Innovation: ATR Services

Founded by industry veteran, Mike Spitz, ATR’s mission back in 1991 and today has been to ensure that the craft of highresolution analog tape recording and vinyl mastering continues to thrive.
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ATR Service and ATR Magnetics founder Mike Spitz with an Aria replacement electronicsequipped
Ampex ATR recorder.
Twenty Years of Analog Innovation

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Founded by industry veteran, Mike Spitz, ATR’s mission back in 1991 and today has been to ensure that the craft of highresolution analog tape recording and vinyl mastering continues to thrive. ATR Services has proved to be a world leader in analog tape recorder technology, specializing in restorations, upgrades, parts and services for the iconic Ampex ATR102 and other studio recorders.

That analog recording remains a viable high-resolution alternative to digital workstations is a testament to the enduring sonic qualities of analog recording, and in no small part to innovation pioneered by ATR Services and ATR Magnetics, and its devotion to the format.

Spitz’s roots in audio recording can be traced back to the late 1960s, working in high fidelity (hi-fi) sales, becoming familiar with audiophile playback equipment from high-end manufacturers like Audio Research, Spendor and Quad. When a live mixing position opened at the famous Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, NJ, Spitz quickly jumped at the opportunity to mix a diverse range of artists including favorites Frank Sinatra and Al Green.

By the mid ’70s, Philadelphia’s legendary Sigma Sound Studios beckoned. Spitz worked as both a recording engineer and later as a technical service engineer. After six years at Sigma, he joined Ampex Corporation in Redwood City, CA as a product engineer for the Audio Video Systems Division. Due to his end-user and customer background, Spitz took on support of the later audio production recorders like the ATR102, ATR124 and MM1200.

After leaving Ampex, Spitz established ATR Services in 1991, working out of his garage in San Mateo, CA, introducing a series of innovative products and upgrades to Ampex and other pro audio analog recorders. Amongst many innovations, ATR Services can be credited for developing the first practical one-inch stereo mastering recorder based on the Ampex ATR102.

By modifying the ATR102 tape path, tape interchange problems were eliminated and the mechanical stability translated into improvements in dynamic phase stability and 30 ips bass extension. Spitz explains, “Over 50 custom 1-inch, 2-track (model OneTwo) machines have been delivered worldwide and any master recorded on one plays back perfectly on

By modifying the ATR102 tape path, tape interchange problems were eliminated and the mechanical stability translated into improvements in dynamic phase stability and 30 ips bass extension. Spitz explains, “Over 50 custom 1-inch, 2-track (model OneTwo) machines have been delivered worldwide and any master recorded on one plays back perfectly on another. It’s a top-line, solid recorder and format to invest in. The first ATR102 1-inch, 2 track customers were Chuck Ainlay and Bob Ludwig.”

In 1994, ATR developed the HDV-2 tube mastering electronics with the help of analog wizard David Hill. The plug-in HDV-2 provided a clean tube sound with analog master tapes on the ATR102. Its variable damping function makes the HDV-2 versatile to mastering engineers, providing a wide range of sound reproduction alternatives. All HDV-2s built are still in service.

Mike Spitz, circa 1980 at Sigma Sound, working on the Leon Huff album, Here To Create Music.The year 1996 saw the introduction of the VS-20 high-resolution, variable-speed controller. Ten times more accurate than previous speed controls, the VS-20 was used on countless reissues where correct tuning and pitch was essential for playback of the original stereo master tapes. The VS-20 is still in production.

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Following a move back to Mike’s hometown of York, PA in 1999, ATR was able to expand its operations. In 2001, ARIA discrete electronics (another Hill masterpiece) was developed. ARIA was designed to replace the entire record-playback electronics of any tape recorder—a near plug-in solution to replace any aged circuitry.

In 2002, ATR established direct in-house manufacturing of precision parts. Manual as well as a CNC custom- machined parts could be made with high precision and in small quantities. The machine shop became integral to ATR and is in regular use making Ampex- and Studer-compatible head blocks and transport parts, plus remanufacturing capstan and reel motors. According to Spitz, “Inhouse machining reduces cost, provides flexibility and enhances quality control.”

Following the exit of 3M, BASF/ EMTEC and Quantegy from the analog-tape market, ATR Magnetics was formed in 2004. Funds were diverted from the development of a new technology analog recorder as Spitz felt it imperative to develop a new analog master tape to prevent analog recording from going into steep decline.

Spitz reflects today: “I knew taking on the construction of a tapecoating plant would be very difficult and risky. It proved to be more difficult than my worst nightmares. We prevailed, in part, due to a process alteration that provides a better way to nestle the iron particles in the tape coating. We discovered that by producing in small batches, we yielded a coating with less tape hiss and lower print through than the traditional mega production methods.” The industry agreed, and in 2008, ATR Master Tape won a TEC Award for technical achievement.

In 2011, Spitz consolidated both divisions (hardware and recording media) into the 13,000-square-foot coating facility in York, where the passionate quest for the highest resolution sound of analog tape continues today.

Training seminars for calibration and machine alignment are held regularly, and Spitz is continuously mentoring and maintaining a younger staff in order to ensure analog competency in the future.

Richard Wilson of Galaxy Tracks PR provides PR services to ATR Magnetics and ATR Service.

ATR Service
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ATR Magnetics
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