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Old 2013-01-05, 08:34
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Originally Posted by PeteBr View Post
I know professional transfer often involves baking analogue tapes. Would that be necessary or possible in this case? How would I go about doing that?
Do NOT bake cassette tapes. NOT EVER.

"Baking tapes" is something that is done on professional master tapes - on metal reels - in order to alleviate a problem with the oxide coating "letting go" of the actual tape. This is one of those things that nobody foresaw happening until it was too late: some formulations of magnetic tape aged badly, and many batches of pro-quality tape have been plagued with this problem. Baking a tape is something that should only be done as the final archival step; that is, you bake the tape, transfer it to as best a digital copy as you can manage, and then hope you never have to try to play the original tape ever again. (You can bake a reel of tape in a conventional oven at some low setting, if you have to.)

But the reason you can't do that with cassettes is that they rest in a plastic container, on plastic reels, and just as they'd warp if you left them in the sun in a hot car, baking in an oven would wreck the shell. I'm not even sure the tape itself could survive. There's also the issue of tape speed. Cassettes travel along the heads at a rate of 1 and 7/8 inches per second. The average pro-level quarter-inch width master tape reel plays at a speed of 15 inches per second, some even 30 ips. At those high speeds, minor dropouts are almost undetectable, but at cassette speeds, even a small dropout can mean a major audio gap.

So if you happen to have a cassette where the coating is letting go, you're probably just screwed right off the bat. If you are of the finicky, tedious, and detail-oriented type, you might be able to somehow disassemble the shell, detach one end of the tape from a spool hub and then carefully reel it onto something that could take the heat, bake it, and then tediously reassemble the tape. But you had better really need that recording for as much work as you'd be putting into it.

Originally Posted by PeteBr View Post
And what about cassette players: any recommended machines? Would the type of player make a great difference, or would anything be alright as long as it was clean? What's best for cleaning the playing head on a cassette player?
It really depends on what kind of equipment they were recorded on in the first place. You probably don't need to drop a grand on a used Nakamichi Dragon if your original tapes were recorded on some fifty-buck boombox.

You will, however, generally get better results with better equipment. They even make decks specifically for your purpose, such as this Tascam deck that has a CDR drive built right in:

--but of course, you have to want to pay $600 for that one. Teac had a decent rep for tapes, you might look them up. I prefer some older Sony decks, but if you're going for vintage and used, you'll probably wind up also investing in a good service/repair shop, as many older decks need things like belt drives replaced, motors calibrated, etc. etc.

Cleaning tape heads can be done with a cotton swab and a bit of isopropyl alcohol. A lot of points in a player can be cleaned with alcohol - capistan, guides, but not the rubber pinch roller. Use only soapy water on that. Depending on the age and condition of your player, you might invest in a demagnetizer, too.
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