In the world of audio recording, the ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape) format once held a significant place. Introduced in the early 1990s, ADAT tapes offered a cost-effective and reliable means of recording multiple tracks in a digital format. However, as technology has evolved over the years, ADAT tapes have fallen into disuse, and many of those that remain are slowly deteriorating. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the deterioration & why ADAT tape digitizing & transfer is important as a preservation strategy to protect your valuable recordings.
One of the primary reasons for ADAT tape deterioration is the nature of magnetic media itself. ADAT machines used S-VHS (often rebranded as ADAT specific) tapes for recording up to 8 digital tracks on a single 12.7mm tape. Like many other magnetic storage mediums, they are susceptible to a phenomenon known as magnetic decay. Over time, the magnetic particles on the tape begin to lose their magnetic charge, leading to data loss and degradation of the recorded audio signal. This decay process can be accelerated by factors such as temperature fluctuations and humidity, which are often unavoidable in storage environments. Another issue is tape oxidation in which the binder material that holds the magnetic particles on the tape can break down, leading to tape shedding and data loss.
ADAT tapes were not designed with long-term archival storage in mind. Unlike some high-end analog tapes and modern digital storage solutions, ADAT tapes were relatively inexpensive and lacked the longevity of other formats. They were meant for more short-term project use, and the deterioration of the tapes over time was not a primary concern during their creation.
Environmental factors play a crucial role in ADAT tape deterioration. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity can cause the tape materials to expand and contract, leading to physical stress on the tape itself. Exposure to dust and contaminants can also contribute to the degradation of both the tape and the playback equipment. Storing ADAT tapes in less than ideal conditions can significantly accelerate their deterioration. We often encounter both mold and oxidation residue on tapes and inside their plastic housings.
While ADAT tapes are indeed deteriorating, there are steps that can be taken to preserve the audio content they contain:
Transfer: By far the most effective way to preserve the content of ADAT tapes is to transfer them to a new format. Modern media, such as hard drives, thumb drives or in cloud storage are preferred because the data can be easily duplicated and saved in multiple locations to prevent loss and further decay. Professional audio digitization services can ensure that the transfer is done correctly and that the quality of the audio is maintained via a direct digital transfer method.
Proper Storage: If digitization is not immediately possible, ADAT tapes should be stored in a controlled environment with stable temperature and humidity levels. Keeping them in a cool, dry place and away from direct sunlight can slow down the deterioration process.
Regular ADAT Player Maintenance: If you still have access to an ADAT machine, or are using it for playback & recording regular machine maintenance and cleaning can help extend the lifespan and ensure the functionality of your tapes. The most common failure point on Alesis ADAT machines is the idler tire, it needs to be kept clean and must be replaced if worn. The rotating drum head also needs constant & proper cleaning especially when playing older tapes. After 600 -700 hours of use it’s also a good idea to re-calibrate the transport. Most maintenance requires the removal of the top cover of the unit.
Magnetic media decay, obsolescence of playback equipment, limited lifespan, and environmental factors all contribute to the slow deterioration of ADAT tapes. To safeguard the valuable audio recordings stored on ADAT tapes, it’s essential to prioritize digitization and proper storage. As technology continues to advance, it’s crucial to act swiftly to rescue and preserve the audio history captured on these aging tapes before it’s lost forever.