Optical scanning of discs for digitization

by Sally J.

in * How to PRESERVE Family History Treasures, Free Articles / Blog

I worry a lot about the fate of old sound recordings.

Although recorded sound has only been around for a little over 100 years, our archives, basements and attics are bursting with a legacy of multiple obsolete formats. To add insult to injury, each time you play an original recording you destroy some of the quality.

Digitization can help, but there’s lots of requirements for digitization.

Here’s a brief list of what you need:

  • A skilled and experienced audio engineer.
  • Correct playback equipment — including all parts — in working order.
  • Digitization equipment.
  • Secure digital storage.
  • Cataloging and metadata so you can find the digital files again.
  • A big honkin‘ grant to pay for all the equipment and staff time.

Of course, there’s always the danger that playing an old recording may destroy it.

My friend Angela clued me into an amazing new process that mitigates some of the problems with digitization of audio. There’s a Library of Congress project called IRENE that makes it possible to copy old disc recordings without touching them. It’s a kind of remote sensing, like scanning an LP.

They can even scan a disc that has broken into pieces. They just place the pieces together like a puzzle and scan it. Software erases the anomalies. Suhweet.

Hear an NPR story with before and after samples when you click this link. Scroll down to the bottom to see other NPR stories about sound recordings. Great stuff here!

Related stories:
Good Night, IRENE: Technology of Dreams
IRENE page at Library of Congress
Historic wax cylinder project at UCSB

Sally J. October 9, 2007 at 1:15 am

Wow, Jude. What a treasure!

There is a company called Sweetwater that can create a CD master of a vintage disc and restore it, too.

I checked out their website and a simple transfer to CD w/o any restoration work is $60 for up to 60 minutes of material.

For $269 they will remove pops, crackles, and hiss and restore it as nicely as possible.

I would double check with them to make sure they have playback equipment for your disc: Sweetwater Disc Services.

Has anybody else out there had a transfer like this done? I’d love to hear about it…

Jude October 5, 2007 at 2:38 am

It has to be the 1930s or early 1940s because he was 18 in 1938, so surely he wouldn’t have recorded himself much earlier than that.

Jude October 5, 2007 at 2:36 am

My dad made his own recordings in the 1930s (or maybe the 1920s). The records play from the inside out. Although I heard them a few times when I was little (I was born in 1955), we haven’t had anything to play them with since I was about 10 years old. I know they aren’t exciting or great quality, but still I’d like to hear them again.

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