The invention of the multitrack recorder is often credited to guitarist Les Paul in the 1950s, who persuaded Ampex to stack up several record and playback head elements so that he could produce the famous 'Les Paul sound' of layered guitars more easily than the more primitive sound-on-sound technique.
There have been many manufacturers of analog tape recorders, but the top three historically have been Ampex, Otari and Studer. It has to be said that many of the early generations of multitrack recorders were real dogs - particularly the one that chewed up the oxide of the tape (literally) and left little curls of magnetic material on the studio floor.
In the US, you will commonly find the Ampex MM1200, and occasionally the Ampex ATR124, which is often regarded as the best analog multitrack ever made, but Ampex only made fifty of them. Ampex was the first company outside of Germany (where analog recording finely reached the stage where it was possible to record music successfully) to make tape recorders. Although they subsequently moved out of this business, their name (founder Alexander M. Poniatoff, plus EXcellence) is still very well respected.
All over the world you will find the Otari MTR90 which is considered to be a good quality workhorse machine, and was still available to buy until not so long ago. Otari probably had a storeroom full of parts from which they were able to construct the odd machine to order, but they now seem to have run out.
The Studer range is also well respected, and one could easily say that Willi Studer was the Alexander M. Poniatoff of Europe. The Studer A80 represented the coming of age of analog multitrack recording in the 1970s. It has a sound quality which is as good as the best within a very fine margin, but operational facilities are not totally up to modern standards. For example, it will not drop out of record mode without stopping the tape.
The Studer A800 is still a prized machine and is fully capable, sonically and operationally, of work to the highest professional standard. The more recent A827 and A820 are also very good, but sadly the A820 is no longer manufactured. The A827 does, at last look, still seem to be in the Studer catalog. So what are you waiting for...?
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