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
  • * 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.

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.

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, 220, 228, 229 – All hold up well
  • SBS: 175 (early versions)
  • SSS: 250 (later batches) 226, 227, 808, 809, 908, 909, 966, 986, 987, 996 – Must bake before use.

Sony – Generally not recommended. The SLH Series might have the most failure modes at once: SBS, SSS AND BF!

  • SBS: Super 150, PR 150, PR 200 (early Super / PR batches might be OK), SLH, DUAD, Fe-Cr
  • SSS: SLH, ULH (back-coated)
  • 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
  • SBS: LH Super, Ferro LH
  • BF: Ferro LH Series

Ampex / Shamrock – 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, – Must be baked
  • SSS Shamrock: Type 3, 6, 7, 8

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

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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