If you're considering the purchase of an 8 track machine, you've clicked on the right page!
Over the years, I've been inside just about every unit there is, and can help steer you to
a machine that will give the best service, as well as helping you avoid the lemons that will
give you nothing but frustration and disappointment. Most 8 Track machines are fairly
simple in design, which means that a recently serviced and restored machine will almost
always deliver acceptable performance for many years. But you may be surprised at what
you should avoid, and what you should expect, from that exciting eBay find or that $5
special you ran into at the nearby yard sale. Read on, and you'll get a complete education
on the wonderful world of the 8 Track machine. Thanks for visiting and Happy Tracking!
You'll find tons of 8 Track machines on eBay in varying condition. The seller will generally
pop in a tape, run it for a few minutes and conclude that the machine "works great". And
it may be perfectly true that the tape indeed played music, the track change button did
its job and the seller was not lying. But you should ALWAYS expect a machine to need
some kind of repair very soon, and it will likely start acting up the moment you first plug
it in and start using it. About 75% of all the jobs I get are from disgruntled eBay buyers
who thought they were getting fully functioning machines, but it's unrealistic to expect
a 30 year old machine to give acceptable performance without a little professional care.
You'll find a few sellers who do their own work on the machines before listing them. A
common practice is to replace the belt, tweak the adjustments a bit, clean the controls
and call it "serviced". These machines are slightly less risky to purchase, but you
should look for some kind of guarantee or return policy before plunking down a large
chunk of cash for these units. And remember, most sellers will make you pay the
return shipping charges - which are sometimes more than you paid for the machine!
NEW IN BOX, OR N.O.S. (New Old Stock)
These are machines left over from the 60's and 70's that were never sold, and are still
in their original, sealed factory packages. You may think you're getting a machine that
will operate perfectly and sound great right out of the box. Think again!
Unless you are extremely lucky, these machines will have the following problems:
1. The belt has been in the same position for 30 years, and may have even melted
from sitting in a garage or warehouse. "Belt Melt" is one of the most common 8 track
problems by the way, and they sometimes seep into the motor, creating a gooey mess
that takes hours to fully remove. Even if the belt hasn't melted, it is now permanently
reformed, with a small radius at the motor pulley and a large radius at the capstan. It
will likely stay in one place while the motor helplessly spins trying to turn it. At the
very least, it will sound "jerky" as the smaller radius repeatedly runs past the pulley.
2. The factory lubricant has not had a chance to spread throughout the mechanism,
and is also dried up from age. The track change mechanism depends heavily on this
lubricant for smooth performance, and you will likely have problems with track change.
3. The electrolytic capacitors in the unit have sat for years with no current going
through them, and could easily fail from the sudden current surge when you first
operate the machine. In extreme cases, they will even explode and spray ACID
all through the inside of your machine. This, incidentally, will not harm the machine
but you won't get any sound if they do fail.
4. Transistors, after sitting for years without being used, are prone to becoming
very noisy. They will sometimes produce a loud static, so loud that it drowns out
the music. I have purchased only two "new in box" units, and both had this problem.
Tracking down a noisy transistor falls under the "major repair" category and could
be expensive to fix, not to mention recapping the entire unit.
Bottom line: Buy a "new in box" unit because you want flawless external appearance,
but do expect to have it repaired very soon - it will surely need attention.
The straight dope on brands and models - good and bad
AKAI - Once the best machines ever made, they are now the greatest financial risk. The
heads in all except the CR-83(D) have a strong tendency to fail and are no longer available.
Additionally, the motors in high-end Akai units lose most of their torque - and again, are
no longer available. We can install our special, adjustable speed motor - but there is
nothing that can be done when the head loses a side or develops random static. Most
high-end Akais tend to run just a bit slow and have a sound that feels "overproduced".
PIONEER - Another great brand, but usually not quite worth the money they sometimes
fetch. Fine-sounding decks with cheap but adjustable DC motors, solid mechanisms
and usually many cool features like fast-forward and end-of-tape auto-stop.
The H-R99 and H-R100 are the most popular. The H-R100 has Dolby which is useless.
WOLLENSAK - These decks sound fantastic, but expect to replace the motor very soon.
Common to all Wollensaks is that they shoot the tape out like a cannon when ejected.
This disturbing problem is addressed and repaired in our shop.
SOUNDESIGN - Very sharp-looking products with really cheap electronics inside.
Some of the Soundesign machines have great treble response, making them ideal for 8
track playback. But the motors and mechanisms tend to be pretty wimpy, and won't
always pull a stubborn tape through smoothly. Cheaply built, but decent machines.
REALISTIC - Despite Radio Shack's bad rep, Realistics are actually very well-built and
designed products, sometimes manufactured by Shure and other fine companies,
and some models use the same chassis found in Toshiba units. Bad rep, good stuff!
PANASONIC - Very good machines all around, usually found at good prices. Panasonic
means solid construction, good enough sound and great reliability.
SEARS, JC PENNEY, MONTGOMERY WARD - Very good quality equipment all around,
manufactured by other companies and labeled with the store name.
ELECTROPHONIC - The only one worth buying is the small component player with the
front panel head adjustment - VERY HANDY FEATURE, and I haven't seen it on many
other machine. Unfortunately, Electrophonic is very poor quality using small
diameter capstans and flywheels along with a cheap motor. The speed consistency
on most Electrophinics is horrible, and they are not very reliable either.
LEAR JET - The inventor of the 8 track format. Lear Jet machines are the oldest of course,
and the few I've been inside were pretty scary fire hazards. Long, bare component
leads almost touching the chassis, the power transformer basically right up against
the wooden cabinet, parts tack-soldered seemingly as an afterthought (or a quick rig to get
it working and out the door). On the whole, a bad investment in my opinion.
NOTE: THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO OTHER BRANDS BEARING THE LABEL "LICENSED BY
LEAR JET INDUSTRIES" This only means that the manufacturer was required to purchase
a license to build or utilize a significant portion of then-current 8 track technology, and
applies only to the design of the tape transport and track changing mechanism.
MOST OTHER BRANDS - Anyone with enough money could purchase a license from Lear Jet
to build their transports, slap an audio board in there and make a fast buck. Most of these
machines are just fine, even if you never heard of the brand.
My personal all-around favorite is the Akai GXR-82D, with the CR-81D a very close second.
In general, brands which tout a name like "Super Sound", etc. are usually junk behind
a persuasive name, while the better brands tend to proudly state the name of the
designer or manufacturer. Just about any brand can be made to sound good and
perform well, but the brands at the top of the list will deliver solid and satisfactory
performance for years to come, and are worth the extra investment. Happy Tracking!
|Getting the Most For Your 8 Track Buck
|4783 N. Glenrosa Circle
Prescott Valley, AZ 86314