Question: Hey Dragon, I just bought a Tascam 424 and I love it. But sometimes I get more noise than I want. I saw where you record onto a Hi-Fi VHS and it cuts down on the noise. In a few quick steps can you tell me how this is done. I would appreciate it greatly.
Answer: OK, here we go. Basically the sole reason for doing this is that you're using the VHS as a "poor man's DAT". If you mix down onto a higher-quality medium than cassette, you can then make higher-quality stereo cassette copies. So if you have a DAT, a good hard-disk recorder, a CD burner, a MiniDisc recorder, or anything like that, don't waste your time with VHS...use them instead! And the other thing...don't run out and buy a VCR just for this...it's not that great and you're better off saving up for a DAT or an audio card. But if you happen to have one around already...
This technique only works with HiFi VHS VCR, not with a regular VCR. HiFi VHS has excellent signal-to-noise ratio and amazing wow and flutter characteristics (for analog tape, anyway). That's because it's clocked by the video signal, and recorded with the video at the same time (it's not digital, though). The ordinary "linear" tracks are recorded separately using Dolby, but aren't much better than a regular cassette.
The only problem is that if you have a dropout, you're sunk...ever watch a rental movie and have it switch from the HiFi audio track to the linear audio track? That's a dropout and there's no way to recover from it, other than the fact that the linear tracks are still there, so you can always get your mix back from them.
Also, many inexpensive HiFi VCRs have automatic compression on the audio tracks, which means you don't set the level, it's automatic. This might be actually a good thing if you don't own a compressor, but people have reported "pumping" and other weird artifacts, so the best kind is one with an actual level control.
Anyway, the whole idea is that you do your stereo mixdown to the VCR directly. On some VCRs you have to record a video signal simultaneously or nothing will happen (just keep your antenna hooked up), and you usually have to set your VCR to "aux" or "ext" input to get the audio from your 4-track rather than from TV.
Then when you've gotten your great mix (and it sounds good played back
from the VCR!), all you have to do is make your cassette copies using
the VCR as an audio source. They will sound lots better than if you recorded
to cassette and duped the cassettes directly...I have a high-end Sony
Dolby S deck and the VCR is tons better.
The Readers Strike Back
A couple of people have used VHS mastering with great success...here are some stories and warnings. One reader got so excited by the idea of using VHS tape to record audio that he tried a series of experiments to see how it could best be done. If you've read this far, you should check it out...you might save hours of work!