ATR Services is known around the globe as a leading authority on analog reel-to-reel machines, especially the Ampex ATR-102 series. Given this profile, ATR receives numerous questions about caring for analog decks. To help machine owners with these topics, ATR started offering one-day seminars that cover recorder set up and maintenance. My studio partner and I went to a session last spring, and I have to say it was one of the best trainings I've ever attended.
In the morning segment, ATR founder Mike Spitz lectured on tape and analog machine principles. The laid-back atmosphere allowed the group to become comfortable with the material. Topics included operating-level, speed, azimuth, zenith, head-wrap, bias and equalization adjustments. To the relief of a few of us, the lecture was not Ampex-centric. Configurations from manufacturers such as Studer, Otari and Sony were also discussed. Spitz is a veritable riot to be around, taking snooze-fests like "capstan care and feeding" and "you and your uptake feed" and making them interesting. When paired with the handouts, the AM session is not to be missed. Be warned-the seminar starts on time! If you come in late because you can't pull your lazy self out of bed (like, say, me) be prepared to face the consequences.
The lecture really sunk in when we had to apply it during the afternoon session. For this hands-on lab, each participant was given a chance to degauss, align and adjust an Ampex ATR-102. Because of the number of attendees, we worked in two groups. ATR's Andrew Bigham instructed our group. In addition to a sense of humor, Andrew brings a lot of patience to the session. Even though I almost demagnetized his entire wallet, he didn't punch me.
The attendees had various experience levels. We ranged from seasoned ATR owners to DAW users who had never used an analog machine. But this wasn't a problem. Mike and Andrew made special effort to work with each person at their individual comfort level. For example, the more advanced participants were able to corner Mike on choosing "the best" tape formulation, while Andrew spent time with another group swapping out head-stacks. Regardless of initial skill level, everyone left having learned a lot more than they might have expected.
Although the session was supposed to end at 5 PM, Andrew and Mike stayed well past 6 PM to answer questions. I don't regret a dime I spent on the trip. In fact, I think it would be good to go back every 18 to 24 months just to stay sharp. If you're on the East Coast, there is no excuse not to attend one of these sessions. For the rest of you, York is a short drive from Harrisburg and Philadelphia, PA, so watch for airline sales.
The sessions are held approximately three times a year at ATR's York, PA location. Fees are approximately $250 per person, which includes the seminar, take home materials, and lunch. (www.atrservice.com)