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Flash Media Failures: Lessons Learned

flash-cardsOne of my greatest fears has  always been the risk of recording a one-of-a-kind oral history interview and having an unknown digital data or technical failure.  I spend a lot of time obsessing about best practices and, recently, mostly focusing the majority of my attention on the recording machines.  I haven’t thought about the importance and compatibility of the the flash memory  in years.  In the old days of flash-card digital audio recording, manufacturers publicized specific lists of “approved media” for their recorders.  To prevent failures, I used to obsess over tracking down the exact cards being recommended.  This was back when flash media was slow, limited in storage capacity, and expensive.  Since then, flash media has evolved into a high capacity, super fast,  affordable and ubiquitous medium.  You can go down to the local grocery store and purchase fairly high quality media for a great price.  Lately, I have fallen into the habit of purchasing SD cards without much thought as to compatibility.  They just all worked with the recorders we were using.

It is no secret that I love the Tascam DR100-MKii as a digital audio recorder for recording oral history (see my previous reviews and tutorials). The DR100-MKii  is easy to use, super reliable and yields a great recording for most fieldwork situations.  The Nunn Center currently has over 20 of these recorders that we lend out for projects and I couldn’t be happier with their performance.  That being said, we recently had a round of recordings that produced several failures, which were, unfortunately, not indicated until after the recording sessions were over (look for a forthcoming post on recovering corrupt or failed recordings).  In that moment, one of my greatest oral history fears was realized.  Through extensive testing, we determined that the failure was, without a doubt, not the fault of the recorders, it was the media.  We were using “untested” and “unapproved” cards.

Tascam has published on their website a list of “approved” cards  they currently recommend using for the DR100Mkii.  I learned the hard way and got complacent with technology.  Now, I am strongly recommending that we listen to what the manufacturers say about media for their recorders, especially if you are recording at 24-bit/96kHz.  This is not a post about Tascam recorders, I still love them.  No matter who made your recording device, I urge you to consult them for any recommended or tested media.

So I went back to the Tascam website and looked at the list of Tascam’s “Tested Media List” for my recorder.  It took me about an hour of searching to realize that the manufacture numbers of Tascam’s “approved” media were limited to Japanese vendors.  Given the fact that I was limited in terms of vendors that the University of Kentucky can use, I felt stuck.  The website was telling me to only use media that I could not obtain.  Frustrated, I called Tascam and spoke to a technical support specialist who assured me that the fist part of the manufacturer’s number is the part I needed to be using.  So when you look at the list and see: SDSDXP1-008G-J95, you only needed to worry about the SDSDXP1-008G and not the -J95.  Because I need to purchase over 100 of these cards, and I prefer that our interviewers  put only one interview on a card, I opted for the less-expensive 8gb version.  I still wanted a faster card which will greatly boost the transfer times from the cards to our servers.  I opted for the Sandisk 8gb SDHC Memory Card Ultra Class 10 UHS-1 (SDSU-008G-U46) which has a decent transfer rate of 30mb/s at a really good price.

I am reforming my complacent flash-media ways and going back to using only what the manufacturers recommend,  and I hope that you do the same.  There is too much at risk.



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