Quarter inch reel to reel tape audio archiving

Ampex NAB reel quarter inch tape boxes

We’ve been a bit quiet since last year on our blog here primarily because we have been processing large, ongoing audio archiving digital migration job for Mood Media Ltd

In essence audio archiving, digital migration, transfer or digitisation, whatever term you prefer, is conceptually simple, one analogue or digital format is moved to another, usually digital, format.  It is in the details of this process that things can get complex requiring experience, specialised tools and often custom-built solutions.

This job has many factors not just attaining the best analogue transfers but also addressing the organisation of such a large amount of 10.5″ reels, their digital management once migrated and the creation and management of metadata.

The archive, dating from the 1950’s up the early 90’s, even though it had been stored in less than ideal conditions, is in generally good condition. An interesting and often fantastic sounding collection of recordings and music are evident all recorded at 15ips in mono, stereo and some encoded with Dolby A noise reduction.
There are specific issues with some tapes that are not uncommon with older audio tape:

  • Binder hydrolysis or sticky shed syndrome (SSS) has affected a significant proportion of the archive in particular Ampex branded tapes from the 1980’s onwards.
  • Some glue used in spices from the 1980’s spreads over time and tends to stick layers of tape adjacent to the splice together. This can be a very frustrating problem which rarely damages the tape but affects the tape tension on certain sections so that head to tape contact is momentarily lost and a very obvious audio glitch noticed.

The Analogue side is important to get correct initially but the management of the data is critical with such a large number of reels and individual artists and tracks. Each batch of tapes would be catalogued in a .csv file. The digital audio transfers were split into individual tracks which then had to be renamed based on the data in the .csv file. This was handled by some php coding which matched the metadata supplied with the files, checking for inconsistencies then renaming the .wav files on one of our servers.

This type of customised workflow can be tricky to setup initially and find the balance between accuracy and speed but once done a smooth workflow is possible maintaining high quality, accuracy and value.


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