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When I test VCRs, I give tracking a grade on a simple A/B/C/F scale -- just like school.

I have a battery of test tapes, retail and homemade, made on many different VCRs models and brands from the 1970s to the 2000s. (Know the model/brand doesn't really matter, it's the transport and alignments of said recording decks that come into play.)

VCR tracking is a good litmus test for a deck, giving you an idea of head wear, alignment, and transport tolerances.

General grades as follows:
  • A is excellent for all recording modes
  • B is excellent for SP, usually LP, some difficulties with EP/SLP
  • C is passable, only tracks SP
  • F is unacceptable
In detail:

A++ almost never chokes on any tape whatsoever.
A+ tracks all SP, all LP, and almost all EP/SLP without any issue. For EP/SLP, autotracking works 90%+ of the time
A- tracks all SP, all LP, and almost all EP/SLP without any major issues. For EP/SLP, initial autotracking works about 50% of the time on average; disengage auto and reengage about 30s after playback start, and then about 75%+ of EP/SLP tapes autotrack.

B+ tracks all SP, all LP, and many EP/SLP. For EP/SLP, autotracking works 50% of the time at best, disengage/reengage does nothing, and manual tracking is usually required.
B- tracks all SP, most LP, and some EP/SLP. For EP/SLP, manual tracking is usually required.

C tracks only SP, and usually with mediocre quality (ie, those broadcast editing decks from 80s/90s).

D doesn't exist; that's just grade to make failing kids feel better. I don't care about VCR feelings.

F tracks everything poorly, or not at all. The VCR is damaged/worn, either transport or heads, not reparable.


- I do this for all of my own hardware, including both gear I'm keeping and selling.
- I do this for all gear used for The Digital FAQ.

I may write a full guide later, but this is in quick response to some questions I've had lately.

Tracking can sometimes be improved by realignment, including non-scope amateur quickie job -- another guide in the works, along with glossary entries. Other times, transport components and heads are just too shot, and will never improve.

I have a core set of 15 EP/SLP tapes, and nothing ever plays all 15. Some A+ units play 14 of 15, while another may play a different 14 of 15. So even deck to deck, performance is not identical.

A+ decks are not common!
- I cannot stress this enough. I know a lot of people will immediately look for these sorts of decks, but you're hunting unicorns.
- Sometimes AG-1980P will be A+, sometimes just A-, including the rebuilt decks by TGrant and deter.
- A few specific JVC models were also A+ and A-.
- Many JVC are B+
- Most every else is B- grade.
- Most older S-VHS editing decks are C grade.
- eBay is full of F grade, including both "for parts/repair" and even "tested and works!" auctions. I recently bought a few "good tested" decks for parts, expecting there would be issues. And my expectations were correct. Rarely did the unit function properly. In fact, every "working" deck had at least one major problem, and "for parts" decks had multiple major issues.

Performance with your own tapes may vary. My testing is far broader than anything you'll likely ever do. So you may find a A+/A- decks has issues with your tapes, but a B+ deck plays them perfectly. Understand this is unlikely, an exception to the rule, but possible. I've seen it happen a few times in the past 20+ years.

Quality of tracking is BOTH model-based and unit-based. For example, the AG-1980P may have a reputation for good EP/SLP tracking, but the exact unit you're using can completely suck at tracking. And again, that will include rebuilt decks (ie used, not new parts).

The decks I've been selling in the marketplace have all been A-/A+ decks to date, my former equipment. (And I have only a few of those left.)

- Did my advice help you? Then become a Premium Member and support this site.
- For sale in the marketplace: TBCs, workflows, capture cards, VCRs
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The following users thank lordsmurf for this useful post: AnalogDoughnuts (10-07-2021), dknoll (12-31-2022), msgohan (01-15-2020)
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