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What is/does "VHS" sound like?

Sam Xavier

I had a high quality vhs back in the day and I remember taping some radio shows with it. Short of a reel to reel tape it was probably the highest quality way to record audio at the time, way better than audio cassettes.
ISTR it was damn good, too. You can bet I dumped a load of CDs onto VHS tapes. Who could resist 4 hours of Tom Waits?


I love the sound of vaporwave. The hiss is soothing, I dont really know why.


Nuzzled Firmly Betwixt
Platinum Supporting Member
I love the sound of vaporwave. The hiss is soothing, I dont really know why.

Kurtz : I love the smell of vaporware in the morning.
( a phrase actually uttered in the early days of CAE, when our biggest competitor was CEO'd by a former Israeli paratrooper who used battle-talk when discussing business ... pretty sure it was first said on the floor of some CAE conference, but I digress. )

"You know, one time we had a thread Marketing-Talked for 12 hours.
When it was all over, I read up.
We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ . . . pedal.
The smell, you know that ethics-roasting-in-hell smell? The whole hill. Smelled like VHS.”


So I guess this centralizes and condenses my query: what does a VHS tape sound like?

Is that just marketing BS, or is there an actual sound there?

Side note:
I remember watching my Top Gun VHS tape numerous times and the speaker I heard the movie through was whatever was in that 19" Magnavox color TV (and color TV was a thing, let alone a 19" screen); channel 3 was the aux/VCR channel. (At the time, a 19" Magnavox wasn't a 27" Sony Trinitron, but I thought it was pretty great, and it even had little light bulbs which indicated the channel you selected via the rotary channel selector switch; as I recall, it had the UHF channels [2 - 12] and the VHF channels [20 - 66, but our local broadcast only had channel 20, and channel 44]).

Ultimately, my query is if there is actually something behind the "VHS Sound" or if that is just copy.
This is to say: the sound that I heard when I watched my VHS tapes on that TV was likely more influenced by the TV's speaker compliment than the audio stored on the VHS tape, but herein lies my query: is there some elusive "VHS sound?" It feels like BS, but just because something feels some way to one person doesn't make it true, and I would like to learn the truth.

That's a really good point. VHS will likely sound different to different people for different reasons. The aforementioned TV speaker will definitely affect this, but so will the source. Was it a storebought VHS cassette of a movie or television show, or was it recorded from Cable or an antenna? Either of those signal sources will have their own effect on sound quality. And then you've got RFU Coaxials versus RCA Coaxials. Or the 8ohm antenna screw thingy that TV's from the 80's and prior have (you can pick up cordless phone frequencies with those if you set them to a specific UHF channel).

I always associated it with a little distortion, pretty much zero low end and some warble, but the specific sound I envision is based on the halo effect of my youth, from a specific television and VCR. Who is to say that my vision of what it sounds like is any more correct than anyone else's?

Dang, Mr. DeVille! You opened up a bag full of thoughts with this one!
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I had a Betamax recorder and the sound was really great. Very warm and rich. The picture quality was also much better than VHS. I really regretted that the VHS became the world standard.
Later when my Betamax recorder was broken I bought a hifi stereo super VHS recorder and I must say that the picture quality had improved a lot. Still not the quality of Betamax but still acceptable. But the sound quality of VHS on a hifi stereo VHS recorder was also very good. Not as goos as Betamax but far better than the small audio cassettes played on a cassette deck.
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The genre is hauntological imo. By this I mean songs often rely on filters, hiss, and public domain samples (plunderphonic music) to evoke nostalgic emotions in the mind and heart of the listener. It is as if the "ghosts," of the past, tapes physical limitations, are still present in our contemporary music.* The musical elements, tape warble and distortion, is reminiscent of a a very brief time in my early life when vhs was prominent. And still is when I use a tape deck aux in my car. The commercial samples call back to a time that my parents and grandparents experienced, but not I.
The nostalgic feelings for a "lost future," are what make the genre hauntological.
Vektroid makes use of windows xp samples on telnet erotika, so the genre isn't exclusively interested in the VHS aesthetic. I have more memories associated with this platform, so this project has more resonance with me.

*I am aware that this term could be used for many genres which harken back to older "simpler," times in history and music.
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Silver Supporting Member
I will forever associate VHS with first seeing Kathleen Turner.

In Body Heat.

Thank you Blockbuster.


I haven't read through the entire thread but there's a distinct difference between regular VHS audio and hi-fi.

Regular VHS audio is kind of like a mono audio cassette. Note that if you were time-shifting you were limited to the quality of the audio coming over the air. A prerecorded VHS tape probably had better audio than the same movie recorded off rabbit-ears or cable. The audio quality degraded as you moved to slower speeds.

Then you have hi-fi. Now, there was a lot of hype at the time but here's the thing. To make VHS hi-fi work they had to intermingle the audio with the video signal. This turned out to be a bad approach because there was always this cross-talk problem in trying to separate the two. The end result is you would hear this breakup or crackle in the signal now and then. Sure, this could happen with regular VHS audio but mainly when the tape really started wearing out. But even with a fresh name-brand tape I could hear that noise coming and going in the hi-fi signal and it really bothered me because hi-fi was supposed to be audiophile-grade.


Because folks of that generation understand the degradation of vhs tape more than tape echo machines and the like.

Its marketing the same effect from the 70s so folks can understand it more effectively. Nostalgia drives a lot of products in our economy.


All I remember is that when you rented a movie on VHS, you'd know there was gonna be boobs when it got all degraded with the lines across the screen from people watching it over and over. Or something just randomly cool like this scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:



I understand the throwback to older technology idea, but what does "VHS" sound like?

I grew up watching Top-Gun on a bootlegged flea-market VHS tape that was stored in a brown plastic case with no label (I always closed my eyes during "the mushy parts"), and always knew VHS as the go-to for rental videos, beating out Betamax and even LaserDisc, but with respect to guitar stuff: what is "the VHS sound?"

Is that just a snazzy catchphrase and/or marketing copy or is there actually some type of elusive/specific sound that only the VHS format offers?

I'm not trying to be snotty; I have always associated VHS with video/movies rather than a "sound."

Help an old guy out here?
Sorry to Rick-roll the thread but, starting at 2:00-ish is the beginning of the territory most are after with this.

@Jack DeVille —The guy at CooperFX who made the Generation Loss has said that he
was inspired to make the Generation Loss because he wanted to capture the sound of
the first 15 seconds of this song by Neon Indian.

But this song by Neon Indian also has that VHS-type, generation loss-based warble
and (to me) is far more catchy:

The difference between a tape echo and generation loss captured on video cassette (like
the example that @Eldritch Tentacles provided) has to do with how videotape works.

Film has sprocket holes. In order for film to accurately capture motion, the camera and
projector have to play at the same speed. In North America motion picture film was shot at
and projected at 24 frames per second. To get slow-motion you shoot at a faster frame rate
and playback at standard 24fps. In Europe the frame rate is 25fps. This might seem like a
small difference, but as it turned out, it had big implications.

Ever wonder why the motion in old silent movies is always so weird? That's because
there was no "motor" keeping the speed of the original cameras. The cameraperson had to
crank the film to keep the time. So they'd often hum a song silently to themselves
to try to keep the pace (insert drummer joke here), and so when projected, the
frame rate could vary from 10 to 15 frames per second and, as a result, seem sped up.

With magnetic tape you can't punch sprocket holes in the videotape. Instead of sprocket holes
videotape uses the frequency of electricity as a benchmark to create a linear control track
on the edge of the videotape that tells the playback machine at what speed to play the tape.
So... 60Hz in North America meant NTSC video at 30fps and 50Hz in Europe meant PAL video at 25fps.
That's why NTSC video players won't play PAL videotapes and vice versa.

As the tape ages or stretches, the tracking can go off on the videotape, which not only
impacts the sound, but the image. This leads to the warbles and sudden lurches that
some of these "VHS sound" pedals are trying to mimic. But the tape artifacts occur at
random intervals, not on a steady sine wave or whatever.

When it came for content shot on film to be transferred to video, the choice of frame rates
became pivotal. In Europe the transition was easy, film shot at 25fps could be easily moved
onto videotape that was "tracking" at 25fps due to the 50Hz electric impulse.
But in North America film shot at 24fps film had to have interpolated "half-frames" inserted
in the 30fps videotape so that things matched up. Playing a VHS cassette of a movie shot
on film reveals interpolated frames inserted between the full frames of the original.

My feeling is that generations who grew up digital fetishize the artifacts of tactile materials.
I know people who run a letterpress. They use lead type to print on paper. But proper printing
leaves no imprint on the paper (this wouldn't work well on a book where you print on both
sides and would be seen as "amateurish"). But now that a computer & printer can render
and print something without error, letterpress printers smash the heck out of the paper to
create a 3D effect so that people know that it was "really printed by letterpress".

How many people who use Photoshop ever had to use an Xacto blade and glue to
"cut and paste" together imagery? How many guitarists own relic'ed guitars?

Instagram uses "filters" and adds "film grain" to give a sense of "authenticity". So things
that were "accidents" or signs of sloppy workmanship in the past now feel "human".
Random warble is one of those things that some people seek out as a friendly texture
that subverts uniformity. The problem with people, being social creatures, is that some
then conform to a "rebellious norm". You know, like how Punk Rockers have more rules
and regulations about "what's punk" than those they're "rebelling" against.
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VHS analog

A HiFi VHS recorder will store and playback the audio signal as a FM (frequency modulated) wave form like FM radio. If so that would contribute to its sound.
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Silver Supporting Member
I once mixed a band demo tape (recorded on a 4 track cassette recorder) to the audio inputs on a HiFi VHS recorder because I had read about someone doing this with great results. This was before there were home digital recorders available. I recall that it sounded pretty good to me, probably better quality than if I had done it to regular audio tape, but there have been so many advances in tech since then who knows how it sounded in comparison to modern digital stuff?. It was an interesting experiment at least, and the demo tape we used to get gigs sounded decent enough. I had forgotten about it until I saw this thread.


Silver Supporting Member
This is silly to say that VHS iS ViDeO nOt SoUnD.

I give you 2/10 on effort for this troll. With that out of the way, here's good example of the lofi degradation that can happen to the audio on old VHS tapes.


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