formulations for the market. So we need to figure out how we can add more value in this business because producing tape is complex, in fact we are going to tell people about the process so they understand that it is a complex chemical process.”
I asked if the were back to full production now with all the tape types available to purchase?
“Yes for sure. We started to recover the company since January 2015, and every day we understand better about this business. RMGI and Pyral took the time and trouble to recover the expertise and today we are back to the [quality] level of some of the original classic AGFA, BASF, and EMTEC formulations. We have developed a quality lab and in fact we have many ideas to improve the tapes and also we are studying how to preserve the tapes, because we know that some Ampex tapes had a problem in terms of long term storage. BASF had a strong reputation for storage, this is important in the market now, especially for the use of reel to reel tape for archiving. So we want to push the technology with regard to this use. With digital the issue is the [ever changing] formats, which is not an issue with tape. Analogue tape is a format for eternity!”
Our thanks to Nadine, Fred and the team at Mulann for talking to us and for providing the wonderful images of their tape manufacturing machinery.
You can review the full range of tapes and locate your local dealer via their website at http://www.recordingthemasters.com