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Quarter track tapes on half track machines

“A client of mine sent me a 1/4″ reel of tape to master on a CD for him. I don’t have a reel to reel machine so I rented one. The problem is when I play the tape on it I hear backwards audio along with normal audio. It’s as if it’s playing both sides of the tape at once. What should I do?”

It is playing both sides of the tape at once. It sounds like you have rented a half track machine to play back tapes recorded on a quarter track machine. These two formats are not compatible with one another. The quarter track machine has two tracks (left and right) on half of the tape. The idea is you can turn the tape over and record two more tracks the other direction, much like how cassette tapes work. On a half track machine the two tracks span the whole width of the tape, and the tape always plays in only one direction. Put a quarter track tape on a half track tape machine and you’ll hear most of all four tracks – two in the left channel, and the other two in the right. Some half track machines can be put into a mode where they can play quarter track tapes. Look around the head stock for a switch and try it. If you don’t find one you’ll have to get a different machine to play the tape properly.

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