Hall and Oates and Mobile Fidelity – A Counterfactual Approach to Remastering

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We here present a set of ideas about remastering that Mobile Fidelity could have used to guide themselves when cutting their version of Hall and Oates’ masterpiece, Abandoned Luncheonette.

This is what they could have done when it came time to produce an audiophile pressing of Abandoned Luncheonette, an album originally released in 1973.

By the time Mobile Fidelity released their version of the album in 1980, the record was already a Super Saver bargain re-issue, something of minimal quality offered at a bargain price and produced solely for the purpose of  keeping record store bins stocked with back catalog.

There is nothing wrong with a record like that. And the Super Saver version may even have some merit. But imagine for a moment that it does not.

Why Abandoned Luncheonette?

Now imagine that Mobile Fidelity knows, or at least believes, two things.

One, the album is a masterpiece that belongs in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection, and two, the current version does not sound very good. The wise men at MoFi recognize that an opportunity to do some good for the audiophile community and make a buck at the same time has presented itself.

Audiophiles may not know it, but they are in need of a good sounding copy of this brilliant album, and they deserve one that sounds every bit as good as the shockingly good sounding originals (like the ones we sell).

In addition, we at MoFi can go Atlantic’s original one better. We can actually press the album on quiet vinyl.

Next, Mobile Fidelity greenlights this project and gets a real Master Tape from Atlantic. (There are many tapes that masquerade as masters and aren’t any such thing, but let’s assume for the moment that Mobile Fidelity did get a real tape.)

They would also need a nice batch of original pressings, which in our opinion are the best, and would easily be recognized as being the best sounding by anyone playing the album on good equipment. The best originals are lively, rich and smooth, befitting an expensive, high quality studio recording from the era.

So instead of Mobile Fidelity trying to create a new sound for this album, they could have taken a different approach. They could’ve just said to themselves: let’s make a copy of the record that sounds as good as the original, and because we can press it on expensive, high-quality Japanese vinyl, we can justify selling it at a premium price to audiophiles looking for the best sound and quiet vinyl.

They could then cut a number of reference lacquers trying to re-create the best qualities of the originals, and then test those lacquers up against the best originals, in something that might be called a “shootout” long before the term was commonly used bu audiophiles of our persuasion.

The Counterfactual Part

This is what they could have done. That’s why we are calling this commentary a counterfactual.

They did something else entirely.

They tried to make the record sound better than any of the copies they had at hand. They tried to fix the sound. In trying to fix the sound, they made it worse because they simply were not capable of recognizing how right the good originals were.

They must have thought them dull, because the Brain Trust at Mobile Fidelity boosted the hell out of the upper midrange and top end. (Using the concept of reverse engineering, I assume their playback equipment was dull, a fairly safe assumption considering how many Mobile Fidelity records are bright enough to peel the paint.)

They Were on a Mission

They of course would never have been able to get the bass right, because half speed mastering always causes problems down low.

But they could have made the record tonally correct, and fairly transparent in the midrange, and then could have pressed that sound onto state-of-the-art Japanese vinyl.

But none of these things interested Mobile Fidelity at the time. They were hell-bent on making everything they touched better. In the process, practically everything they touched got worse, as anyone with good equipment and two properly working ears who has ever played a large selection of their records can attest.

I Was a Big Fan Back Then

As a budding audiophile back in the late 70s and early 80s, I thought Mobile Fidelity records sounded amazing. As my stereo got better, their records got weirder and weirder sounding. I write about that subject a lot on this blog, because it’s a story that I lived through and know first hand.

Now other audiophiles are living through it. Mobile Fidelity, I regret to say, is still in business, and still doing mischief to the novice audiophiles of our present day. (If you are not a novice audiophile, and you are still buying Mobile Fidelity records, you have nobody to blame but yourself.)

Under the heading Progress In Audio, I talk about all the changes I made to my stereo that allowed good originals and even good re-issues to sound dramatically better than any Mobile Fidelity record I played (with the exception of one I mention below).

If you still have Mobile Fidelity records in your collection, if you still buy them, if you still play them, and you don’t hear all of the shortcomings we discuss endlessly on this blog, it is our contention that you have a great deal of work to do in order to get your stereo system to a decent level.

That level is what will be required to show you how wrong these records are. If you never get your stereo past the level that it is now, that is a choice you can make, but you should make it knowingly.

You should know that your stereo is not doing a very good job of showing you what is really on your records and you’re fine with that.

Same Wine, Different Bottle

The same is true for Heavy Vinyl. Many Heavy Vinyl pressings are pleasant enough and may be better than downloads or other digital media. But it is the rare Heavy Vinyl record that is much better than mediocre, and if you are making constant improvements to your stereo, as you should be, the bigger the gulf will be between these new pressings and good sounding vintage records, whether they are originals or re-issues from decades past.

We can sell you the record that will show you how much better a vintage pressing sounds than any record being made today. We also tell you how to find those better sounding pressings, using the methods that we discuss all over the site.

Either way, for anyone serious about this hobby and for anyone serious about reproducing music in the home, the modern Heavy Vinyl record is a waste of money. A serious home music system will show the shortcomings of the Heavy Vinyls and Half Speeds in fairly short order, and playing one of our records against one of those records might just be a life-changing revelation.

It could well be a turning point in your growth as a record collector and audiophile. We are more than happy to help you in your journey.

To paraphrase a long-dead economist, “Audiophiles of the world, revolt! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”


FURTHER READING

Here’s a good question:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

To learn more about records that sound dramatically better than any Half-Speed ever made (with one rare exception, John Klemmer’s Touch), please consult our FAQs:

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