Average Durability of Vintage Original Reel to Reel Tape Albums? - diyAudio
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Old 3rd September 2010, 06:11 AM   #1
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Default Average Durability of Vintage Original Reel to Reel Tape Albums?

Greetings, My name is Charles and I'm new to the forum. I've read the forum guidelines and please forgive me if my question has already been discussed in the past, but I did not notice anything with a basic search. My question pertains to what level of durability might one expect with the continual playing of original and vintage reel to reel tape albums. Mainly albulms from the 60's and 70's which did not suffer from sticky tape syndrome.

Since the recent restoration of my Akai 1722II, I've remained mesmurized by the sound quality I get from some reel tape albums that are already over 30 or 40 years old. I'll never forget the first time I heard Karen Carpenter voice on "A Kind of Hush" album on my reel player and how stunned I was in disbelief as to the crisp and clarity of her voice. It seemed to have a better sound than what I'm use to getting on a cd. I'm now collecting as many reel to reel albums I can get my hands on, and while a few I've obtained were victims of sticky tape syndrome, I have more so been rewarded with obtaining albums which seem to play perfectly.

I wan't to enjoy my collection for a lifetime, but I have to assume that some level of degradement occurs with continual playing of tapes which are already decades old. I notice a fine film of magnetic tape residue will form on my capstan roller each time I play a few of the old album reels. I'm not sure if this is a normal occurance with playing of reel tape, as I grew up with cassette and cd's. I'm wondering (for those who might know or might educatively estimate) as to what extent of playability can I resonably expect from a vintage tape which was not manufactured and compoed with the poor binding agents that lead to stick tape? Let's also presume that the tapes will only be played on well maintained and properly funtioning tape players. How many plays have some of you managed with your old tapes? Have you ever worn any out?

I'm thinking I should maybe invest some effort in attempting making copies on fresh reel to reel tape, and reserve the originals only for duplicating. I'm just not fully sure if making a quality and near perfect copy (only one) is easily attained, as I recall making pretty lousy duplicates with cassette tapes when I was a kid, but I most likely was using consumer grade recorders.

Anyhow, please forgive me if this reads like a loaded question, and only address to what you may feel is pertinent or beneficial towards the overall topic. I thank you for your time in reading and for any information you provide. Regards-Charles
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Old 3rd September 2010, 06:51 AM   #2
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Well I grew up with cassette, always wanted reel to reel, never got one though.
I can appreciate your comments on the sound quality... and many CD's of recordings of that era sound "thin" in comparison.
Tape does have a limited life... it wears... by how much is impossible to say as so much depends on storage, which in turn determines how well the coating ages, and also by the mechanical conditions imposed during each run through the machine. The oxide coating is evidence of that wear.
As time passes keeping a deck in good mechanical order becomes ever more difficult.

My advice would be to try and copy these recordings to CDR and just try and preserve the originals... you might be pleasantly surprised at the quality too. Another possibility would be a Minidisc recorder... although that's a "time expired format"... but it's great

If you did put the recordings to CDR (using a separate high quality "stand alone" recorder, not a PC and USB adapter)... you could then archive the recordings to a PC and digital media... flash drive/hard drive etc.

Also as you obviously like the "analogue" sound (so do I) you need a system that is sympathetic to that... but that's another story really. By that I mean an amplifier that is musical... most commercial mass produced stuff with amazing specs isn't... and take it from there.
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Old 3rd September 2010, 01:32 PM   #3
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Your tapes will wear out. The only answer is to copy them.

Digital copies are immortal, if backed up sufficiently, so if you can get a satisfactory result then that is the way to go. It will not be straightforward if you chose to re-record to tape.

One of the problems is the expense and cost in time to discover a method which is satisfactory to you. If you were to go with tape, then a second, identical machine would probably be a good choice.

Whatever your choice of re-recording medium, you will need to spend some time experimenting with levels and EQ, (although flat is probably best in the case of EQ) to see what gives the best result. There is no reason why a CD cannot capture the sound of the tape, but the best results will only be obtained when the dynamic range is fully exploited, achieving this without clipping or compression is the problem.

My preference would be to record to a PC with a high quality soundcard using a piece of software such Cubase which allows you to examine the recorded track displayed graphically.

Karen Carpenter just came on the radio: 'Yesterday once more'

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Old 3rd September 2010, 07:40 PM   #4
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Magnetic tape not only wears out but the magnetic coating will also eventually part company with the backing especially in high humidity environments.
The give-away is that it will shed 'rusty' dust.
This can be temporarily fixed again by careful baking in an oven but I do not remember the safe temperature and duration so you may well have to google a bit.
Once you've baked it you will have to make a copy immediately as it is a VERY temporary fix.
If you copy it to digital I'd use 24bit to avoid having to choose between dynamic range or resolution.
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Old 3rd September 2010, 08:40 PM   #5
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I also have a reel to reel that I haven't used in a long long while. I did not buy tape albums but I recorded vinyl thru a dbx box to tape so I wouldn't wear out the records. For years I serviced among other things computer tape drives. Not only do the tapes wear, so does everything else the tape touches especially the heads. See if you can find a service manual for your deck and maybe you can find some test tapes to properly setup your head alignment, bias and check the frequency response. you will be surprised at the poor frequency response, high distortion, lousy signal to noise ratio, poor overload characteristics of your unit. But then again once upon a time nearly every recording was made on tape. Every data center had has a tape cleaner which removes loose magnetic particles and checks the tape for drop outs in signal strength.
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Old 3rd September 2010, 08:46 PM   #6
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oh yeah don't use high speed rewind, it packs the tape too tight. Mag tapes are known for self erasure.
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Old 3rd September 2010, 10:52 PM   #7
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Back in the late 1960's at the FM radio station, we would play pre-recorded classical music tapes. I don't recall how old the tapes were, but they were not new. Some were shedding even then.
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Old 5th September 2010, 07:21 AM   #8
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I appreciate the ammount of response and how many of you went on with adding some additional input towards reel maintainence and recording tips. I agree I should also transfer the analog tape reels to digital format as well. I have a Tascam 750 being serviced, but should be in working order soon. I will also work towards making good quality reel to reel copies to spare excessively using the old originals.

It's been clear to me that analog is dead, but I found it interesting to read on the web today that the Library of Congress continues in using 1/4 magnetic tape in making backup recordings of newly added music and audio tracks which are being archived in their collection. The article was undated, but fairly current as it was making highlight of the fagility of data stored on DVD and CD disk. Supposedly they still use anlog tape for their known long term reliability. The same article went on to decribe how magnetic tapes which have been manufactured useing traditional and stable binder agents for their oxides (as BASF and TDK) have endured the test of time, and have a life expectancy of roughly 90 years. I also read that all companies have ceased production of reel to reel tape, therfore I'm not sure where the Library of Congress is obtaining a fresh supply reel to reel tape, or if they have since discontinued use of analog tape. Either way, I don't think this will prevent us from continuing with idolizing a dead format, as there will be the seemingly endless stockpile of leftovers which will be fed to us from outlets like "junk-bay" for decades.


While this backtracking with a dead format seems a bit silly, I don't think I'm merely romancing about the past, as I did not grow up with using a reel to reel. It has something to do with the warmth and simplicity in the sound. Maybe my Akai 1722 II has endured very little use in it's lifetime and it's thin paper speakers are still perfectly in tune with the machine. While I've mentioned some of the sound quality somewhat rivals with what I've heard from cd, I don't think it's the digital format itself that is inferior, but more likely how it's added enhancements are sometimes employed with the digital remastering of old analog recordings. The most noticeable and offensive enhancement seems to occur with the background bass, where it becomes more pronounced and overblended with the singers voice, almost drowning them out. This of course is just my own thinking and mere opinionating.
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Old 8th September 2010, 02:49 AM   #9
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Magnetic tape is going to shed oxide, there's no two ways about it. However, the more modern formulations were (and are, if you find new mag tape) very durable.

What you may be experiencing is older acetate-based stock; it is notorious for shedding oxide, sometimes to the point of leaving just the clear base. Broadly speaking this type of tape will be a very brown colored tape, although if you're not familiar with mag tape that may not help, as the better formulas may appear brown as well.

If you are able to identify the older formula tapes, and you store your tapes in the plastic bags before boxing them (and you should) you can fairly accurately identify the tape formulation by taking a good whiff of the bag that houses the tape. Every formula has a distinctive smell; not only is each manufacturer fairly distinct, the individual products within a manufacturer's line are readily identifiable.

You should take the time to read about proper handling and storage of magnetic tape; I won't go into it here but suffice to say proper storage is critical.

You mentioned Karen Carpenter ... she is an artist of the early 70's. Record companies are notoriously cheap and use the lowest-cost materials whenever possible, but chances are even considering all that, that would be on a modern formula tape. Anything from the 60's or previous will almost certainly be on the older, less durable formulation.

Hope that helps.
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Old 8th September 2010, 03:01 AM   #10
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Just a quick comment about the "sound" of magnetic tape:
One significant characteristic of magnetic tape recording and storage (therefore playback) is there is a significant amount of third harmonic distortion, but vanishing low amounts of higher order odd harmonic distortion. This is true even if the recording and playback process uses vacuum tubes ... it's a characteristic of the magnetic tape process itself.

I won't go into what that might mean in terms of hifi quality, except to say that higher order odd harmonic distortion is a typical characteristic of poorer designed solid state gear and is not typical of well designed vacuum tube gear (which tends to have even order harmonic distortion).

Odd harmonics are not found in nature (eg live music) ... this is fairly well known. Nature is full of even harmonics, though ... it is the even harmonics that differ when two instruments, such as a guitar and a piano, are playing the same fundamental note (eg a "middle C").

But it is interesting in how much third harmonic we can tolerate without complaint, versus higher order (eg 5th, 7th, 9th, etc) which tends to annoy serious hifi listeners.

Food for thought. Enjoy your newfound interest in magnetic tape.
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