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Images of Scotch (3M) tape boxes available

Filed under: history,reels,Tape Aging — 2009-02-04 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2017-07-18 by Richard L. Hess

I was interested in the progression of the Scotch/3M tape boxes over the years, especially after Carmine Lauri contacted me because his father was in the picture of a chamber orchestra on the 1960s Scotch tape boxes. Click on each image to see a larger one. Any moire pattern you may see is the screening of the printing on the box beating with the pixel/dot pattern of your monitor.

Shedding Japanese 206 at Indiana University

Filed under: reels,Tape Aging — 2017-07-18 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2017-07-18 by Richard L. Hess

In October, 2016, Jonathan Richardson of the Indiana University Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative contacted me and sent these two photos:


Colour repair in Photoshop and Lightroom

Filed under: photography,scanning,still images — 2017-07-15 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2017-07-15 by Richard L. Hess

I was working on a media and image digitization project this spring and early summer. Some of the slides from 1960 had horrible color shifts. Here are two examples that I helped along in Photoshop and Lightroom. I did not take detailed notes on these but thought that they might provide an indication of what is possible without too much work. Obviously, other defects could have been reduced, like fingerprints, but there was an inadequate budget for this type of cleaning. Clicking on either image will bring up a larger version. I made the scans of the original slides on my Nikon Coolscan 5000ED.

Magnetic Developers — Seeing the tracks

Filed under: magnetic record viewing,magnetic tape developing,tools — 2006-03-08 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2015-11-29 by Richard L. Hess

This has been updated 2015-07 and now 2005-11. We ordered a new 1022 viewer from Arnold/Flexmag as the 2007 Sigma finally gave up the ghost and the 2011 Sigma that I had as a spare is not as good a performer for this application. As of the end of November, we are still awaiting a response from Sigma. Overall, I am quite pleased how well the “fresh” Arnold unit works and it appears more sensitive than the older 3M unit I had even when it was working well. This is now my top choice. It is not perfect, but fits the budget better and performs much better than the newer Sigma. It is also faster than the Sigma ever was.
Please look here, but there is still good information, below.
Two ways of seeing tracks on a tape are listed here. We’re collecting more in the comments. (more…)

A summer of archiving…

Filed under: archival practices,project notes,scanning,still images — 2013-08-13 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2015-05-03 by Richard L. Hess

This summer [2013], we have completed the project we described at the end of last summer. We began the summer of 2008, with Robert working every summer to some degree since. Michael split the work with Robert in 2009. More commentary below the graphic (UPDATED 2013-08-31) after the break.

A New Year’s view of at-risk audio formats

Filed under: -general,archive operations,audio,project notes — 2015-01-11 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2015-01-11 by Richard L. Hess

There are many factors that affect the ability of people like us to digitize tapes for you, our clients.

One of the most difficult issues to balance is the physical space that different formats take up, the ongoing maintenance of these formats, and, to be brutally honest, their return on investment.

What we discovered is that some of the machines we were archiving for future use would not work when they were brought out of storage. Rubber parts, capacitors, and lubrication are probably the most prevalent causes of failure. We have said to clients more than once (with a wry smile), “Yes we can probably restore your tape, but first we need to restore a machine.”

Manufacturer and maintenance depot support for various formats is waning or fully discontinued. Parts are hard to come by, and good machinists with an interest in doing this are either non-existent or very expensive.


Protecting the container: Heritage Building Fire Safety

Filed under: archival practices,history,infrastructure — 2014-04-14 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2014-04-14 by Richard L. Hess

While this post does not specifically pertain to audio tape restoration, it does pertain to keeping originals and copies safe, especially in heritage buildings.

This article is prompted by a devastating fire in Aurora, Ontario, Canada, where I have lived for the last 10 years and also from 1981-1983. On Friday, April 11th, there was some roofing work being done on the 135-year-old Aurora United Church. Roofers were using hot tar and allegedly some sort of open flame. Humidity is not high in the winter and we had a cold one. The church roof structure (and much of the ceiling structure of the nave) was wood. Hot tar, flame, low humidity, wind, and very dry old wood do not mix well, and the results, sadly, were predictable. The church is now a ruin. The fire department spent 4-5 hours with up to maybe 7-8 master streams running into the attic and other parts of the structure.



Dangers of old tape recorders for playback; using the elevator head

Filed under: magnetic tape developing,project notes,Sony APR-5000,storage-care-handling — 2009-09-02 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2013-10-30 by Richard L. Hess

We are currently working on some un-published tapes for a major Canadian folk artist. We have a 7.5 in/s 2-track stereo recording that was one of (if not the) first studio recording of this artist from circa 1972.

At some point, this tape was played on a 1/4-track machine that injected hum onto the left channel. Here’s what the magnetic viewer showed:



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. (more…)

Azimuth: Hows and Whys

Filed under: archival practices,education,matching head to tape,recording/mastering — 2006-09-27 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2013-06-27 by Richard L. Hess

There is a recurring question as to what is the best way to set azimuth for playing a tape. Many people assume that using the test-tape alignment is best. Well, that makes another big assumption: The recorder used a proper test tape alignment. While that can be the case, it usually is not. (more…)

DAT’s not good…but I’m back in the business

Filed under: digital,Tape Aging — 2011-10-02 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2013-02-05 by Richard L. Hess

The long-term maintenance of digital formats that I do not get a great call for has become a burden. While I would like to have all formats available for all people, I have such a backlog of analog, that I will not be accepting digital-only projects in many formats that I used to.

The formats that I am currently committed to transferring are:

—DATs with two options:
         -straight transfer where we listen for glitches and look at the waveform for glitches (four Tascam DA-20 MKII)
         -error-logged transfer where the machine logs all of the errors it has concealed (Sony PCM 7030)
—PCM-F1 on VHS or Betamax (multiple machines and multiple ES-601 and PCM-F1 decoders)
—Sony DASH (3202 or 3402) 2-channel reel (two each Sony PCM-3202 and PCM-3402)
—MiniDisc (normal stereo in regular and HI-MD, but not porta-studio multitrack; multiple )
          (Sony MZ-RH1 Hi-MD Minidisc recorder with USB download; Sony MDS JE-530 and two other MD players)
—Digital Files on CD, DVD, hard drive, USB drives, etc.

Cassette Equalization: The 4 dB ambiguity at 16 kHz

Filed under: cassettes,Tape Aging — 2006-05-17 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-12-03 by Richard L. Hess

There have been rumours that Nakamichi used a different cassette standard than the other manufacturers. This is not really the case. Everyone thought they were using the same 3180/120 or 3180/70 microsecond equalization as specified in IEC Pub 60094-1, 1981. There is further discussion from 2010 here.

As I understand the history, both Nakamichi and STL in the late 1970s discovered that when they made calibration tapes based on the published time constants in the standards, their response showed that the then-common BASF alignment tapes were approximately 4 dB high (hot) at 16 kHz.

It is assumed that BASF, who made the calibration test tapes made an error in calibrating their reproduce heads’ response in one of two areas: (more…)

VCR Tracking and Cleaning—A guest article by Jim Wheeler

Filed under: archive operations,digital,video — 2006-03-17 by Jim Wheeler — Last Edit 2012-11-04 by Richard L. Hess

There was an off-line discussion about VHS-Hi-Fi tracking and breakup in Hi-Fi playback and how to correct it. I brought Jim Wheeler into it, and he agreed to write this article. —Richard

I invented the automatic tracking system in 1976 but it is pricey. If you want to pay about $2,000 for a pro-VHS machine, you can get true auto-tracking. Manual tracking works for most tapes. If not, there was a problem with the recording VCR. Alcohol is not good for cleaning heads and tape guides. I always use Xylene and you can buy Xylene at hardware and paint stores. Do not use Xylene on a pinch roller! Have your window open when you use it. I sniffed Xylene for over 30 years and am still okay–okay–okay….I recommend using Xylene for cleaning all components in the tape path except the pinch roller. I recommend Isopropyl alcohol for cleaning pinch rollers. [Some of us are using Formula 409 on pinch rollers—it depends on the pinch roller and its application—Richard] (more…)

Mono and stereo cassettes

Filed under: archival practices,cassettes — 2008-05-22 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-10-28 by Richard L. Hess

The format page for 0.15 inch wide tape has a drawing (click for large version) that clearly shows that mono cassettes have one wide track and stereo cassettes split this track in half and add a small guard band. Most mono cassette recorders follow this format. It turns out that the mono Marantz PMD201 uses a two-channel head and records dual mono. Most other mono recorders seem to follow the standard.

While this is a theoretical problem, few if any good mono recorders are available for reproducing these tapes anyway, so most of us in the domain transfer field use good quality stereo machines for all cassette transfer work.

UPDATE 2012: While it is often possible to sum the channels if the Dragon finds proper azimuth, on many low-quality tapes this proper azimuth is not achieved. Now that azimuth correction (at least the time delay portion) is available for a reasonable price in iZotope RX2 Advanced, I have found that after correcting for time delay between channels that I can now sum both (if they are worthy of it) and reduce the noise prior to applying the noise reduction plug-in. (more…)

Source for D5 (Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane)

Filed under: Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane,Tape Aging,tools — 2012-10-09 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-10-11 by Richard L. Hess

I have recently been looking to replenish my supply of D5 (Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane) and did not have much luck receiving replies to my email. Others have reported difficulty finding this in quantities smaller than a 55-gallon drum.

I found a promising listing for cyclopentasiloxane and when I queried the supplier, he indicated that the analysis was 97.5% decamethylcyclopentasiloxane and the balance being octomethylcyclopentasiloxane. I suspect that is more than good enough for tape work.


Personal Image Scanning Project

Filed under: project notes,scanning,still images — 2011-11-05 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-10-09 by Richard L. Hess

In the 2007-2008 school year, my son Robert asked me why we did not have all our family images in the computer as there were some that he needed for a report. Since this was a project I had desired to undertake for some time (but who has the time), I responded with “I’m very glad you asked, what are you doing for a summer job?”

As of September, 2012, the bulk of the work has been completed and here are the statistics:

scanning stats 2012-09-11


Playing a squealing reel of Sony PR-150 tape using D5 (Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane)

Filed under: archival practices,Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane,project notes,Sony APR-5000,Tape Aging — 2012-10-01 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-10-01 by Richard L. Hess

Today I worked on a batch of five Sony PR-150 7-inch reels recorded at 3.75 in/s in one direction, two-track mono. One of the five reels showed marked shedding during fast-wind/rewind (to get the original reel as takeup and to check the tape pack). Four of the five reels played fine. This one squealed horribly. I ran the tape up and back over the dispenser and then fixed it in position for running the tape over it during the playback session. Once again, D5, Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, CAS Number 541-02-6 comes to the rescue. The lovely thing about D5 is that it evaporates.

APR-5003 with D5 dispenser

Is this better than cold playback? I don’t honestly know. Both work. This is easier if there is no reel machine standing by for cold playback (which there was not today). I keep a Nakamichi MR-1 in the refrigerator so it is ready to go when I need it. The Studer A810 I put in the fridge did not like it. The capstan motor seized up AND the heat output overwhelmed the refrigerator’s capacity to cool. I suspect the APR would also overwhelm the refrigerator’s capacity. Also, it is much easier to lubricate a reel than a cassette.


Speed variation with unmatched reels

Filed under: archival practices,reels — 2012-09-20 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-09-20 by Richard L. Hess

I received an interesting question from a European tape user with whom I frequently correspond:

“Is there any speed variation when playing a tape with different hubs on the supply reel and take-up reel?”

And I replied:

You raise an interesting question. The easiest answer to this is simple:
There is a risk of speed variations throughout the reel if the tape tension varies throughout the reel.
followed by the corollary:
This effect is made worse if the condition of the capstan / pinch-roller system is degraded.
Some capstan / pinch-roller / constant-torque systems handle this better than others.


Update (2012-08) Kyread spray-on magnetic viewer fluid

Filed under: magnetic record viewing,magnetic tape developing,tools — 2011-05-30 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-08-07 by Richard L. Hess

In several articles on magnetic viewers, we have discussed the spray-on Kyread product.

GOOD NEWS! The company is back! I received a phone call from Ryan Blackwell this afternoon and he pointed me to their new website. The company name is now Kyros Technologies LLC.

Note their jump into the 21st century with a real website and great domain name: — they even have a shopping cart for online ordering. This is apparently the same product I’ve been using for the last eight years.

DTRS (DA-88) Transfers now available through TASCAM

Filed under: digital,outsourcing — 2012-07-20 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-07-20 by Richard L. Hess

TASCAM has set up a very reasonably priced transfer service for multiple-cassette projects recorded in the DTRS format (DA88, etc.).

For more information, click here.

I cannot warrant this service, but what could be better than having it attached to the service facility. I have listed other resources on my format page.


Agfa PEM-469 success

Filed under: project notes,storage-care-handling,Tape Aging — 2012-02-26 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-02-26 by Richard L. Hess

We had success transferring two reels of one-inch Agfa PEM-469 tape that was shedding and leaving a waxy clear-to-yellow exudate on everything. We were happy to get through these and recover the content. This is discussed in more detail towards the bottom of our Degrading Tapes page—hopefully the most up-to-date resource on the Web about problem tapes. Please let me know if you would like to help me add anything to the page. It is there for everyone struggling with old degrading tapes. If you haven’t looked already, please look at my paper on the subject.

Capturing both directions of a half-track mono tape

Filed under: archival practices,matching head to tape,recording/mastering — 2012-01-06 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-01-06 by Richard L. Hess

It is possible to capture both directions of a two-sided half-track mono tape in one pass.

The critical factors are:

  • Azimuth
  • Direction
  • Polarity


Playing full-track mono tapes

Filed under: archival practices,matching head to tape — Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-01-06 by Richard L. Hess

About ten years ago, when I transferred the oldest tapes in the United States as part of the Mullin-Palmer collection, my good friend Don Ososke pressured me to use a full-track head for the project. I had started transferring these full-track tapes with a Woelke NAB stereo (two 80 mil (2 mm) tracks) head and recording both channels. When I obtained a Nortronics full-track head, the difference was night-and-day. The full-track reproduction sounded fuller, smoother, and quieter. There were no tracking problems to speak of that would cause azimuth wander large enough to create a “flanging” or “phasing” effect of in-and-out high-frequency loss. (more…)

Playback of NAB 2-track tapes on a DIN Stereo (Butterfly) head

Filed under: archival practices,matching head to tape,reels — 2007-09-12 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-01-06 by Richard L. Hess

I received a query from Sweden today asking

I have a Studer machine with butterfly heads with which I’d like to reproduce
tapes recorded with normal two track heads. Theoretically, how much more noise,
in dB, would I get from playing the “empty” part of the tape?

Let’s look at the assumptions.


Obsolete data formats

Filed under: archive operations,audio,computer/data,history,video — 2011-11-22 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-11-23 by Richard L. Hess

This is a reminder that data formats come and go just like audio and video formats. On this, the 48th anniversary of the JFK assassination, this article was posted at the Library of Congress website. It talks about first locating and then converting research data held on IBM 80-column punch cards. I remember working with those my first summer job back in 1967! I guess I have a penchant for obsolete formats, as I learned a good deal about IBM’s unit record equipment, including the amazing 407 (introduced in 1949). That certainly was not as useful as knowing about analog tape now.

The punch cards were found and converted. This is a much happier fate than that suffered by the original IRIG 14-track 1-inch tapes of the Apollo Moon Walk from 1969! I am currently digitizing 14-track 1-inch seismic tapes surrounding the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. (more…)

Slide Storage Warning – Airequipt 2 x 2 Slide File

Filed under: archival practices,photography — 2011-08-22 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-08-22 by Richard L. Hess

Over the years, I’ve used various methods of storing 35 mm colour transparencies. Until 1992, I used mostly metal slide boxes, but I do have about five Airequipt 2 x 2 Slide Files which are a hard plastic. One of them was sitting on a painted steel shelf and I found some oozing degradation components that were oily/greasy and rust where the paint on the shelf was scratched (probably prior to the box being placed on it).

These boxes have bubbled to the top of the priority list. The interior and slides seem to be fine…for now, and the other boxes are showing little or none of the symptoms of the one (which is probably not the oldest). The slides in this box date from 1983, but the box is almost certainly older. The Logan and Brumberger steel files are, as expected, holding up well, but I am migrating the images to hanging slide sheets from Transparent Office Products. I suspect that I’ll end up with about 2,500 sheets with probably 16 slides/sheet on average…and that will fit in seven file cabinet drawers (2′ deep). These sheets were originally sold by Franklin Distributors until Transparent took them over about half a decade ago. I bought my first sheets from them in 1991 or 1992 and they are still doing fine. Some other alleged to be archival sheets from the same time did not do as well.

We are scanning all of the images as we move them using a Nikon Coolscan 5000ED with SF-210 slide feeder.

Peter Copeland Audio Restoration Handbook now available

Filed under: archival practices,audio,education — 2008-09-14 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-08-20 by Richard L. Hess

I consider myself fortunate to have been one of many recipients of Peter Copeland’s generous assistance while working with some challenging tapes. I was saddened by his too-early passing in 2006.

The British Libary has now published his Handbook (click here).

CD-DVD printing revisited

Filed under: archive operations,tools — 2008-05-22 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-06-30 by Richard L. Hess

For many years, I had been in favour of the Primera Z1 small optical disc printer. When Primera discontinued this several years ago, I was not pleased and purchased two as spares, hoping at least the ribbons would continue.

It appears that I am not alone in thinking this is a good product as it has resurfaced as the U-Print CDP78, now in black, and available from many online distributors. The cartridges appear to be interchangeable with the Primera. I can now suggest that this is a good alternative for safe, long-lasting, and reasonably attractive text labeling of CDs and DVDs. It appears that the Teac P11 is also similar. The last time I checked, the Casio required manual rotation of the disk, rather than the Primera’s automatic rotation.

Please provide me with any feedback pro or con—preferably as comments to this post.

End of the 3.5″ floppy disk

Filed under: archive operations — 2010-04-27 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-06-30 by Richard L. Hess

CNET reported yesterday that Sony will be stopping sales of its 3.5-inch floppy disk media in March 2011 in Japan. Apple stopped supplying these as standard equipment in 1998 and Dell ceased that practice in 2003.

While this medium is not widely used for audio or video, there is, I suspect, still a large amount of ancillary data kept in this format. I will look through my collection and see if there is anything else I need to capture to my servers before my drives die.  I would not entrust anything important to this format.

We stopped using these about three or four years ago, with the last holdout being school work brought home. Now, even that is done on USB keys.

StoryCorps experience including equipment discussion

Filed under: archive operations,digital,live sound and recording,oral history,recording/mastering — 2008-02-03 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-06-30 by Richard L. Hess

My friend Susan Kitchens and her brother took their parents to the StoryCorps recording session in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. She blogged it here. One of the neat things is that between her article and the discussion she and I had in the comments, we have a good handle on most of the equipment that was used in the trailer. It’s a good selection in my opinion and shows how simply good-quality recording systems can be set up. Further discussions from a StoryCorps representative have shown how clever the setup is.

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