The Sony AHF was an excellent normal bias cassette from the renowned hi-fi manufacturer. At the dawn of the 1980s, there were three normal bias ferric oxide tapes in the Sony range. The CHF was the basic offering. Light on treble definition, fairly noisy, and low in price – but in its class, still pretty good value. The next step up was the BHF. This had noticeably better treble response, and whilst noise/hiss wasn’t exactly minimal, it was certainly more under control than with the CHF. The price was typically around 30% higher than that of the CHF. Stepping up again to the most expensive Sony ferric, you found, this, the technically superior AHF.
Actually, when I say you ‘found’ it – the AHF wasn’t available everywhere. The most commonly found cassette of the three (in central England at least) was the CHF, which must surely have been the red hot seller – primarily because of its price. It was cheap, it was usable, it sold, and it was plentifully stocked. Many of the popular high street vendors also stocked the BHF, for those who found the far-from-glitzy sound of the CHF inadequate. But the AHF was a much more select product, and a lot of the ‘household’ retailers wouldn’t touch it. Specialist shops would of course be able to sell the AHF to discerning customers, but was Mr or Mrs Average going to buy a tape which had the same branding and type classification as the CHF, for approaching double the price? Almost certainly not. There was no obvious indication on the packaging or label of the Sony AHF that it was technically any different from the CHF. They were both normal bias ferrics, and to Joe Public, that meant they were the exactly the same. These, remember, were the days before cassette marketing departments really latched onto fancy scientific language and sensationalist claims. In the absence of any obvious differences, people would inevitably just pick the cheapest option, so the Sony AHF was not really worth stocking for the mass market. It would have just sat on the shelves.
But the AHF was a great cassette. The definition is excellent, and right across the frequency range the character is strong. It’s a punchy sound. Record optimum level onto the tape, and the signal to noise ratio is very good. In retrospect you can’t help but feel it was criminal of Sony not to more effectively differentiate this product (visually and verbally) from the likes of the CHF. The two tapes might have looked on the retailer’s shelf like a very similar proposition, but in terms of performance they were chalk and cheese.