We routinely and very successfully use the Sony PCM-R500 machines here
at the Lab of Ornithology for DAT transfers. And we have a few
Panasonic SV-3800 machines as well, which have an error count reporting
mode that offers some more insight into what is going on with problem
tape. There is also a physical mod of the Sony remote control (drill a
hole in it) that enables you to push a button and get error counts of
some kind with those machines too, but I'd have to dig more info up on
that, not having made use of that myself yet.
By the way, I am an audio engineer and technician here at the Cornell
Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds, responsible for
maintaining our DAT machines, Studer A820's, DAWs, and the rest.
As Shai said, trying another DAT player can be telling. Just
keep in mind that anything that may have caused a tape that to clog one
machine's head may leave you cleaning more than one machine (getting
ahead of myself here). It's a judgment call and hard to tell you the
best course of action in your situation.
And as someone already said, if the recorder was out of spec, it can be
a lifesaver to have it around for playback, which may be the only
machine a tape will have any hope of playing back properly on. This
recently happened to us when someone brought us quite a bit of Mini-DV
video that just wouldn't play back properly here. Our faces went white
because it was reportedly really great program material and the audio
was constantly glitching. Thankfully they recordist was able to send us
the original camcorder and we got a good transfer in the end. This is
another reason to get stuff transfered or at least auditioned as soon as
possible instead of sitting it on a shelf for years and years and
missing an opportunity to get good stuff - the reason calibration
standards came about in the first place. But I digress.
As Jerry said, sometimes the dry cleaning tape will not get the job
done. The error rate may even be high enough to cause a machine to
squelch it's output for some period of time. But getting inside the
machine and cleaning the drum heads with a swab quite often clears up
any problems we are having. So I'm optimistic you will have success
with having your cleaned if necessary.
All machines are not designed the same, i.e. some are easier to swab
than others. And yes, it is supposedly very easy to damage the heads,
and I can see why (but thankfully I haven't learned the hard way -
yet). And more importantly, you risk electrical shock if not in the
habit of making sure the unit is not plugged into the wall when you are
working on it with the cover off. If you have any doubt about damaging
the unit or yourself, don't do it yourself. Not worth it.
But this is what I do. I unplug the machine first, and place it on a
clean and organized bench surface, to avoid injury. I then open up the
machine. Then I double check that the unit is unplugged. Now I swab as
Jerry suggested can be done. It is important to use a chamois swab
dipped in 99.9% Isopropyl Alcohol (no cotton swabs or anything else
likely to snag on the heads and/or leave material behind, either of
which could damage to the heads). I lightly rest the tip of the chamois
swab on the head at an angle and gingerly turn the head counterclockwise
a few times (viewed from above, which is no different than it's regular
direction of rotation). Imagine the angle I just mentioned by pointing
the swab tip tangentially in the direction of the head rotation and then
moving it 50-70 degrees so from this position (90 degrees, for example,
would be radially oriented with the center of the head, perpendicular to
the head surface in other words). The point of my doing this is to
avoid risk of digging into the head, as might easily happen if the swab
was pointing into the direction of head travel. Then put it all
together again and try things out using a known good tape for starters,
and then proceed to your original suspect tape if all is well.
A couple of times I've had to do the above procedure two and even three
times before error rates with my known good tape returned to normally
expected and correctable levels. As you might imagine, the original
problem tape had really clogged up the heads.
I'm interested in hearing other people's experience too. I love how the
Listserve makes us all smarter.
Jerry Hartke wrote:
> You may be experiencing head clogs with material from the tape embedded in a
> head gap. When severe, there is no solution for this other than to replace
> the head or the drive.
> An experienced technician may be able to access the head and carefully swab
> the gaps with a swab dipped in ethyl alcohol, but there is also a risk of
> permanently damaging the head when this is done.
> This is not a firm diagnosis - just a possibility, but such clogs are not
> uncommon. They can occur during normal use or when a tape has been run back
> and forth many times over the same area, causing debris to pile up at each
> end, and then clogging the head when the usage area is extended.
> Media Sciences, Inc.
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
>> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Brian Carpenter
>> Sent: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 3:17 PM
>> To: [log in to unmask]
>> Subject: [ARSCLIST] DAT glitches
>> Recently I was reviewing some WAV files that I created from DAT and
>> a handful of glitches here and there that were clearly digital in origin,
>> rather than from the original analog tapes that had been transferred to
>> After doing a retake or two, I discovered that some glitches remained,
>> occurring in the same places on both the old and new WAV file, while
>> were no longer there in the new one. So, since these errors didn't appear
>> random, it seemed to me they must be caused by physical blemishes on
>> particular spots on the tapes, rather than by a dirty head on the machine
>> Tascam DA-20 MKII). But after having made a few hundred hours of WAVs from
>> DATs, the glitch problem had only recently started showing up. The newer
>> files, the more common the glitches. Anyway, long story short, I purchased
>> DAT cleaning cassette just in case, ran it in the machine one time,
>> following the instructions exactly, and then actually had more glitches
>> showing up, even on tapes that had zero errors when I first did them. I
>> a second cleaning run, found fewer glitches afterwards, but still more
>> originally. Since running the cleaning cassette more than 2 or 3 times in
>> short period is a bad idea, I'm told, does anyone have any suggestons on
>> to address this kind of problem? Any input would be very helpful. Thanks
>> very much.
>> Brian Carpenter
>> Mellon Digital Audio Technician
>> American Philosophical Society
>> 105 South Fifth Street
>> Philadelphia, PA 19106-3386
>> (215) 440-3418
Assistant Audio Engineer
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Road
Ithaca, NY 14850
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To interpret and conserve the Earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.