The Studer A80 Master Tape Reel Machine - Review

Discover the Studer A80/R Master tape recorder. The most famous work-horse in music.

The Studer A80 Master Recorder is one hell of a beast. After previously owning a Studer A807 MKII, Nagra Kudelski, Revox G36 and a Pioneer RT-909, in 2018 I wanted to revisit an old friend with whom I was familiar back in the early '90s. 

A brief history of the Studer A80

The Studer A80/R is a 96.5kg machine. It was built for precision, performance and reliability. And after 50 years since its initial release, it's the transport and audio capability which is still regarded as one of the best. 

Abbey Road, for example, has always used the A80 and in most recent times an A80 was used for transferring 1/4" master tapes to digital for the Miles Showell 1/2 speed Abbey Road/Universal remasters.

"The A80 is the only machine that can be used for all analogue cutting." - Miles Showell

In the '90s, I worked part-time in a couple of recording Studios. Back then, Studer equipment was a pretty standard issue in medium to large studios. Multi-track Studer machines such as the A80, A810 or A820 were commonplace. 

Some used machines from Sony, Tascam and Otari but it was the Studer A80 I always remembered being the most friendly and the most 'safe' to media. These machines were always looked after and in some places, only the studio engineer was privileged to use them. 

It wasn't until digital started to really dominate that these beautiful machines were assigned to the corners of the studio and used as coat dumps. Some were only wheeled out occasionally to stand on to replace studio light bulbs.

Studer A80/R Master Tape Recorder

Studer A80/R Master Tape Recorder Locator and timer function control

Back then, my meagre little job was to set up microphones, reset the desks and sometimes lace up these big machines. And, yes... make the tea. I never really got to use the amazing machines properly but I remember them being used an awful lot when I first started. They were real workhorses.

Studer A80/R Master Tape Recorder Buttons

Buying a Studer A80

After some deliberation on which machine I should go for, the A80 was a choice I had to really push the boat out for. 

It wasn't just that the asking price of these machines had been rising astronomically over the past 5 years but it was also a dive into the unknown (technically wise) because I knew how much these machines were used and abused. 

One good memory was that I hardly ever remembered them breaking down.

With any reel-to-reel, a combination of both the idleness and the ravages of time was my initial worry. In some respects, with these machines, a hard life can be almost as bad as a seldom one. Buying a machine which had not been used for over 20 years can bring problems. 

The monitoring controls consist of the Dyer Audio Systems Mk2 PPM meter, an RTW-1206D Plasma PPM unit and the SPL Volume2 control unit. The Dyer PPM uses Alice 304 boards, Sifam 44a meters and Sowter transformers. 

It's one of the best PPM meters I've used. Discover more about the the SPL Volume 2 controller which is a great match with the A80.

The A80/R is now relished by studios and audiophiles. Its transport to this day is renowned to be one of the finest in the world. And its audio electronics, (although very simple in comparison to the A800, 820 or 810) were practically the same as the famed B62 which was one of the first transistorised pro machines.

Studer A80/R Master Tape Recorder
The legendary A80 transport with new bearings fitted

I wanted to get a machine with lowish hours, good heads and some recent service history. I finally found the one I wanted. Dating from 1973/74 it was originally owned by Advision Studios in London and it was mostly used for bouncing to stereo and speech transfer. 

Advision was taken over in 1993 by the current owner, The Sound Company. Condition-wise, it's in superb cosmetic condition. With any machine like this, you will always find some wear. If the machine has had a hard life as an editing machine you will generally find a lot of splicing scratches around the head area. 

This machine is a high-speed machine which has speeds of 15ips and 30ips. One surprising aspect about this machine was that it had recently been hired out to FOX as a set piece for the award-winning biopic Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. 

When I bought it, the machine was still with FOX and it took a while for them to return it. But, return it they did and once it was back in the workshop it had a full service. In my case, I paid extra for a full electrolytic re-cap on all of the mains power, control logic and audio cards. 

Studer A80/R Master Tape Recorder Inside the machine
In the back of the A80/R

Servicing and refurbishing the A80

Make no mistake, there are a LOT of caps to change. I also paid for new bearings, around 30 in all. All mechanical parts were cleaned and lubricated before calibration work was also undertaken. 

Brake bands were adjusted drums cleaned and the Capstan oiled with the correct oil.

The power supply and the audio cards have had further upgrades since I've owned this machine. Top-quality audio-grade capacitors such as Elna Simlic 2 and Nichicon FG were installed and the tantalum capacitors have also been sympathetically replaced with top-end components. The Motor-Run caps were also changed. 

The oscillator card has also had its relays updated and new CCIR daughter boards have also been installed. All of the push-button controls have also been overhauled. 

All contacts have been cleaned and colour-coded operation lights installed. Some of the microswitches have also been replaced. There is no doubt, that once set up to a good tape, the sound from this machine is simply astonishing. 

I chose RTM SM900 tape and I'm really glad I did. Everything people say about this tape is true. It's a wonderful tape. Here is a full list of works completed so far:

  • All Audio cards are matched NOS and all electrolytic caps are replaced with top-quality audio-grade Nichicon gold capacitors.
  • Power cards and all control cards have been re-capped.
  • Brand new CCIR daughter cards from Pievox.
  • The regulator card was also updated which makes a huge difference.
  • The oscillator card was also updated.
  • The heads are Butterfly on both recording and playback. They were re-lapped before I bought it and they are in excellent condition. Distortion measured by my tech was vanishingly low so they will last for a long, long time yet.
  • All the relays have been updated with the amazing Pievox relays.
  • All bearings were replaced with ultra-quiet bearings (the best and correct ABEC versions with the correct lubricant) installed on the transport.
  • All PSU and larger motor run caps have also been replaced.
  • Several microswitches have also been replaced with the same spec.
  • The Capstan motor is regularly oiled with the proper oil. Very easy job to do.
  • NOS control push-button covers, location buttons and timer cover have all been installed replacing the old brittle discoloured ones.
  • Coloured LED lights opposed to the old incandescent types installed, are reversible if wanted.
  • NOS hum shield installed.

The monitoring controls consist of the Dyer Audio Systems Mk2 PPM meter, an RTW-1206D Plasma PPM unit and the SPL Volume2 control unit. The Dyer PPM uses Alice 304 boards, Sifam 44a meters and Sowter transformers. 

It's one of the best PPM meters I've used. Discover more about the SPL Volume 2 controller which was a good match with the A80.

The A80/R is now relished by studios and audiophiles. Its transport to this day is renowned to be one of the finest in the world. And its audio electronics, (although very simple in comparison to the A800, 820 or 810) were practically the same as the famed B62 which was one of the first transistorised pro machines.

The Studer A80/R is a classic jewel. The sound is truly remarkable and it makes you wonder, why on earth did we ever go digital? Precision is no accident and the A80 does everything right.

Dimensions and weight of the A80/R

  • Height = (with castors) 840mm (33.1")
  • Width = 700mm (27.6")
  • Depth = 600mm (23.6")
  • Weight = 95.6kg net (209lbs)

Original review published 30/06/2018


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