Audio Guidance: Condition of Materials and Storage

How Do I Know If My Materials Are In Good Condition?

Audio: Condition Assessment

What are common problems with audio formats, and remedies?

See tables for each media type:

How long will audio materials last?

Life expectancy of audio media is dependent on factors including:

It is difficult to accurately predict a media’s usable lifespan. This is further complicated by the fact that media can change considerably between manufactured batches. But history has at least given some indication of what to expect.

  • Magnetic tapes stored under archival conditions (National Archives and Records Administration example) generally have a lifespan of about 10 to 50 years before exhibiting difficult to handle decay. Somewhere in the middle is most common. Those stored under lesser conditions and not handled carefully will probably have a significantly shorter life span.
  • Grooved recordings vary in composition and life expectancy. In general, laminated discs tend to be shorter lived. Wire recordings, aluminum discs, and LPs/45s can last possibly for generations if kept under favorable conditions and handled well.
  • Optical media come in two general categories: recordable and pressed. Pressed are generally fairly durable and can last possibly for generations if kept under favorable conditions and handled well. Recordable optical media have widely varying life expectancies. It is not entirely uncommon to have some unreadable discs in less than one year. Relying on recordable discs to last for generations is probably not viable. Note however that there are manufacturers creating discs intended for archiving using more inert recording and/or reflective layers. One such new technique uses a “glassy carbon” type recording layer as opposed to organic dyes.

See the Image Permanence Institute calculatorsto view how varying temperature, relative humidity, and dew points relate and affect life expectancy.

Where can I find more information?

Information for Grooved Recordings

Information for Magnetic Media

Information for Optical Discs