The last time I played a copy of the MoFi Chicago debut was about twenty years ago. My all tube system was much darker and dramatically less resolving than the one I have now, having made score upon score of improvements since then. I suspect I would not be so kind to the MoFi today, and in that way I would surely be much more in agreement with Roger than I was about ten years ago when his letter arrived.
Our good customer Roger wrote to tell us of his Chicago shootout which included the MoFi, some later pressings and our Hot Stamper. Here is his story.
Got a chance to listen to your Chicago Transit Authority hot stamper and compare it to regular US and MFSL pressings. It has been a while since I last listened to this recording, but I listened to a lot of Chicago; Blood, Sweat, and Tears; and The Ides of March when I was in high school and college. I loved this music back then, as short-lived as it was, unfortunately.
Maybe this was because my two brothers played horns in concert bands, as does my youngest son now. A real shame that Chicago, at least, morphed into a whiny, wimpy, sappy Top 40 radio ballad band after their first two records. Anyway, it was fun listening to it again.
I recently picked up a couple of US copies of CTA to compare against my Mobile Fidelity version and the hot stamper. Both regular US copies had later Columbia labels, and had I only heard these, I might never have listened to this record again. Dull, compressed, murky, detail-challenged would be descriptive words for both copies. Muddy bass and absolutely no highs, I mean none.
The MFSL version did not have this lack-of-highs problem. In fact, it sounds like a lot of MoFi’s, the treble completely overcooked, sounding like cans of spray mist being actuated and overwhelming the rest of the music. This has to be one of the most hideous recordings in existence. With the MFSL version, Chicago has been transformed into the Glade Spray Mist Septet, with a psst psst here, a psst psst there, here a psst, there a psst, everywhere a psst psst. Arrggg! I was getting more and more psst off listening to this sonic detritus. Unless you have a Mattel Close-And-Play record player, how can anyone listen to this thing? Did MFSL engineers moonlight as gunnery sergeants on the artillery range? And the MoFi’s complete lack of bass left the overwhelming treble out to hang and dry. Unreal.
So the Hot Stamper was next, and you know what, it sounds like my son’s high school concert band (only a lot better but don’t tell him). After the MoFi, the highs sounded somewhat recessed, but more in line with the rest of the sonic spectrum. There was real bass weight, maybe not the lowest bass, but good just the same, and the midrange was much more full and weighty, something this recording needs. Trombones sounded like trombones and saxes like saxes. So perhaps the hot stamper will make my new regular record rotation now and my listening room won’t smell like a Glade pine forest.
I think I liked the MoFi pressing I last played quite a bit more than you liked yours: I actually had some nice things to say about it. I didn’t find it too bright like so many MoFi pressings. Here’s what I wrote:
What do we like about this MoFi?
For one thing it doesn’t have the phony boosted top end most of their pressings do. It was mastered by Jack Hunt, not Stan Ricker, and Jack Hunt likes to EQ his projects without all the extra top end that made Mobile Fidelity famous. (Great for dull speakers don’t you know.)
The other thing this MoFi has going for it is tons of weight down where it needs it, in the all-important lower midrange, and extending well into the mid-bass area.
Chicago is about brass and you want that brass to have POWER. So many domestic copies are leaned out, and many are hard sounding. On both counts this MoFi excels over copies with those problems. Our White Hot Stamper was definitely better, but we don’t find those very often, not to mention that we happened to charge a TON of money for it!
Perhaps my copy was better, who’s to know? It’s long gone at this point. I did take issue with the MoFi bass though.
This is where your MoFi falls apart, as good as it may be in other areas. There IS no lower octave of bass on their pressing. It’s just not there, so don’t bother looking for it. And the bass that is there has that sloppy quality that Half Speed Mastered records are famous for, around here anyway.
For some reason nobody else seems to notice how bad Half Speed bass is except for us and a few of our customers. This to me is a clear sign that the vast majority of modern audiophile stereos are seriously bass-deficient, something I’ve been writing about for close to two decades. I don’t see any sign of improvement either. Why the newly resuscitated Mobile Fidelity chose to master their records at Half-Speed is a complete mystery to me. They can only sound worse that way; there is no benefit to that technology that I am aware of. If you know of one drop me a line.
I wrote a commentary about Half-Speed Mastering based on a letter Roger had written us back in 2007 for another MoFi shootout he’d done. I ended with this bit:
A Failed Technology
The point of this commentary is simply this: if half-speed mastering is a technology designed to improve the sound of records, it has to be recognized for what it is: a failure.
There is almost always a non-half-speed-mastered pressing that will be superior to the half-speed. The only exceptions to that rule will be those LPs whose real-time mastering was poor to start with. This is as it should be. You can beat a bad record with a half-speed, but you sure can’t beat a good one. We prove it every week here at Better Records.
Take a look in the Hot Stamper section and you will find dozens of records that are dramatically better sounding than any half-speed ever made. We built our reputation and practically our entire business on that simple idea. Furthermore, our philosophy is backed up by our commitment to you, the customer. We are happy to refund your money if you don’t see things our way. We’re confident that you, like Roger here, will have no trouble recognizing the faults of the half-speed when The Real Thing comes along. We’re sure you’ll agree with us that The True Audiophile Pressing is simply the one that sounds better. And to that we say bring it on — the next shootout is about to begin.
Thanks for your many letters!