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Recording Preservation Tips - 8-track Tapes

  • From a marketing point of view, thanks largely to its promotion by the auto industry, the 8-track cartridge was by far the most successful new audio format of the mid-1960s and early 1970s. 
  • From a technical point of view, however, the 8-track was inherently an unreliable design, subject to frequent mechanical problems, and missing the basic advantages of conventional tape machines: namely, fast forward and reverse, easy erasure, editing, and indexing.
  • Heat kills 8-tracks. Leaving cassette recordings in a hot car will shorten the life of the tape and cassette mechanism. The cassette may warp and the tape may become brittle.
  • If the tape is old and has not been played in a long time, do what we do: DO NOT fast forward. Just push "Play"and be happy that the deck did not "eat the tape".
  • If the tape still plays, but has a dark, weak sound, the pads are probably shot. These are the plastic foam parts that press the tape against the tape head (see description of the mechanism below). They must be changed.
  • 8-track trivia: The tape is contained in a plastic box. Instead of two spools with tape feeding from one to the other, however, in the 8-track cartridge system a continuous loop of tape is wound on a single passive spool, feeding out from the centre and returning to the periphery. To attempt to pull the tape the other way would cause it to tighten on the centre boss and bind, which is why cartridge machines do not provide rewind facilities.
  • The plastic cartridge contains a continuous length of 1/4 in lubricated tape wound on a passive spool, suitable guide pulleys and a built-in pinch roller. A plastic sponge pad forms a backing to the tape opposite the slot into which the head penetrates when the cartridge is inserted into the machine.
  • The tape is prerecorded using eight tracks in stereo pairs. Counting the tracks as numbers 1 to 8 from top to bottom the pairs are: 1 and 5, 2 and 6, 3 and 7 and 4 and 8.
  • The head has two gaps which read these pairs to produce a stereo output. The head is moved vertically by a stepped ramp wheel so that, when it reaches the end of one pair of tracks tie the loop has gone full circle), it steps on to the next pair, eventually stepping from bottom to top to start the cycle again. The stepping mechanism is operated by a solenoid actuated by contacts which connect with a strip of metal foil at the end of each track. It can also be stepped by means of a push button to select the required track.
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