Identifying Common Tape Problems - Which Tapes Are Good?

Many, if not most, tapes that were made in the 1960s – 1990s have held up extremely well, and can be used today as new tapes. However, common failure modes have been defined for the specific formulations of reel to reel tapes that have not held up over time. Here, we will detail those modes and list the common brands and tape formulations, and whether they suffer from any of these modes.

Acetate Tape Failure Modes – The condition of acetate tapes are determined by how they were stored. In general,  they are a lot more susceptible to effects from their storage condition. Too dry and the tape can shrink, and the cellulose acetate may decompose.

  • * Tapes may become brittle and break easily, or even disintegrate entirely (Kodak, early Sony/TDK Acetates)
  • * Tapes will be “wavy and have a “Country lane” effect, leading to poor tape to head contact on certain machines
  • * Recommendation: These tapes can be used if in good condition. We don’t sell them because we can’t guarantee their quality.

Excess Oxide Shedding – This may or may not be a problem. Older generation tapes, with matt, or unpolished, surfaces lacked the extensive calendaring process and modern lubricants that made later tapes less abrasive and longer lasting. These tapes left oxide residue on the heads and tape guides. When using these older tapes, remember to clean your heads regularly. This was normal back in the day – and you should do this with modern tapes, too.

Sticky Shed Syndrome (SSS) – Certain binder materials used in the 1970s to early 1990s by many manufacturers absorb water and cause the oxide coating to become sticky, leading to it stripping off and attaching itself to the back coating or just leaving a goo on your tape rollers and heads until the tape “sticks” and stops playing.

  • Recommendation: These tapes need to be baked before use. We don’t recommend recording on them and using them again, although experience has proven you can re-bake them multiple times without adverse effects.
  • How to Bake Your Tapes: The easiest way to do this yourself is to get a food dehydrator (about $50 on ebay). Set it to 130-140 F and bake for a minimum of 4 hours. There are other methods available.
  • IMPORTANT NOTE (9/2023):  Too many people trashed these tapes thinking they were total junk. This is not the case. They can still be used after baking.  It’s easy with a cheap food dehydrator, they are now $40. Anyone into the hobby should get one to make the sticky tapes playable again. They are usable for at least a year after baking, maybe longer. I have baked hundreds if not thousands of tapes. THERE IS NO REASON TO TRASH THEM WHEN THE FIX IS SO CHEAP. We have started selling baked tapes in our store because people wanted them. 

Soft Binder Syndrome (SBS) or simply Squealing Tapes – Some tapes “squeal” because changes in the binder chemistry that are still being researched.

  • Recommendation: To play these tapes, an additional lubricant may be added (such as the NuFinish process described on other web sites), or the tapes might be able to be played cold. The effects might be different depending on the tape deck in use. These tapes should not be used again.

Binder Failure (BF) – Certain tapes exhibit the oxide completely flaking off.

  • Recommendation: We have not found any solution for this problem. We have a large batch of BASF Ferro LH’s that suffer from this and will research methods to save these tapes.

White Powder Syndrome (WPS) – The binder is failing / drying out, leaving white powder behind. The long term consequences of this are unknown.

  • Recommendation: The tape can be played as long as the powder is cleaned off the tape beforehand. Multiple cleanings might be necessary. Tapes with this condition should not be used again.


3M / Scotch – The good formulations are highly recommended.

  • Acetate Formulations: 111, 120, 131, 140, 141, 190, 201 – Better than average Acetate longevity
  • Good Polyester Formulations: 102, 122, 138, 142, 144, 150, 176, 177, 178, 202, 203, 204, 206, 207, 208, 209, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 218, 220, 228, 229 – All hold up well, manufactured in USA, Italy oy by 3M Sumitomo in Japan
  • SBS: 175 (early versions)
  • SSS: 250 (later batches) 226, 227, 808, 809, 908, 909, 966, 986, 987, 996 – Must bake before use.
  • Batch dependent SSS – 206/207 and 218 (Japan). Baking does not seem to help these formulations
  • BF: 206/207/208/209 when stored improperly / soaked with water

Audiotape, Capitol and Soundcraft can all be recommended as these formulations were largely popular before the troubles started. Soundcraft, in particular, seemed to have modern production processes similar to Ampex’s Ferrosheen to reduce shedding and improve frequency response, before they were absorbed by Columbia Records.

Sony – Generally not recommended, but our opinion has been moderated somewhat by the find of early SLH and later ULH that hold up well in mid 2023 in our shipments from Japan. The SLH Series might have the most failure modes at once: SBS, SSS AND BF!

  • Good polyester formulations – Early A and S / Super 150 Series, ES Series, early PR-150 and SLH, as well as non-backcoated ULH and some late backcoated ULH
  • SBS: Super 150, PR 150, PR 200 (early Super / PR batches might be OK), SLH, DUAD, Fe-Cr
  • SSS: SLH, some ULH (back-coated only)
  • BF: SLH (some batches)

BASF – Mostly excellent except for the LH Super and Ferro LH

  • Good PVC Formulations: LGS – OK
  • Good Polyester Formulations: PES, Standard, LH, LPR/DPR, 468, 900, 911. Please note that the LH Series shed more than other quality tapes of this vintage, although they are still highly recommended
  • SBS: LH Super, Ferro LH in most batches
  • BF: Ferro LH Series

Ampex / Shamrock / Quantegy – The early Ferrosheen tapes are excellent, as well as the 632/642

  • Acetate Formulations: “Brown Oxide Ferrosheen” 300, 400, 500, 600, 900 Series (x11, x21)
  • Good Polyester Formulations: “Brown Oxide Ferrosheen” 300, 400, 500, 600, 900 Series (x31, x41, x51, x61) , 632, 642
  • Good Polyester Shamrock Formulations: “031/041/051”: Type 1, 2, 4 and 5
  • SSS: 20/20, 356/357, 406/407, 456/457, Grand Master, 499 and GP9 – Must be baked before use
  • SSS Shamrock: Type 3, 6, 7, 8
  • SSS: All back coated Quantegy formulations will need to be baked as they are also now subject to SSS (2023)

Maxell – Generally excellent tapes all around.

  • Good Polyester Formulations: LN, UD, UD-B, UDXL, XLI, XLII

TDK – Generally excellent except for the newer GX and LX-B Series.

  • Good Polyester Formulations: 150m S-Series, L-Series, AUDUA both L and LB (Back-coated), LX
  • WPS: GX, LX-B
  • SSS: GX

FUJI – FM, FG and FB all appear to suffer from no known failure modes and are highly recommended

AGFA – Generally excellent tapes

  • Good Polyester Formulations: PE 31/41/65, PE 36/46/66, PE 36/39, PEM 268,368,468
  • SSS: PEM 469 (batch dependent)

MEMOREX – Generally Excellent, batch dependent BF

  • Good Polyester Formulations: Low Noise, Low Noise/ High Output, Quantum
  • BF: Low Noise / High Output (batch dependent)

Realistic / Supertape / Concertape – Realistic and Supertape are generally good, Concertape is batch dependent.

  • Good Polyester Formulations: Realistic Low Noise, Supertape, Concertape Type 1, 2, 4 and 5
  • SSS: Concertape Type 3, 6, 7, 8

More brands to follow….

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