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Re: [ARSCLIST] rehousing audio cassettes

Hi Richard:

You touch on another key point about cassettes -- much of what we get in professional transfer operations hasn't been stored under idea conditions. So you find the kind of plastic-warp/plastic-disfiguration of which you speak. I've actually seen more of that from "middle period" and "late era" cassettes because some manufacturers (3M and later Imation, in my experience, also off-brands like what was sold at the typical K-Mart) seem to have cut back on the amount of plastic in the shell or used a cheaper, more pliable plastic. The early-era tapes I've handled were generally in hard plastic shells and screwed together (for easy repair). Those tapes sometimes have lost the pressure pad due to glue wear-out and I had one a couple years ago where the "slide pads" on either side of the tape were not "teflon smooth" anymore so tape motion was constrained. In all these cases, simple shell replacement did the trick.

The HF loss I remember from back when cassettes were the medium for cars. I never liked them but still had hundreds of them for on-the-go-listening. I definitely remember that tapes got "dull" pretty fast, and you really noticed it if you compared them to the original record. I figured it was temp and humidity from being on-the-go, but then by the time I got to college I noticed the problem with high-quality CRO2 tapes that hadn't had a hard life on the road. Just another reason not to like cassettes for music. That said, it was really amazing how far the Japanese equipment makers took that medium into the high-fidelity realm. It was never intended for that, so they did quite a good job managing all the mechanical and audio-quality compromises they needed to make. Still, just how limited-quality the cassette medium is was made very clear to me when I worked in the dubbing room of a NYC studio one summer in high school. I'd get a finished mix 2-track and use a wall of Tascam 122 cassette decks (and/or Revox A77 quarter-track reel decks) to make client dubs. I could A-B any copy from the play head vs. the master tape. Consumer formats were very fidelity-challenged, especially cassettes.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- From: "Richard L. Hess" <arclists@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: <ARSCLIST@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 12:16 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] rehousing audio cassettes

Hi, Tom,

I agree with your points, but there are batches of tapes that are failing in odd ways -- and I'm not even referring to the horrid feri-chrome tape in my blog from a few years ago.

We're seeing some second-tier tapes which are becoming dimensionally unstable and won't wind well. This is where I've been pointed towards metal cassette shells and other "fixes" short of a Studer A80QC to play this stuff back on.

The tapes tend to "cone up" on their hubs and then wedge against the inside of the case. I've seen this with mostly second-tier Canadian tapes, but have had a half dozen out of several hundred mixed lots that have done this. They are often C-120s, but I think I had some C90s do it as well.

There is another phenomenon that has only been very poorly documented and that is loss of highs just sitting in a wood drawer with no magnets around. Some suggest that it is a magnetostriction effect with the small radii that the tapes in cassettes move over. I don't know and I haven't seen anything in the literature, but I haven't done a comprehensive search for this specific item.

It seems to happen shortly after recording ( ~ < 1 year ), so it doesn't appear to be something that is limiting life, but has already degraded the magnetic record. This may be some of the reason that Dolby NR doesn't track as well as we'd hoped it would, especially on cassettes (where this problem is most noticeable).

And yes, of course, always transfer from the best available source. Sadly, with many oral history collections, the cassettes are the best available source. My big project that I've had in here for a while is dragging on because I'm trying to find the best copy of stuff and all are horrid. But the metadata the client is doing is farther behind than my transfers so if I get to keep ahead of the metadata I can do other work.

I did transfer one nice collection of about 50 reels that had been previously transferred to cassettes. I had to throw in the baking, because the client thought the cassettes were "good enough" but I just couldn't see not doing it from the reels. It was such a joy to hear real 1/2-track mono, on 1/4-inch tape without the cassette "filter" over it. Even if the reels were mostly 1.88 in/s. I think they were done on a Uher or similar.



At 07:23 PM 2009-01-21, Tom Fine wrote:
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.

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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