One of these days, I’m gonna change me tune, as there’s a bit of software I could do with some help with. That’ll come when I’m testing recordings the other way – from tape to digital.
The software is AVS Audio Editor. Saving files on it for a noob is a bit, well…
Yeah. Like that! But it’s still excellent software 🙂
Anyway, I’m back in ye olde analogue studio, doing a load of recording, and I’ve been finding a few more things out.
It’s hardly likely that you’re going to find any new blank tapes. If you think you’ve found a genuine unused blank R2R spool; or, if someone tells you it’s new and unused, it still matters how it’s been kept, or stored. Nothing is completely impervious to dampness.
When the Sony TC-280 turned up a couple of weeks ago; I was all of a-dither, wanting desperately to get it set up ready to play with. But after travelling in various places, in various vehicles; in and out of those vehicles; the unit was icy cold after those first 24 hours before it got to me.
Dunno ’bout you, but I prefer something that old to be left long enough to come up to room temperature, whilst switched off, before using it. That takes another few hours in a reasonably warm, (not hot!) room. Buying an old machine takes a bit of guts, especially if you’ve never actually used one before. Making sure the thing is safe to use? Well, yer lives n learns, I suppose. For me, that’s exactly what it is: trial and error. I haven’t even found a manual for this deck. It’s all completely brand new territory for me, so I blogs what I finds 😉 I have been thinking about writing my ow manual, but hey, d’ya know how long that would take?!
For its age – anything up to 40-odd years’ old, the TC-280 is a beauty. The only thing that surprised me was its weight. You want to quickly get it to where you’re going to keep it. Be extremely careful with your back and shoulders whilst handling and lifting anything like this. An Akai would have been even bigger and heavier. I’d love one, but I don’t think I’d be able to lift it, quite honestly. The Sony is quite enough for me to handle.
So, what about the tapes, then? Well, whilst watching and setting a reel up for recording, there were a couple of issues I noticed straight away.
1: The Lead-in tape which is attached to the main, brown tape can often be stuck to the plastic spool. I’m not joking. I had to peel some of it off whilst in use! It’s no fun when you don’t know how other people have used and kept old tape, as you really don’t know what condition it’s going to be in until you use it yourself. Like I mentioned earlier: nothing, no matter how well wrapped and packed, is completely impervious to dampness. The tapes smelled of old attic when they arrived. I’m not surprised they’re in a bit less than perfect condition.
Again, if you buy old tape stock, you should allow more than enough time for the tape to come up to room temp before using it. I left mine a few days before I started playing with it.
2: You’re going to find a splicing tool and tape set extremely useful. When the tapes are old, and possibly well used, they tend to need a bit of TLC. Best way to do that is to load a spool, set it running on play, and watch how it travels over the tape heads. Not only that, but you need to see what the physical tape looks like as it’s coming off it’s spool. If you see a bit of a wobble, like I did, then, no doubt, the stuff got damp at some point. Watching how it travels from spool to spool will indicate how much the tape has either stretched, or not; or if it’s become too tight on the spool. Both issues are a nuisance, but it all seems to even out after spooling out once. Turning the spool over and allowing a second playback will have the tape’s travel looking much better, and the tape machine should be able to evenly wind the tape back onto its original casing. Once that’s done, if you’re extremely lucky, you’ve set the tape up for future use. You might find, however, that there are some little punch-holes in the brown tape. This is the coating coming off, and you really need to cut that bit of tape off, then splice a new piece of Lead-in tape to it. That should sort everything out. Go through all your old tapes you’ve managed to find and buy, and check each one in the same way.Also, if you see any of the Lead-in tape looking a bit scrunched, chop it off to the point where it’s all nice and flat. The very last thing you want is for the tape to wind on with a twist in it. I know. I’ve done it!
Learning how to splice a tape
There are some good guides to be found on the Internet. There are still loads of us who actually do this, and some of us who wish to learn how to do this! Anyone wanting to play with tape, whether cassette, or reel-to-reel, really oughta know how to splice and repair the stuff. The day WILL come when you’ll need to know. Learn how. (Hmmm, shopping list – buy a splicing kit!)
The plastic spool cases (tape drums)
These might need cleaning! Never, never, never use spray cleaners on the plastic casing. Just don’t do it, all right? You do not want any residue from aerosol cleaners interacting with the tape. If the plastic spools are in any way dirty, then wash them in clean, slightly, and I mean SLIGHTLY soapy water. Have the water at lukewarm temperature; NOT HOT! You’re dealing with plastic and you don’t want it warped. You want it clean. That’s all! Once washed and clean, rinse and leave to completely dry. Once the tape drums are absolutely bone dry, they can then be put back into use again.
Timing a recording
This, I found to be relatively simple. I set up a 30-minute playlist on my software to test a recording. Some 7 1/2″ tape spools give about 30 minutes recording time. Some, however, have 45 minutes per side! If you still have tape left after using 30-minutes’ worth: assume you’ve got a 45-minute per side reel in use and adjust the playlist accordingly.
Ya see? It’s much easier with cassettes, now ain’t it! You’re actually told the time those tapes have. On R2R tapes, I’m afraid it’s all a bit of guesswork.
Well, that’s me for tonight. I’ve got some more recording to do!