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Otari MX5050 – Resurrecting the Dead (Part 1)

Remember how I posted about FerricTDS and what a great free tape simulator it is? Well, one day it dawned on me: why the hell am I using a tape simulator when we have real tape machines sitting in the closet? Granted, they may be covered in filth and haven’t been powered on in years, but restoring one to service has to be worth a shot.

Here’s the machine I chose to work on:

Otari MX5050 - My New Baby

I selected this one because it showed the least visible evidence of disrepair. Regardless, you’ll see a thick layer of crud on every surface. The first step was to give it a thorough inspection and cleaning. The rubber pinch roller had begun to crack and deteriorate and the headstack was filled with grime and decaying tape glue, so I replaced both with spares. Both tension arms were falling off, but were tightened up easily enough. A gallon of elbow grease and 100 q-tips later, we were ready for the first power up.

… Which did not go well. Nearly all the switches were sticky,  the VU meter lamps were dead (and probably died 2 decades ago), and the speed control pot illuminated only intermittently. Fortunately, contact cleaner (Deoxit5) solved most of these problems, and all of the motors seemed to be fine. As for the VU meter lamps, testing showed a current at the VU meter lamp terminals, so I replaced two of four bulbs using spares we had on hand. I also lubricated the capstan shaft; cleaning was continuous.

MX5050 VU Meter Lamps

These things were built like tanks, but after 20+ years of service, they need extra care to function well. I’m psyched to say that this one is now operational and ready for calibration. I’ve already printed some mixes to it with encouraging results – it’ll only sound better once it’s correctly aligned and calibrated.

It works.

Oh, don’t test playback or record functionality with old tape. In addition to the severe screeching and poor transport response “sticky tape syndrome” causes, it gunks up your headstack terribly!


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