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Ideal Digital Format for Archiving Analog Tapes?
Old 13th August 2018
  #1
Ideal Digital Format for Archiving Analog Tapes?

I'm archiving some analog cassettes to digital WAV files and was wondering what the optimal digital format might be. Am I losing anything by going 16/48? Is there any benefit to recording at 24/96? Are there any industry standards (e.g., AES) to follow here?

Any advice is appreciated.
Old 14th August 2018
  #2
Most audio preservation engineers archive these days to 96kHz/24-bit WAV and/or FLAC files.
Old 14th August 2018
  #3
Quote:
Originally Posted by Resort Records View Post
I'm archiving some analog cassettes to digital WAV files and was wondering what the optimal digital format might be. Am I losing anything by going 16/48? Is there any benefit to recording at 24/96? Are there any industry standards (e.g., AES) to follow here?

Any advice is appreciated.
You won't gain anything by sampling the audio on a cassette tape at 96 kHz, and for digital archiving purposes, it's best to stick to what's widely used now, since that's what's most likely to survive.

Since 48 kHz is the standard now (for DVD and other formats), you might want to stick to either 44.1 kHz (which has been a world-wide standard for 4 decades) or 48 kHz (which has been a world-wide standard for almost 3 decades). In the future, if the only device left on Earth can play back 96 kHz audio, the chances are still pretty good that it'll be able to up-sample a 48 kHz file.

The same thing goes for the file format itself: Microsoft backed .WAV files long ago as their "standard", and that made it the default audio format on PCs (which are more than 90% of the desktop computer market). It's also the default audio format for CDs and many other things--it's not going anywhere any time soon. FLAC is a very good lossless format, but if it doesn't start getting some traction soon, it may go the way of RealAudio (remember that?). I use FLAC when uploading files to SoundCloud or transferring files for others to use. But I'm just not convinced it's here to stay. Even the ubiquitous MP3 might find its days numbered, now that Apple (and others) are moving to Apple's own AAC format.

Regardless of the sample rate, I'd still sample at 24 bits, both for the benefits that a higher sample bit-depth provide, and because you can easily convert 24-bit audio to 16-bit audio and keep the fidelity. If you convert a 16-bit file to a 24-bit file, you gain nothing but a bloated file.

You may also want to consider where you're storing these files, and keep in mind that some recordable CDs and/or DVDs aren't made to last more than 10 years, if that. So even if CD players are still around, your discs may not survive. Make sure you choose CDs/DVDs that are made to last "100 years" or more. (Manufacturers estimate these longevity claims, based upon different criteria when making the CDs/DVDs, but those discs are still made to last considerably longer than standard CDs/DVDs.)

When in doubt (and if we're speculating about the future, we're all in doubt), save your files in CD (44.1 kHz/16-bit) and DVD (48 kHz/24-bit) formats, as two-channel/stereo files (unless you "absolutely need" your 7.1 or 11.2 surround mix). Store them on long-lasting CD/DVD media and either flash media or a hard drive, and test this media at least every 5 years. If you have space left over on your storage media, save your files in any other format you want.

The main thing to consider is the breadth and depth of file formats available today--the "widest" and "deepest" (that is, the most widely used formats that have been used the longest) are the ones most likely to survive the next 10-20 years.

By the year 2040, we'll all have streaming audio receivers wired directly into our brains, and file formats will be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Steve
Old 15th August 2018
  #4
The OP asked about industry standards. 44.1 is no longer an archival standard. Most libraries and audio archives follow the IASA TC-04 protocol. In part:
2: Key Digital Principles | International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives
Old 15th August 2018
  #5
Mastering Moderator
 
Riccardo's Avatar
Thanks for the link Jeff.

It also depends on the O.P. intended use and purpose. If the extra space is not an issue and the AD/Soundcard?interface supports it I would go for 24 96.

Most of my clients ask for 24 96 transfers (for archival and re-issue purposes). For our "internal" valuable tape nd masters transfers we mostrly do a double 32/192 and DSD 256 but that is just a personal choice raher than industry standard.
Old 16th August 2018
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff Willens View Post
Most libraries and audio archives follow the IASA TC-04 protocol. In part:
2: Key Digital Principles | International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives
Perfect.

Thanks a million!
Old 16th August 2018
  #7
Quote:
Originally Posted by Riccardo View Post
Most of my clients ask for 24 96 transfers (for archival and re-issue purposes). For our "internal" valuable tape nd masters transfers we mostrly do a double 32/192 and DSD 256 but that is just a personal choice raher than industry standard.
Hi Riccardo,

For what we call "born-digital" (that is, CDs, DATs, DSD masters, anything not analog), you would want to archive in its native sampling rate & word length whenever possible. The thinking there is that you do not want to do any processing that would introduce anything (good or bad) into that master. You want as close to a bit-perfect copy as possible.

For analog formats, the link I posted is what we normally follow.
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