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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…)

Tape recorder bias frequencies

Filed under: cassettes,recording/mastering,reels — 2008-02-02 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-03-25 by Richard L. Hess

The discussion of what bias frequencies were used over time keeps recurring. Special thanks to Jay McKnight of Magnetic Reference Lab, Tom Fine, and Brian Roth  for input to this list. I posted this to the ARSC list, but wanted to include it here as well. This knowlege is useful for those who wish to archive the bias along with the audio for future application of time-base-error correction tools such as the Plangent Processes.

Bias frequences started low, apparently with 60 kHz for early consumer recorders, but Ampex started with 100 kHz. Other later machines used different bias and erase frequencies. We can see with a few exceptions, the top bias frequencies were commonly limited to 250 kHz for audio, with the Sony APR series and the Ampex ATR series in the 400 kHz region. For cassettes, a practical maximum appears to be about 150 kHz. Much higher frequencies (up to at least 8 MHz) were used in instrumentation recorders. An enumeration of several machines follows. (more…)

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


Tape speed, track width, frequency response, and dynamic range

Filed under: matching head to tape,recording/mastering — 2007-08-26 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-01-06 by Richard L. Hess

There are complex interactions between tape speed, track width, frequency response, and dynamic range. This article is an attempt to summarize the major influences. (more…)

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.

Zoom H2 line input

Filed under: archival practices,computer audio,live sound and recording,recording/mastering — 2009-04-13 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-07-27 by Richard L. Hess

The Zoom H2 HandyCorder is perhaps the lowest-cost digital recorder on the market that provides reasonable and useful results. While I have a Sound Devices 722 for my more serious work, I bought the Zoom to test it out to see if it could be part of a simple tape digitization system for archives on a budget who wish to do the work themselves. It does this reasonably well.

As with much equipment–and especially with lower-cost equipment–the performance specifications and the actual operational data is not published. There are reports of the H2 clipping on the line inputs in some of the reviews and it appears that a lack of understanding how the inputs were configured exacerbated that situation.

There is nothing wrong with the line inputs on the H2. BUT there are some caveats: (more…)

Transfer Recommendations

Filed under: archival practices,recording/mastering — 2006-03-08 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-06-05 by

Remember, this transfer that you (or I) are about to undertake may be the last time (and hopefully the best time) that the original is transferred. Here are some suggestions: (more…)

Aligning a tape recorder

Filed under: archival practices,cassettes,recording/mastering,reels — 2008-02-02 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-06-03 by

It seems some people new to tape are confused over how to align a tape recorder. This is the abbreviated version.

If you want to record on a tape recorder (and I do not recommend doing that these days as you’re just generating more tapes that will need to be transferred later) the first thing to do is get the playback correct.

  1. CLEAN the machine. (more…)

Using the proper tools…and don’t try this at home!

Filed under: archival practices,Racal Store 4DS,recording/mastering — 2008-01-09 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-01-09 by

I didn’t think I needed to write this post, but it appears that someone purchased a Racal Store 4DS Instrumentation Recorder at least partially because I mentioned it, hoping that it would work as a four-track recorder for creating music. (more…)

Analog "Warming up" of sound & the use of obsolete formats in contemporary recordings

Filed under: archival practices,cassettes,digital,recording/mastering,reels — 2006-03-14 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-03-21 by

I received a phone call today from someone who wanted my opinion on a Tascam 238 8-track cassette recorder for recording his music.

This was like the person who wanted to know about the DCC recorder for the same purpose yesterday.

People keep hearing that “analog sounds great” or that this or that format “sounds great” and they want to buy in. (more…)

How to archive recordings — a quick guide to resources on this site

Filed under: archival practices,cassettes,computer audio,digital,recording/mastering,reels — 2006-03-15 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-03-20 by

You’ve been asked to digitize recordings in your collection and don’t have any idea where to start. There are  several resources on this site which might be of use.  

What I use is shown on my facility page. That\’s one of the main reasons it is there. If I’m using it, it’s because I like it or it solves a problem for me. If I’m not using it, either I don’t have an opinion about it, won’t spring for it, or don’t like it. (more…)

Archival processing

Filed under: archival practices,recording/mastering — 2006-03-07 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-03-20 by

As promised, I will respond to some questions that are asked via email by answering here in the Blog.

One of the things I’m most concerned with is the appropriate use of digital processing in transcription for cleanup or remastering of digital archival copies.   This includes both questions of when (if at all) processing beyond the actual A/D conversion is appropriate, and which are the techniques and currently available tools best suited to archival audio.

It’s a good question. To some extent, it depends on the client and the final use.

If the restoration/preservation reformatting is for an institutional client, then the first transfers should be as unprocessed as possible — at least the initial copies that are archived should be done that way. The main reason for this is that processing algorithms will always get better and they may hide some information that is useful to future researchers–information that today we consider “noise.” (more…)

When is the 20 kHz limitation an issue? How big an issue?

Filed under: archival practices,recording/mastering — 2006-03-08 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2006-03-10 by

The 20 kHz bandwidth of CD audio media may cause truncation of some material. Here is an example of a small amount of energy above 20 kHz in a symphonic recording. It is interesting to note that this is a 7.5 in/s recording done on 1970s prosumer equipment. I’ve said in my presentations for some years, most 7.5 in/s tapes are well-suited to 44.1ks/s 16 bit transfers, but there are exceptions. This shows one. (more…)

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