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British Library Preserves Its Sound Archives for Posterity

The British Library’s audio department ordered five Prism Sound ADA-8XR multichannel audio converters with AES and FireWire interfaces from pro audio dealer KMR Audio for use in the library’s new London studios.

Over the last two years, the British Library Sound Archive’s technical team has been specifying and purchasing equipment for its new facilities, which are based in the Centre for Conservation at the main library site at St. Pancras, London. This project has been a major expansion of the library’s facilities and has resulted in 10 transfer channels and a recording studio equipped for transferring archived analog recordings to digital formats.

“The Prism Sound ADA-8XR units form the heart of the system in five out of our 10 studios,” says Andrew Pearson, a repair and maintenance engineer for the Sound Archive. “We need very high-spec converters as we are often making a once-and-for-all transfer from a very fragile archive medium. Because of the fragile nature of the carrier or the obsolescence of playback equipment, we know that there will be little or no chance of repeating the transfer in years to come.”

Pearson adds that it is vital to ensure that future noise reduction and processing techniques are given the best chance with a high quality digitization of the material.

“We work to the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) specifications, which are very tight for analog-to-digital converters,” he explains. “The Prism Sound units fulfill all the criteria. They are being used on all kinds of digitization projects from various carriers, including large collections of shellac or acetate discs, to wax cylinders and quarter-inch tape and cassette. With an eight-channel converter, we are able to digitize four stereo or eight mono sources simultaneously. For example, a unit is currently being used to digitize oral history audio cassettes for a series of interviews with renowned artists.”

One of the Sound Archive’s transfer channels has an attached recording studio, which will mainly be used for interviews.

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