In all this discussion of playing back various forms of magnetic
recordings using older used decks, I wonder if very many people ran into
my problem?

At my company's location in Hollywood, they originally had an Ampex reel
to reel recorder/reproducer (a 350, I think), but gave it away before I
came to work as their archivist.  By the way, an excellent web site
showing many generations and manufacturers of such decks is:

Anyway, in order to digitize their radio broadcast library for mastering
to CD, I had to find a replacement deck that could handle 10 1/2" reels
at 15 IPS.  I found a Scully 280 with plugin head stacks (1/2" four
track and 1/4" two track) at a small local studio, and had it checked
out by an audio firm who said it recorded and reproduced perfectly.

So, I started on my merry way, digitizing away with excellent audio
coming out on my system sounding clean and as if the tapes (direct feed
KHJ radio masters) and the shows had been recorded yesterday (actually,
they were recorded from 1952 to 1967).  By chance, I did some A/B
comparisons with some shows that were reruns made from transcriptions,
and when I tried to edit some music from one version to the other, the
pitches didn't match.  I finally realized that the Scully was running
slow compared to the original transcription which I knew was "on" by the
strobe on the side of the turntable.  Unless a person has perfect pitch
(I don't, although I read music and have sung, professionally), you can
be fooled by what sounds to be an accurate reproduction. The speed
dropped the pitch about a half-step, and over a half-hour show added
about twenty the running time.

The overall problem is a common one, I would guess, since many of the
machines used for archiving today are not in their first youths, and
wear of the various transport parts will cause changes in speed.  I
thought this should give others food for thought in checking out their
analog decks, and I hope my experience will be of help to others.

The irony here is that I'm sure the vendor from whom I purchased the
Scully wasn't aware of any problem, since he was doing "in house"
recordings, and, as long as the recordings were played back on the same
deck, they would be relatively "perfect", playing at the same speed they
were recorded.

I have gone back and remastered the offending recordings.  I have also
in some cases used my digital software to resample the .wav files using
the "time/pitch" tools in Cool Edit Pro, since I have now found that
some of the library's 1/4" tape masters were not recorded perfectly on
pitch, either, due to the machines they were using back in the '50's and

So, the moral of the story is: "Nothing Is Perfect".

Rod Stephens, Archivist
Family Theater Productions, Hollywood

phirsch wrote:

>Though I realize that the recorder in question is dealing with data and not
>sound and therefore could be considered OT, we do spend a fair amount of
>time discussing very similar recording, storage and playback issues. So, if
>you are interested, take a look at:
>Peter Hirsch
>Head Archivist for Music and Recorded Sound
>Wilson Processing Project
>The New York Public Library
>[log in to unmask]
>521 West 43rd Street
>New York, New York  10036
>(212) 714-8570
>(212) 714-8508 - fax