Bringing the Dead Back to Life

A unique cleaning approach for vinegar syndrome mag elements.

Vinegar syndrome deterioration is becoming increasingly common with mag elements, including elements that have been stored in good environments.  As bad as these mag elements may look, though, it is still possible to get excellent sound quality with the proprietary cleaning and transfer technology at Endpoint.   The initial critical step in bringing severely deteriorated film back to life is to clean the film to as close to original condition as possible.   Simply put, the only way to get vinegar mag to sound as good as it was when new, is to make the surface as close to new as possible.  


The first problem with transferring film without cleaning is reduced high frequency response due to spacing loss on the head.  It if often thought that only debris rubbing off on the head is a sign of potential high frequency loss.  However, some surface deterioration issues such has hardened plasticizer crystals are so well adhered on the surface that they will not rub off on the head, and yet still cause high frequency loss and an unstable noise floor.  Full cleaning is therefore critical for producing transfers with a stable noise floor and stable high frequency response.

The second problem with transferring film without cleaning is increased wow and flutter.  This is due to changing surface friction from the variations of the surface deterioration.  As the surface friction changes, it requires variations in torque to move the film over the head causing the wow/flutter speed fluctuations.  Even when vinegar syndrome mag film is completely free of powder or plasticizer debris on the film surface, it is still common to have enough deterioration to cause wow/flutter due to increased friction of the mag surface.   Since pressure rollers are often needed on the top of the film when the mag is severely warped, the base side of the film also needs to be perfectly clean to avoid changing friction and increased wow/flutter.  


It is actually not that difficult to clean a few feet of film.  The extreme difficultly lies in cleaning the thousands of feet at a time needed for just a single feature film.  This is because there is typically so much surface deterioration that it will immediately start clogging up the cleaning approach and just reapply the powder and plasticizer back on the film.  Each of our custom cleaning machines uses a total of 8 different motors for slowly propelling the film and performing the numerous cleaning steps on both sides of the film.   

The complexity of the cleaning process is the main reason why full cleaning is not done by any of the other studios transferring vinegar mags.  Although some minor cleaning may be performed, they typically resort to coating the mag in a lubricant to make it playable.  Not only is this approach poor for general preservation, but it is also very difficult to remove the lubricant for a better transfer in the future.  Bellow is an example of a lubricated reel done by a competing transfer studio that arrived for retransfer.  Notice not only the lubricant covering the reel, but also the mag powder and other debris from deterioration stuck inside the lubricant.  In this particular case, this mag set was the only surviving master so it was necessary to clean off the lubricant as best as possible, and then perform a second cleaning pass to clean the actual mag deterioration the lubricant was used to cover up.

Example of a typical reel lubricated by a competing transfer facility.

Example of a typical reel lubricated by a competing transfer facility.


Below are some before and after examples of our proprietary mag cleaning process.  The full range of vinegar syndrome deterioration issues such as mag powder, hardened plasticizer crystals, and plasticizer residue can all be cleaned.  Once the mags have been cleaned, they are ready for transfer on our custom sprocket-less mag transport nicknamed the “Time Machine” for its unique ability to achieve sound quality often as good as the day the mags were recorded. 


Before and After Examples