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With the rapid pace of change in audio technology, analogue formats have all but disappeared as a means for current production and distribution of sound recordings. Nevertheless, many audio archivists are responsible for large numbers of valuable audio recordings in analogue formats.

These require dedicated playback machines that have become obsolete, so the only way to ensure lasting access to this legacy is digitisation. To do this properly requires firstly that the optimum signal is extracted during playback from an analogue carrier, and this in turn necessitates extensive knowledge of the engineering processes and standards used at the time of its creation. The passing on of expertise and detailed knowledge gained during a time when analogue technology represented the cutting edge, is therefore of vital importance to subsequent generations, and it is with this in mind that this work was written.

The manual was written by Peter Copeland
when he was Conservation Manager at the British Library Sound Archive over a ten-year period up until 2002, as an aid to audio engineers and audio archivists. Peter started his professional career at the BBC in 1961, initially working from Bush House in London for the World Service. From 1966 he worked as a dubbing engineer at BBC Bristol, taking on responsibility for sound in many productions by the famed Natural History Unit, among them the groundbreaking David Attenborough series, Life on Earth. In 1986 he joined the British Library as Conservation Manager for the Sound Archive where he started work on this manual. After Peter retired from the Library in 2002, we began work with him to polish the text ready for publication. The work was near to completion when Peter died in July 2006.

The original intention was to thoroughly edit the manual
to bring it up to date, with appropriate diagrams and other illustrations added. However in the extremely fast-moving world of audiovisual archiving this would have entailed a great deal of rewriting, such that it would no longer have been the manuscript that Peter left us. After much discussion therefore, the decision has been taken to publish it now, largely unchanged from its original form, and make it freely available on the internet as a service to professional audiovisual engineers and archivists.

Readers should bear in mind that the manual was written over a period of time some years ago, and so should be considered as a snapshot of Peter’s perspective during that time. Some information, particularly on digital conversion in chapter 3, is outdated: the R-DAT format is now obsolete, professional audio engineers routinely use computer-based hardware and software for audio processing with 24-bit converters at sample rates exceeding 96kHz, and sigma delta processors are now available. The core of the manual however, being concerned with making sense of the incredibly rich and complex history of analogue technology, remains a singular feat of rigorous, sustained research, and is unlikely to date.

Some statements in the text represent personal opinion, although this is always clearly stated. The somewhat quirky, personal style in which the manual is written will be very familiar to anyone who knew Peter, and was as much a part of him as was his passion for the subject of this work. Minor amendments to the original texts have been made, mostly ironing out inconsistencies in style and for this I would like to thank Christine Adams, Nigel Bewley, Bill Lowry, Will Prentice, Andrew Pearson and Tom Ruane who helped check through the manual in its entirety.

This work assembles in one place a tremendous amount of factual information amassed during Peter’s long career as an audio engineer - information that is difficult to find anywhere else. The breadth of research into the history of sound playback is unequalled. Peter himself sometimes referred to his role as that of an “audio archaeologist”. This manual is a fitting and lasting testament to Peter’s combination of depth of knowledge with clarity of expression.

Richard Ranft
The British Library Sound Archive / September 2008


Few types of torture can be more exquisite than writing a book about a subject which is instinctive to the writer. This has been the most difficult piece of writing I have ever undertaken, because everything lives in my brain in a very disorganised form. My first thanks must be to the inventors of the word processor, who allowed me to get my very thoughts into order.

Next I must acknowledge the many talented people who gave up considerable amounts of time to reading printouts at various stages. First, I would like to thank Lloyd Stickells, a former engineer of the British Library Sound Archive, who looked through a very early draft of this work while he was still with the Archive, and made sufficiently encouraging noises for me to want to continue.

Steve Smolian, of Smolian Sound Studios, Potomac, Maryland, also made encouraging noises; moreover, he helped with many suggestions when I sought advice from the American point of view. Alistair Bamford also made encouraging noises as the work proceeded.

Ted Kendall and Roger Wilmut read it more recently when it was nearly at full length, and Crispin Jewitt (Head of the Sound Archive) was rash enough to put his money where his mouth was, financing a Pilot Digitisation Project to test some of the methodology. As a result, Serena Lovelace was in the front line, and gave me very clear (and polite) feedback on every section of the book.

But the biggest bouquet must go to my editor, David Way, who was obliged to read the whole thing many times over.

I must thank the following individuals for supplying me with specific pieces of information or actual artefacts, and I just hope I have reported the information correctly:

The British Library Science Research and Information Service, Sean Davies (S. W. Davies Ltd.), Eliot Levin (Symposium Records), Alistair Murray, Noel Sidebottom (British Library Sound Archive), Pete Thomas (BBC), and Roger Wilmut. George Overstall, the guru of acoustic soundboxes and horns, gave me an afternoon of his time to the mechanics of treating and playing 78rpm discs; chapter 3 could not have been written without his help.

Mrs. Ruth Edge, of the EMI Archive in Hayes, kindly allowed me to disassemble the world’s last surviving professional acoustic recording machine, and measure its horns, without which Chapter 11 would have been impossible.

I was able to try several chapters of this manual upon an unsuspecting public, when Jack Wrigley asked me to write for his magazine The Historic Record. On the whole the readership did not argue with me, which boosted my morale despite my torture; the few comments I received have certainly resulted in greater clarity. So thanks to all Jack’s readers as well.

But nothing at all could have been done without the continuous support of the Information Service of the British Library Sound Archive. It seems invidious to name anyone in particular, but I must thank Mavis Hammond-Brake, who happened to draw the short straw every time I required some information from a different department of the British Library. Sorry, Mavis, it wasn’t planned that way! Since then, the same straw has been drawn by Lee Taylor - sorry, Lee.

Peter Copeland
London, 28th February 2001

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