Tape navigation: Home | Tips & Notes | History | Formats & Resources | Projects | Facility | Site Map | Contact

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:


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…)

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…)

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.


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.


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.

Lighter edge-shedding another possible degradation modality

Filed under: project notes,Tape Aging — 2011-03-05 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-03-05 by Richard L. Hess

We have seen some tapes which cannot be baked and others that did not need baking and could be treated in an easier way. Our degrading tapes page has been updated with a section on Lighter edge-shedding. This also includes a description of a simple tape-wiping process.

Updates posted for “winding tapes for long-term storage”

Filed under: archival practices,reels,storage-care-handling,Tape Aging,video — 2011-02-17 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-02-17 by Richard L. Hess

There was yet another discussion about winding tapes for long term storage. This time it was on the Society of American Archivists list. While it was focused on VHS tapes, where it was decided that it was more important not to leave the tape in the middle with active content exposed, some discussions of the mechanics arose and I have added them as comments to the original post, which is available here.

IASA TC04 Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects available online.

Filed under: archival practices,cassettes,computer/data,digital,education,history,reels,Tape Aging — 2010-10-08 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2010-10-08 by Richard L. Hess

The International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) has released their landmark Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects as a free web (HTML) edition, available here.

I provided some information for the listing of tape equalizations, and I find the compiled table (here) most useful.

Thanks to Kevin Bradley and the IASA team for their work in making this available. If you want a PDF copy, join IASA and it’s available.

Cassette equalization redo

Filed under: cassettes,history,Tape Aging — Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2010-10-08 by Richard L. Hess

There has been much discussion on some web fora about the differences between different brands’ cassette equalization standards.

As I stated here in 2006, there is a 4 dB ambiguity at 16 kHz.

Many things conspire to make this 4 dB ambiguity essentially meaningless in a generally low-fi medium. The only reason I’m mentioning this now is that I’ve been bombarded with email from more than one participant in this discussion and apparently there may be some editorial judgment attached to what is posted.

Jay McKnight has graciously permitted my posting of his comments to me: (more…)

New Degrading Tapes page

Filed under: project notes,Tape Aging — 2009-01-30 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-11-06 by Richard L. Hess

We have pulled the list of degrading analog audio tapes out of the blog postings (which age) and put this information into the Formats hierarchy under Analog Audio Tapes, click here. Please note that we have fudged the hierarchy by starting the title with a hyphen, so it sorts to the top of the Analog Audio Tape grouping, above 0.15″ cassettes.

We hope to update this as we come across more types. January 2009 was, sadly, fruitful in finding at least some batch(es) of two tapes from 1990 (Agfa PEM 526) and 2003 (Emtec SM911) are degrading. The Emtec SM911 was thought to be more-or-less immune from this disease. As of this writing, it has been confirmed that batch number B0134007 was involved.

Success with squealing Shamrock 031 tape

Filed under: project notes,Racal Store 4DS,Tape Aging — 2007-11-08 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-11-06 by Richard L. Hess

I spent days trying to get Shamrock 031 to play without much success. Since this is an Ampex factory budget brand (probably non-spec premium tape) I thought that it might be suffering from Sticky Shed Syndrome. I baked it for 12 hours and it still squealed. I then tried my usually successful cold playing technique and it still squealed. Cold playing has worked successfully with 3M 175 and Sony PR-150.

I was getting rather frustrated and since it was a four-track tape and one of the techniques that is supposed to reduce squeal is to play the tape faster, I dragged out my Racal Store 4DS instrumentation recorder which has a 75,000 Hz bandwidth at 15 in/s and played it at 15 in/s and digitized it at 88,200 samples per second. After slowing it down 4x and ending up with a 10 kHz bandwidth (which I subsequently truncated to 5 kHz since there was no useful information above that, but lots of noise–same as the non-squealing portion of the real-time transfers on a Studer A810).

 Racal Store 4DS playing formerly squealing Shamrock tape


Back-coat turning to powder

Filed under: project notes,Tape Aging — 2009-01-30 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-11-06 by Richard L. Hess

We have just seen a modification on the Sticky Shed Syndrome (SSS) failure mode. This is a case where the back-coat of the tape is turning to powder. The oxide was brown but yet it left a black, non-sticky accumulation of powder on the reproduce head. This accumulation would drastically reduce the high frequency response of the system due to spacing loss. We did bake the tape and we’re not sure that helped significantly, although it did not appear to make the problem worse. We would NOT recommend baking these tapes in the future. Ultimately, Pellon wiping of the mag coat during transfer after several pre-wipes for the length of the tape solved this.

Agfa PEM-526 exhibited this odd behaviour. The tape was recorded in 1990.

There is also a discussion about PEM-469 showing similar behaviour here.

For a current list of degrading analog tapes, click here.

Long-term stability of different batches of Ampex 456 – a guest article by Gary Galo

Filed under: reels,Tape Aging — 2009-10-21 by Gary Galo — Last Edit 2009-10-21 by Richard L. Hess

Here’s some info that might be useful concerning which batches of Ampex 456 are good and which have sticky shed problems.

I recently unearthed 26 brand new 10 1/2-inch reels of 456 from 8 different batches. I checked one reel from each batch by playing them back and forth at 15ips (I only played the bad reels in one direction – that was enough!). The following batches were bad:


Kodak Durol triacetate tape with bad vinegar syndrome

Filed under: project notes,Studer A807,Tape Aging — 2009-04-07 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-04-07 by

I recently received two 7-inch reels of Kodak Type 31A Triacetate tape (1250 feet, Durol Base) that smelled of vinegar even before I got the envelope open.

These tapes were badly warped due, most likely, to the vinegar-syndrome induced differential shrinkage. Other factors may have been poor winding during long-term storage (I had received them after several attempts to play them on another machine). (more…)

Tape Degradation—Introduction

Filed under: storage-care-handling,Tape Aging — 2006-03-09 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-01-30 by

This is a general article to provide some information on the subject. More should follow.

For a current list of degrading analog tapes, click here.

There are multiple modes of degradation and it depends on the type of tape.

Acetate Tape

  • Degrades through drying out (hydration has helped in some cases)
  • Breakdown of the base through “vinegar syndrome” and possibly leading to total decompostion (although that has not been seen for tapes on any large scale)
  • Damage from heat
  • Damage from mold/fungus
  • Loss of Lubricant is probably rare in acetate tapes. Few examples of it have been found.
  • Freezing acetate tape (especially) is considered bad as many of the formulations included fatty-acid lubricants. Remember, this was from the 1940s and 1950s and one of the best lubricants of the era was sperm oil.

Polyester tape

  • Binder hydrolysis (or sticky shed syndrome [SSS]) is the largest challenge faced with tapes from the 1970s-1990s. This can be partially reversed through incubation or heat treatment. While this link may not be complete, it is a great introduction.
  • Loss of Lubricant (LoL) can be severe and can possibly be combined with binder hydroysis.
  • Freezing is also not recommended for polyester tapes due to the potential of that tape also containing fatty-acid lubricants.

Obviously all tapes can suffer from mechanical damage and poor winds.

I expect to be discussing aspects of this in greater depth, but it is a complex subject and contradictory reports have been generated.

Wet playing of reel tapes with Loss of Lubricant—A guest article by Marie O’Connell

Filed under: Tape Aging — Marie O'Connell — Last Edit 2009-01-30 by

This is the first of many guest articles here. Thanks to Marie for agreeing to share her wonderful work in playing tapes that did not respond to baking. SSS=Sticky Shed Syndrome, LoL = Loss of Lubricant
For a current list of degrading analog tapes, click here.–Richard

There has been a lot of interest in this issue recently and I’ve answered several people privately. Hopefully this location will make the work more accessible to all who are interested.

overall view

The general appearance of the Mark II. As you can see, I had the luxury of being surrounded by these great machines and so we sacrificed one with all the adaptations done by a great technician by the name of Noel McGinnity – we both agreed we still wanted it to look like an almost regular Studer! All the tubing has been adapted to withstand isopropyl alcohol and the IV drip bag does not leak.

I began working at Sound Archives/Nga Taonga Korero, which is a wholly owned subsidary of Radio New Zealand in 1994. My task was to preserve and digitize the entire NZ Composer’s collection to begin with. I was taught my skills “on the job” but was lucky enough to have the wisdom & know it all of several older broadcasting technicians at my fingertips.


Sticky Shed & Loss of Lubricant

Filed under: archival practices,Tape Aging — 2006-05-17 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-01-30 by

This post has been updated as:

For a current list of degrading analog tapes, click here.

For several years, we have been discussing the differences between Sticky Shed Syndrome (SSS) and Loss of Lubricant (LoL).

Recent work in which I’m participating seems to indicate that what we thought was happening in both instances may not be really what is happening.

For now, the continued recommendation is to bake tapes for which baking works. These include:
Agfa (pre-1990): PEM 468, PEM 469
Ampex/Quantegy (1970s-1980s): 406, 407, 456, 457
Note: Recent reports indicate that these problems may exist in tapes  made in the 1990s
and later, even under the Quantegy name.
Audiotape/Capitol (early 1980s): Q15
Note: This tape may or may not respond to baking. Some tests will be conducted soon.
Scotch/3M: 226, 227, 806, 807, 808, 809

If these are squealing and leaving deposits, they should be baked (at your own risk). The Ampex patent for baking tapes can be found here.

The classic test for determining if a tape is suffering from LoL has been to bake it and see that baking fails. The assumption has then been that it is loss of lubricant. This test, however,  may exacerbate the condition and it is not recommended to bake suspected LoL tapes.

Tapes which appear to be suffering from LoL include:
Scotch/3M: 175 and Melody 169 (a seconds brand of Scotch)
Sony: PR-150
Pyral: (type numbers unknown for this French tape)

We have seen cassette tapes also suffering from LoL.

There are several ways to address playing LoL tapes, but, for the moment, we are not prepared to publish anything definitive beyond Marie O’Connell’s tried and true method shown here.

The beginning of 3M 175 squeal ?

Filed under: Tape Aging — 2006-07-12 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-01-30 by

UPDATE: March 2008…Cold playback (see this article) seems to work with the two tapes mentioned in this article, 3M 175 and Sony PR-150. We’ve had confirmation from several sources who have tried it.

For a current list of degrading analog tapes, click here.

Fellow restorer Doug Pomeroy sent me a photocopy of Herman Burstein’s “Tape Guide” article from the May 1977 issue of “Audio” magazine. Robert Coe of Manchester, CT, wrote in saying “…some of these [Scotch 175] tapes have developed a high frequency chatter or squeal which is mechanical and can be stopped by rubbing the tape with a light coating of talcum powder. The squeal only occurs on the Scotch 175 tape even when used with several different brands of tape machine.” Burstein replied, “Yes, I’ve heard other complaints about squeal, sometimes involving Scotch tape which is not surprising in view of 3M’s large share of the market, but yours is the first complaint about 175 tape.” He went on to say that another 3M tape exhibited this but it was limited to the batch and 3M replaced it.

We do not recommend the talcum powder approach as it overall has proven to be a bad idea since it gums up the machines and increases spacing loss more than other solutions.

Doug is currently having a joyous bout with 175 but Art Shifrin apparently has a proprietary mechanical fix to the tape deck that allows playing 3M 175.

We are researching more about 175 and hope to have updates. The use of decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5 or cyclomethicone) has had mixed results with 175 and Sony PR-150, another known squealer.

Soft Binder Syndrome and Sticky Shed Syndrome

Filed under: storage-care-handling,Tape Aging — 2007-03-21 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-01-30 by

For a current list of degrading analog tapes, click here.

For several years, we have been discussing the differences between Sticky Shed Syndrome (SSS) and Loss of Lubricant (LoL). It appears from my latest research (presented at the 2006 Audio Engineering Society’s 121st Convention in San Francisco in October) that LoL does not really factor into the equation for most tapes and that an overarching failure mode is Soft Binder Syndrome, or SBS. Sticky Shed Syndrome appears to be a subset of SBS. (more…)

Another way to identify a tape with Sticky Shed Syndrome (SSS)

Filed under: archival practices,reels,Tape Aging — 2008-08-22 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-01-30 by

For a current list of degrading analog tapes, click here.

Teaching people how to identify tapes that are suffering from sticky shed syndrome is often difficult.

I would like to propose that a careful inspection of how the tape comes off the pack may be a good way. Please provide comments as to how it’s working for you.

The tape should come off the tape pack at a precise tangent to the tape. If the tape starts to adhere and not pull off straight, that is a sure sign that the tape needs baking.

Of course, don’t bake acetate tapes even if they show this indicator, but on the last batch of questionable SSS tapes, I’ve been looking at this and it’s a fair indicator, and it seems to show at the outer edge of the pack.

More than one “test” or “factor” is needed to be sure, but this one is looking good.

Another almost sure sign of SSS is brown oxide and black back-coat.

ARSC Journal Tape Degradation article available online

Filed under: archive operations,audio,computer/data,Tape Aging,video — 2009-01-03 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-01-03 by

My paper on “Tape Degradation Factors and Challenges in Predicting Tape Life” that was published in the Fall 2008 issue of the ARSC Journal is now available online. Click here.

Project Notes: Advanced oxide delamination of a cassette

Filed under: cassettes,project notes,Tape Aging — 2006-03-31 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-06-05 by

A client phoned me and said a cassette he was playing started to shed in his machine and he stopped and took it out. He sent it to me and as I pulled a little bit of clear leader out of the middle of the tape, this is what I found:


Notice how the complete strips of oxide exist on their own, independent of the clear “leader” to which they previously were attached. (more…)

A solution to reduce spoking in old acetate tapes

Filed under: archival practices,Racal Store 4DS,reels,Tape Aging — 2008-04-15 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-04-15 by

It appears that many old acetate tapes when played on high-quality audio recorders will suffer spoking when left in a play wind condition. I have discussed this problem here. Since posting that, I have taken one of my Racal Store 4DS recorders and removed the heads to save them from wear and now use that to re-spool any tape that shows spoking when played on a Studer A80, Sony APR-5000, or Studer A810. (more…)

Let sleeping tapes lie—what to do with poorly wound tapes

Filed under: reels,storage-care-handling,Tape Aging — 2006-05-17 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-02-15 by

Often a tape comes in for restoration that has been poorly wound or poorly stored. Here is an example:

cinched tape

One of the interesting things about this particular tape was it had been recently wound on a constant-tension professional machine prior to shipping to me.

We think that the entire tape had not been re-wound, allowing the higher tension wind to compress the inner core slightly, causing this cinching. After transferring the tape (which didn’t show much ill effect for its cinching), we still found it difficult to get the tape to wind smoothly on the reel.

Therefore, our current suggestion is if you find a tape like this, do not rewind it and attempt to clear up the cinching unless you are also ready to transfer the tape, as there are no guarantees that it can be wound better after unwinding.

Please see this post for an update (2008-02-15).

circa 1943 German acetate tape: anomaly or mine canary?

Filed under: project notes,Tape Aging — 2006-10-19 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-10-19 by

A few months ago, I transferred several Tonschreiber tapes which were IG Farben Magnetophonband Typ C manufactured in Germany prior to the end of 1943. These had been stored in their almost-sealed steel cans and stunk. The best description of the smell was old lemon chicken.

We know that the sealed can will accelerate the vinegar syndrome degradation. The big question is are these tapes an anomaly or the mine canary for some (or all) acetate tapes?

The composite photo below shows some of the conditions that we found. Note especially the rolled outer strands showing extreme shrinkage from vinegar syndrome.

Tonschreiber Tape

Click for a larger image.

We were able to transfer these tapes,   but the sound quality suffered due to the unsteadiness of the tape transport. The quality of the sound was due mostly to the fact that this was recorded at 30 in/s (probably 77 cm/s) with a full-track head. Nothing beats areal density for robustness.

Acetate tape buffered by cardboard box

Filed under: storage-care-handling,Tape Aging — 2006-10-16 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-10-16 by

I have been suggesting for many years that one of the reasons that acetate audio tapes have not suffered from vinegar syndrome to the extent that acetate films have suffered from this malady is because of differing storage practices. In general, film for many years was stored in sealed cans while tape has generally been stored in cardboard boxes.

I recently came across a 3-inch reel of acetate tape, not in its original box, that showed the following pattern in the box. This tape was recorded in Fall of 1964 and the photo was taken on October 2006, 42 years later. The tape played well, considering it was originally recorded at 1.88 (1-7/8) in/s.

Box discoloured by acetate breakdown products

All of the outgassed material that was absorbed by the cardboard was no longer free to degrade the tape.

Binder adhesion to back of next layer

Filed under: reels,Tape Aging — 2006-05-26 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-05-26 by

In several instances, we have seen binder adhesion to the back of next layer in the tape pack. When the tape is unwound, a portion of the the binder adheres to the layer it was resting on, and is pulled off the layer it was supposed to be on. It looks like this when held up to the light:

Holes in oxide formed by adhesion

There are many possible causes for this adhesion (or pinning, as it is sometimes called). For this tape, we believe moisture intrusion and poor storage conditions contributed to the problem. It is often a problem with plastic leader tape.

Slow unwinding has reportedly helped, as has cold, dry storage for an extended period.

This tape   (Melody 169) also squealed, but we finally got an acceptable transfer. Fortunately, this was recorded on only one track, and it wasn’t the one with all the holes in this picture.

Tape navigation: Home | Tips & Notes | History | Formats & Resources | Projects | Facility | Site Map | Contact

©2006–2007 Richard L. Hess — Aurora, Ontario, Canada      Contact Richard