To Bake Or Not To Bake
That is the question?
Most people think I have gone a bit mad when I tell them I am ‘baking tapes today’.
When customers tell me they have a very old reel to reel tape and not sure if it will be suitable for transfer to digital because of its age I can only say all will depend onthe condition of the actual magnetic tape itself, some magnetic audio tape including audio cassettes, video tapes can all breakdown over time and one cause which is commonly known as ‘Sticky shed syndrome’ will result in not being able to play that tape due to the nature of ‘sticky tape’.
What is happening in sticky tape is the adhesive that was used to bind the magnetic ferric oxide (rusty brown colour) coating to the carrier tape has started to degrade and becomes unstable or sticky so when you attempt to play the tape it will start to snag on the tape playback heads and rollers due to being sticky and will defragment and shed bits of the magnetic coating and adhesive residue.
Once this starts to happen you will be damaging the tape beyond repair or restoration as firstly it will destroy the audio quality, stretch or damage the actual carrier tape and leave a mess on the recording equipment playback heads, capstans and rollers which will have to be cleaned off to avoid further contamination.
The method of tape baking we use has worked successfully for us on reel to Reel Tapes and also on audio Cassettes. We use a Food Dehydrator which in simple terms completely dries out the tape, we put the tapes in the dehydrator for 24 hours at an even temperature and once this has been done we leave the tapes for a further 12 hours to cool and settle. If at that point we run the tape and it still does snag we can repeat the baking for a further period, however in my experience I have never had to do this.
Some audio restorers use convection type ovens but I have never trusted this method so can only comment on what i have done myself along with other colleagues in the audio restoration business.
So if you have any tapes that do feel a bit sticky you know what it is likely to be and be advised not to play them for fear of losing those precious audio memories.