Tape Shedding Part 1
 
© Mike Konopka 1988


Has one of the following scenarios ever happened to you?

Scenario #1:  One of your best clients has finally decided to mix those "killer tracks" you cut last year.  After a 20 minute safari into the darkest corners of the studio's tape vaults, you finally bag the precious reels.  Cautiously, you "shuttle" rewind the masters which gives you time to configure the console in anticipation of a chart-topping mix-down.  Suddenly, your "GRAMMY acceptance speech" daydream is shattered by an occasional ticking sound coming from the whirling reels. There it is again!  Snap!  Crackle!  Pop!  Horrified, you find your "killer tracks" are littered with tiny random spot erasures rendering the masters useless!!

Scenario #2:  The phone rings.  An anxious producer wants you to mix an album he tracked awhile ago across town at O. Howie Ream'em Studios. When the client arrives, you cue up his first master wondering what awful sounds lurk on the "other studio's" reel.  As you push up the faders, all the tracks just make this hellified screeching noise, and worse yet, oxides are starting to shed off the heads and guides of the multitrack.  Even with audio turned off, the banshee-like noise emanates from the very tape machine itself!

Scenario #3:  Sadness of sadness...due to the recession, it is announced that "Monumental Sound" is forever closing its hallowed doors and an equipment auction date has been set.  The big day arrives.  With visions of tube mics, Fairchild limiters and other vintage goodies in your head, you arrive at the auction hours early.  But, all you can find at the near empty "Monumental" is a couple of broken coffee machines, some Turner mics, and a 24 track calibration tape.  The test tape looks pretty good, so you outbid the other auction vultures and still save yourself a couple hundred bucks.  Back in your own studio, you decide to playback align your "out of whack" 24 track once and for all.  But when you attempt to play this tape, the reels barely even turn:  thick black gobs of oxide spew off the heads as your transport refuses to play this tape.

All of the above tape problems are related to "hydrolysis", which is a problem inherent to tape binder formulation (polyester urethane) currently used by all tape manufacturers.  Hydrolysis is one of the biggest problems facing tape manufacturers and the audio recording industry, and yet, it is one of the most widely misunderstood and least discussed problems.  Tape manufacturers are not anxious to tell you that the recordings you are working so hard on today will turn into a pile of gooey crap in a few short years.  But if you call your tape maker to complain about tape shedding, they know too well about this widespread problem.  At The EARDRUM, we've made some calls and here's what we've learned: (continued>)


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