Hi-Fi VHS Audio...better than you don't remember


Many of us remember VHS tapes the same way we remember the audio cassette. Nobody would blame you for remembering both formats as...well...the best we could do at the time. Hissy, static-y, warbly...and we just dealt with it because before DVD (or arguably laserdisc) the audio cassette and VHS is all we had. We didn't know any better.

Fast forward 20,30, even 40+ years and almost everything we see and hear is digitally streamed in pristine digital quality. Getting good sound out of Spotify or Netflix is effortless. Strangely, possibly to some, is the emergence of a growing number of enthusiasts who miss the effort, and even argue that the effort offers better sounding results.

Vinyl records are the top selling physical format in the 21st century. In fact, your favorite artist likely releases new albums on vinyl today. Taylor Swift, John Mayer, Billie Eilish, Foo Fighters, Alter Bridge...all releasing their latest albums on 12" platters.

Go further down the analog rabbit hole, you'll see a resurgence in the popularity of reel-to-reel and even compact cassette tapes. Go browse eBay right now. You can easily spend over $1,000 on a cassette deck or thousands on a reel-to-reel.

As a level-headed audiophile, a well mixed and thoughtfully mastered CD (or high quality 160kbps+ MP3 for that matter) will scientifically destroy analog formats in terms of dynamic range, S/N (signal-to-noise) ratio, and ease of use. In the analog world, to even come close to the dynamic range of digital, you'll be spending $1,200+ on a Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck and will likely spend more time fiddling with azimuth and bias adjustments than you will actually LISTENING to the music...which is all part of the appeal! It's tactile. You get to adjust knobs and sliders. How well it performs depends on your effort.

The exact same reason some prefer to drive manual transmission cars.

While digital, if mixed/mastered well, is scientifically better than analog, music is about the heart and soul. What makes music sound best is precisely the intangible, not the mathematical.

For enthusiasts, the technical distortion of analog "warmth" is a missing member of the band. For many, it's not that analog actually "sounds" better, it's actually that it feels better...and that's infinitely more important than sterile perfection,

The problem my fellow audio geeks face is that the best the analog world has to offer is often prohibitively expensive.

I'm here to help. There is an analog audio format that we've overlooked...and sounds as good as some of the best reel-to-reel if not better. Best of all? It's dirt cheap.

Hi-Fi VHS.

Stereo Hi-Fi VHS, even on bargain VCRs, has a frequency response of 20hz-20,000hz and 90db of dynamic range. For some perspective, a CD has 96db of dynamic range and the same frequency response. Remember though, Hi-Fi VHS audio is pure analog, it is not chopped up into digital samples. It is an unmodified, unmolested pure soundwave.

For more perspective, even the best cassette tapes and vinyl records can only hope to achieve around 70db of dynamic range and only the most expensive equipment in the world can hope to achieve the full 20-20,000hz frequency response.

A $50 eBay Hi-Fi VCR will do 20-20,000hz and 90db of dynamic range out of the box.

So, I've begun tinkering with Hi-Fi VHS audio. While I am working on a YouTube video to showcase my experience, needless to say my initial experiments dubbing lossless audio to Hi-Fi VHS have yielded jaw-dropping results. Effectively, I'm using a $60 2002 Sony SLV-N777 VCR in place of a $2,000 reel-to-reel. No TV required, and the music reproduced off the VHS tape is just as warm and pristine as it is bone-crushing.

So, if you're interested in high-fidelity analog music recording, scoop up a Hi-Fi VCR before more audio geeks catch wind.

More of my thoughts in the podcast below around 20:55