Hear Today, Gone Tomorrow?

One of the dirty little secrets of the recording business is that some of its most precious assets are slowly self-destructing. In one example, a popular mastering tape supplied by Ampex to recording studios during the '70s and early '80s has been found to prematurely shed its oxide coating at an alarming rate due to poor quality control of the binding agents that hold the magnetic particles to the Mylar.

Engineers have taken to "baking" these reels of deteriorating tape in a effort to make one or two final transfers before the masters become unusable. But as each day passes, more of the multi-track masters that contain the performances of some of the record industry's most important artists slip beyond use.

Recognizing this problem as an opportunity, pro-audio equipment manufacturer Euphonix has unveiled a new set of products for converting and storing the contents of multi-track tapes in a format that the company says will ensure the long-term viability of these valuable recordings. Euphonix's recently-announced TransferStation for the company's R-1 Digital Multitrack enables 24-bit/96kHz digitized audio files to be converted directly to the industry-standard AES31 format. Euphonix says that the new stand-alone PC-based system connects to any server topology using conventional Ethernet and fiber-channel ports and will be available in May.

Euphonix's Steve Vining explains that "digital asset management is a hot topic with record labels. Many of these multi-track tapes are in poor condition and may only be good for one more pass through a tape machine. We believe that this irreplaceable material needs to be digitized at the new 24/96 standard—ready for immediate use in DVD-Audio re-mixing and mastering—and stored long-term on any conventional server. Labels already have experienced IT departments that routinely handle sensitive royalty and financial data; adding terabytes of digitized audio data poses no problem for them.

"With DVD-A re-mixing campaigns currently underway at many record companies, the quality of these classic masters is of tremendous concern. Using server technology and an open standard like AES31 is a failsafe approach that allows future flexibility and freezes the master in a high-resolution environment."

Euphonix chose the AES31 format because it is non-proprietary, says the company's Scott Silfvast. "AES31 is the only industry-standard digital audio format, which is why we actively support it. The format is currently being implemented by a number of workstation and recorder manufacturers and will be around for a long time."