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!


Digital Archeology: People In My Head – Voices of Industrial Generation (Converted Music, KPH, 2007)

When around 2006 I set up Lullaby Studio in Civitanova Marche, Italy, I made a wall in the garage and separated 2 very small and uncomfortable rooms, a booth and a mixing room.
Among the first albums which were sculpted in that humid cave in 2007 is “Converted Music” by my brother in arms from Salerno Gennaro “Lo Zio” Sica aka Zicka aka Peopleinmyhead. It’s a very experimental LP merging hip hop (mostly sung in a very accentuated dialect of Campania), bass music/dub, glitching samples and industrial electronica.
The mixing was made with a minimal amount of gear and mostly legendary freeware VST plugin suites on an old copy of Cubase Sx 3, and a beautiful example of the big effort we put into it is this long trip called “Voices Of Industrial Generation”.

“When you are young you always end up in doing something stupid, extreme but epic.
In this category fits naturally the mix that Enrico and I made for the Voice of Industrial Generator within the journey that brought to light the Converter Music…
The track pays tributes to the music of Bill Laswell, Eraldo Bernocchi, Almamegretta trying to deliver a diluted dub experience in a distorted environment… Where is the stupidity then?
The track is long I think something like 15 minutes… It is a natural progression of themes, combination of patterns which develop over time.
We used to mix at night at the Lullaby Studio, the first version on this massive valve hifi system made by Enrico’s Father, and mixing Voices was a very long one… 
Enrico, with the patience of a buddhist monk and the craziness of a viking pirate tackled each sound, drum and bass making reality what was the crazyness of the People in my Head.
I was next to him with the classic thinking face which something was switching in amusement with big “ooh” and “uaa”… but it was extremely tiring…
The night after the giant track was there and we kept to coming back to it… In small doses.. Just for not abusing… Sometime was the drums, sometime a little distortion and sometime was for the trip.
We also thought that it was funny to add few minutes of silence to the already long track and hiding a sample from “Back to the future”… Eventually the track was ready for the mastering.
I managed quite well that phase… We left Voices as the last one and when the track started after a couple of bars… I left the studio… My face was green.
I knew that the Viking Monk could finish the job… And in the first light of a morning… Converted Music came to life.”

(Lo Zio aka People in my head)

A very heavy use of free VST plugins from the MDA suite (Smartelectronix), the very old (but gold) TK Suite and from the BRAM goodies was involved for the mixing process. I was learning to have a clear idea of gain staging at the time, and I often used a freeware Vintage Vu-Meter simulator by PSP Audioware.

We used to export songs from FL Studio (at the time, it was our favourite program for writing stuff) and we would mix them in Cubase.

During the making of the album you can tell that we were very big fans of Helmut Haas effect, which I would achieve on every snare drum on this record with the use of delays and filters. But on this particular song, it was used on nearly all tracks, creating a dreamy/unreal big space inside which to float.

Distortion also was a big protagonist. – Any kind of tube or tape saturation/distortion/bitcrushing would be used on almost every track, including the ones which were already distorted. Thus we achieved to create a very dark and grainy sound, which would sonically fit better with the “story” that we were telling. 

I could tell a lot more but I’ll leave you with the quote from the movie 12 Monkeys which was sampled from a VHS and pasted in the middle the track: 

“Proliferation of atomic devices, uncontrolled breeding habits, the rape of the environment, the pollution of land, sea, and air. In this context, isn’t it obvious that “Chicken Little” represents the sane vision and that Homo Sapiens’ motto, “Let’s go shopping!” is the cry of the true lunatic?”