Studer A80-R

So, the inevitable has happened.
I have bought a Studer A80-R.

Studer A80

Studer A80

Studio

This is a beast. The unit is 70x60x84 cm, and is the size of a washing machine. And it weighs around 100kg. That is even heavier than a washing machine. It has wheels though. So you can roll it around.
This is the studio recorder that the artists from the seventies used to record their material on. It came in several configurations, from 1/8” (cassette tape) to 2” (24 track). Mine is the A80-R (for ‘rundfunk’ i think) 1/4” 2 track, speeds 7½ and 15 IPS (19 & 38 cm/s). Every studio in the world had one, or several. The most prominent artists that used the Studer A80 are Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons, etc.
I came in contact with someone who has access to professional studio equipment and repairs them on a regular basis, often in his spare time. Sometimes studios get rid of these machines that are in the way, and then he takes them in and repairs and refurbishes them.
I have visited him to look at the machine that I would buy and the second time I went there, the machine was all done and I took it home. Which was not a simple task. It fitted the back of my car fortunately.
After I got it home I wheeled it inside, where it would stay in the living room for the time being. It was simply impossible to get it upstairs.

Here is a short clip:

Challenges

The Studer gave me some challenges. First, the inputs and outputs are the balanced XLR type. I already have adapters to/from RCA which I used for my Revox PR99, but the problem is the line level. My other equipment is home use stuff, so it’s line level is -10dBV. The Studer, being a professional piece of equipment, uses +4dBu. This box fixes the level conversion and the physical connections.

xlr-rca lveveller
Second, the Studer was simply too heavy to carry up the stairs to the first floor where my audio room is. So it sat in the living room, happily enjoying the family life. And, between you and me, it sounds so good in the room.

Caps

Unfortunately, after a few weeks, the left motor, the supply motor, was giving problems because the tension was not there in play. Also, rewind was not possible anymore. A search on the net and my supplier both revealed that on the board 1.080.383 there are 2 transistors that control the 2 motors.P1010315

They are BC141-16 with heatsink on them. On my deck the one for the supply (left) motor was broken. I replaced him twice, but that was not the cause of the problem. The problem was elsewhere. The transistor blows as a result of that other problem.
Further investigation revealed that there could be problems with the tension potmeters that control the tape tension (the A80 has a sophisticated tension control system) or with the motor capacitors that could be faulty after 30+ years. I tested the potentiometer and I could not find anything wrong with it. So I removed and tested all the motor caps (9 pcs.) and found they were not entirely up to spec anymore.

A80 rear - motor caps

A80 rear – motor caps

I replaced them all, and installed a new BC141 just tot be sure. And so far, it works flawlessly again. Fingers crossed.

mechanical calibration

So now that all the caps were replaced, i though that the tape tension was a bit off. So i grabbed the service manual and started the mechanical calibration of the deck. This involves setting the (emergency) brakes, the tape path, the capstan pinch roller, and of course the tape tension and edit mode characteristics back to the desired specification. I have bought spring scales just for this! It was fun to do and the end result is here:

Heavyweight

So I had a Studer A80 in my living room. Now who can say that? It was always clear that it would have to be moved to the upstairs room eventually. When my brother-in-law heard about my problem, he thought it would be a challenge to get it upstairs. So one day he showed up on my doorstep. Long story short, an hour later it was done. Actually, it took almost an hour to do the preparations like attaching the rope appropriately (and carefully!), and it took just 10 seconds to go from the bottom of the stairs to the top of the stairs! So now it has reached its final destination, my “audio room”.

Testing

Being hooked up to some good sounding equipment, my trusty Technics amp and my new KEF Q700 speakers, and using my Philips SACD player as source, I made test recordings and played them back. My tape of choice was BASF 911 and SM900. The results were nothing short of spectacular! The level of OEMPF that his recorder is able to put on tape is astounding! And, those of you who are familiar with analog recording equipment will know that there is always noise (tape noise, vinyl groove noise, FM-noise, cassettes!) when working with these machines. Not so with the Studer! It is so quiet! And that is a piece of equipment that was made around 1970. Incredible.

I am still enjoying this beast. I am tempted to do the technical calibration as well to calibrate it for BASF 911 or 900, but it sounds so good already i’m not sure it would get much better, and there is always the risk of f***ing it up. So for now, i think I’m good.

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3 thoughts on “Studer A80-R

  1. Johan

    Hello Philip,

    You knew I left some work for you to do 🙂
    Your machine has been set to SM911 and, to be honest, you machine is sonically one of the better ones.
    Most recordings on this machine …. not many to none. It was used as an edit machine in the former Dureco studios so that’s why it had about 5500 powered hours on it without recording hours. If you run SM900 you’ll have to push the level to 1,55Vrms to reach +9dB. With the SM911 you go up to 1,23V ak the defacto level of the a80: +4dB. But you can push it without problems to +6dB on the SM911. You were with me when I aligned the machine to SM911. To add to your article: your machine has the ‘Schmetterlich” head config. Also called “butterfly” heads. But the real truth is that it is a DIN head config machine (which has 2×2,75mm track width). Most machine that went to the US were NAB head config but for sure not all. IEC with DIN is still the best tape format, or you must go exotic and choose a half or one inch stereo head config. I am aware that there even is a two inch two-track machine. Hmm .. 300 euros for a tape which lasts 30 minutes tops at 15ips, or 15 minutes at 30ips … that’s 20 euros a minute for a two track recording 🙂
    SM900 is a gorgeous tape but, I have tested the new ATR tape on my a80vu-mk1. Not good. I had to rework the record helper and bias amplifiers in order to get enough bias for this +12dB tape (!) After that and one alignment further it’s able to use the tape up to +15dB (equals +3vu). It’s scary .. no noise .. no hiss ..
    I now have to work on another a80vu-mk1. Two channels DIN is fun but 16 of them is even better. This machine is well known to the Police (the group with Sting, Stewart and andy) This one comes out of the once very famous Wisseloord Studios. With a very late, or early hours, recording when they had fun, the “dodododadada” was recorded. The story goes that no engineer was around and Sting asked the cleaning man to start the recorder.

    Reply
  2. Philip van der Matten Post author

    Hey Johan,

    Thanks for adding to my article. I am still very happy with the beast!

    I have recently been to Wisseloord and visited all studios. Studio 4 aka. ‘The Vintage Room’ was where I was able to admire the 16 track Studer A80 that they use there.

    -Philip
    p.s. Sorry for the late reply

    Reply
  3. Gunnar Langemark

    Hi Philip
    I’m quite new to R2R (apart from my childhood in the sixties and seventies) – and I was fortunate to be given a Studer A80 Master Recorder quarterinch two track machine a week ago. It had some ot the behaviour of yours. I managed to record a few minutes of test talk with it – which sourded really good.
    But now recording is broken. It spools and plays well, but recording stops slowly within a couple of seconds. I suspect a capacitor.
    When I depress the Rec and Play button, they do not stay in place – If I hold them, the recorder works for a second, then slows down to a halt, and after a couple of seconds, the take up reel goes in reverse for a second and unreels 4-6″ of tape, then stops. When I release the two buttons – it begins play.
    I’m looking for answers. I have had the row of buttons removed (very nice modular design – I simply love it) – but contacts seem fine.
    Greetings from Denmark

    Reply

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