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Tape Baking

Incubator_R2There has been a chronic problem with certain formulations of audio tape manufactured from the early- ’70s to the present that render them difficult or impossible to play safely. The ad hoc term for the problem is “Sticky Shed Syndrome” or “SSS”. For those specific types which will successfully respond, the most practical and efficient way to reclaim tapes with Sticky Shed Syndrome is to incubate (or “bake”) them.

In the majority of cases, when tape baking is executed properly, the tape will again become temporarily playable with no perceptible deterioration of the sound of the recording.

Many tape restoration facilities use kitchen appliances for baking tapes. For the ultimate in safe handling, we use a Fisher Scientific incubator designed for critical use in research labs. A precision piece of laboratory gear, it can hold temperature to within 1/10 of a degree Celsius. Drift of temperature beyond 3 degrees will shut the unit down.

When you send or bring your tapes to us for transfer, we do whatever it takes to make them safe to play and capable of rendering the best transfer possible.

In severe cases of SSS, adjacent layers of tape bond to each other making it impossible to wind, rewind or play the tape without damaging it. These tapes stick to themselves and to anything in the tape machine that they pass over. They sometimes “shed” — some of the layer of the tape that holds the signal (sound) gets left behind on surfaces the tape passes over or simply dislodges and falls away. SSS tapes often squeal and their stickiness can cause speed (pitch) fluctuations ranging from subtle to drastic to finally bringing the entire playback machine to a stop.

To make matters worse, tapes suffering from Sticky Shed Syndrome were made with base materials that tend to stretch rather than breaking cleanly. If you can imagine the combination of sticky surface and stretchy backing, you will understand how easy it is to irreparably damage the tape just by attempting to rewind or play it.

In the cases where tape baking is successful, it temporarily re-stabilizes the tape allowing it to be played. Under the right circumstances, tape baking works and we routinely get tapes to play like new. But, before you rush off to throw your irreplaceable masters into the oven, please understand three things: to be successful in tape baking and not damage the tapes (1) you must be properly equipped, (2) you must have a knowledge of which tape formulations you can bake and which will be damaged by baking, and (3) experience counts — tapes have continued to age and we have found successful tape baking is rarely achieved with the simple “recipe” originally published decades ago.

Here at Sonicraft A2DX Lab, we know tape baking. We’ve successfully baked countless tapes. We know which tapes will respond to baking and how to adjust the process on a tape-by-tape basis. We also know which formulations can be damaged by baking. We have established procedures and proper equipment for evaluating the condition without damaging the tape in the process and we have invested in the first-class laboratory-grade equipment necessary to keep your tapes safe and do the job right.