The playability and degradation of polyester magnetic media has been an ongoing concern for decades for audio curators, technicians, and hobbyists. As these collections continue to age, users increasingly desire to transfer their contents. However, such a task can be daunting. This report presents a new, rapid, nontechnical tool for evaluating the playability and physical surface of polyester magnetic tapes without needing to place them on playback equipment or use expensive technical instrumentation. Water contact angle, using a micro liter-sized droplet, was found to accurately predict the physical playback condition of the vast majority of tapes from a sampling of test tapes from the Library of Congress testing labs. This tool provides an appealingly simple and powerful method to directly probe a tape's physical surface. Results could frequently be interpreted by eye, without needing technical processing equipment or software.
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