Sound Bites: Otari MX80 vs MTR90 Multitracks

The MX80 is more reliable than the MTR90 and has less issues – it was designed after the MTR90 so Otari resolved issues (such as head shield motors and tension arms). It was designed for private studios really, with a smaller footprint and maximum 10.5 inch spools (rather than 12″) but that’s perfectly fine for modern purposes.

Otari MX-80

The other advantage of the MX80 is that because most were sold to private and producer clients, head wear tends to be much lower than on the MTR90, which went into commercial facilities. Sadly, neither machine has a reliable hours clock (the MTR90 has an hourglass type readout beneath the deckplate but this can be reversed so then runs backwards!). A careful visual inspection is therefore required to assess head life, but it’s quite easy;

Otari heads have a groove at the top and bottom of the heads. The depth of this groove reflects head wear.

The wear pattern should be smooth across all head gaps.

Both machine will have a head life of around 11,000 hours if properly set up and should take laps at 3000, 6000 and 9,000hours. Various companies make replacement heads. As with Studer, the erase head has double the life of record/repro heads and shouldn’t need replacing.

11,000 is a long, long time in the current era; even a heavily used machine would be unlikely to run for more than 1000 hours a year and many only do one or two hundred.



The MX80 has an excellent remote with 3 position locate points and cycle function (perfect if practicing drop-ins etc.). An additional autolocate was available but few were sold and although nice, they’re not essential. The MTR90 has an excellent remote but only return to zero so the optional autolocate is

MTR-90 Remote
MTR-90 Remote

a pretty important addition. It is important to note that the machines MUST have a remote unless being used with an automated desk with computer track arming/functions. Take care.

The MX80 came in two generations – pre and post 1988. The later machines have a slightly larger deckplate with indentations at either side and are, of course, preferable, but there is little difference in the performance of either.


Please note… all references to Otari MTR90 relate to the MARK TWO and MARK THREE versions. The Mark One was a complete and utter turkey and should be avoided at all costs. Also be aware that spares from a Mark One are as much use to a Mk2 or Mk3 as a fag lighter in a force nine gale.







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