Magnetic Tapes For Audio – Reel-to-Reel, ADAT… HI-FI VHS?

Is there a place for HI-FI VHS in the audio recording world? And if so, how does it compare to its fellow magnetic tapes, the reel-to-reel and the ADAT?

On paper it seems like a beautiful idea. If mixing audio to VHS tapes can be done successfully, then why not? Well, there are a few reasons. I am not much of a technical guy, so I will keep it simple. VHS tapes are ½”, and yes, so are many preferred reel-to-reel systems. Both are also magnetic tapes. However, the way audio is applied to each format is completely different. On Hi-FI VHS systems, the combined stereo signal of the audio is located on an FM signal that is applied to the video. Then the video is erased and replaced by video at a different frequency, leaving the audio tracks with just a bit of the original video. Understand? Me neither! Just know this. It’s complex. This is a video format, not audio, so having high quality audio on the tape with the video is a very tedious process. The complexity leads to many possible problems: head-switching noise, drop-outs, and just all-around inconsistency. Also, the tape thickness of VHS is thinner than ½” reel-to-reel tape.

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But back to the sound quality. After all the mumbo jumbo, the sound quality of a hi-fi VHS should be quite good, if being recorded on a quality deck. It is, however, not the warm analog sound that one would desire from a ½” reel-to-reel system. In fact, the sound will be much closer to digital than analog. There is no pleasant tape saturation or analog goodness! Ever hear of the PCM adapter? This device is attached to a VHS recorder, successfully converting it to a digital audio machine. Ever hear of ADAT? The media for that system is S-VHS… and that system is digital. Take that info for what it is worth. When it comes to mixing audio, everything about HI-FI VHS seems much more closely related to digital media than it does analog magnetic tapes.

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I am not saying the Hi-FI VHS format is not useful for audio. In fact, it can very useful. Back in the 80’s, before/around the time of ADAT and CD-R, it was not uncommon to see HI-FI VHS units being used for mixing audio from multi-track recordings. In fact, a solid HI-FI VHS recorder with manual input-level controls could yield great results. But in the end, it just does not cut it for professional audio, at least not currently. Without that warm analog sound, there is no benefit to it over all the gazillion digital devices available. So if you want the ½” tape sound of a reel-to-reel machine, then that is what you need to purchase. And they are not cheap. And they are old and will be apt to destruct.

Although HI-FI VHS is not an analog gem for mixing audio, I have learned that it could be a great option for backing up many hours of vinyl recordings. Why, you might ask? Well duh… parties. Endless hours of music for everyone’s partying needs. I will keep that in mind if I ever decide to throw a party… maybe.

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