VHS Magic, truth or fiction?


Being born in 1985, I have lived my childhood pressing the FFW and REW buttons a lot.
Kids nowadays can’t realize what it means to actually wait for what you love as we used to back in the 90s… Listening to music was all about waiting for your radio station to play your favorite song, waiting for the cassette player to reach your favorite part of the instrumental, waiting for. 
That’s what we were used to before point-click streaming came out.
And not only our cassette and cd players involved this kind of approach, same story for TV and VHS.

As an advanced nerd kid, I used to read all the manuals and know how to program my VCR to record the cartoons/films/concerts I loved the most from TV to cassette, and I still remember the time I had to wait to rewind it all back and watch it again, or the number of problems coming from the overuse of the same VHS cassette.

Lately, while getting used to OSX, soundcloud, youtube, DAW, etc., I kinda found myself missing that feeling, so I decided I would buy a video cassette recorder.
I opened ebay kleineanzeigen and I bought one used for real cheap, something about 30€. Deal! It’s got RCA ins and outs, I took an old VHS tape I used to record stuff from TV to and got all this whole nostalgia thing started.


• Am I gonna get useful/musical tape saturation out of VHS?

• Am I gonna get back from VHS that kind of 90s vibe? That kind of          imperfect sound/ artifacts we were used to? 

• Why am I wondering such stuff?

Aside from the 3rd question, still left untouched and unanswered, I found my own answers to my doubts, by experimenting a little.


So, basically, what I did was:

• connect my SEG VCR 5351 (not the best Stereo VCR but who gives a f***?) to my Steinberg MR816x (unbal jack stereo out -> rca unbal stereo in / VHS / rca unbal stereo out – XLR stereo in)

• open cubase and control gain staging with sine-wave

• record a very simple multi-track loop made by:

bus 1: Roland Sh-101-ISH vst bassline
bus 2: Roland Juno-ISH vst arpeggio
bus 3 (drums): my Roland TR09 + TR 808 vst + kick sample
bus 4: Telecaster gtr line

• reamp the four stereo busses via VHS – this phase involves a lot of PLAY / REC / REW / PLAY / REC / SYNC BACK MATERIAL BY HAND 

• pass the whole mix thru VHS 2 times

• bounce out these versions:

– Total Digital (Mastered and Unmastered)
– VHS (Mastered and Unmastered) (gain -10db, boosted back by +/- 10db)
– VHS 2x (where VHS mix has been recorded again on VHS and back to DAW – Mastered and Unmastered) (gain -6db, boosted back by +/- 6db)


VHS tape saturation. Do I like it? Is it useable? I loved it on Drums and bass, plus the overall mix sounds a lot warmer.
NOISE I did no accurate measuring but honestly I really expected a lot more noise problems while going out unbalanced at -10db and boosting back everything by 10db on the single instruments + 10 + 6 on VHS MIX 2x, plus I find it pleasing in a way.
ARTIFACTS/ 90s sound I think that in the 2x VHS mix the overuse starts giving an idea of that kind of “boiling” sound the VHS could deliver, tho the Cassette I used was too healthy to deliver interesting artifacts like glitchy sound/ ruined tape detuning.
• AM I GONNA DO IT AGAIN? Yes. I’m writing new vaporwaveish material and I bet it’s gonna kick asses when mastered thru VHS tape.



DIGITAL UNMASTERED (Digital Stereo Mix with no Added EQ, Comp, Limiting)

VHS UNMASTERED (Busses to VHS, Digital Stereo Mix to VHS, no Added EQ, Comp, Limiting)

VHS 2x UNMASTERED (Busses to VHS, Digital Stereo Mix to VHS twice, no Added EQ, Comp, Limiting)

DIGITAL MASTERED (Digital Stereo Mix with Added EQ, Comp, Limiting)

VHS MASTERED (Busses to VHS, Digital Stereo Mix to VHS, Added EQ, Comp, Limiting)

VHS 2x MASTERED (Busses to VHS, Digital Stereo Mix to VHS twice, Added EQ, Comp, Limiting)


What’s your take on this whole nostalgia thing? Bullshit, magic, or another palette of colors? Any comments on this experiment is welcome!


Author: Enrico Tiberi

Musician, music producer, mixing engineer.

2 thoughts on “VHS Magic, truth or fiction?”

  1. I have been looking everywhere for some actual writing and journal on experiments with this process, so I really happy to find this page! I’m currently looking out for any tape recording devices I can and hopefully run a number of experiments similar to yours. My experiments are in fact for a project for college. I’m composing an EP of experimental lofi hip hop with Flying Lotus and Boards of Canada being my two main influential areas or case studies. I’m wondering have you developed on these experiments? Have you achieved that VHS sound you were looking for in the beginning but did not quite land with this experiments. You were saying your tapes were too new to produce any artifacts.

    1. Hi Ian, I haven’t got further with VHS, I’ve more dived with reel to reel tape indeed. Made some nice experiments ruining the tapes before recording and that gave me really good results.
      Some time has passed since your comment, do you want to share your project? I’m really interested!

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