Is it real?

October 22, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

How many can recall that most wonderful of iconic ads from Memorex?

In the ad copy, it suggests orchestra conductor Nelson Riddle could not tell whether it was Ella Fitzgerald singing live into a microphone or whether it had instead been recorded on tape.

I doubt many of us HiFi buffs bought into the idea we couldn’t tell the difference between a tape recording and the live feed from a microphone, and yet that ad got a hall pass and smile because it made such a wonderful point.

Sound so real one couldn’t tell the difference.

That claim didn’t have to be 100% accurate. It only had to get across the point of the higher frequency response improvements touted by their MRX2 oxide.

What a wonderful piece of iconic history.

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32 comments on “Is it real?”

  1. I was a great advertising pitch, but says to me that in the 1970s you could sell a mass-market format based on its sound quality. After the CD came out, 40 years ago, to the general market sound quality was no longer an issue and that has remained the case. God bless Ella and the Duracell bunny, may they rest in peace.

    1. In 1989 I had two Luxman – ‘K-105’ cassette tape decks
      & I was recording onto TDK – ‘Metal Oxide’ tapes from my CDs.
      Tape dynamics were better than vinyl dynamics, but I never
      recorded live onto those tapes, however, I doubt that the difference
      would not have been able to have been aurally detectable.
      Just another example of audio BS advertising.

  2. I liked the ‘Maxell’ poster/ad more…blown-away guy…it’s probably a testosterone thing 🙂

    Re: Breakfast In America.
    Ask Paul -‘Recordings Vs Playback Equipment’ (Oct 18)

    I can’t imagine what would make a release of Supertramp’s – ‘Breakfast In America’ worth over a grand, but my AU$15.00, 2002 remaster sounded great…not perfect, but good enough to get my foot tapping & my head nodding.
    Put it this way; I’ve got other CD/albums that cost more & sound worse in my CD library.

    Interestingly it took Supertramp until their 8th studio album – ‘Brother Where you Been’ (1985) for them to finally employ Bob Ludwig to mix one of their albums.
    I don’t have that album but I’d bet my new ‘M6si500’ that it’s a stunning recording

    1. Crime of the Century (2009 remaster) was one of my first 24/192 downloads, bought from the Qobuz store in 2014 for the princely sum of £9.78 ($13). Think I’ll have to listen to it later tonight.

      1. Steven,
        I have the 1997 A&M remaster…I scored it for free.
        Both the 1997 & the 2002 remasters were heavily criticised by audiophiles for being remastered too loud as part of the ‘loudness wars’ mastering trend.
        There is only one 2009 release, as far as I can see, & it is a Japanese pressing (CD) taken from the 2002 remaster.
        There is no information, that I can find, to indicate that said 2009 Japanese release was re-remastered (cleaned-up/restored) from the 2002 remaster.
        Apparently there was also another remaster done in 2014 by Ray Staff that was issued in CD, digital download & 180g vinyl formats.

        1/ Discogs
        2/ Wikipedia

        1. All I know is that it said 2009 remaster when I bought it.

          I saw the original Supertramp at Wembley Arena in the late 1970s, and a remastered version at the O2 Arena about 5 or 6 years ago. I think there was only one member of the original band, but we got 3 hours of non-stop hits. Also saw at the Wembey Arena Celine Dion and Thomas the Tank, thankfully not at the same time. Great memories.

    2. FR, You sure do keep me on my toes, but at my age I guess that is a good thing. I was an early adopter of SACD and I have that Japanese SHM-SACD of BIA. It’s good but the MoFi SACD of BIA is even better. The Amazon listing says there are 5 left in stock. My guess is at that price there will be five in stock for a long time.

      To go further down this rabbit hole I have some Doobie Brothers SHM-SACD’s that are all OOP. Sure enough the “Minute By Minute” SHM-SACD is on ebay for over $1000.

      My favorite release of “Crime Of The Century” is the original MFSL UHQR were they still used JVC super vinyl but did heavier weight pressings ( 180 gram I think ).

      1. I just found out 30 minutes ago what UHQR means. I thought it might be a Fela Kuti tribute band. So I was browsing Analogue Productions on Discogs. Given Mr Corbyn’s interest in collecting manhole covers I know there is no limit to what people collect and will happily pay a lot of money for, but I just can’t get motivated to pay anything over about 40 quid for a record, or even have two copies of the same thing (other than by virtue of early onset dementia). I don’t even have FOMO over all these editions. As for SACD, it completely passed me by and I’ve never played one, not sure I’ve even heard one. Maybe I’m just a lifetime TDK D90 sort of person.

    3. Yes FR Brother Where You Bound IS a sensational recording and album. I’m certainly in the minority but I’d say is is one of my favorite Supertramp albums. Title track features David Gilmour with searing guitar (I was PUMPED when it came out and I THOUGHT he was gonna be a permanent member). Prog rock GOLD. Roger left the band – (just like Pink Floyd) but instead of choosing sides and pre-disliking what the resulting future albums would be – I took the stand of band divorce – now I get TWO Christmases… Lets see what they do NOW!
      And sure enough, BWYB came out – the prog side of Supertramp with a terrific release, and Hodgson with his Eye Of The Storm – a terrific album as well. (Rick Davies was the more blues – prog based writer while Hodgson was the poppier prog writer. BOTH produced amazing compositions but I always tended a bit more towards Davies style – they only collaborated on 2 songs – Just Another Day & School. Put it this way, I could bang out any Hodgson song on the piano in minutes but STILL can’t master most of the Davies tunes…) Two styles of the same band – one prog, one pop. Best of both worlds. Same with Pink Floyd, Waters was themes, lyrics, concepts, Gilmour was music and single tracks (IMO) – his first two solo albums were great. So after the divorce we got two musically sensational albums from (the previously slightly stifled by Waters) Gilmour & Wright (Momentary and Division Bell) and then also two more concepty and lyrically deep solos by Waters. (Pros & Cons & Radio Kaos – both VERY well recoded). I think Gilmour is a better music song writer and penned better ‘songs’ – but I think the only thing missing in later Pink Floyd was some lyrical tension and the ‘full concept album’ playability. Again – two sides of the same band – best of both worlds. But (again IMO) some of the individual songs on Momentary & Division Bell were the best Floyd tunes ever. And then there were the live releases of Delicate Sound Of Thunder and Pulse – BOTH were outstanding (Attended both concerts – HUGE productions). The three soloist vocals on Great Gig In The Sky from Delicate Sound Of Thunder Video will raise the arm hairs EVERY DANG TIME.
      Side note – saw Supertramp several times – Scott Page was the hired Sax/vocalist and then later also toured with Pink Floyd – amazing player. Subsequent Supertramp albums after BWYB were not outstanding, however Dead Man’s Blues off of Slow Motion is absolutely superb with brass & woodwind magic. Check it out if you can find it. It is a sound room standard in my house.
      OK I’m SUPPOSED to be working….. back at it!
      Freedom 105 baby!

  3. Let’s see on how many iconic exaggerations we can look back in 10 years from now. Not sure if no one claims anymore to have found the perfect, lossless, accurate, uncolored and live-like/„real“ sounding format or medium to record and reproduce music. So far it seems it’s in the nature of mankind and especially promoters of companies and their products, that the in each case current technology is more or less perfect 😉

    This happened so often meanwhile, that we probably all repeatedly smiled or wondered, when every now and then technologies presumed dead, suddenly resurrected again as still more than serious competitors.

    1. Bull. I recorded 2 dozen albums with Nelson as arranger and conductor- great set of ears. i’m a studio violinist. Funny guys, Sinatra, Nat Cole etc. How many of you have performed Professionally as musicians- None? At the time, Finally great talents like Nelson we abe to make some bucks and get public recognition.

      1. Jay,
        I wasn’t being serious, I never even met the guy. It was simply a funny/facetious/sarcastic/cynical comment in response to the claims made in the advert, which I don’t believe. Because if he really couldn’t tell the difference between Memorex and live then perhaps my original comment wasn’t so wide of the mark.

  4. Wow, Memorex tapes. XL II DBS 90’s was my tape of choice back when and purchasing the MRX2 oxide was a real treat. Those were for my “slow jams” mix tapes. Now my mind is going here, Pioneer SX series receiver, Awia AD series cassette deck, JVC JLA 20 table with a some AR m9 speakers. Thought I was the sh$%#@!!!* back when.

    Keep Listening 🙂

    1. I was a TDK guy, SA or SA-X. I seem to recall they were pricey for tapes back in the day. I still have a box of them down in the basement, about a hundred probably, mostly already recorded on (from vinyl) but a few unopened. I do still have a working 3-head deck but have not used it in a few years. Funny how with everything of this nature we all had our brand loyalties. I was partial to only certain brands of blank CD and DVD as well.

    2. A little late to this party. I still have my old Pioneer SX-737, it’s in desperate need of a cap refresh but it still looks almost mint. Back when my wife and I were still relegated to apartment living it irritated many a neighbor, one of whom accused me of knocking their pictures off the wall!

  5. Was the tape used for decades to create some of the most “realistic” (as some would claim) recordings and used as masters to produce albums live or recordings? Kinda self-defeating arguing it, regardless of Nelson’s hearing ability, isn’t it?

  6. Does anyone remember this TV add?
    In the add, they played some music from a cassette tape.
    And at the end of the add, the guy asked this question.
    “Is it live?”
    and the answer was, “no, it’s Memorex.”

  7. It’s interesting that most of the master recordings are on tape. I still have my cassette deck in my line up. I moved from Awia to Denon and switched to Denon tapes as well. I still have most of my recordings including some live NPR Jazz series that IMO still sound fantastic!

    HawkAudio 🙂
    “is it live or is it DSD?” 🙂

  8. Paul, where’s the photo or video of you sitting on top of a pallet with your arms stretched out and a big smile on your face high up on a fork lift hawking a PSA component that you put up on a ‘While They Last’ sale. I got a big kick out of that one.

  9. I still have ( and occasionally use ) use my Sony TC-KA3 ES cassette deck that has Dolby S NR. My favorite tapes were Sony Metal ES ( I assume these were made for Sony ) and TDK MA. What amazes me is these decks are for sale on ebay at crazy prices.

  10. What about these claims?
    RCA Victor: “The Master’s Voice”
    Bose: “Better Sound Through Research”
    My Pillow: “Best Sleep of Your Life”
    Timex: “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking”
    Wheaties: “Breakfast of Champions”
    PSAudio Amps: “bring the real sound of music to any type of speaker, any size system” 🙂

    1. …..and not forgetting

      “Compact Disc – Pure Perfect Sound Forever”.

      When you think about it all advertising claims require at least careful consideration.

  11. I had the Pioneer CT-F1250 in 82, then the Akai GX-F95 (still have them!); TDK Cr02 tapes were the norm but I preferred the Maxell Cr02, and when I pinched my pennies I’d get a box of Maxell MA-90 Metal tapes. Yes kiddies, we’d save up, buy a Metal tape, a direct to disc audiophile japan pressing album, a case of satin inner sleeves, and the very first play would also be recorded to cassette. Then – and ONLY THEN could you listen to your new album in your car…..

  12. Would you believe? Yes you would believe… that good cassette players are A Thing again.
    Moggy in our Melbourne Audio Club is collecting and breathing on them. We will be having a presentation next month from him.
    He has his beady eye on my 3-head Nakamichi deck which we calibrated flat out to 14K. Also cassettes, whose market price is rising faster than Bitcoin.

    1. Oh, indeed, I’ll believe it.

      Sent my Nak CR7A to get repaired/cleaned/furbed last year (it wouldn’t move tape at all) – the repair bill was an astonishing $1800. But the generic sale price for the things in good order was more; I think it’s increased since. So an investment.

      Got my first CD recorder for a lot less money many years ago; it was pretty clear that it was at least as good as the Nak on TDK-SA90. Which I don’t have any of 🙁

      Now of course new vinyl is captured ASAP – into the maw of the Mac Mini (thank you VinylStudio and PSA Stellar Phono)

      Ah, what pleasures..

      — P

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