Unveiled nearly 30 years ago at AES in 1976, the Ampex ATR-102 (the 2-channel version of the company’s ATR-100 Series recorders) is still considered by many to be the best mastering deck ever built. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always that way. Early units were sometimes erratic and unreliable due to some substandard assembly line work and uneven quality of parts from outside suppliers. But after a few years of such growing pains, the ATR-102 emerged as a favorite of studios and broadcasters alike.
Created by Ampex hardware engineers, the ATR Series incorporated advanced aerospace techniques with clever design details. The transport’s gentle pinchrollerless design with capstan and reel motors under servo control provided smooth, continuous tension and tape handling, with almost nonexistent speed drift and extremely low flutter due to the large capstan. A unique plug-in head block let users change heads/guides in a matter of minutes, while its layout and convenient thumbwheel made for fast, easy editing. In all, some 3,000 machines (mono, stereo and multitrack) were made until the series was discontinued in 1982, but ATR-100s are still quite alive thanks to parts, service and even new designs (such as the 2-inch 8-track and 1-inch 2-track) from ATR Services Inc.