Magnetic Damage to Family Video Tapes

Magnetic tape damage is pretty common. Family tapes store video and audio information in the form of a magnetic strip. The VCR has special heads that can pick up on these magnetic signals and translate them into images and sound that plays on your TV.

While magnets are used to write information to the tape, they are also used to erase footage from your tape. Since VHS uses an iron oxide as its formula, this makes them very susceptible to magnetic damage.

A tape that has been exposed to magnetic damage is nearly always irreparable. There is no way to recover footage that has been magnetically erased or damaged. The best bet is to make sure you keep your video tapes away from anything resembling a magnet!


Unfortunately one of our clients contacted us Friday with regard to his family Hi8 video tapes that had been damaged by the magnetic field given off by a mobile phone. He asked whether our company would be able to help recover them. Explaining he left the tapes beside his old Nokia and after the phone rang he was unable to get them to play again. He could see a sound bar noise visible during playback and no sound with picture distortion.

I had to be the bearer of bad news and assure him that they’ve sadly lost that specific family video forever. I realised this would be a good warning to other clients in ensuring they kept their video, audio and digital cassettes far away from strong magnets to prevent this from happening again.


How Cassette Tapes Work
The tape is arranged in a pattern of tiny magnetic particles. The tape plays back when it touches the magnetic spindle heads in the tape player, moving and causing an electromagnetic pulse that is interpreted as sound. The important thing to note here is that cassette tapes are recorded and played back essentially by arranging and interpreting magnetic particles.

Magnets’ Effect on Tapes
Because of the tapes’ magnetic nature, powerful magnets can profoundly distort the data on them, or sometimes even erase them. Even a standard ceramic fridge magnet is powerful enough to damage the tape, if left in direct exposure. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep your collection of magnets and your collection of cassettes on opposite sides of the house.

Magnets’ Effect on CDs
Magnets have no affect CDs. While a magnet may be attracted to the metal surface of the CD, the magnet can’t affect the data on the disc because the data on the disc is not arranged magnetically. While a powerful magnet’s attraction to the disc could physically scratch the disc if you’re not careful, this can’t strictly be called a magnetic effect on the data. You can safely consider your CD collection magnet-proof.

If we can support you with any corporate or consumer digitisation then please do contact me.

Oxford Duplication Centre

Digitisation specialists within audio, video, film, image and text.

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