Vinyl Record

Reel-to-Reel Tape

Magnetic tape is often considered a sturdy long term storage medium for sound recording but there are certain inherent risks in storing on such a format.  Most modern tapes are essentially composed of three layers – the magnetic layer (usually referred to as oxide), the binder and substrate.  The binder in some tape types is unstable and prone to degradation (see Sticky Tape Syndrome).  The substrate layer is also prone to problems, especially in acetate tape where cupping and brittle backing are common features.

Some early tapes (mainly produced in the 1940’s) used paper as the substrate.  Such tape can often be recognised by its pale appearance.  The paper base will also generally show through the oxide and can also be seen at the edges of the tape.  Such tapes are prone to breakage during playback and layer-to-layer adhesion.  If the layers are sticking to each other playback can cause the magnetic layer to be transferred to the back of the adjoining layer.  Gentle winding by hand is often necessary to first free the layers.

Prior to polyester cellulose acetate was the most common tape base.  This form of tape becomes brittle with age and, like paper based tape, easily snaps during playback.  Cupping is another problem common to acetate tape in which the tape curls into a `U’ shape.  The tape tension on the machine can make the recording playable.  However if this is not the case then some form of pressure applied to the tape as it passes the head will generally suffice for playback and copying to another medium.  To test whether a tape is acetate merely beak off a small section being careful not to do this on a recorded section.  If the tape snaps cleanly it is acetate (polyester tape `shoestrings’).

Polyvinyl chloride tape was manufactured at the same time as acetate tape but is much rarer.  PVC tape is virtually indistinguishable from polyester tape.  One method to differentiate the two is to take an unrecorded length and hit it with a hard object.  PVC tape will split into longitudinal strands.

Polyester superseded acetate as the base for tapes.  Although polyester is a more stable medium than acetate polyester based tapes have inherent problems of their own.  Oxide shedding and sticky tape syndrome are increasing problems with such reels.

© NWSA. All rights reserved. All logos and trademarks remain the property of their respective owners. Unauthorised reproduction of content within this site is strictly prohibited.

Site maintenance and design Whitesands Media and Quaystone