VCR/VHS: Linear vs HiFi Stereo Audio


Standard Member

After uncovering a stash of VHS tapes I'm looking to get back into the format. However, many (many!) years ago I owned a stereo (linear) VCR and I remember the vast majority of commercial VHS tapes had linear stereo soundtracks. Looking at things now, it seems HiFi stereo replaced the linear stereo format.

My questions are:-

1. Roughly, what percentage of tapes contain linear vs 'HiFi' stereo?
2. Do HiFi cassettes also contain a linear-stereo soundtrack?
3. Are any VCRs available that can play both formats?

My movie interests are varied both in terms of genre and age. I'm looking to recover stereo audio on as many cassettes as possible, even if the solution isn't necessarily the best quality (for example, I'd rather have linear-stereo on most cassettes, than HiFi on a small selection and mono on the majority).

edit: Modified as I seemed to mix up HiFi/NICAM in my original post, due to some VHS cassettes stating 'NICAM' (I assume these are actually HiFi encoded).


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1 - All VHS cassettes contain a linear soundtrack whether or not they additionally have Hi-Fi tracks.
Percentage - I would have no idea.
Any commercial tapes produced after the advent of the HI Fi innovation in the early to mid eighties probably have HI Fi tracks. I would expect they would always be marked as such.

2 - Yes.

3 - All Hifi capable machines also play linear audio.
I would expect that you should be able to switch between Linear / Left track only / Right track only.
Cheaper units may only permit a Linear / Hifi option.


Distinguished Member
Linear stereo is quite rare, as the bandwidth was limited due to the tape speed and the track width was quite narrow, leading to quite high cross talk. When we ran a copy bank, the duplicators could only run mono linear and stereo hifi. Sprinters used for high volume movie releases could do stereo linear, but it depended upon the master image.

Some professional machines did use stereo linear, with a mono guide track and timecode being the most common configuration - although they could record full stereo if required.

NICAM had nothing to do with recording and was the 14 bit digital stereo system used for broadcast. It was always recorded as analogue onto VHS tapes.


Standard Member
Thanks for the replies. I'm now questioning if my vintage JVC VCR (late 80s) was actually 'HiFi Stereo' and perhaps I'm just confusing / mis-remembering the details. At least I now have a better idea what to look for in terms of a 'modern' VCR.

Fred Smith

Well-known Member
My JVC HR-D725 from 1984 had Hi-Fi stereo sound and stereo linear audio but not NICAM, as did the Ferguson equivalent 3V43. But other both linear mono and or stereo and or Hi-Fi stereo models were available the same time. What model did you have?


Distinguished Member
I've got one of the old Ferguson / JVC units and it has linear stereo as well as HiFi, but these were the exception and not the rule, as they were designed for basic editing. It also had NICAM decoding so that stereo broadcasts could be decoded.

The vast majority of stereo VHS players were mono linear and stereo HiFi.


Standard Member
Interesting information, I only wish I could remember which model I had. I'm reasonably sure it was JVC but now I'm browsing vintage VCR models it may have been a Sharp. It was silver, early front-loader, flat silver buttons (not levers), wired remote, stereo, no nicam and a tuner that liked to drift when warm (tuned via analogue wheel adjustments under a flap on the top right). There's a few JVC and Sharp models of that vintage that also match my description on google images but nothing exact.

Still, if I understand correctly, a modern 'HiFi' VCR should be capable of stereo playback on the majority of cassettes. This at least gives me a good basis to start my local search for a suitable VCR.


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