If you wanted to find weasel words in the mid 1990s, I doubt the first place you’d look would be on the outer packaging of an audio cassette case. However, the term ‘reference quality’, used in relation to what was really quite a low-end Type 2 tape, would surely make a PR officer smile. Sounds impressive; doesn’t really mean anything – the Holy Grail for anyone in the business of selling decidedly unremarkable goods.
Actually though, the Sony FXII audio cassette wasn’t bad at all. At least, this one isn’t. It sat at the cheap end of the Type 2 range, so inevitably some corners were going to be cut, but the sound does have the bright top end, and if you use Dolby the hiss isn’t intrusive. The recordings seem a bit lacking in body – not a particularly rich sound. But I’ve definitely heard worse.
As you can see in the pic, there’s more impressive wording on the cassette itself. “Fidelity and Excellence”, for example. “Excellent Fidelity” might have been a bit more reassuring to the more cynically-minded, but I’m sure the average punter was suitably persuaded. And then there was the mightily impressive fact that the tape was not just “Uniaxial”, but “Extra Uniaxial”! What does that mean? Well, try looking it up on Google and see if anyone who hasn’t basically swallowed a computer can explain it. It’s not exactly a household term to say the very least, and in reality, virtually no one buying these tapes would recognise it as anything more than a flashy bit of terminology. In the context of an audio cassette it related to the type of tape formulation – like TDK’s Super Avilyn. It meant, that whilst the position of the tape could be denoted as “Chrome”, the formulation couldn’t. The FXII wasn’t a chrome tape, but then neither were most of its competitors by this time.
So, the Sony marketing department pulling out all the stops to glorify bog-standardness. But most audio cassette manufacturers were playing the same games, and in all honesty, how many ordinary consumers had the ears to really assess whether or not the fancy wording truly meant better recording?