A Brief Guide to the Tape Transfer Process

Old tapes and reels have charm, but they lack the longevity of digital music. This article details how a professional studio like The Carriage House can convert old tapes and reels, including 2″ tapes, into new digital audio recordings.

Preparing for Transfer

tape transfer archival and restoration

Image via Flickr by Ronan_C

The tape transfer restoration and archival process begins with an inspection of your original recordings. If necessary, they will be treated or cleaned. For example, dry shedding tapes must be cleaned using interlining curtain fabric, then wound and rewound. This vital step ensures the best quality digital recording and helps preserve our pro cassette players and pro reel-to-reel decks.

If your tapes or reels are still in their original boxes, we can read the metadata recorded to know what speed the original was recorded and information about audio tones and noise reduction. If not, our sound engineers can use their expert ears to adjust our playback machines to the appropriate settings.

The Transfer Process

Once these processes are complete, the tape transfer (or reel audio transfer) can commence. Our studio captures the digital file at any sample rate needed. There is some debate over the best sample rate. We use the archival standard of 24 bits/96kHz, less about the assumption of higher quality recording but more about being consistent with industry standard. 

Working With the New Recording

The above transfer is called the raw transfer, because it’s exactly as the original was. However, your new digital recording can be transferred to multitrack in Pro Tools for additional mixing and mastering. While some musicians feel this compromises the authenticity of the analog sound, others want their music to sound as clear and crisp as possible. We can reduce the crackles and pops common in older recordings or correct any volume or speed problems at this time. 

We also understand that while large digital files retain sound quality, they can be difficult to publish online. We can encode your uncompressed files in a range of formats, including MP3 and AAC, for streaming or sharing on your social networks. We recommend retaining the uncompressed version for your archives.

Problems That Can Arise

Many problems can arise when working with old tapes and reels, but these can be addressed by trained studio professionals. Some 24 track 2″ reels often suffer from a condition called binder hydrolysis, which makes them sticky. Studios have customized incubators that can bake the reels without undermining their quality before digital transfer.

In addition, 2″ tapes are heavy and can create a large amount of friction as they move through the tape transport. To ensure they don’t snap, these tapes should be wound in an even, controlled fashion by an experienced sound technician. Other problems can also arise, so it’s smart to trust your audio transfer to a professional team used to troubleshooting these issues.

At Carriage House Studios, we respect the analog nuances that bring warmth and authenticity to a recording and the innovations of contemporary advances. Our studio began working on tape 40 years ago, and we’ve retained our old gear while embracing modern technology. Whether you’re looking to preserve the organic feel of your original recordings or give them a sleek makeover, contact us at (203) 358–0065.

tape transfer and restoration

Posted on December 4, 2015 in tape transfer

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