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Re: [ARSCLIST] rehousing audio cassettes

Hi Richard:

I very much agree with you that all magnetic tapes are finite, so anything of value on them should be transferred as the clock is always ticking.

That said, I've been transferring a group of about 50 cassettes I recently inherited and have been happily surprised by the results. A few of these tapes are, literally from the very dawn of cassettes as a mass medium (made at the first mass-duping plant in NY to do compact cassettes). Others were stored in very non-ideal conditions (a basement damp enough that paper labels were warped and stuck to the plastic cases). Others, including one of historical significance, were made on very low-grade examples of the cassette art. All except one played perfectly the first time in the machine. That one needed a shell transplant, mainly because the tape splice to the leader had dried out and the pressure pad glue had dried out. The audio quality varied from mediocre to very good but none was terrible (even an early mass-duped tape made from a 1940's disk recording). To be fair, almost all were spoken-word so the need for excellent speed stability and reliable frequency range extension was not as great. I was never a fan of cassettes in their heyday, on audio quality grounds (with music), but in recent years, my respect for the design of the medium grows. It is a cockroach-like audio storage medium, relatively non-fragile and usually fixable if the problems are mechanical.

Compared to finicky digital-tape media, cassettes are likely to remain playable decades longer. But, Richard is right -- all tape is finite and everything of value on it should be transferred. In the case of cassettes, if you have a better source you will have better audio quality.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- From: "Richard L. Hess" <arclists@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: <ARSCLIST@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 5:50 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] rehousing audio cassettes

At 04:29 PM 2009-01-21, Jennifer Tobias wrote:
Hi everyone,
We have audio cassettes that are currently stored in the little plastic boxes that cassette tapes originally come in (I assume this is PVC.) We don't have a huge budget for rehousing tapes, and I'm trying to mediate ideal housing with realistic budget constraints- that is, I'm trying to figure out which of the low-cost options would yield the greatest benefit. That said, is it worth it to switch to polyethylene (or Mylar) cassette boxes? Does anyone have any insight into this?
Thanks for your help!

Hello, Jen,

Many cassette tapes are stored in what I believe are polystyrene boxes -- material similar to the jewel cases that are used for storing compact discs. While I have not done extensive research, I believe the polystyrene boxes are essentially safe for the duration of the life of the cassettes.

With that said, I would strongly suggest digitizing the cassettes sooner rather than later (yes this could be construed as self-serving as I offer the service), but we are seeing continued degradation of tapes over time and also one must consider that no new, really good tape players are being manufactured. I have not evaluated the Ion units that appear to offer playback and digitization in one box. They may be adequate for some applications.

Additionally, having the content in digital form will permit no-further-loss replication of the content across multiple storage locations to guard against catastrophic loss.

The soft boxes may be PVC, but I thought they were polyethylene. If they are PVC, I would be concerned but PVC tape has lasted well since circa 1944. Polyethylene might be safer than PVC, but again, I haven't researched the cases.

While not specifically addressing the cases, you may be interested in my paper on tape degradation. The first figure illustrates my concern over future digitization results as the tapes and the machines continue to degrade.

You may find that at www.richardhess.com/tape/history/



Richard L. Hess email: richard@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Aurora, Ontario, Canada (905) 713 6733 1-877-TAPE-FIX
Detailed contact information: http://www.richardhess.com/tape/contact.htm
Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.

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