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Analog tape smile

Yup. Sure, you can own the tape recorder. But then you get nickeled and dimed, or should I say dollared and tens of dollared, every time you want to record something new.

Compared to that, even the Pro Tools subscription fee of $30 a month looks pretty darn good...and the $15/month PreSonus Sphere is an effing bargain.

No, I do not miss tape at all!!!

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And you don't have to clean and demagnetize the heads, worry about which way the tape is wound to avoid that pre-echo, and ProTools probably won't eat your song up, and even if it does, you should have already made an identical backup copy.


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I'm an analog diehard and had seriously considered multitrack tape system until a friend convinced me otherwise. I am glad he did. I chose a hard disk recorder and it was the better choice.

There's a good story back when Lynyrd Skynyrd was getting started. They recorded a song in the studio, and when the multitrack tape was played back for mastering they were horrified at the bad sound quality. Ronnie VanZant was so mad that they left. When they took the tape to another studio and played it back, the engineer got curious. He flipped the tape over and suddenly the sound quality was much better. Ronnie was so shocked that he immediately called the previous studio owner to apologize.

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I still have a 4 track cassette recorder in my closet. It's one of the later Tascam ones with 4 XLR inputs and more or less a complete mixer - an all in one.
I even have unopened cassettes, nice ones like high bias Maxell and TDK.
Our bassist left it on permanent loan after I converted all of the recordings of his old band into 4 track digital so he could mess around with mixing them.

I've considered doing a project on it, or "mastering" to it for the feeble output, low dynamic range and extra noise but it just sits there unloved.

I think you do have to weigh the cost of a subscription against the cost of an upgrade. Right now I can upgrade Waveform once a year for about $60 so that would be $5 a month. They usually have at least one free update every cycle as well, with one coming very soon. I could use Tracktion 5 or 6 just fine for all it matters.


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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
I think you do have to weigh the cost of a subscription against the cost of an upgrade. Right now I can upgrade Waveform once a year for about $60 so that would be $5 a month. They usually have at least one free update every cycle as well, with one coming very soon. I could use Tracktion 5 or 6 just fine for all it matters.

It depends what the subscription includes. If it's "buy this or you'll never see your projects alive again," that's one thing. But if it's "buy this and we give you all kinds of plug-ins and content periodically," that's a different story.

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Originally Posted by The Real MC
I'm an analog diehard and had seriously considered multitrack tape system until a friend convinced me otherwise. I am glad he did. I chose a hard disk recorder and it was the better choice.

I've been following the progress of "tape emulation" plug-ins. Although personally I don't use them very much, they're interesting from a technical standpoint. I wrote a blog post for Waves comparing their
Abbey Road J37 and Kramer Master Tape plug-ins. It was really quite revealing (and BTW, props to Waves, who never edit any value judgements I make when writing). The plug-ins don't offer all the possible options, like bias and EQ trims, although they do offer different tape formulations and speeds. They modeled specific recorder and tape combinations based on input from the Abbey Road engineers, and it's clear those engineers had different preferences for bias and EQ trims for the different tape formulations.

As someone who was raised on tape, I have to say, they really nailed the "tape sound." After doing the analysis of the J37, I'm much more likely to use it because I'm not groping around in the dark, hoping to find a "right" sound. Instead, I know what to try, and if it works...it works. If it doesn't, no harm.

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I'm not an analog tape diehard. I sold my Ampex MM1100 more than 20 years ago, and now the 1/4", cassette, and DAT machines are only used for playback - transferring analog recordings to digital. But I'm not an enthusiastic software DAW user either. One reason is that I don't record much any more that I need more than 2 tracks. I've put many more recording hours on my portable digital recorders than I have using Reaper, Mixbus, or Pro Tools. Another reason is that the projects that I work on don't require a lot of fooling around. No massive amounts of signal processing, no drum replacement, little or no vocal comping.

When I have a multitrack project, my Mackie HDR24/96, which works almost exactly like a tape deck until you get into editing, gets put into service first. If someone wants to take home a Pro Tools file to work on, I'll import the HDR's WAV files into a PT session and send him on his way. Like a tape deck, the user interface doesn't change so I don't have to re-learn things that I use. I don't have to get a new tape deck when I update the operating system on my computer. Nor do things get discontinued that require a new "tape deck."

I never really was bothered by maintenance when I was recording on tape. An alignment took a few minutes, and then I was sure that it was working to the best of its ability. Unlike with software, when something breaks, I usually know why or can figure out why pretty quickly. I feel uncomfortable "fixing" a software problem by downloading a new version of the program or of a driver for the interface hardware that I'd been using for years. Maintenance is maintenance and it doesn't go away because you don't have motors, ICs, and tape.

So that's why I don't keep up with the latest plug-ins or reverbs or updated versions that let you upload your work to YouTube without leaving the program. If I was 40 years younger, or if I've been working continuously over the past 40 years, I'd probably have gone with the flow. But since I don't feel any compulsion to, nor do I think it will make the little work that I do now better, I'll stick with what works for me, and won't discourage others from trying new old things.

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Originally Posted by Mike Rivers
When I have a multitrack project, my Mackie HDR24/96, which works almost exactly like a tape deck until you get into editing, gets put into service first. If someone wants to take home a Pro Tools file to work on, I'll import the HDR's WAV files into a PT session and send him on his way. Like a tape deck, the user interface doesn't change so I don't have to re-learn things that I use. I don't have to get a new tape deck when I update the operating system on my computer. Nor do things get discontinued that require a new "tape deck."

Even better...I have a Telecaster from 1966, and I can still buy strings for it smile Can you imagine if you went to pick up a guitar one day, and upon opening the case, you're told that you not only need to buy entirely new strings or it won't play, but it now has seven strings instead of six, and the bridge is entirely different and has to be intoned from scratch?

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So that's why I don't keep up with the latest plug-ins or reverbs or updated versions that let you upload your work to YouTube without leaving the program. If I was 40 years younger, or if I've been working continuously over the past 40 years, I'd probably have gone with the flow. But since I don't feel any compulsion to, nor do I think it will make the little work that I do now better, I'll stick with what works for me, and won't discourage others from trying new old things.

Which is eminently sensible. The only approaches I've found that work is to keep everything updated all the time, which is indeed a maintenance issue, or leave everything alone.

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I used to have a Teac A-3440 which I made backing tracks with before I went digital. I don't miss it at all.


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Originally Posted by Anderton
Even better...I have a Telecaster from 1966, and I can still buy strings for it smile Can you imagine if you went to pick up a guitar one day, and upon opening the case, you're told that you not only need to buy entirely new strings or it won't play, but it now has seven strings instead of six, and the bridge is entirely different and has to be intoned from scratch?

Well, that's a little far out, but you might find that the brand and type of strings that you've been using on that guitar for many years, after finally being happy with a string that sounds and plays great on your instrument, is no longer available. Or (and this has happened to me) you can no longer find your favorite strings, but you're told that this new type is the same as the ones you've been using. New packaging, new name, new model number, and maybe they changed a couple of gauges in the set by a couple of mils. I had a similar awakening 10 or so years ago when Charmin switched their descriptive brand names to "Ultra Soft" and "Ultra Strong" and I didn't know which one to buy to get what my A$A was accustomed to.

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The only approaches I've found that work is to keep everything updated all the time, which is indeed a maintenance issue, or leave everything alone.

Oh, don't I wish. Seems like these days, whenever I open an app on my phone that I haven't used in a month or so, I get a notice that it's obsolete and offers me an update. If I don't take the update, I can't use that app. This is mostly with commercial apps like airlines, hotels, grocery stores, and such. When I look at the app info to see what's new or changed, most of the time it's something like "to give our users a more pleasant experience." BAH HUMBUG!

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I still have my Tascam 246 I bought new back in 1990. Low mileage so not much wear on the heads. Input mic/line preamps are not great but if you use an external mixer to the direct inputs the fidelity is really good. Since going digital the 246 is now my "scratchpad" recorder for those moments of inspiration.

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A friend of mine I've known for years has lead a somewhat interesting life. We work at the same company, joined a band together (him on bass and myself on guitar/keys) and then he played bass for a while back when I'd started my own band. It's been over a decade ago now but he'd gotten remarried and they had an absolutely amazing new house built. The lower section of this home was primarily a professionally designed and built recording studio, a top notch state of the art place. I figured that would flop as a business but not at all, the place was always booked and there was some fairly high end stuff done there with bigger city startup artists, voiceover work for Discovery Channel shows and I don't know what all.
Anyway he was running Pro Tools of course but some of these local blues guy got it into his head that he needed a tape machine. I remember him telling me about it and I tried to tell him not to do it but....well. He bought an Otari 24 track unit that had been in Electric Lady studios. Of course the tape was expensive and that cost had to be passed onto the clients so to the best of my knowledge that machine never got used. It sure looked impressive though!

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After thinking on it, my least favorite recording format was anything 16 bit. Sony mini-disc recorder and the DAT machines with the small proprietary cartridges come to mind.
Tape can at least sound good, even 4 track cassette can sound good.


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I have some reel to reel from the early 80's that I would love to have converted to digital, but I'm not paying someone to convert 30 reels so I can go through and find which 5 songs I really wanted.


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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
After thinking on it, my least favorite recording format was anything 16 bit. Sony mini-disc recorder and the DAT machines with the small proprietary cartridges come to mind.
Tape can at least sound good, even 4 track cassette can sound good.

The dirty little secret is that many of the early "16-bit" products used 12-bit DACs. As to minidisc, ATRAC was a horrific data compression scheme when it was introduced. Sony fixed it over time, but then it was too late - it already had such a bad rep that nothing could fix it.

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Originally Posted by Anderton
Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
After thinking on it, my least favorite recording format was anything 16 bit. Sony mini-disc recorder and the DAT machines with the small proprietary cartridges come to mind.
Tape can at least sound good, even 4 track cassette can sound good.

The dirty little secret is that many of the early "16-bit" products used 12-bit DACs. As to minidisc, ATRAC was a horrific data compression scheme when it was introduced. Sony fixed it over time, but then it was too late - it already had such a bad rep that nothing could fix it.


Nice. This substantiates my impression that they sounded thin, yet harsh.

I am grateful to have 24 bits, it's amazing to me how capable current software/hardware recording tools are and how great they can sound.

Even the little "all in one" studios by Tascam and Zoom are pretty fabulous now.


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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
This substantiates my impression that they sounded thin, yet harsh.

The most common description I heard of ATRAC was "nails on a chalkboard."

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I am grateful to have 24 bits, it's amazing to me how capable current software/hardware recording tools are and how great they can sound.

Even the little "all in one" studios by Tascam and Zoom are pretty fabulous now.

Yes!! I remember when I heard the 20-bit PARIS system from Ensoniq. There was a definite, audible difference compared to 16 bits. If I had to choose between a high sample rate like 96 kHz or a higher bit depth like 24 bits, I'd take bit depth every time.

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Originally Posted by Anderton
Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
This substantiates my impression that they sounded thin, yet harsh.

The most common description I heard of ATRAC was "nails on a chalkboard."

Quote
I am grateful to have 24 bits, it's amazing to me how capable current software/hardware recording tools are and how great they can sound.

Even the little "all in one" studios by Tascam and Zoom are pretty fabulous now.

Yes!! I remember when I heard the 20-bit PARIS system from Ensoniq. There was a definite, audible difference compared to 16 bits. If I had to choose between a high sample rate like 96 kHz or a higher bit depth like 24 bits, I'd take bit depth every time.

Higher frequencies won't buy you dynamic range, immense low frequencies or natural sounding clarity. 16 bits is barely good enough for consumer audio, barely.

My friend Brittany, who was singing the Christmas song I posted, started with Garage Band (16 bits), it didn't sound good to her so she bought Logic. Didn't take her long at all to upgrade, I never suggested it.
Haven't heard any complaints about the program any more.


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Big fan of the Kramer Tape plugin from Waves, here. Gives you what you liked about tape without all the stuff you hated about tape. I need to try the Abbey Road plugin someday, but I want to try their ADT first. Got too many plugins!

I did love my old Teac 2300 stereo reel-to-reel. Did some acoustic recording with it, but mainly just made huge playlists for listening. I'm biased towards gizmos that go round n round and the sound comes out here - the bigger the better.

I'm old enough to have done studio recording on an old Studer 8-track. It did sound awfully good. But I was just a player, so I took all the engineering for granted. Engineers only do one of two things, right? They either avoid screwing up the great sounds you make, or they screw up, right? Players know these things.

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Originally Posted by Anderton
The dirty little secret is that many of the early "16-bit" products used 12-bit DACs. As to minidisc, ATRAC was a horrific data compression scheme when it was introduced. Sony fixed it over time, but then it was too late - it already had such a bad rep that nothing could fix it.

And yet, there were a few "pro" Minidisk recorders that were quickly adopted by the news media to replace their Marantz "pro" series of portable cassette recorders. The biggest problem with ATRAC was that they had to transfer it to tape in order to edit or even copy it. That was fixed by the time the multitrack Minidisk workstations came around, and I know a few folky records that were made on those.

Unlike the CD, which was originally a music medium that was adopted by the computer industry, the Minidisk was originally developed as a replacement for the computer floppy disk, but that never caught on.

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Originally Posted by Mike Rivers
And yet, there were a few "pro" Minidisk recorders that were quickly adopted by the news media to replace their Marantz "pro" series of portable cassette recorders. The biggest problem with ATRAC was that they had to transfer it to tape in order to edit or even copy it. That was fixed by the time the multitrack Minidisk workstations came around, and I know a few folky records that were made on those.

Unlike the CD, which was originally a music medium that was adopted by the computer industry, the Minidisk was originally developed as a replacement for the computer floppy disk, but that never caught on.

They never caught on because their entertainment division that markets CDs/DVDs/BluRay content was always fighting against new recording products, and their storage media were a proprietary design that was incompatible with everything else. Thanks to them, they pressured the technology division to disable copy/edit functions for "pro" recorders. Your recorded content was basically stuck on their devices. They are useless to content creators.

Sony's arrogance to professional music creators turned me off, and their rootkit scandal moved me to stop buying their CDs forever.

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Originally Posted by The Real MC
They are useless to content creators.

Sony's arrogance to professional music creators turned me off, and their rootkit scandal moved me to stop buying their CDs forever.

Not a Sony fan either. I'll just add in passing that I picked up a used Sony CD long ago and figured out a way on a Mac to copy their CD, I think I made a Disc Image, which I could then burn to another CD - an exact "un-copyable" replica of the original "un-copyable" CD. I didn't really like the music on that disc in the first place, it was the challenge that set me off.


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I'm with Bobby Owsinski on this. I remember running a studio based on a Fostex B16, it was horrible.

Maintenance was a pain.
Putting a reel on was a pain.
Rewinding a pain.
Waiting was a pain.
Explaining tape costs to customers a pain.
Being careful with reels of tape a pain.
Having to have expensive reels of tape laying in reserve a pain.


The funniest thing is having to fight it to get any kind of high end snap on drum sounds while having a balanced low end. Having to fight noise on low level signals, "yeah, that was cool when you kind of whisper-sang that part, but listen to it - I can't make it loud enough to be heard without a wave of noise". The occasional static click. Highend going away. On and on.

Tonally it was"ok". But you were cornered by that "ok", you couldn't escape or transcend it sonically. Which is fine, might be a bonus artistically - except clients didn't understand that. "No, it can't sound as nice as a million $ $2,000 a day lockout studio, but it can sound good".

Ahrgh. No thanks, keep those "good old days", or let me have my MOTU 24 I/O as the "tape machine"....


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Originally Posted by Chip McDonald
Rewinding a pain.

Fair warning: I am not making this up. I have actually heard people say during Q&A at seminars they preferred tape because they could sort of chill, and gather their thoughts while the tape rewound.

I recommended that after hitting "stop," they wait for a while before hitting "play." smile

Hey software companies who make tape emulation plug-ins! Here's your big chance to have a unique selling point! Have a preference that whenever you hit stop on the DAW's transport, play and record are locked out for 21 seconds. I bet people would just LOVE that feature!

Although my favorite "faux" plug-in is still Paul White's April 1 VST cable simulator, which attenuates high frequencies. The 15 foot emulation is $19.95, and the 30 foot emulation is $29.95.

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I only make recordings for my own backing tracks, and have done so since the tap days.

I lived near a community college that had a radio station. The broadcasting tower was on leased farmland 'out west' and they thought they could save money by erecting a tower on campus. When erected, if it fell over in our direction, it would have landed on my house somewhere near the top of the tower.

Once they cranked it up, I had their radio in all the tapes I made. It was even in my stereo set and during the quiet parts of an LP, you could hear WQCS.

So I called the FCC to see if anything could be done about that. Unfortunately the FCC used the same engineer as the school, and to make a very long story short, I moved.

Aaaaaaarrrrrrrgggggghhhhhh just remembering about it.

The good thing is I ended up buying a home in a great location that I got for a wonderful deal. All's well that ends well.

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Originally Posted by Anderton
Fair warning: I am not making this up. I have actually heard people say during Q&A at seminars they preferred tape because they could sort of chill, and gather their thoughts while the tape rewound.

When all we had was tape, which was the period when I did most of my recording in a studio environment, waiting for the tape to rewind was just expected. The musicians would talk after the take, and wouldn't shut up to listen to the playback. Rewind times aren't usually very long, but I know that sometimes seconds can seem like minutes. If you're doing an overdub - a real one where you erase the portion of the track that you're re-doing, a re-wind to check the punch or decide to just do another is usually just a few seconds, and that's a reasonable time to get set for playing again.

Some tape decks had better locators than others - that's something that computer certainly do better. What I (as engineer/tape-op) sometimes got frustrated with is if you had set a marker at the time you wanted to start rolling and the deck wandered back and forth around that marker for a few seconds before parking.

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I recommended that after hitting "stop," they wait for a while before hitting "play." smile

I often do that because I know the players aren't ready to go as fast as the computer is. That's something that you learn when working with other musicians. When you're recording yourself you can work at your own pace and you probably don't rush yourself. If you're letting the computer do the work - set up for automatic punch-in and loop - the player can get rushed, and if he's not quick on the draw and yell STOP after the music starts playing, you're risking over-writing the last (maybe best) take. But then most people don't work in the destructive mode like tape always was unless you did your fixes on multiple tracks so you could decide later on which was the best one. Set the DAW up right (usually the default) and you always have the Undo button.

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I have a friend with a studio in a commercial space. He has a Studer 827. Like me, he is a digital native and only got the tape machine much later. He said it was fun to learn how to use, and kind of a cool historical lesson in how records used to be made. But no one will pay him for the tape, and everything is way easier in PT. So, he occasionally runs stuff through it as an effect. But it is quite clear that even for a guy who's entire studio is based around getting the sounds of 70's Americana/roots music, the tape deck is just not very attractive as a recording technology.

While I do have an irrational desire to own a nice analog recording console, I don't have any desire to own tape, use tape, or any nostalgia for a technology that I've never used.

Software subscription models I don't have a problem with. It's a great way to try software. I pay Steinberg $150/yr to upgrade Nuendo - it isn't a subscription but might as well be. I had Slate Digital stuff as my "color" bundle for a few years, but wasn't really using it, so I let it go. I have a few of their things purchased, and I realized I use them all the time. So I let the rest go. But I'm not trying to sound like the past either. I subscribed to PT for a year to try the program out and to see if I wanted to join that ecosystem. I'm sticking with Nuendo.

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I think the "subscription" model can actually go in a few different directions. Take technology-oriented books: they die a quick death because the rate of change is so fast. It's impossible to keep print versions of tech books current. So...

With the Studio One books I've written for PreSonus, they're available only as eBooks. But here's the "subscription" part: I often revise the books to reflect changes in the program. For example, Studio One version 5 changed the effect GUIs as well as some of the features. So, I revised the books by replacing the screen shots, and adding descriptive material. This keeps the books current so new buyers aren't getting something out of date. BUT if you bought the book originally, you get to download the updates for free...kind of like a subscription program you don't have to pay for smile They're like point updates to software, like going from version 1.0 to version 1.1. Whatever was in your PreSonus account gets replaced automatically when there's a new version, so you can download it whenever you feel like it.

If a book undergoes substantial changes, then it qualifies as a new edition, like software going from version 1.0 to version 2.0. So this still keeps the books current for new buyers, but if you bought the original edition, you can buy the new edition for half off - again, like a software upgrade.

At this point all the books I wrote have gone to additional revisions, and one has gone to a new edition. People like this approach. smile

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Originally Posted by Nathanael_I
I have a friend with a studio in a commercial space. He has a Studer 827. Like me, he is a digital native and only got the tape machine much later. He said it was fun to learn how to use, and kind of a cool historical lesson in how records used to be made. But no one will pay him for the tape, and everything is way easier in PT.

Tape today has two places:

  • The hobbyist who just wants to have one and use it for hobby-like projects (paying, not payng, your own music)
  • The professional studio that has clients who want tape and have the means to pay for it (money is no object sessions)


I have an assortment of 1/4" tape decks that are used for transfers, not recording. In fact I have the erase and record heads disconnected on most of them just so I don't accidentally erase a tape. People occasionally pay me to make a transfer, but not for recording. And, as I believe I've said before, for multitrack projects I have a few Mackie hard disk recorders. Their WAV files can be imported into every DAW that I've encountered so, after tracking here, they can work on the project at home on their DAW. If they want to mix here, I have Pro Tools, Reaper, and Mixbus ready to load or import their sessions. The only projects that I start in a DAW are experiments. I don't want to waste a working visitor's time re-learning or figuring out a DAW for the sake of using a DAW. But no tape.

An analog console will work with any DAW as long as you do the system engineering homework and build things up correctly. And needless to say, I don't do software subscriptions. My Pro Tools is Version 10 and that's where it'll stay.

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Originally Posted by Mike Rivers
Tape today has two places:

Let's not forget museums! smile

Interestingly, tape is still alive for digital archival storage. It looks like the next big advance in being able to fit lots of data in a small space will be in tape-land, not semiconductors. IBM says it has developed a method that can store up to 330 TB of uncompressed data on a palm-sized tape cartridge.

Tape is like the prize fighter that gets knocked down, yet somehow, stumbles up from the canvas for another round.

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