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Thoughts about 8-track cartridges…

Filed under: archival practices,project notes,Tape Aging — 2013-10-01 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2013-10-01 by Richard L. Hess

I have just transferred three 8-track cartridges and I thought I’d share my thoughts about these transfers and what are realistic expectations for these cartridges.

We have had a special head assembly made for our Sony APR-5000 professional tape recorders. This was one of the last great studio tape recorders designed and manufactured. Production stopped in 1992. The head is a quality Nortronics 8-track 4-channel head (for quadraphonic 8-tracks) mounted in a special elevator assembly that allows fine adjustment of height. We can capture all eight tracks in two passes. Using this head provides better crosstalk specifications than attempting to use an 8-channel head such as was used by Fostex for multi-track recording.

These machines are capable of reproducing master recordings with excellent fidelity, but still there isn’t anything near that to capture from the 8-track tapes. The best tape that I ever transferred was a small-run project for a Newfoundland band that I transferred for my own purposes. I cannot do that for clients unless they have permission of the copyright holder.

In another instance, the only available copy of an album of an Appalachian band was on two 8-track copies. No LPs, no master tapes, no cassettes were available. These two copies were about a semitone apart which made cutting between them a real challenge and neither copy sounded particularly good.

The three that I just completed were home recordings. While I have done home recordings of a family elder passing on folk songs that were passable, two of these were audience recordings of a band (made for someone with professional interest in the band and with permission) and the third was the only recording extant of a band from 1973. I believe that, too, was a home recording. None of these three tapes were outstanding by a long shot and the 1973 band one might be an adequate representation for nostalgia sake, so the band members can say, “we were pretty good,” but none of these would come close to being releasable on CD or even cassette, unfortunately.

The importance of reading this and understanding this is if you wish to contact me for an 8-track project, I do not want high expectations as I am convinced that the format was not really capable of high-fidelity on a repeatable, regular basis.

While I am not turning this work away if there is an important reason to transfer the tape, it is important to realize that the quality on the 8-track tape you are thinking of getting transferred will not be great and it should only be considered as a last-ditch effort to preserve a shadow of the original music.

Oral history on 8-tracks is probably OK, but music is generally disappointing.

Hopefully, the next project will prove me wrong.

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