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ARSCLIST  August 2008

ARSCLIST August 2008

Subject:

Re: The Hope of Audacity Was--Re: [ARSCLIST] Seeking recommendations for oral history digitization equipment (fwd)

From:

"Richard L. Hess" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 15 Aug 2008 17:29:54 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (127 lines)

At 02:12 PM 2008-08-15, Tom Fine wrote:

>1. a pile of cassette tapes is pretty stable, if stored properly. 
>Better to amass some expertise and funding than to rush headlong 
>into a transfer project under a false idea that there's a timebomb 
>ticking. Yes, cassettes are not "forever" stable, but no medium is 
>and I would suggest that most large piles of cassettes are anywhere 
>from 35 to 5 years old and not in immediate risk. Richard may say 
>different but I've had few cassettes through here that had the tape 
>falling apart in them. Sure, stuff stored improperly warps and has 
>dropouts but we're not talking about oxide falling off like can 
>happen with old cellulose and acetate reels. This is of course not 
>the case with all cassettes and there are some problem types. But, 
>in general, I'd say take your time getting funding in place to do 
>the job right.

There is an issue with  this concept that can come around to bite us. 
If we say that the tapes are pretty stable, then funding for their 
restoration will be put off. If we say it's a crisis, then people 
will rush headlong into doing it without proper planning.

One of the first lessons I learned after joining ABC-TV's engineering 
department in 1974 was "Proper Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance"

For most cassettes it is not a crisis that we have to do it 
yesterday, but we'd better start doing it soon and correctly because 
(a) the tapes are getting worse and (b) the availability of great 
machines in great shape is decreasing. I have a long-term large 
project in-house that is pathetic and I don't think I have more than 
a half-dozen originals, all are poor copies, sometimes as many as 
four copies. The project I allude to at the bottom had 100 cassettes 
and these ranged from adequate to poor. The client was happy with 
what she's heard so far.

In both projects, I am seeing cassettes that have problematic 
playback including base film deformation, or so it seems. I think 
playing these in five years will be more of a problem than now.

Many of these collections even contain C-120s. Talk about horror stories.

>2. as I've said numerous time, it is very much worth looking into 
>outsourcing the A-D work. I've found that for institutional clients, 
>there are usually a few folks on-hand who are very clear on what 
>they want to do with the audio once it's in digital form. And, I've 
>found these folks to be generally highly educated and smart and thus 
>it's not a problem for someone on staff to be come expert at a 
>sound-editing program. So the way we generally work to keep the 
>client in maximum control and the total budget within a good sweet 
>spot is they get either the raw transfer files or, if cleanup work 
>is outsourced, the "final" high-rez and the raw high-rez. Then they 
>handle the slicing and dicing, burning to portable media, crunching 
>to online formats, entering their own metadata, etc. This keeps my 
>studio time down to mainly transfer work and thus saves them a lot 
>of money since they have facilities already in place to do the other 
>work -- and the key work of final format and access files and 
>metadata/database are handled in-house exactly to their preferred 
>specifications. Just to be clear, I've done projects where all this 
>work is outsourced, but the costs are much higher.

A completely agree with that. Where I've found the sweet spot for 
costs/capabilities is often to do the raw transfers and clean them, 
name the files to the client's specifications, and deliver the whole 
thing on a hard drive while retaining copies on my servers until the 
client has copied everything off and confirmed the MD5 hashes.

>3. what has become clearer to me over time is that something like a 
>field recording of an oral history (ie a non-stellar recording) 
>NEEDS to be transferred and handled in a very high-quality audio 
>chain. Things like voice-clarity and dynamics control can be very 
>much improved for the final product, making reference-listening much 
>more productive and audibility much better. So apply a 
>barebones/dirt-cheap chain to bad audio will make things worse, 
>whereas applying a very good chain to very bad audio can help in 
>many cases. I think this is one of Richard's main points.

Indeed!

>So, while I am very sympathetic to cash-starved archives and 
>institutions, I think it's better to make strategic decisions about 
>realistic funding levels and realistic expectations about what can 
>be digitized within those limits. Then prioritize and maybe spread 
>out the time-horizon to get it done right.

There are success stories on both sides. I've mentioned the Cal State 
Fullerton massive conversion project where the oxide was falling off 
the reel tapes due to compromised storage conditions and 
purchasing-provided white-box tape. Here we set up stations with two 
Studer A807s and several (2-3) Nakamichi Dragons and a couple of 
high-end consumer 1/4-track machines.

Each station consisted of ONE playback device and two Sony CDR-W33 CD 
writers and two gold audio CDs were written at once. It was a good 
compromise. It was all done with volunteer labour and I trained the 
trainer who was very good and driven to get this done no matter what 
the obstacles were.

It is the rare archive that benefits from doing this in-house. 
Fullerton had maybe 8000 recordings. It paid for them to do it. I 
think it's far more cost-effective -- and you'll get a better product 
-- if you come to people like Tom or me with your 1-1000 unit tape 
collection. I just turned around 100 tapes in about three weeks (long 
weeks) which included raw WAV, cleaned WAV, cleaned MP3. They will 
burn their own CDs and place the MP3s on line maybe.

One thing to remember, those of us who do this regularly (and there 
are several on this list and listed in my Formats and Resources 
section of www.richardhess.com/notes/formats/ ) do this every day and 
are aware of problems and sometimes quick fixes that may cause days 
of delay for those who haven't seen the problem before.

I say that from experience as I've had several tapes this year that 
have caused me days of delay when they did not behave as expected, 
but I learned from them -- and published a few on my blog.
http://richardhess.com/notes/2008/04/15/a-solution-to-reduce-spoking-in-old-acetate-tapes/
http://richardhess.com/notes/2008/02/23/slow-speed-4-channel-cassette-digitization/
http://richardhess.com/notes/2007/11/21/how-to-play-4-track-1875-ins-tapes/
http://richardhess.com/notes/2007/11/08/success-with-squealing-shamrock-031-tape/

Cheers,

Richard

Richard L. Hess                   email: [log in to unmask]
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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