Hello everyone. There is probably nothing more I can do but I thought I would ask. I have about 100 VHS tapes from the Studio 54 Dance days and the Audio and mixes are 6 hours long and were recorded to VHS tapes. There is no Video only Audio on these VHS tapes. They are from the late 1970s and are very old. I tried to remove the tracking static and pops and clicks by passing the Audio Output from the VHS tape through a Videonics digital video mixer. The Videonics has a Time Based Corrector inside and while this helps it does not get rid of all of it. Some tapes are so poor that the tracking noise is continuous on the entire tape while others play fairly well. I know I can probably pass the final WAV file though iZotope RX7 and try that but I am wondering is anyone knows of a filter or another way to elimiate or remove the tracking noise from a VHS tape. Considering the age of the VHS tapes there is probably nothing more I can do but I thought I would check with the experts on here.
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Tracking 'Noise' as you call it is not present on the tape (unless it was poorly recorded in the first place - and recording in LP/ELP is asking for trouble any way)
It is generated at playback if the heads can not calibrate correctly to the tape. So it's a hardware solution where another player might (but probably will not) help. (LP/ELP tapes will nearly always have issues on machines that did not record the tape in the first place)
I assume you have tried to correct the tracking during playback.
A couple points.
First, its seems unlikely these tapes are actually from "the '70s" because the VHS six hour EP (or SLP) speed wasn't introduced until June 1979, and probably didn't become widespread until 1980. OTOH, one could argue the '70s lasted until 1985, so who knows.
Second, people here could give you better advice if you can confirm what type of audio is recorded on these tapes, because they tend toward different kinds of noise issues that are handled in different ways. If your current VCR has the HiFi audio feature, and the tapes are HiFi, they should light up a HiFi indicator on the front panel or in the on screen display (also they sound a lot clearer tha non-HiFi tapes).
Early VHS recorders made prior to summer 1984 have only the old-fashioned linear audio recording system, with sound recorded on the edge of the tape by a fixed audio head (more or less similar to how an ordinary audio cassette works). Most such VCRs only recorded in mono but a few could do stereo. The big problem encountered with these tapes now is hiss, and in the case of 6-hour tapes really dismal overall quality (muffled, very narrow frequency response). These problems are rarely affected by a simple change to another model of VCR: the early linear audio was highly compatible from one brand or model of VCR to another, with most sounding the same (except of course you'd need one of the rare linear stereo VCR models to play a linear stereo tape today). You can make some small improvements to these tapes with software filters and equalizers, but the limitations (esp 6 hour tapes) are what they are. If the tape edge was damaged in the past by a malfunctioning VCR, it can be very very difficult to salvage (chewed edges won't have any decent signal really).
Later premium VCRs (from 1984 on) added the secondary VHS HiFi audio system: these kept the tape edge audio track for backwards compatibility, but also have high quality stereo tracks multiplexed into the video track area by additional spinning heads. When working well, such VCRs are capable of sound quality approaching a good FM radio station broadcast. It is much more likely a DJ would use a VCR with the HiFi feature to make a six hour mix tape, because the HiFi system runs independent of the tape speed (the sound quality is nearly as good at 6 hour as 2 hour mode, the exact opposite of linear or "normal" audio which goes into the toilet in 6 hour mode). Non-HiFi 6-hour tapes blasted over a clubs amps and speakers would sound terrible, so these tapes are probably HiFi type recorded in the early to mid-80s.
The big problem with HiFi audio is playback varies from VCR to VCR: the innate tracking range of the playback VCR today should ideally match the way the old VCR that made the tapes worked. But one rarely obtains a 100% match thirty-six years later, even after carefully adjusting the video tracking control to minimize the noise caused by HiFi mis-tracking. Occasional or even frequent buzzing noise may remain, esp with 6-hour tapes, and the sound may drop in and out of HiFi into the lower quality linear backup tracks. This can require a lot of fussing to overcome: you might have to sit and listen thru the entire 6-hour tape run, adjusting the manual tracking constantly to minimize noise (then perhaps post-process with assorted PC tools). As you mentioned, some people do permanently hack a VCR to dedicate it specifically for optimized tracking of a collection of tapes made by a single older HiFi VCR. This would only be practical if you're sure all the tapes were made on the same VCR originally, and you don't need to worry about video (the adjustment that makes the HiFi audio track perfectly often knocks off the video tracking, because each uses a separate pair of spinning heads).
Broadly speaking, many of us feel the JVC brand VCRs are less tolerant of HiFi tracking discrepancies than other brands (conversely, if the tapes were made on a JVC HiFi VCR they may or may not play better on various JVC models than other makes). With VCRs so cheap today, it pays to buy three or four different brands to see which is the closest tracking match for your HiFi audio (again, this won't help if the tapes aren't HiFi). Panasonic and (later) Mitsubishis tend to have somewhat more forgiving HiFi audio tracking range: try those brands first. I've had good luck with Panasonic AG-1970 and Mitsubishi HS-U448 & 449. Scads of Panasonics and Sharps are available for $20 or so, and be sure to audition every VCR owned by everyone you know: if one of 'em plays these tapes better than yours, buy it or borrow it.
Last edited by orsetto; 27th Jul 2020 at 19:23.
Thank you for your post. I really enjoy this site. So nice to find other Audio Nuts. The Tape that I am having a problem with is labeled June 2, 1990 and is a Maxell RX Pro 120. The Tape looks physically OK. When I fast forward the counter does indicate the tape is about 6 hours and 2 minutes long. The VCR I am using to play back the tape is a Sanyo 4 Head Hi-Fi Stereo Unit FWZV475F. It is funny that a DJ would have recorded these mixes on VHS tapes. (Probably too many party favors) Others in the collection are dated 1988 so they are very old.
I have the output of the VCR connected to a Videonics Digital Video mixer because it has a built in TBC and I can confirm that there is no Video on the tapes just the DJ mix. I have attached a bunch of photos and a sample music clip in MP3 format. If you listen to the sample MP3 at about 01:19 seconds you can hear the unwanted noise very clearly, I think its tracking noise but would be interested in what you think? I like your idea of trying a few different VCR units to see if it will play cleanly on a different unit. It would at least be nice to confirm that the noise is in fact mis aligned tracking noise.
Thanks love your site. Here is a download link to the files https://nysaint.com/index.php/s/HjiR8aNLHFdbxxK
Warm Regards, James
Nice little studio setup ya got there!
Your audio sample brought back painful memories of HiFi VCR misadventures back then: unfortunately I think this defect will be challenging for you to overcome. It sounds to me like a combination of two issues: mistracking of the HiFi signal by your current VCR, and the DJ who originally made the tapes overloaded the recording level. This often happened with the '80s HiFi decks, esp the earlier ones that were mostly premium models: they were indirectly promoted for just this sort of audio-only use and many had manual audio level controls and meters as a lure. But the meters weren't that accurate, and the peculiar HiFi tech used in VCRs was a little unpredictable, so if you set them the same way you would a cassette deck or reel-to-reel you could overload them without realizing (because you can't hear the error while monitoring the live recording: its only audible during playback of the tape).
VHS HiFi did have a wider range than standard audio tape formats, so you had a fair amount of headroom for error, but if you misinterpreted the crummy meters you could saturate the HiFi in such a way that the overloaded audio signal interacted with the inevitable tracking errors to make that specific continual noise you have in your sample. Its hard to explain, and I don't really know the precise technical reason behind the issue, but if the recording level is too loud it exacerbates the tracking noise. Theres almost always a slight HiFi tracking error, even when playing back tapes on the same VCR that made them, but often it can slip by unnoticed since it varies. Generally you hear HiFi mistracking in little periodic bursts, pegged to the dynamic range: its most audible in the loudest or softer passages, and tends to get masked at middle levels.
But if the overall HiFi recording level was too high, the distortion combines with the tracking to make that continual buzzing noise (esp bad with the slow six hour speed: the spinning HiFi heads were giving a very high effective "vertical" tape speed for the audio, but perversely the actual linear movement of the tape is so slow that tracking lock is much more difficult). Way back when, I had a couple DJ/VJ friends that made the club rounds using the same gimmick of 6-hr VHS HiFi as tape source: it was the only format that could provide such a long uninterrupted run time on one tape. This problem with overload and mistracking cropped up periodically, but lets face it: in a club full of stoners with the VHS pumped thru massive speakers at ear splitting volume, no one really noticed or cared about the buzzing. Its only now when attempting to preserve and archive those mixes at reasonable listening levels that the annoying buzz really stands out.
Theres a chance this might be minimized if you switch to another, better HiFi VCR. Your Sanyo is a modern-day combo DVD/VHS recorder made by Funai, who was not exactly known for the quality of their VCRs (Sanyo hasn't been Sanyo since Nirvana was still active). The unit was designed to make quick-n-dirty DVDs from VHS tapes, with neither the VCR nor DVD section being much beyond barely adequate for the task. VCRs made in the mid to late '90s would be a better choice: most had somewhat better circuits and better tape transports/tracking ability. Early 90s models often had design issues that made them unreliable, after 2000 the bottom fell out of the VCR market and all the name brands began to subcontract to the likes of Funai, so the sweet spot in used VCRs is roughly 1995-1999.
With Panasonic you can literally check the date of mfr on the back panel label, other brands you kinda need to have an idea what model number series slots in to what year (i.e. for JVC you might look for models in the 3900, 3910, 5900, 5910 series). Sharp did not have wide distribution after the '90s so most Sharp models should be worth a look. Mitsubishi can be a little diabolical: the nicer and more upscale the VCR looks, the worse its likely to be at HiFi tracking. Rule of thumb for Mitsu is grey or silver models with jog/shuttle dials (680, 790, etc) are a no, blocky bronze/brown models with no jog/shuttle (448, 449, 748, 749) are a yes. Now and then you can nab an older semi-pro Panasonic AG-1970 for $50 or so: if still in good shape these are excellent for tracking 6-hour tapes (not to be confused with the similar-looking AG-1980, an object of cult veneration, eyewatering expense, and a trainwreck of fragility).
Since you have no need for high video performance, you can skip the whole snakepit subcategory of "premium" VCRs with TBC/DNR, and indeed don't need an outboard TBC either: the audio by itself is unaffected by these video restoration tools. Shopping local Craigslist, pawn shops, Goodwill, and asking people you know should turn up a number of very decent midrange HiFi VCRs for $25-$40.
Last edited by orsetto; 27th Jul 2020 at 23:32.
So helpful. Can you recommend a make and model and I will attempt to find one? Thanks for letting me know that the TBC does not matter for audio. I am also restoring some old family VHS tapes so not a waste. If you had to pick your favorite model what would it be? Again thanks so much.
Wow those 1980s are nuts is there a difference between the 1970 and 1970P versions
My ears and laptop speakers aren't good enough to tell what's going on in the sample, but this from Wiki explains a possible issue:
"Issues with Hi-Fi audio
Due to the path followed by the video and Hi-Fi audio heads being striped and discontinuous—unlike that of the linear audio track—head-switching is required to provide a continuous audio signal. While the video signal can easily hide the head-switching point in the invisible vertical retrace section of the signal, so that the exact switching point is not very important, the same is obviously not possible with a continuous audio signal that has no inaudible sections. Hi-Fi audio is thus dependent on a much more exact alignment of the head switching point than is required for non-HiFi VHS machines. Misalignments may lead to imperfect joining of the signal, resulting in low-pitched buzzing. The problem is known as "head chatter", and tends to increase as the audio heads wear down.
Another issue that made VHS Hi-Fi imperfect for music is the inaccurate reproduction of levels (softer and louder) which are not re-created as the original source."
As I recall, there were also issues with wow and flutter because of the slow speed videotape. Also as Orsetto stated, the 20Hz-20KHz range was set in stone. Too high or too low frequencies would clip.
Also, I wonder if there's something going on because of the lack of a video signal. I know the Hi-Fi tracks are laid under the video tracks, but I wonder if the lack of video is throwing the tracking off.
Thanks the DJ s only recorded audio on these tapes and that is why there is no video. I think I agree I need a better VCR. I am looking for a, Panasonic AG-1970 as recommended. Wow I found an ag-1980 on Southern Advantage for $1,800 dollars. I want something nice but that is crazy.
I found an AG-1970 for $300 in perfect condition including the remote. I recahed out to the seller and made an offer at his asking price. Lets see if he accepts.
Thanks everyone for the help.
No, you definitely do not want a Panasonic AG-5710: that was an arcane niche version of AG-1980, with all the same fragility problems. The AG-1970 came first, had a much better transport and power supply, great tracking and far more reliable electronics, but just average-to-mediocre video playback quality. The later AG-1980/AG-5710 recycled the same cabinet, but the guts inside are very different: everything is built shoddier and lower-quality than the AG-1970. The reason they are so much more expensive and sought after than the 1970 today is they have a fairly unique high-performance TBC and DNR circuit: when new, they gave outstanding video cleanup which was great for digitizing VHS.
But the electronics board that gives them this advantage was alarmingly short-lived: it tends to burn out in stages, resulting in a half dozen dreadful playback problems. Repairs are obscenely expensive, with no guarantee they'll last very long before the inevitable burnout cycle starts again. Coupled with a ghastly power supply and failure-prone mechanics, they're now a terrible value proposition unless you have money to burn, a repair specialist on speed dial and a genuine compelling need for their unique video abilities. They are astoundingly good when working 100%, but almost none floating around for sale are 100%: perfect 1980s and 5710s are so rare and in demand almost nobody lets go of one now if they have it. The lunatics at Southern Advantage are selling "new old stock" which translated from marketing-speak means "brand new but have been sitting in the box for twenty years while their circuit boards slowly rotted away as surely as if they were used daily". They'll be very clean and mint, sure, but chances of needing an electronics overhaul within the year are high. Again, if you have the money to burn and the need...
I just checked eBay for current pricing on the older AG1970, and they've spiked to nonsensical levels (probably because desperate neophytes are confusing them with the lookalike/soundalike 1980). The 1970 routinely sold for under $100 not that long ago, I don't think I would pay $300 for one today unless the seller was a VCR specialist who can certify mint functional condition or that it had been overhauled. eBay price trends can give a distorted picture of reality: you could probably find a 1970 for much less from other sources. The 1970 is great for tracking difficult tapes, but I'd recommend trying a few other cheaper options before dropping $300 on a single ancient VCR.
As a starting point, look for some of the models I mentioned in earlier posts: Mitsubishi HS-U448, 449, 748 or 749, JVC 5900 or 3900 series, any HiFi Sharp model that might turn up. Mid to late '90s narrow-width (14" W) Panasonic and Quasar models also had better than average HiFi tracking, esp on Auto: there were something like 67 model variations between 1994 and 1999, check the back panel for dates in that range (1997 or so would be my pick). I don't have any such Panasonics on hand to provide model numbers, but do have a couple Quasar versions with model numbers like VHQ860. General Electric also had some knockoffs of these like VG4230A, all three brands of similar vintage will look very much alike with the distinctive curvy front panel and minimal/no clock display.
The full-size (17" W) consumer-grade Panasonics made after 1996, even the SVHS, can have really bad noisy video playback unsuited for digitizing but can be a decent choice for HiFi audio-only capturing. As far as your video capturing needs, aside from the problematic AG1980/AG5710 Panasonic did not offer any highly-recommended models. The usual suspects for video capture are the JVC SVHS models with DigiPure TBC/DNR feature, or the similar one-off Mitsubishi HS-HD2000U DVHS. Note Murphys Law tends to apply: the better the VCR is for clean clear video playback, the worse it generally is for 6-hr tracking tolerance in general and HiFi audio tracking in particular. Those of us with a wide variety of tapes keep a varied stack of VCRs on hand to cope with them: sometimes you need to sacrifice some video quality to nail the audio, and vice versa. Some intrepid members here even use different VCRs to capture the video and HiFi audio in separate passes, then combine them with PC software for the final archive file.
Last edited by orsetto; 28th Jul 2020 at 11:25.
Thank you for your guidance and expertise.
Yes I purchased a Nakamichi Dragon and it did not work. I had to send it out and have it serviced. They replaced all of the Caps and put it back into tip top shape. I dont blame Southern Advantage for selling new old stock but agree with you that all the caps are probably in need of replacement after this many years just sitting in a box. I also saw one on that site for $1,800 which is crazy.
I do have some older VHS family tapes I would like to restore but I dont think I need a 1980 for that and as you know, I am more interested in the audio playback at this point in time. I used to own a Mitsubishi but I think I threw it out (how dumb) But thanks for all of the options. I hear that JVC were the developers of TBC (not sure if that is true) but I do own the Videonic that has built in TBC so I can always use that in the signal chain. I guess I am looking for something around $300 that is a good value and will be better than my current Sanyo which I bought from B&H. If I found this site earlier I probably would have skipped the Sanyo. I bought it for the silly DVD burning capability but now that I have a canopus capture card using fire wire and a fire wire card in my PC I dont actually need the DVD burning capability.
I will keep looking and see what I can find and very much appreciate you providing me with a bunch of options. These DJ remixes are a part of history and worth saving if I can.
Best personal regards James
[Attachment 54270 - Click to enlarge]
JVC didn't invent the TBC/DNR feature from scratch, but they did flog the hell out of it on their higher-end SVHS VCRs to a degree no other mfr attempted (JVC offered countless VCRs with TBC/DNR over two decades). Panasonic had it in maybe two utterly forgotten (and dismally unreliable) consumer SVHS models from 1992-1995, Hitachi and Toshiba put oddball versions in one or two models that few remember (and fewer purchased), Sony never bothered at all in their VHS VCRs. The feature is a bit tricky to implement properly: Panasonics early TBC version was weak and also hamstrung by the horrendous color mistracking that plagued their 1992-1994 lineup. JVC updated their circuit occasionally but it remained fundamentally unchanged, and no other mfr wanted to sink the money required to truly equal it (or pay to license it).
Panasonic put a slightly improved TBC/DNR in the AG1970, but by JVC standards its vestigial. The one and only serious challenger to JVCs dominance was the single Panasonic AG1980 model, which arguably betters JVC in some respects that some tapes greatly benefit from. Unfortunately the AG1980 TBC/DNR was a rattletrap bespoke trainwreck of unreliability, very expensive to mfr or service, so Panasonic never refined it or offered it in other models aside from the one forgotten AG5710 (which is merely an AG1980 with obsolete computer interface and no tuner). The JVC TBC/DNR is efficient and microchip based, Panasonic's AG1980 TBC/DNR is huge board full of discrete bits, similar to a Tandberg 3100 FM tuner (IOW, an engineering disaster). Very very late in the game, Mitsubishi randomly decided to market their lone HS-HD2000U DVHS: this has a TBC/DNR that operates and performs so much like JVCs its either total plagiarism or they licensed it. The Mitsu 2000 is one of the most rock-reliable VCRs I've ever owned, but it isn't great at HiFi tracking or 6-hr video tracking.
The Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck is indeed kinda like the Panasonic AG1980: incredibly high performance when it works, but they didn't survive the decades well and repair people who truly know how to restore them are scarce and expensive. I didn't prize cassette performance enough to rob a bank for the Dragon, but back in that era I did blow a months paycheck for the amazing top-line OMS-7AII CD player (which I still have and still prefer over any high-end player I've heard since I got it used from a dealer in 1988). One of the few occasions when my timing was lucky: the 7AII had recently replaced the original 7, which quickly became a cult CD player and repairman's nightmare (unobtanium vital replacement parts). Aside from periodically needing a new hard-to-source belt for its suspended-sub-chassis laser drive (and the headphone pot failing last year), my 7AII has been remarkably reliable for a vintage Nakamichi product.
Last edited by orsetto; 28th Jul 2020 at 12:12.
Two known and trusted sources for VCRs and other equipment are tgrantphoto.com (Deter at digitalfaq.com) and lordsmurf (here and an admin at digitalfaq.com). PM lordsmurf as he may have a recommendation for you.
Thanks guys. I purchased a refurbished and tested Mitsubishi HSU748 for $100 dollars. Let's see if it helps play these tapes. The AG -1970 and AG 1980 units are too expensive if you ask me and don't seem to be good value for the money. Again thanks for all of the great advice.
The AG1980P image quality easily outperforms the 1970.
I don't really consider the 1970 to be any better build/transport quality than 1980.
I really swear you're BeetleJuice. I mention your name and you appear!
I would go for an ag-1980 and would be willing to spend $450 for one but they seem to be much more expensive and for electronics that old the caps would probably need to be replaced and the unit refurbished. For that cost I would rather purchase more nice analogue music rack mounted gear
This may be a false memory, but IIRC, there were some, usually cheap VCRs that had difficulty playing back the Hi-Fi track because it's literally beneath the video track.
OP's focus right now is on HiFi SLP tracking performance above all else: these are audio archive tapes with no video track at all. Sure, a restored 1980 would fill that need handily and also cover the future video quality job (if it survived that long). But it would cost a staggering sum of money more than the immediate need for a decent HiFi SLP audio tracker (a lot easier/cheaper to find than ultimate video performance). Heck, if money was no object for this project I'd say book a flight to Japan and pick up a restored JVC SR-W7 WVHS deck: the elusive WVHS is to HiFi audio what the AG1980 is to video. No other VCR variation was as optimized for HiFi audio extraction as the JVC WVHS: when fully operational (rare these days), the JVC WVHS had exclusive near-magic circuits that nearly eliminate that typical buzzing noise from HiFi head switching and mistracking. I would never seriously recommend that solution because the fragility of the WVHS models makes the sketchy AG1980 look like a Sherman Tank, and the one JVC-trained WVHS repair expert in North America with critical unobtanium spare parts on hand seems to have passed on.
I don't really consider the 1970 to be any better buidl/transport quality than 1980.
While the 1970 is older, until recently it largely slipped under the radar and most had been sitting quietly not being resold fifty times, shipped and thrown and banged around by UPS, or being abused by nitwit users with shredded tapes. The unloved stepchild 1970 was constantly disparaged and sneered at on forums like this by those who didn't need or appreciate what it offered (great HiFi and SLP tracking, great electronic reliability, until recently for well under $100). Yes, if you need ultimate video playback quality the 1980 is the grand high exalted mystic poobah of TBC/DNR VCRs. But for pedestrian or HiFi-only tasks the 1970 is way more reliable on average, and was a fraction of the price for quite a long time.
That said, I'm appalled at what people are asking for the 1970 today. Last time I recommended one to a member here a couple years ago they easily found a good one for $79 + shipping, which was the average going rate from 2009 until 2018. The $300 being asked for it today is absurd: nothing in the 1970 justifies that price level. When nobody knew what it was or cared, the price/build quality equation favored it highly over typical consumer-build VCRs, but $300 totally eliminates it from consideration. There are dozens of consumer-grade Panasonics, Sharps, Quasars and Mitsubishis that roughly equal its tracking ability and reliability, careful shopping should net three to five of them for the $300 now asked for a single 1970.
Last edited by orsetto; 29th Jul 2020 at 09:10.
That said, I'm appalled at what people are asking for the 1970 today.
I found a Ag-1970P and the seller dropped his price to $220 so I purchased it in addition to the Mitsubishi that I bought. Seller says it works but has no remote. Hopefully when I receive it that will be true. Thanks everyone for your help
I found a Ag-1970P and the seller dropped his price to $220 so I purchased it in addition to the Mitsubishi that I bought. Seller says it works but has no remote. Hopefully when I receive it that will be true. Thanks everyone for your help
I want to take a moment to thank all of you for your help, especially Orsetto.
Today the Mitsubishi U748 Orsetto recommended arrived and I inserted the Audio VHS tape with the noise and so far the noise is NOW GONE. It would appear he was correct and that the Sanyo combo unit I was trying to use is just not good at audio tracking.
I also put in a VHS tape from a trip to Aruba from 1989 and its tracking PERFECTLY and looks great. I am now capturing that Video output going through a Vidonics using Svido for TBC and into a Canopus capture card. The signal looks amazing. So it appears that this Mitsubishi is not only great for Audio but also seems to do do a great job with Video tracking as well.