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Have an archive of old recordings on cassette tape? Just how long can you expect them to last?
Magnetic tapes can last 10 to 30 years depending on a few factors.
- Normal tape playing. Tape formats are degraded in some way every single time the tape passed across the mechanical parts of recorders and players.
- Worn and improperly maintained tape players. Poorly maintained tape equipment could seriously damage a tape. Tape could get wrapped around the heads and other various gizmos inside a tape player or recorder. Dirty heads would especially scratch and harm the data portion of the tape, more than normal playing would do.
- Tape player malfunctions. Every time the tape is inserted into the player, there was serious concern that the tape could be “eaten” by equipment malfunction, with the various rollers and transport mechanisms, thereby losing the content of the tape forever.
- Tapes open to the elements. Magnetic tapes are open to the elements, and the primary reason the format has an average lifespan of 10-30 years is because oxygen and humidity eat away at the chemicals and metals as they naturally age.
- Clumsy tape mistakes. Most tapes would break apart and the contents disemboweled on the floor if dropped even from waist-height distances. Early tapes had no cartridge at all and would roll along the floor, while the tape casually stuck to any piece of lint or foreign matter in its path.
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