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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:

hum_overwrite_dsc_0571

(more…)


Studer A80 RC modifications for 1/2-inch two track and other modifications

Filed under: project notes,Studer A80 — 2012-01-20 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2013-10-09 by Richard L. Hess

In a discussion on 2012-01-20 in the New Studer list, Todor Dimitrov posted the differences between the record and repro boards between a 1/4-inch and a 1/2-inch two-track A80RC repro cards. Here are the changed components for the 1/2-inch version. There are five different oscillator versions in the manual, including one for 1/2-inch.

RECORD: C34=68pF
REPRO: R1=100K; R21=330

Note that the mechanical modifications between 1/4 and 1/2-inch tape handling may be substantially more complex in terms of tuning the transport. I know of no definitive notes on this subject. [Added 2013-10-09]

CBC A80RC Repro capacitor mod

I had previously posted in the original (and now reconstituted) Studer List on 2008-04-24 that there were other extant and possible modifications. Here is a slightly edited and reformatted version of that post:

(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…)


RCA “Sound Tape” cartridge and 1/4-track reel introduction dates

Filed under: cartridges,history,reels — 2007-11-26 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-10-18 by Richard L. Hess

David Dintenfass kindly sent me an article from the October 1959 issue of Popular Electronics which says, in part, that RCA plans to have 65 titles in the stores in their new cartridges by Christmas 1959. Other manufacturers were shown to be making compatible players. (more…)


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.
and
Some capstan / pinch-roller / constant-torque systems handle this better than others.

(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

(more…)


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.

(more…)


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…)


Track Configuration page updated

Filed under: reels — 2011-02-04 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2012-01-06 by Richard L. Hess

I added a Track Configuration page to the resources hierarchy in the sidebar at the right. This points to other resources on the web to provide further insight into the various analog audio track configurations. There is also a brief note there about the variation in the two-track, half-inch format. These differences are minor, but they could be a source of some problems under some extraordinary circumstances.

This page was updated 2012-01-05 to provide track widths on higher-density audio multi-track formats.

A link to the Studer track dimensions page was added 2012-01-06.


Slow speed 4-channel cassette digitization

Filed under: loggers,loggers — 2008-02-23 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-11-12 by Richard L. Hess

There has been some discussion recently about the 4-channel cassette recorders that were used for court reporting and other logging- or court-reporter-type applications. It seems that the players only have one output and can select any combination of one or more playback channels into that one output.

This monitoring topology is actually identical to two 1-inch 40-channel reel-to-reel logging machines I have where one can listen to any combination of one through forty tracks on a single output. (more…)


Studer A80 Covers — protection and more work area

Filed under: archive operations,infrastructure,Studer A80 — 2007-11-19 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2011-03-07 by Richard L. Hess

A simple, 5-sided box solves two problems:
–Protection of the Studer A80
–Providing more work surface

Studer A80 cover

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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.


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

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Studer A80RC mod for either tension sensor stop

Filed under: Studer A80 — 2008-06-02 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-11-06 by Richard L. Hess

The Studer A80RC as designed stops only when both tension sensors lose tension. When using fragile archival tapes, especially at slower speeds, this creates some difficulties as the tape end weaves through the head block. Here is a modification which makes the A80RC operate like an A810, stopping the tape when either tension sensor looses tension. The mod is completely done on the 1.081.393 Command Receiver board and involves adding two parts and removing one.

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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:

(more…)


Sony APR-5000 head assembly problem

Filed under: parts,Sony APR-5000 — 2009-07-14 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-07-14 by Richard L. Hess

I was having slightly intermittent connections on one head assembly on a Sony APR-5000 and was concerned as to the cause because the 78-pin head connectors are essentially unobtanium and a headache to change.

As I installed and de-installed the head, I got to thinking that the connector might not be positioned correctly (i.e. perhaps the wrong hardware had somehow found its way into the connector mounting system.

When I measured the bottom (oriented as if the head were mounted in the machine) face of the connector mounting flange referenced to the bottom of the mounting posts (using a straight-edge across two of them), I discovered that, indeed, this connector was recessed about 25 mils (0.025″) further into the head assembly than several other ones. Adding a 25-mil thick washer should solve the problem.

This is posted in case you’re scratching your head with a similar problem. This is something I wouldn’t have immediately thought of. I don’t know if this was caused by aftermarket work or if it perhaps represents a manufacturing error.


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…)


Images of Scotch (3M) tape boxes available

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

I was interested in the progression of the Scotch/3M tape boxes over the years, especially after someone contacted me because his father was in the picture on some of the 1960s tape boxes.

(more…)


Studer A807 digital noise improvement

Filed under: Studer A807 — 2009-02-03 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2009-02-03 by

I received an email from Andrew Pearson of the British Library providing some hints in reducing noise during playback on the Studer A807 tape machine. He would be interested in hearing from people who had other ideas and people who had either successes or failures attempting his techniques. (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.


Five historic standards now linked from the history page

Filed under: cartridges,cassettes,history,reels — 2008-08-21 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-08-21 by

About two years ago, I asked the EBU to make available a copy of their historic document, Review of existing systems for the synchronisation between film cameras and audio tape-recorders and they complied, making it available on their website.

I asked the National Association of Broadcasters about their Cartridge, Cassette, and Reel tape standards as well as their Disc standard and they gave me permission to post these standards at my website.

These five standards plus some other articles of historic interest are available here in the history portion of this website. I hope that you find these of use in unraveling some of the challenges that old media present.


Magnetic Tape Splicing

Filed under: archive operations,cassettes,reels — 2008-01-07 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-06-05 by

I received an email asking me to discuss tape splicing. Most of my work is now repairing old splices so I try and butt them together as best I can in an Edi-Tall block and use the blue Quantegy splicing tape (which will become harder to find with Quantegy exiting the business). I will not be evaluating a replacement for several years as I bought a large supply a few years ago. (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…)

TAPE Project Audio Tape Digitisation Workflow

Filed under: archival practices,reels — 2008-03-06 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2008-04-15 by

The Training for Audiovisual Preservation in Europe (TAPE) Project has just published an excellent Audio Tape Digitisation Workflow document here. It is authored by Juha Henriksson of the Finnish Jazz & Pop Archive and Nadja Wallaszkovits of Phonogrammarchiv, Austrian Academy of Sciences. It is aimed at the newcomer but still addresses all of the major points without being overwhelming. (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).


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