Welcome to ISC HiFi. Explore new records daily from our growing collection of classics and rarities from around the world. Discover the stories behind the records. Experience the ISC listening space from home through our (( ROOM RECORDING )) audio player below.

“To hear more, say less.”

Our website uses cookies
Read our privacy policy.

I Agree

The Edison Realism Test: Early Experiments in Capturing the Soul of Live Music in a Recording

Share:

Here is a fun throwback to 1920 – a newspaper advertisement for the new Edison Phonograph and its proclamation of “Supreme Realism.” 

Like a magician showing the audience that a rabbit is truly inside the hat, the  early days of the Edison Company were spent wow-ing music lovers with a hear-it-to-believe-it test proving that a phonograph could sound as real as a live performance. The Edison Company also wanted to demonstrate that state-of-the-art sound recording and reproduction could effectively capture, embody and retain the soul of the performance, preserving what was once ephemeral. 

The ad – printed in the Gazette Times on August 15, 1920 – reads: 

Certainly you’ll come and try Mr. Edison’s Realism Test. People all over the country are talking about Mr. Edison’s Realism Test. It has astonished them with a new insight into the New Edison’s marvelous Realism. Try this interesting test for yourself. The Realism test will help you to determine whether the New Edison causes you the same emotions as the voice of the living singer – the sound of an actual instrument – or the strains of an entire orchestra.

The slogan for The New Edison equipment was “the phonograph with a soul.”

You can view the actual newspaper ad here:

Another ad for the Edison Realism Test – printed in the Pacific Rural Press on May 25, 1920 – described Edison’s exercise as “a valuable scientific method of testing your capacity to enjoy music.” 

The ad detailed renowned psychologists trying out the phonograph, unable to tell the difference between a live singer and a sound recording: “A voice floated to my ears from within. It was an exquisite voice… it had that appealing sort of beauty that reaches down inside you and makes you feel lumpy in your throat. I looked through the doors to see the singer. But I saw no singer at all – just three men seated with their backs toward a phonograph… finally one found his voice: ‘I could have sworn there was a living singer behind me…’” 

Customers were invited to find an Edison dealer near them where they could take the test to experience the effect in person.

You can view the actual newspaper ad here:

It’s easy to take for granted the magic and complexity of recorded sound amplified in our own homes. Next time you pop on a record, remember doing it for the very first time, whether you were a small child or a teenager, and recall  how mind-blowing and perplexing it was. 

If you were already a jaded adult when you first used a record player, work to savor the bewilderment through the lens of a child’s eyes, sweetly naïve and unable to conceive of how sound could be locked up in these orbiting grooves, released as vibrational sound waves at any moment we please. Imagine yourself in 1920, blown away by the newest Edison phonograph. Better yet, attempt the Edison Realism test yourself. 

Here is the actual Edison Realism Test as depicted in Mark Katz’s book “Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music”:

Sort By
Aboriginal
Abstract
Acid Archives
Acid Folk
Acoustic
Adrian Sherwood
African
Afro
Afrobeat
Ambient
AOR
Archival
Art Rock
Avant-Garde
Avant-pop
Avant-Rock
Balearic
Baroque Pop
Berlin-school
Big Band
Black Jazz
Blues
Boogie
Bossa
Bossa Nova
Brazilian Folk
Breakbeat
Brian Eno
Cabaret
CAN
Cape Verde
Caribbean
CD
Chanson
Chicago
Choral
Classical
Compilation
Conny Plank
Contemporary Jazz
Cosmic
Cosmic Folk
Country-Rock
Cult Classic
Dance
Deep Dive
Deep Listening
Detroit
Devotional
Disco
DIY / Amateur
Documentary
Downtempo
Drone
Drum n Bass
Drums
Dub
Dubwise
Early Electronic
ECM
Electric Lady
Electro
Electronic
Elegant Pop
Enossified
Esoteric
Essential Listening
Essential Listenning
Ethereal
Ethiopian Jazz
Ethnic
Exotica
Experimental
Field recording
Fingertracks
Floating
Folk
Folk-Rock
Fourth World
Free Jazz
Funk
Fusion
Garage Rock
Gospel
Guitar
Hard Bop
Heavy Metal
hi-fi
Highlife
history
Holy Grail
Home Listening
House
Hypnotic
IDM
Indie
Indie Rock
Instrumental
ISC Classic
isc guide
Isolation
Italy
Jamaica
Jazz
Jazz-funk
Jazz-rock
Kankyo Ongaku
Krautrock
Laswell
Latin
Leftfield
Library
Live Recording
Los Angeles
lost and sound
Lounge
Lovers Rock
Meditative
Melancholic
Mellow
Minimal
Minneapolis Sound
Mizell Brothers
Modern Classical
Mono
MPB
Narrative
New Age
New Wave
Noise
Northern Soul
Now Sound
Nubian Pop
Nubian Soul
Obscure
Obscure Sound
Organic
Outsider Pop
Pastoral
Percussion
Piano
Plants
playlist
Political
Pop
Post Bop
Post Rock
Post-Punk
Power Pop
Private Press
Progressive
Progressive Rock
Psychedelic
Punk
Qobuz
R&B
Rare Groove
rca victor
Reissue
Remix
Rock
Roots Reggae
Samples
Soft Rock
Songwriting
Soul
Soul-jazz
Sound Collage
Soundtrack
speakers
Spiritual
Spiritual Jazz
Spoken Word
stores we love
Streaming
Street Soul
Synth
Synth-pop
Synthesizer
Synthwave
Tapes
Third Stream
Traditional
Trip-hop
Tropical
Tropicalia
vinyl
Vocal
Vocoder
Water
West Africa
West African
World
YouTube
Zamrock
ISCHiFi ((ROOM RECORDING))
0:00 / 0:00
0:00
0:00