Steely Dan / Katy Lied – A MoFi that Beggars Belief

Sonic Grade: F

Katy Lied is bad enough to have earned a place in our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame. If it isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

By the time I was avidly collecting Mobile Fidelity records in the late ’70s, this title had already gone out of print, one of the first to do so. My guess is that even the cloth-eared audiophiles at MoFi knew when they had a turkey on their hands and mercilessly put this one out to pasture.

Yes, the sound is so bad that even the brain trust at MoFi could hear it. 

Compressed and lifeless (almost as lifeless as the screen speakers so popular at the time), it’s hard to imagine any version sounding worse than this one.

And yet I continued to play my copy, for enjoyment of course, oblivious — I must have been oblivious, right? — to the bad sound.

Why? That’s hard to say, but here’s a stab at it.

The vinyl was exceptionally quiet for one thing, and for another, as an audiophile I knew this MoFi pressing had been made with tender loving care, using a superior process, Half-Speed Mastering, from The Original Master Tapes, and had been pressed in Japan on the quietest, flattest vinyl in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

My old story about One Man Dog gets to the heart of it. I didn’t understand records very well and I sure didn’t understand the value of doing shootouts or even how to do them with different pressings of the same album.

As I say at the conclusion of that commentary:

If you actually enjoy playing fifteen copies of One Man Dog to find the few that really sound good — because hearing such wonderful music the way it was meant to be heard is a positive thrill — then you just might end up with one helluva great record collection, worlds better than one filled with audiophile pressings from any era, most especially the present.

The Audiophile of Today

From our point of view, today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making thirty years ago. The Audiophile Heavy Vinyl Remaster, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads, each burdened with an equally dismal track record?

And isn’t it every bit as true today as it was in the past that the audiophiles who buy these “special” pressings rarely seem to notice that many of them don’t actually sound any good?

The Learning Curve Is Looking Awfully Flat

Pardon my pessimism, but it seems to me the learning curve these days is looking awfully flat. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of learning going on. If such learning were actually going on, how would most of these audiophile labels still be in business?

Don’t get me wrong: some progress has been made. Reference, Chesky and Audioquest thankfully no longer burden us with their awful LPs. But is the new Blue or Yes Album really any better than the average MoFi from 1979? Different yes, but better? I know one thing: I couldn’t sit through an entire side of either of them. And I love that music.

Compared to the real thing, or, as we like to call them, Hot Stampers, can any of these records really compete sonically? A few, I guess, but too few, and they are pretty darn far between.

Easy Answers and Quick Fixes

Turns out there are no easy answers. There are no quick fixes. In audio there’s only hard work and more hard work. That’s what gives the learning curve its curvature — the more you do it, the better you can do it.


Head to Head It’s No Contest

Visit our Hall of Shame (300+ strong) to see what, in our opinion, are some of the worst sounding records ever made.

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another.

The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more intolerable.

FURTHER READING

Bad Sounding Audiophile Records – The List So Far

Half-Speed Mastered Disasters

Half-Speed Mastered Mediocrities

Half-Speed Mastered Winners

Half-Speed Masters – The Complete List

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, found here:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

2 comments

  1. Katy LIed was famously negatively affected by DBX filering. It should have been called DBX Lied since they offered their terrible filtering equipment for Gary Katz and Donald and Walter a studio “upgrade”. It was a disaster and basically any issue of Katy Lied does not sound as good if they didn’t use the DBX crap.

    1. But why make it worse by using a ridiculous EQ and compressing the sound to death in the mastering? MoFi has no excuses, they are simply incompetent.

      From one of the listings:

      The DBX Debacle

      And now…. a warning. The top end of this recording is a bit problematic, meaning that even our best copies will never be as sweet and silky up there as we’d like. Pay special attention to the ride cymbal in the right channel during the fade out of Black Friday. That rock hard “banging on a garbage can” sound is no doubt the result of the defective DBX encoding system that almost caused Becker and Fagen to scrap the whole project. According to their web site, they never did listen to the final playback of the album.

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