Richard L. Hess
Audio Tape Restoration, Repair
and Mastering

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Richard L. Hess
Contact Information—How to get your tape restored

We provide high-quality transfers/copies
even from hard-to-play tapes.

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Check out our blog (click here) for a wide variety of information.
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Processing capabilities and output formats | Notes and other information
Client Comments

I do not think that I could have found a better person than Richard for the transcription job.
Bob Lankston, Geoscience Integrations regarding the IRIG tape of the Flathead Lake Seismic Survey discussed here.

We think you have done a masterly job and we are so happy. Our profoundest thanks for your care in restoring and archiving these precious recordings for us.
Margaret and Leslie Huggett after digitizing master tapes of all their albums, including several produced by George Martin. The project included 22 different tape lots, representing much of their career.

I was thrilled with what Richard was able to do - for sure, he is the one to contact. He displayed great care and knowledge and completed our project on schedule. His work absolutely surpassed my hopes.

Wow. I didn't realize those four guys who got together years ago to drink beer and sing had any talent. Thanks for bringing out the best in what we did! I greatly appreciate the great work you did.Peter Anderson

Thanks so much for your hard and diligent work on the Stan Rogers transfers. They sound fantastic! Iím very excited about this project and I really value your part in it.
Paul Mills, The Millstream, referring to making 96 ks/s 24 bit transfers of the first five Stan Rogers album masters as well as digitizing seven historic tapes of radio and concert performances.

This sounds superb. Much better than I ever could have anticipated. Thank you! Also, you should realize that this is an important recording. We are thrilled you were able to capture it.
— Hannah Frost, Preservation Librarian for Digital and Media Collections, Stanford University Libraries — Referring to a damaged full-track 7.5 in/s tape from the 1975 Monterey Jazz Festival.

I received the CDs today. The sound result on the CDs far exceeds my expectations. I am tremendously moved at the quality and accomplishment of safely digitizing some tapes that have survived my chaotic life for 30 years. Thanks so much.Sumner Nelson

Please contact us for your special needs.
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Processing capabilities and output formats | Notes and other information

Source formats

A pancake that had lost its hub and was less-than circular.

We successfully played
this one from 1947!

We have played paper
tapes from 1948 and
processed hard-to-play
tapes from the 1970s
and 1980s.


We frequently play RCA Sound Tapes and other cartridge/cassette formats.



What we can play . . .

Cassettes—Mono or stereo standard audio cassettes and Digital Compact Cassettes (DCC). We can also play 3-, and 4-track cassettes.

Other 0.15-inch tape formats—With the above audio cassette capabilities, we can play any other format (including micro cassettes and Revere cartridges) that use 0.150 tape by loading the tape from the other format into a standard cassette shell. The tapes will be returned in the standard cassette shell.

1/4-inch reels (common reel to reel audio tapes)
—full-track mono
—2-track NAB mono/stereo
—2-track DIN stereo
—quarter-track mono/stereo/quad (4-channel)
—4-track IRIG instrumentation tapes (FM or Direct)
—4-channel, 8-track
—8-channel, 8-track (coming soon)
—Digital, see "digital formats," below.

1/4-inch cartridges—We remove the tape from NAB broadcast cartrdiges, Elcasets, and the old RCA Sound Tape cartridges and can play the tape on our 2-, 3-, and 4-channel 1/4-inch players. We also have one of the special TOMCAT heads for the broadcast cartridge tapes from machines by Pacific Recorders (now Pacific Research and part of Harris Broadcast). See how we do it in the next section, below.

8-tracks—We can play stereo and 4-channel (Quad) 8-track cartridges in cartridge or out. Playing them on the open-reel machine provides superior results.

1/2-inch reels
—7-track IRIG instrumentation tapes (FM or Direct)     
—14-track IRIG instrumentation tapes (FM or Direct)     
—20-track logging tapes.

1-inch reels
—14-track IRIG Instrumentation tapes (FM or Direct)
—28-track IRIG Instrumentation tapes (FM or Direct)
—40-track logging tapes.

File Formats
We can accept most major audio file formats as an upload
to our ftp servers. Please contact us for the uploading details.

Digital Formats
—Digital Files on CD, DVD, hard drive, USB drives, etc.
—DAT (44.1 and 48 ks/s)
—MiniDisc (normal and HIMD stereo)
—PCM-F1 on VHS or Betamax
—Sony DASH (3202 or 3402) 2-channel reel

See the next section for even more detail on noise reduction and variations on the theme.

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Playback capabilities

A tape pancake that had lost its center.

We played both the
outer part and
the inner part.
No problem!



How we play your tapes . . . Noise Reduction, Equalization

Cassettes—We have several Nakamichi Dragons with automatic azimuth adjustment for the highest quality playback. When variable playback speed is required, we use our Nakamichi MR-1.
In addition, we can handle 3- and 4-track cassettes.
We also have a Philips 900 Series Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) recorder/player.
DATATAPE 1/4-inch 4-channel instrumentation and voice cassette players.

Reels—Our high-end mono and stereo 1/4-inch work is done mostly on our Studer A80 machines. We have many Sony APR-5003V professional reel-to-reel audio tape players with about ten plug-in head assemblies. We have three Studer A810s with several plug-in head assemblies, and a special Studer A807 as a tape preparation machine.

Half-inch tapes can be played on the Sony APR-5003s (2-, 3-, and 4-track) and on the only Sony APR-16 ever made (like an APR-24). We have 4-, 7, 8, and 16-track 1/2-inch heads for this machine

One inch tapes are played on the APR-16. We have 8-, and 16-track one-inch heads for this machine.

Our primary instrumentation machines are Honeywell 101 units which will take up to 15-inch reels. We have these in 7-track 1/2-inch and both 14- and 28-track 1-inch configurations and can handle both Direct and FM within this system, or use the Racal FM demodulators if different filtering is required. These Honeywell machines run at 15/16 in/s to 120 in/s.

We have a Racal Store 4DS that will play 1/4-inch 4-track instrumentation tapes in either FM or Direct mode at speeds from 15/16 in/s to 60 in/s. 8-inch reels, maximum.

We have a Dictaphone Logging Player that plays 40-track 1-inch and 20-track 1/2-inch tapes at 15/32 in/s.

We have several Sony DASH reel-to-reel digital audio tape players.

8-tracks—For best results, we remove the tape from the cartridge and play it on a special head assembly for the APR-5003V machines. We have an Akai CR-80D-SS four-channel 8-track recorder/player so we can play both stereo and quadraphonic 8-tracks.

Other cartridges—Most cartridges, other than 8-tracks, use essentially standard reel-to-reel track configurations. We remove the tape from the cartridge, use a reel-to-reel player, and then return your tape on a reel. We have found few dedicated cartridge players that sound as good as our late-model high-end professional reel-to-reel machines. Here is a list of cartridge formats that we can play. If you come across a cartridge that is not on this list, please ask. It is very likely that we can play it.

  • Cartridges playable with four-track 1/4-inch heads:
    • RCA Sound Tape cartridges
    • Elcasets
    • 4-track Muntz cartridges (same shell as NAB cartridges)
  • Cartridges playable with 3-track 1/4-inch heads:
    • Stereo NAB Broadcast cartridges
    • Pacific Recorders and Engineering TOMCAT MAXTRAX cartridges— we have the special asymmetrical 3-track head for this application.
  • Cartridges playable with 2-track 1/4-inch heads:
    • Mono NAB Broadcast cartridges
  • Cartridges playable with 4-track 0.150-inch heads (Tascam 234):
    • Revere/3M/CBS single-reel music cartridge (square)
  • Cartridges playable with Stereo 0.150 (standard cassette) heads (Nakamichi Dragon):
    • Micro cassettes
    • Stuzzi Memocord (computer speed-change required after the transfer as this machine did not have a capstan)

Tape types
—Acetate, including tapes needing hydration.
    We have successfully played a circa
    1935 tape.
—Polyester, including tapes with sticky-shed
    and other binder problems are
    transferred regularly.
—Paper tapes can be transferred, too!

Noise reduction
—Dolby A (16 chan)
—Dolby SR (4 chan)
—Dolby B (8 chan)
—Dolby C (8 chan)
—Dolby S (8 chan)
—dbx I (16 chan)
—dbx II (4 chan)
—Nakamichi High Com II (licensed from
   Telefunken, (2 chan)
—Telefunken High Com, (2 chan)
—Telefunken Telcom C4, (8 chan)
—Sanyo Super D (4 chan)

Tape speeds—We can accomodate almost any tape speed in almost any format by the use of a variety of tape transports and/or computer tools to adjust speed and equalization.

For cassettes and other 0.150-inch-wide tape, nominal playback is 1-7/8 in/s in the Nakamichi Dragons. Our DATATAPE CMS 1044 players run at 15/32, 15/16, 1-7/8, 3-3/4, and 7-1/2 in/s and with varispeed can cover the range from 15/32 to 11-1/4 in/s

For reels, we have the following native speed capabilities:

Sony APR-5000: 3-3/4, 7-1/2, 15, and 30 in/s
Sony APR-16: 15 and 30 in/s
These two machines have –50% varispeed capabilites, so the APR-5000 runs reliably at 1-7/8 while the APR-16 runs reliably at 7.5 in/s. Through the use of an external precision oscillator, we can slow the APR-16 down to 3-3/4 in/s.

Studer A810: 3-3/4, 7-1/2, 15, and 30 in/s
Studer A80: 7-1/2, 15, and 30 (coming soon) in/s

Racal Store (4-channel 1/4-inch, 7-channel 1/2-inch, 14-channel, 1/2-inch; 8-inch reels): 15/16, 1-7/8, 3-3/4, 7-1/2, 15, 30, and 60 in/s. Capable of 300 kHz at 60 in/s.
Honeywell 101 (7-channel 1/2-inch, 14-channel 1-inch, 28-channel 1-inch; 15-inch reels): 15/16, 1-7/8, 3-3/4, 7-1/2, 15, 30, 60, and 120 in/s. Capable of 2 MHz at 120 in/s.

Dictaphone Loggers (20-channel 1/2-inch or 40-channel 1-inch only): 15/32 in/s

Tapes with controlled variable speed such as those made on a well-behaved "rim-drive" recorder can usually be recovered, but guessing at the proper speed in the absence of some reference (like hum) is a bit difficult and recreating an exact pitch/speed is essentially impossible.

Tapes made with random and jerky speed variations are essentially impossible to recover, although some improvement can be made to assist in understanding the words.

—NAB/AES Standard
—IEC Standard
—AME (Ampex Master Equalization)
Other custom equalizations can be accommodated.

Reel Sizes—Reels from 2-inches to 12-1/2 inches as well as both NAB and DIN (German/AEG) hubs (pancakes) can easily be accommodated. 14-inch reels can be accommodated in some track formats.

1/4-inch quarter-track reels—We have special heads and techniques that can substantially reduce crosstalk on poorly recorded tapes.

Special processing / treatment
We have developed a non-invasive method for playing squealing tapes such as 3M 175 and Sony PR-150
—We repair tapes with broken splices
—We repair broken cassette tapes usually by re-shelling them
—We are accepting some moldy tapes from the U.S. and Canada only
—We can treat sticky shed syndrome (binder breakdown/hydrolysis)

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Processing capabilities
and output formats

Edge damage and lots of splices.

We turned this into a CD-R!



What we do after we play your tapes . . .

Digital Editing
—Samplitude Pro version 10 with restoration suite
—Algorithmix NoiseFree Pro
—Diamond Cut Six Live/Forensics
—Algorithmix Sound Laundry
These programs provide substantial editing and processing capabilities to clean up recordings. Please note the difference between preservation reformatting (a clean transfer with no significant cleanup) and mastering (making the product as good as possible for public release). We do both.

Preferred output formats for clients
—Data files on Hard Drive, CD, DVD, or ftp up to
    16 channels, 24 bit, 96kHz and
    192 kHz for up to 8 channels.

Additional available output formats

please enquire as many play formats can also be recorded, but we do not recommend it.

IRIG Instrumentation Tape Output Options

At this point, our output options for IRIG tapes is somewhat limited, as our main focus is on audio. However, our audio digitization capability is flat (-1 dB) between approximately 10 Hz and 44 kHz which might be adequate for many non-DC measurements. Of course, with IRIG tapes, their playback speed can be changed to accommodate this digitization bandwidth window. We can provide audio WAV file output or text files with the numerical value of each sample.

We can, of course, also record to your current instrumentation recorder, should that be appropriate, or we could also produce another analog recording. For example if you had a 7-track tape and only 14-track playback, that could be copied in the analog domain, with the FM copied straight across so it is not demodulated and remodulated.

Due to the specialized nature of IRIG data recovery projects, we would like to discuss your requirements with you. We are interested in doing everything possible to help you recover important information from these tapes.

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

On this page: Top | Source Formats | Playback Capabilities
Processing capabilities and output formats | Notes and other information


Tape pancake showing severe strain warping!

This one was a bit tougher,
but we still got it to play
reasonably well. If the
content had been significant,
we could have improved
the results.

Background and other useful information . . .

Click here for how to contact us.

My July-August 2001 article in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society concerning restoration of some of the oldest tapes in the U.S. is available on the AES Web site in Adobe PDF format. This work was funded in part by a Grammy Grant.

A partial list of the projects that we have undertaken.

A compilation of tape restoration and handling tips and notes.

A glimpse of the Facility that I use. This might be a starting point for other restoration activities.

A listing of many media formats and resources to assist in preservation.

Background Information

Since the beginning of recorded sound, there has been little attention paid to the archival nature of recording. We have been fortunate that many of the formats have retained their information reasonably well over the last hundred years or so. However, if we are going to maintain this information indefinitely, many of us in the archival community believe that the only way this will happen is if we convert the recordings to digital data and then manage that data in an active fashion like other digital data. The data will need to be migrated from one carrier to another as time goes on. Being digital, these migrations will be transparent.

One of the great challenges is creating digital files that are accurate representations of the original analog recordings. This sub-section of my Web site is devoted to this responsibility and my involvement with it.

There are estimates that over 50,000,000 hours of recordings have been made in the world to date. Few of these can realistically be expected to survive for another 100 years. The equipment to play them will be even harder to obtain in 100 years, so while the carrier and its information may survive, we will not be able to confirm its survival because we will not be able to play it. Even if we figure out how to play it, the infrastructure to do so in a high-quality manner will not be available. Where would you get accurate test tapes? Where would you get replacement parts for the old machines or figure out all the nuances that an Ampex, Nagra, Sony, or Studer figured out? The legacy of formats and configurations and companding technology is daunting for quarter-inch tape, not to mention the other tape widths.

Now is the time to start making the transition. Yesterday would have been good, too. Tomorrow may be too late. It has been estimated that the Library of Congress will require 400 PERSON YEARS to migrate their holdings into a digital format.

I do restoration, but more importantly, I hope that I am a spokesperson for creating policy to cause more restoration to be undertaken. It is not a job any one person or one company can complete alone. It is an industry-wide, world-wide challenge. Many of the recordings that are in danger of disappearing are important cultural records of civilizations that may no longer exist in the forms they did when they were recorded. Anything said here for audio is even more important, and more daunting, for video records. From 1974-2004, I was professionally involved with audio and video systems design first with ABC-TV in New York, then McCurdy Radio in Toronto, and from 1983-2004 with National TeleConsultants in Glendale, CA. I now restore audio recordings because I enjoy it, am good at it, and it needs to be done.
Tape navigation: Home | Tips & Notes | History | Formats & Resources | Projects | Facility | Contact

On this page: Top | Source Formats | Playback Capabilities
Processing capabilities and output formats | Notes and other information

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