In 2014, NEDCC began offering audio preservation services for grooved media using the “touchless” optical-scanning technology, called IRENE, which retrieves sound without damaging the physical carrier. Based on the success of IRENE, NEDCC’s clients began asking us to expand into audio preservation of magnetic and digital audio tape with a high-touch, high-quality service for their unique collections where the stakes are high. We are grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their support for the expansion of our Audio Preservation services.
Following accepted best practices, the purpose of NEDCC’s expanded Audio Preservation service is to create a faithful and accurate preservation surrogate of audio archival materials in their current condition.
- We perform 100% attended transfers (i.e., one audio engineer transfers one recording at a time).
- Digital transfers are carried out in control rooms designed for critical listening, which allows the engineer to distinguish between the actual signal/noise of the audio content and possible artifacts of the transfer process.
- Deliverables are inspected 100% by ear (not software) for quality control.
NEDCC offers the following audio preservation services:
Digitization of Magnetic Media
- Open-reel ¼”audio tape
- Cassette audio tape
Digitization of Grooved Media with Stylus (marked with *) and/or IRENE
- Wax cylinder
- Metal master disc*
- Long-play (LP) vinyl disc*
- Lacquer disc (a.k.a., “acetate” disc)
- Aluminum transcription disc
- Shellac disc*
- Tin foil
- Other rare formats (e.g., Voicewriter, Audograph, Soundscriber Disc, etc.)
Reformatting of Digital Media
- Digital audio tape (DAT)
- Compact Disc (CD)
- Repair of damaged carriers
- Mitigation of “sticky shed” syndrome
- Digital imaging and conservation of original paper-based containers and related manuscript materials (e.g., musical scores, programs, etc.)
- Collection-level assessment of audio holdings
- Item-level assessment of audio carriers
- Workshops, webinars, and “preservation leaflets” on audio preservation
NEDCC’S APPROACH TO AUDIO PRESERVATION
To drive labor costs down, the trend among for-profit vendors has been to employ automated, high-throughput workflows for audio preservation. Such workflows call for one audio technician to digitize as many as 12 sound carriers at once. Because it is not possible to simultaneously listen to and comprehend multiple recordings, quality assurance is performed after-the-fact using software to detect lost signal, etc. Unfortunately, this approach too often results in untenable errors, such as incorrect or missing metadata; improper calibration and alignment resulting in unfaithful sound reproduction; missing audio channels; improper speeds; and missing time codes.
As a result, many for-profit vendors are now operating on a promise of “satisfaction guaranteed” (i.e., if the client discovers an error within a short window of time, they will fix it at no extra charge) rather than “quality guaranteed” (i.e., providing quality control). The ultimate burden for quality assurance falls on the clients, who are often unaware that they need to listen to every file for completeness and accuracy.
While mass-production is an expedient and necessary approach for many materials, there are a large number of unique collections that demand a higher level of care and skill.
Candidates for NEDCC's services include, but are not limited to:
- Ethnographic field recordings
- Oral Histories
- Radio broadcast transcription discs
- Live recordings of music, speeches, etc.
- Unique recordings of historical events
- Recordings on fragile or damaged carriers
- Significant recordings on most-at-risk media, such as DAT and wax cylinders
Consequently, NEDCC is filling this void by providing audio preservation services using a traditional, specialized workflow supplemented by a conservation ethos.
This workflow includes:
- 100% attended transfers (i.e., one audio engineer transfers one recording at a time);
- 100% quality control (i.e., the complete recording is listened to as it is being digitized and corrective action taken on the spot, as needed);
- strict adherence to IASA (International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives), FADGI (Federal Agency Digitization Guidelines Initiative), and/or NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) standards for digitization;
- a conservation-minded digitization approach that respects the value of the physical carrier as well as its audio content;
- strict adherence to the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) (e.g., informing clients in writing of exactly how we propose to clean any media; only using vetted techniques; and never treating such important information as “proprietary”); and
- professional and thorough communication and documentation.
By offering this traditional approach, it is hoped that NEDCC’s nonprofit service would not take business away from existing for-profit vendors, but would be accretive to the overall effort of preserving as many audio collections as possible before they are lost to posterity because of physical deterioration.
Need advice? Interested in working with NEDCC on an audio preservation project?
Manager of Audio Preservation Services
(978) 470-1010, ext. 237
For questions about receipt and return of your materials, or packing and shipping:
(978) 470-1010, ext. 215
Quantifying the Need: A Survey of Existing Sound Recordings in Collections in the United States
A 2014 study by AV Preserve and NEDCC
Visit NEDCC's Funding for Audio Preservation page for grant deadlines and application information for a variety of funding agencies.