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Old 29th Jan 2014, 12:49 pm   #1
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Madrid, Spain / Wirral, UK
Posts: 5,959
Default Transferring reel tapes to PC or other formats - first steps

Note: this general guide is aimed at the inexperienced who may have stumbled across quarter inch domestic reel tape for the first time. Given the vast array of tape machine designs, makes and models, please bear in mind that parts of this may not be relevant to you.

You have tapes; what next?

So you’ve found a pile of dusty reels of tape which you believe might contain Great Uncle George’s 10th birthday party, or perhaps a long lost episode of Top of the Pops. Problem: you need to get them onto a more contemporary format or your PC. How you proceed depends largely on whether you already have a machine to play them on (possibly even that used to record them initially) or not.

You have the machine.

This makes things easier, as it is likely to offer the same speeds, track configuration and reel size capacity as the tapes you have.
Before rushing to try and play them, however, bear in mind that not only is this forty-year-old technology but it has also likely been standing idle for decades. Caution is advised.

- Get hold of some unimportant tape (from ebay for example) for test purposes, before even thinking of playing any potentially valuable tape. That way you avoid the risk of having your memories chewed up or erased before you’ve even begun!

On this note, do not assume that what is printed on the reel or box coinicides with the actual tape on the spool. It is common for tapes to be stored on another reel after playback, for example. If you have several, check them all, and listen through both sides and all tracks.

- Check the mains plug is fitted with a 3 amp fuse. Then try plugging in the machine and switching on, using all your senses! Keep a watchful eye out for any smoke, listen for any unhealthy noises and be aware of burning smells or other signs of distress. Pull the plug if in doubt.

- If there are no such problems, then, still without a tape, try pressing fast forward, rewind and play to see if the drive moves. Note that some Tandbergs, Sonys and Akais (and others) need a tape threaded to move. In which case proceed to the next step.

- Thread a junk tape. Never done it before? See this video or the pics below, and try again. If you are lucky, you will get correct movement with no tape spillage and sound.
If not, you will need to either post the make/model/symptoms here for guidance or seek another deck of similar characteristics, or get someone to do the transfer for you.
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