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My father was a sound engineer in the 1960's and 70's. My mum wants a clear out and my dad would like to listen again to his old recordings. I'd like to help him and make a digital archive of the recordings which he could access easily. The tapes include music as well as plenty of film dialogue including A Clockwork Orange on which he was sound recordist. All the recordings were made on his Nagra which is still in good working order.

I'm wondering what would be the best way to digitally archive his recordings. Should I buy an audio interface for my laptop and record to my laptop? Should I buy a digital recorder (which I could use standalone on other occasions)? What other options are there?

Thanks for any thoughts.

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7 Answers 7

Be aware with old tapes that they can shed oxide like crazy - if they haven't been stored well you may only get one or two plays of them before they deteriorate beyond repair... I have heard of archival people baking analog tape in a last ditch effort to get a single transfer of it... even if yours aren't that bad be very aware that the heads will gum up as the tape sheds oxide and you will need to check the heads & probably clean them with isopropyl alcohol after every tape...

How many tapes are there? How many hours of material? You may only get one chance to transfer them so you want to do it properly... Buying a secondhand MBox is going to be cheaper than a portable recorder and then you have the software to do the editing & prepare the files for output to CD and archiving... If it was me I would also send a copy of all the material to your local archive....

When you do the transfers make sure you line up the input levels properly using the 1k tones that will be on the tapes...

What a fascinating project!

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Thanks, I'll take care with the tapes. I haven't got to count all the tapes yet - but I'm discovering there is a mixed bunch - including James Taylor playing in Paul McCartney's London attic, orchestra in Vienna, and all the sound from the movie The Blockhouse. Thanks for your advice. I had just about made a decision to go and buy a Zoom H4N as it records at 24 bit 96 kHz and doubles as a portable recorder. But now with 2 opinions favouring the MBox, I'm undecided. Should I keep a portable recorder option separate from this project? What are the advantages of using an MBox? –  AndyJ Mar 9 '10 at 15:36
    
I was attracted to the H4N because I could use it to record interview with my dad about his tapes. Also I fancy moving into the digital age as my most recent portable recorder was a sony cassette system from the 1980's! Thanks. –  AndyJ Mar 9 '10 at 15:36
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I would record them into a laptop @ 24bit 96K. Then you will have them as wav files, you can burn them to DVD for archiving (burn multiple copies). You could also do any kind of clean up, editing, restoration, etc work that you might want to do in a sample editor. You could also make audio CDs or MP3s for you dad, as it might be easier to listen to the material in those formats.

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What might be a good option for you is to get a handy recorder like the Zoom H4n which also doubles up as a sound card. So you can have a descent portable recorder and a sound card for the price of one.

If I remember correctly, the analogue Nagra uses banana jacks. So if using the Zoom h4n, you'll need an adapter from the banana jacks to either mini stereo jacks or 2 mono 1/4 inch jacks.

Awesome that your father was the recordists on Clockwork Orange. You'll find some amazing stuff!

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I digitalize old Nagra recordings almost every week, every time I have nothing else to do in the studio...Because of the years and years of sound for film developed there, it's a never-ending task...but I do enjoy listening to old recordings and getting to use old analog tape recorders. For this job, we use a Nagra IV-S directly fed into a Digi 002. You should listen to what Tim says, old tapes get rusty, wet, gooey and a lot of other digusting and troublesome things, so bake them ( put them in the sun for a while, or in a closed cardboard box with a heater in it ) and play them right after they cool again. YOU HAVE ONE SHOT WITH REALLY DAMAGED ONES, so watch your gain. And yes Andrew, Nagra uses banana jacks...

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Well, I've finally got the archiving process off the ground - maybe not perfectly. Thanks for all the advice so far.

I borrowed a 20 dB and 30dB canon pads and this managed to bring the output of the Nagra down to managable levels for the Zoom.

The cable I then made up had two cores and a screen. I connected the nagra banana jacks to pins 2 and 3 on the canon plug. This was very noisy and was picking up local radio stations, so I also connected the screen to pin 1 on the canon plug and left it disconnected at the nagra end.

However I'm still finding that the output from the nagra has a 'buzz' if it is connected to its power supply or if I touch the nagra anywhere. So I'm making the recordings using batteries in the nagra and not touching it at all during recording. I'm sure this is not the perfect solution but it's the closest I've got so far.

Already found some interesting material including Paul Macartney recording blackbird at Abbey Road, discussion with Paul Macartney, Mary Hopkins in Pauls garden, James Taylor in Paul Macartneys house and 'test' audio tapes for use by cinemas to set up their audio for the playback of Clockwork Orange.

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I would concur with the MBox and a laptop, although you will need the Pro version to be able to record at 24 bit 96 kHz. Whatever you do make sure that you use 24 bit WAVs and keep two versions of the files. One should be an exact copy of what is on the tape without any editing or signal processing, and the other should have whatever changes you have made. If your father does not want the tapes any more, once they have been transferred I am certain that your national library or museum would want them. In the UK both the National Library and National Media Museum would be the places to approach. Personally I would hang on to them yourself, especially as you still have the recorder.

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Thanks for your advice. I had just about made a decision to go and buy a Zoom H4N as it records at 24 bit 96 kHz and doubles as a portable recorder. But now with 2 opinions favouring the MBox, I'm undecided. Should I keep a portable recorder option separate from this project? What are the advantages of using an MBox? Thanks. –  AndyJ Mar 9 '10 at 11:13
    
The MBox is an A to D converter that has Pro Tools LE bundled with it. It is an excellent balance between price and quality and integrates easily (on a Mac) with Pro Tools LE. A lot of people like the Zoom H4N, and rightly so, you could use it to capture the tapes and record your father. But you would still need some audio editing software and I wouldn't recommend any of the free ones other than for very basic work. I personally would get the MBox/Software and borrow a recorder or a microphone to record your father. Good luck. –  Iain McGregor Mar 10 '10 at 7:29
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@GMatijas

I'm still having difficulty in getting this project off the ground. I bought a Zoom H4N in the end which I've had some fun with but not success yet with the Nagra tapes.

The first problem I've come up against is that the banana jack output is " the line output voltage is 4.4 V into 600 Ohm while playing back a tape recorded at 0 dB. The Nagra 4.2 can record at a level 4 dB higher than this, thus the maximum line output voltage will be 7 V. Unloaded, these voltages will be 10% greater." (from the Nagra manual).

I'm not sure how to use the dials on the nagra in combination with the recodring volume on the Zoom to set a recording level. Unless i set the "Line and Playback" dial on the Nagra to a very low level I find that I have to set the record volume on the Zoom to less than 1 to stop it redlining (where the zoom recording scale goes from 1 - 100). I seems the output from the Nagra is just too high for the Zoom to cope with.

Do you have this problem with your Digi setup or do you have some form of attenuation in your line out?

Thanks for any help

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If i've got my electronics right, zero of +4 dBu kit (professional) sits at 1.23V (rms) into 600Ω. For -10 dBu kit (consumer and low-power units such as the zoom) the voltage is 0.24V. With 4.4V you're talking up to +15 dBu (to 19dBu). That's a bit loud. You can do with a pad, or you can try the headphone output (i know..). If you want to align your two pieces of kit, the Nagra's manual says test tone is at -8dB. Since tape can go to more than 0, I'd seek the Zoom to show -12 for test tone. –  georgi Jun 12 '10 at 18:23
    
wow...I've never had any problem with the input in the digi redlining. I'm not very techy so I can't tell you anything about ohms and voltage, but I do know that line out in our Nagra goes straight into the digi ( no pad whatsoever ) and never redlines, except if I dial the output way out of range... –  GMatijas Jun 16 '10 at 5:22
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