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All You Need Is Ears

The conservation of existing analogue archives

Wouldn't it be better to employ someone "in-house" to transfer my archives?

Unless you are one of the larger Institutions with a specially formed department that is conversant in dealing with audio and audio visual archive material, the reality is that you are unlikely to find any individuals in your organisation with as much expertise and experience as trained professionals, such as we have at All You Need Is Ears, in transferring analogue archive material. Even large Institutions use outside assistance to help on certain projects, either because the project is so large it would take an unwarranted time to deal with it themselves, or the original material is on a format that they have no means of dealing with.

Even at County Council level (County Record Offices, Museums and Libraries) there are very few Councils in the UK that have made provision to have trained and knowledgeable staff and equipment capable of dealing with AV media collections. At Local History Group level the lack of equipment and expertise to use it, even if the equipment is available, makes the transfer of what can be quite sizeable oral history collections fraught with difficulties.

Getting professional help

A worry here is that small Local History Groups, the smaller Museums and the Libraries may attempt to deal with their collections themselves without sufficient knowledge to know that they haven’t actually achieved the best replay of the analogue material. We have noticed that some of our clients have been quite surprised by the standard of audio quality that their elderly recordings have attained when we have transferred them to digital formats, and that they haven’t been used to hearing that quality when replayed on their own analogue equipment during the last few decades. With material that does not achieve a good transfer from the original analogue recordings, no subsequent processing in the digital domain can bring it to the standard of which it would be capable if it were properly handled in the first place. The worst case scenario here is to transfer the material at a lower quality than it is really capable of, and then dispose of the original analogue recordings – there is no going back from that.

Problems don't just occur with replay of the original analogue material. One case we found, when an organisation had started to transfer their material themselves before calling in our assistance, was that their digital copies were not “digitally stable” (the digital sampling frequency kept altering significantly) making their resultant CDs almost unplayable. Luckily the analogue originals were still in existence for us to re-transfer from!

What about training courses?

We have noticed recently that some of the larger Institutions and even some larger Oral History Societies are offering training courses to help individuals transfer their own material. Whilst a short course giving “a basic introduction to sound recording for oral history work in the digital era” might work well for members of local history groups (and in fact we run such training ourselves, see Consultancy) a course on the art of transferring elderly analogue recordings given to non-technical participants could only at best be superficial and in some cases downright dangerous to the safety of an analogue collection. Recently while in the company of a participant who had been on an Institution run course on transferring analogue tape and who hoped (for payment) to transfer someone’s collection for them in the near future was heard to say “…and it's right isn’t it, you adjust the azimuth on replay so you get a minimum of tape hiss?” I leave you to draw a conclusion as to whether you would let that person loose on your collection!

We think that a training course should be viewed by an individual as an introduction to analogue transfer. This will then prove invaluable when that individual is consulting professionals with a view to employing them to deal with the transfer of their analogue collection. It enables him or her to be follow the conversation and to separate the wheat from the chaff in choosing the right partner for the work. It might come as a surprise to learn that potential young sound recruits to the BBC, who were recruited for their technical aptitude in the days of analogue recordings – a period of 25 years between the mid 1960s to 1990 – would initially spend three months on a residential technical course (which they would have to pass before going any further with the Corporation) and then the next 33 months, with each working day being trained on the job in their chosen studio centre, to build up their knowledge of analogue techniques before the BBC began to fully trust them to carry out their duties unsupervised.

All the necessary experience to deal with elderly analogue recordings cannot be acquired in a few hours. Even if and when you do become proficient in the art you then have to have access to appropriate well-serviced equipment to carry out the work. This in itself is becoming more difficult. Even with the availability of correct replay equipment it still becomes almost a non-starter to proceed with an operation that allows the best possible analogue transfer to be achieved without access to suitable monitoring and metering facilities in a correct acoustic environment in which to perform the work.


Most of the keepers of the smaller (non Institution) collections we have assisted in safeguarding, whether local Group or County Council run Museum, have usually funded the work by winning grant funding from either national or local area grant suppliers. All You Need Is Ears has been involved in projects that have been funded from grants of all sizes, from a few thousand pounds to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Some funding providers stipulate caveats to their grant provision, for example, that a ”Friends of the Museum Society” attached to a Museum should contribute something, either additional funding or some work of which they are capable, e.g. preparing transcriptions of the oral history recordings being safeguarded - to show local support for the funded project.

Another caveat we have observed during our involvement with funded transfer of analogue collections is that, when the analogue work is completed, the oral history group has to become self-sufficient in continuing their work using digital recording and publicly accessible storage. We have given masterclasses to groups to help them set up their future working procedures.

In conclusion

Whilst you may think that you can keep a closer eye on your material if you keep it in-house you will find that professionals like All You Need Is Ears are not only meticulous about the security of your material but involve you, through your designated representative, should any question need clarifying during the process of safeguarding your collection. Questions will arise concerning your analogue material whether of a technical or documentation nature. With recordings collected maybe over the last 40 or 50 years we can assure you there will be queries about the collection and we have no problem in approaching you about them for clarification before proceeding with the transfer or documentation of an individual recording!

The partners at All You Need Is Ears have worked with just about every format available since the time when it was "the latest thing" so we have an in-depth knowledge of these past formats which enables us to give you the best possible service, and at the best possible price.


Telephone: +44 (0)117 924 8815

Fax: +44 (0)117 924 5505

e-mail: info@allyouneedisears.co.uk