Digitize Reel to Reel Material

Discussion in 'TASCAM DM-3200 & DM-4800' started by Peter Batah, Jan 19, 2020.

  1. Peter Batah

    Peter Batah Well-Known Member

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    From:
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    DM4800 / MU1000
    I posted this question in the Analog section of the forum and thought that I would run it by you folks as well:

    Several years ago I owned / used an Akai GX-360D-SS Reel to Reel 4-Track deck. Since then I have hung on to a box full of recorded material. I would like to transfer / digitize said material to a PC in .wav format but have no intention locating / purchasing a used tape deck. The few that I have located probably need work and the asking price is ridiculously high.

    If all I had access to was a two track machine, could I:

    Load my tape reels, record two tracks, flip the reel and record the remaining two tracks. Then I could always time align all four tracks in my DAW.

    Your time and assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. Peter
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2020
  2. Arjan P

    Arjan P Well-Known Member

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    Hi Peter, provided the tape size (width) and speed for playback is the same as when recorded (or faster) this method should work. Ofcourse apart from time-aligning, you must also reverse the wav audio for the two tracks that are digitized in the wrong direction (I'm assuming the tapes are true 4-track).

    Ofcourse you'd have to experiment with play head bias/alignment and type of noise suppression that was either used or not used, but once digital there's a lot you can improve. Make sure you use 24-bit and possibly 96k sample rate for the wav recordings.

    And maybe another option would be to locate someone with a working Akai GX-360D-SS and transfer to digital by hiring the machine or have the owner do the digitizing..
  3. Peter Batah

    Peter Batah Well-Known Member

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    @Arjan P Thank you for the info. Sounds like quite the checklist! In a perfect world I would bump into someone locally who still possesses the same machine that I owned some 40 years ago. It would mean a lot to me to be able to listen to the sounds of those early days once again before I leave this world!

    Then of course, another consideration is going to be the condition of those reels that I have had sitting in a box for what feels like an eternity. It would break my heart to spend any money on a used machine given the fact that it would not be of use to me once the transfer is complete.

    Who knows what the future holds. I will keep my eyes open and perhaps even post on some local forums or FB groups. As always, I greatly appreciate the info and knowledge that you share with me and others. Have a wonderful evening. Peter
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  4. Mark Richards

    Mark Richards Well-Known Member

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    Peter, if you used professional tape (Ampex 456 Grand Master, Scotch 207, etc.) you'd need to bake the tape before it would be of any use, but after baking should perform as well as when originally purchased. If you don't bake the tape, it will gum up the tape heads and tape path severely in a matter of seconds because of oxide transfer from the back of the preceding tape layer to the magnetic side of the tape layer following.

    Commercial tapes like BASF, Maxell, etc. seem to have held up much better in my experience and don't usually require baking. They will however, shed a bit, so keep a bottle of 98% alcohol and cotton swab sticks on hand if that's the tape you used.

    Another issue you're likely to encounter (and this will depend on the quality of the motors on the original Akai MTR and the stereo deck you use) is that most non-professional tape decks did not maintain a consistent speed front to back as the reel of tape fed through. So assuming at the outset that you might be able digitally to reverse and then align tracks 2 & 4 with the forward tracks 1 & 3, as the tracks play through, you may find yourself constantly fidgeting with tracks 2 & 4 to keep them in alignment with 1 & 3.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2020
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  5. Peter Batah

    Peter Batah Well-Known Member

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    @Mark Richards Thank you for chiming in Mark. I had a feeling that I would have to put on my Martha Stewart apron and do a little "cooking". Inevitable with tape that's been around that long. Not to mention the fact that they were never stored in ideal conditions. As far as the fidgeting and alignment go, I am by no means looking for perfection. Just a way to hang on to that material a little bit longer. I'm sure that my children will get a kick out of it. Now or later!

    Years back I read that there was some consumer type counter top oven that audio guys were using. I just don't remember what that appliance was called. Google is my friend. Just found a bunch of articles on the baking process.

    Apparently, I can use a food dehydrator as well. Most come with multiple trays as well. Not expensive either.

    https://dehydratorblog.com/nesco-500-watt-food-dehydrator/

    Have a safe and wonderful day / evening. Peter
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2020
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  6. Mark Richards

    Mark Richards Well-Known Member

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    From:
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    DP-24, vintage 40-4
    Peter, I use a food dehydrator - works just fine. Things to look for: an auto-off timer; a tray wide enough and deep enough to hold the reel; optional: ability to hold more than one reel at a time.

    The tape can stay on the reel (metal or plastic). Patented baking info here.
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