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Home /Science / How Long Does Reel-to-Reel Audio Last?

How Long Does Reel-to-Reel Audio Last?

By Elaine Elliott

All good things must come to an end, and magnetic tape audio recordings are no exception.

Reel-to-reel was the first form of audio magnetic tape recordings and even though they are still considered to have the best sound quality of all audio forms, reel-to-reel tapes do adhere to a limited lifespan.

 Just like cassette tapes and VHS tapes, reel-to-reel recordings will slowly degrade over time. But this degradation can be reduced by properly storing your reel-to-reel tapes.


The following tips will ensure a long lifespan:

-   Store reel-to-reel tapes away from heat, humidity, and light

-   Properly pack away reel-to-reel with the “tails” out in an upright position

-   Keep reel-to-reels away from other devices with magnetic fields such as computer hard drives, generators, and electric buzzers


Nonetheless, safe storage isn’t the only factor at play when it comes to reel-to-reel longevity. The amount of times the reel-to-reel tape is played is just as important. After about 50 plays, degradation on a reel-to-reel tape will become slightly noticeable to acute listeners. The average half-life is considered between 200-500 plays. And 1,000 plays of a reel-to-reel will come close to the end of life (EOL) for the tape.


In addition, this play and storage time is dependent on the size of your reel-to-reel. A 1/2 inch tape lasts longer than the 1/4 inch reel-to-reel tapes because the tracks are further apart.


Okay, so let’s say your tapes have been properly stored and still have a good half-life, how long will the reel-to-reel audio last before its magnetic tape deteriorates?


Unfortunately, this answer isn’t very clear. Most organizations say magnetic tapes, such as reel-to-reel, should last around 20 years. But some people on online forums state they’ve had tapes lasting more than fifty years due to safe storage.


Recent research implemented by the US Library of Congress has even discovered that baking reel-to-reel tapes in a convection oven at 130 degrees may be able to reverse tape damage by melting the sticky residues back onto the tape’s polymer layer. But keep in mind this research is still ongoing and is only tested in lab-graded professional ovens.


Even if you’re not a Library of Congress polymer chemist, there are still other tried-and-true ways to protect your reel-to-reel audio tapes. The most foolproof way to keep your audio intake is by digitizing your reel-to-reel tapes with KODAK Digitizing Box. This way you’ll have your audio preserved in digital formats just in case your reel-to-reel tapes start to show degradation.

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