Need used reel-to-reel to convert 17 1950's audio tapes to digital - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 8 Old 05-18-2013, 12:12 PM - Thread Starter
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Not sure this is the right sub forum to use. Trying to get some info before I get myself in over my head. I'm one of 4 siblings in their early 60's. My sis discovered 17 reels of 7", 1/4" audio tapes of many family members made by my long deceased Aunt Lucy back during the 50's. These were made each Christmas and contain audio/voices (no music) of all family members babbling whatever came to mind at the time. Needles to say, I was 7 or younger at the time and the only thing I remember about the machine is that is had a big green pilot light letting you know when it was recording. Sis also tells me it's my job to get these converted to digital. I'm a very technical guy with things electrical and mechanical, PC's so I understand how to make connections and that I'll have to buy some type of analog to digital box or just a PC sound card with the right inputs and outputs. I'm going to guess that all the tapes are mono (although I do not know this. Were there stereo tape decks in the mid to late 50's?) I see outside services charge from $30 up per reel, some based on time etc. This is a project I would enjoy doing myself so I figure I'll pick up a used machine on Ebay and get it done. I was hoping for some suggestions on a "good quality" machine to look for and I am unsure about "newer" (60's/70's/80's/90's) machines being able to play old mono tapes. Is there an issue with this? Once converted, I will simply put the machine back on Ebay as I will have no use for it. I'd also like some recommendations on a good sound card or exterior A/D converter for this purpose. Seems some articles recommend 24 bit, 96khtz sampling rates. I'm not too good in this area of expertise so again, would like some recommendations. Sis says she briefly unwound about 3' of tape off of a few reels and that it looks clean, does not stick to itself so hopefully, they are in decent shape. I've asked her to provide some pics of the reels and their boxes so I have a better idea of what we have. Maybe they will indicate at what speed they were recorded at so I can ensure that whatever machine I buy will play them correctly.
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post #2 of 8 Old 05-18-2013, 01:54 PM
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Hi Bhv,

To me, it seems like you already have it figured out.

I have some tapes from the sixties that I've converted to digital. But since I was converting music, my standards were a lot higher. For voice, you don't need to be so demanding. There isn't likely to be any content going up to 20kHz or down to 20Hz.

The first thing you need to know is the tape-speed. Music was typically recorded at 7 1/2 ips, and sometimes 3 3/4 ips. Voice could either be 1 7/8 or 3 3/4 ips. High-end decks could do 15 ips. Because the head-gap was specific to the tape-speed, most decks only had a two-to-one speed range:

15 and 7 1/2 ips (pro-decks), or
7 1/2 and 3 3/4 ips typical decks for music), or
3 3/4 and 1 7/8 ips (for dictation).

Most decks you are likely to find are in that middle range, and your tapes are likely 3 3/4 ips. But you need to verify the speed before you get the wrong deck.

Mono verses stereo won't matter, as the mono track is twice as wide as the stereo track, and therefore plays on both left and right channels. Keep in mind that both mono and stereo tapes had two sides, and you will need to flip it over. You likely know that already, but I bring it up because it isn't obvious.

The input to your computer is pretty straightforward. For software, I use Kristal Audio Engine, but you can get away with something simpler. I would record at 24-bit / 48 kHz, which should be the most compatible and still have more than enough resolution for your needs. 16-bits should probably be enough, but 24-bits would give you the extra dynamic range in case you wanted to boost very quiet passages. And once you're done processing, you could down-convert to 16-bits, or even 44.1 kHz if you wanted to put your final results on audio CDs.
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post #3 of 8 Old 05-18-2013, 02:47 PM - Thread Starter
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Thank you! Hopefully, some of those reel boxes will be marked. The ultimate aim is in fact, make CD's so is it possible to convert at the higher 24 bit rate and at 44.1 Khz in one shot. The bit rate and Khz is really my weakness in this. And if there are no tape boxes and no other indication of recorded speed, I'm not really sure of what my options are other than take a chance and buy the 7.5-3.75 or 3.75-1.875 machine. Any machine brand and model recommendations?

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post #4 of 8 Old 05-18-2013, 04:13 PM
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Mark has given good advice, and I would expect the tape speed to be 7.5 or 3.75 ips, probably the latter.

If you want to make CD's that can be used in any CDP, then you will need to record at 44.1/16 to be compatible and there is no need whatsoever for 24 bit.

Before even beginning to look for a machine, find out the tape speed. Ask nicely at a duplication service and they might try one out for you and give you the number. Or put out a Craigslist ad to see if there is someone nearby with some R2R machines willing to help. R2Rs vary so much in price, condition and performance, especially as they are now collector/vintage it's hard to know what to suggest. Studer/Revox, Otari, Teac, Pioneer and Akai are usually all good. Most machines are 2 track, but will play back mono fine.
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post #5 of 8 Old 05-18-2013, 04:17 PM
 
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Unless the tapes were stored in proper conditions, you may find that there will be a lot of lost material, or possibly the magnetic & mylar layers stuck together, which will cause sections to be pulled off, causing spots that will be missing. Your best bet is to check around on ebay for old reel to reels, check local college or university to see if they still have any equipment that can be used to pull the recordings.

Plenty of units on ebay http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_trksid=p2050601.m570.l1311.R1.TR5.TRC1&_nkw=reel+to+reel+recorder&_sacat=0&_from=R40
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post #6 of 8 Old 05-18-2013, 06:03 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A9X-308 View Post

If you want to make CD's that can be used in any CDP, then you will need to record at 44.1/16 to be compatible and there is no need whatsoever for 24 bit.

OK, I can follow that. As I want the CD's to be playable by all siblings without special equip, 44.1/16 it is. I know where I need to go. Thank you everyone.

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post #7 of 8 Old 05-18-2013, 08:02 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bvh View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by A9X-308 View Post

If you want to make CD's that can be used in any CDP, then you will need to record at 44.1/16 to be compatible and there is no need whatsoever for 24 bit.

OK, I can follow that. As I want the CD's to be playable by all siblings without special equip, 44.1/16 it is. I know where I need to go. Thank you everyone.
You will not have to use the CD's on special equipment, since they would be burned as standard format. The first step, is making sure that you can be able to actually use the tapes, to pull the recordings onto a computer, so you can attempt to clean up any static.

See the following http://presrec.com/reel.htm and http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub54/index.html especially Chapter 2. There is also a forum dedicated to this http://www.tapeheads.net/forumdisplay.php?s=ce7bea745aa04c8db9d0ef448f57924a&f=4 a lot of good info there.
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post #8 of 8 Old 05-19-2013, 09:18 AM
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Since the tapes are just voice, the frequency response and conversion quality are pretty much non-issues. Any cheap analog-to digital converter will suffice.

Stereo tape decks came out around 1956, and RCA started putting out pre-recorded performances on 1/4" stereo tapes at that time (two years before the production of stereo records began).

It is more likely, however, that the tapes were made on a monaural tape deck, which would only have a single track in each direction, using half of the tape width.

The big problems with decks so old are that the rubber belts have normally fallen apart, and the tape heads and alignment guides tend to be so worn out as to be useless.

You have a big challenge to find a deck that is functional, and it will be quite expensive.

I suggest you go to "reel2reel2CD.com" and use their service to have your tapes transferred to CDs.

They will also put them all on a single USB thumb drive for you , and then you can put them on your computer and burn all the CDs you want for your family on the cheap. That will be even cheaper and easier.

The prices are reasonable, and you will save time and money in the long run.

One 4GB flash drive is only $8 (plenty for what you have), and 7-inch reels cost $25 each to transfer to the flash drive as WAV or MP3.
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