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ARSCLIST  February 2013

ARSCLIST February 2013

Subject:

Re: Digitizing 10,000+ audio cassettes

From:

"Gordon, Bruce" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Fri, 22 Feb 2013 02:17:10 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (104 lines)

Just a couple of further comments since we insist on getting into the weeds.

The accepted wisdom recognized by the ARSC Technical Committee, which in its Preservation Statement recognizes the work of IASA in its documents IASA-TC 03 and IASA-TC 04, states that the minimum suggested sample rate is 48 kHz, but preferably 96 kHz, and a minimum 24-bit word. This wisdom also states that due to the complex nature of speech, it not be treated any different than music. So unless you are ingesting sources that are at a lower sample rate and lesser word depth, you should adhere to the minimums just mentioned. If you are ingesting digital material created at a lower resolution such as CDs and R-DAT, then that material should be ingested at its original resolution.

Regarding cassette playback machines, if you can find TASCAM 122 MKIII decks, their azimuth is adjusted very easily and as of last year the manufacturer was still willing to service them.

Best,

-Bruce

Bruce J. Gordon
Audio Engineer
Audio Preservation Services
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
U.S.A
tel. +1(617) 495-1241
fax +1(617) 496-4636








On Feb 21, 2013, at 5:12 PM, Paul Stamler <[log in to unmask]>
 wrote:

> On 2/21/2013 12:10 PM, Joel Alperson wrote:
>> What tremendous replies both in content and variety.
>> 
>> Thanks to everyone for your comments.
>> 
>> As to labor of love first, this material does not exist anywhere else.
>> 
>> These tapes in most cases are the only recordings which exist.
> 
> What is the nature of the material. You mention that it's only voice -- is it a collection of speeches, sermons, class lectures?
> 
> 
>> The reasons for digitizing are, one to preserve them as some are over 30
>> years old. Two, to more easily listen to search through them. And
>> finally, to ultimately digitally transcribe to text the recordings at
>> some time in the future, although that's a far less important goal for
>> now.
> 
> As Don pointed out, preserving cassettes is likely to be easier than preserving digital recordings. The latter, unless pressed onto regular CDs (not CD-Rs) are iffy -- it's necessary to copy the entire archive to a new storage device every couple of years.
> 
>> It seems to me that using an outside service would be tremendously
>> expensive, certainly well into five figures if not more.
> 
> Yep.
> 
>> 
>> And I have the advantage of not having a hard deadline for this work
>> meaning if the job takes me several years to complete that is far better
>> than leaving the tapes to deteriorate without preservation.
> In what environment are they stored? Do you have access to a temperature- and humidity-controlled storage facility?
> 
>> 
>> For now, deleting silence at the beginning or end of the recordings is
>> not critical. Just getting the material digitized is my priority.
>> 
>> I currently have an M-Audio Ultra Lite Mk3 audio interface.
> Actually, I believe the Ultralite is made by MOTU; it's one of several multi-channel interfaces that can do the job.
> 
>> 
>> The big questions for me then (I think) are what software to use and
>> some step-by-step instructions as to how I connect several audio
>> cassette recorders to the audio interface and on operating the software
>> I would use.
> 
> Your biggest challenge will almost certainly be hardware -- it usually is, in any major digitization effort. Job One is always to get good playback of the original analog material.
> 
> If these are mono tapes (same material on both channels) you can connect six cassette decks to the six inputs of the Ultralite, using a single channel of each cassette deck. You'll need a connector that also lets you connect that channel to your monitoring setup (which can be as simple as a home audio receiver -- but you'll need a switchbox to hook up all six cassette decks; perhaps a patchbay would be easier to manage.
> 
> (If these are stereo tapes, with different material on the two channels, of course you'll only be able to do three at a time, but then again you'll only need three good cassette decks. Of course, the project will take twice as long and use up 2x as much storage.)
> 
> Getting six decent cassette decks, in this day and age, will take some soing. Old cassette decks, unless they're three-motor machines (which are preferred), often need all their belts replaced to function at all. Often they need new pinch rollers too.
> 
> Okay, so you've got six working cassette decks. For each tape, you'll need to set the playback head azimuth properly. The best way to do that is by ear; feed both channels into your monitor setup and sum them to mono (most receivers have a stereo/mono switch, but you may need to rig one up). One useful trick is to take your monitor feed from the cassette deck's headphone output (if there is one) and run it to the switchbox/patchbay/receiver.
> 
> Anyw3ay, you're listening to the tape with the two channels mono'd. There is a small screw next to the playback head that you can adjust with a small screwdriver. Ideally this screwdriver will be non-magnetic (you can get small all-plastic screwdrivers at electronic supply houses). Play the tape, preferably from someplace in the middle, and tweak the screw until you find the position that gives the most audible treble. Your azimuth is now set.
> 
> If the cassette squeals or has other motion-related problems, you'll need to open the cassette and move the tape to a new shell, with fresh slipsheets, rollers and pressure pad. You can use a good new cassette for this (Maxells are good), but if you're going to need a lot of new shells, you're probably better off buying new shells.
> 
> Anyway, your azimuth is right, and you've maybe replaced the shell. It's very likely that these tapes were recorded without Dolby noise reduction, so turn that off. Set the playback EQ switch, if there is one, to match the tape type -- probably Type 1.
> 
> Go through these procedures on all six decks. Rewind all tapes to the beginning. Bring up your multi-channel recording software, set it to 24-bit/44.1kHz, set each channel of the software to the corresponding channel of the Ultralite. Put each channel into Record-Ready, and play each tape in turn to make sure the level doesn't go above about -6dBFS. Rewind all tapes to their heads. Roll the recording software, then push PLAY on all six cassette decks. Go away for 45 minutes (or however long each cassette side lasts), come back, and when all cassette decks have stopped, stop the recording software. Label each track with the appropriate tape name and Side One. Save all tracks.
> 
> Flip all the tapes. You may need to redo the azimuth alignment for the second side -- fast-forward the tape to the middle, then check using the mono-monitoring hookup. If necessary, adjust all six azimuths, then rewind all tapes to the beginning of the second side, and repeat all the recording steps. Later, rinse and repeat for the next six tapes.
> 
> It's critically important to adjust the azimuth, or at least check it, for *each cassette*. Azimuth alignment was the Achilles' Heel of cassette recording; most decks came from the factory set wrong, and cassettes themselves were sufficiently cheesy that they differed on the two sides.
> 
> As I said before, the big task is to get the analog playback right. If you can do that (eith cassettes it's not easy), the digital side is trivial by comparison.
> 
> Plan on spending some serious money on hardware. A good cassette deck in good condition can cost a couple of hundred dollars; if not in good condition, the repairs might cost a couple of hundred.
> 
> I could go on for a lot longer, but enough for the moment.
> 
> Peace,
> Paul

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