Half-Speed Mastered Records – Reviews and Commentaries

Gino Vannelli / Powerful People – What Was I Thinking?

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Sonic Grade: F

At the time of our last shootout in 2014 I still had the MoFi pressing of Powerful People in my personal, very small (at this point) record collection. Almost all the best sounding records from my collection had long ago been sold off, going to good homes that I can only assume would play them more than I had in the last ten years. If it’s a record you see on our site, chances are good I have listened to it until I’d practically turned blue in the face.

But I had kept my Powerful People half-speed these 30+ years because the domestic pressings I’d played were just too damn midrangy to enjoy. At least the MoFi had bass, top end and didn’t sound squawky or hard on the vocals.

Well, let me tell you, played against the best domestic pressings, of which this is one, the MoFi is laughable. (In that respect it shares much with the current crop of audiophile reissues.) It’s unbelievably compressed, a problem that is easily heard on the biggest, most exciting parts of the tracks — they never get remotely as big or as loud on the MoFi as they do on the lowly A&M originals. (more…)

Led Zeppelin II – Stan Ricker Versus Robert Ludwig

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

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Here is the story of my first encounter with a amazing sounding copy of Zep II.

I had a friend who had come into possession of a White Label Demo pressing of the album and wanted to trade it in to me for the Mobile Fidelity pressing that I had played for him once or twice over the years, and which we both thought was The King on that album.

To my shock and dismay, his stupid American copy KILLED the MoFi. It TROUNCED it in every way. The bass was deeper and punchier. Everything was more dynamic. The vocals were more natural and correct sounding. The highs were sweeter and more extended. The whole pressing was just full of life in a way that the Mobile Fidelity wasn’t.

The Mobile Fidelity didn’t sound Bad. It sounded Not As Good. More importantly, in comparison with the good domestic copy, in many ways it now sounded wrong.

Let me tell you, it was a watershed moment in my growth as a record collector. I had long ago discovered that many MoFi’s weren’t all they were cracked up to be. But this was a MoFi I liked. And it had killed the other copies I had heard in the past.

So I learned something very important that day. I learned that hearing a good pressing is the best way to understand what’s wrong with a bad pressing. (more…)

Frank Sinatra / Sinatra At The Sands – The Ideal Audiophile Pressing

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More Count Basie

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If you’re the kind of audiophile who doesn’t want to do the work required to find a top quality vintage pressing on his own, or buy one from us, this is actually a very good sounding record and a good way for you to go.

It’s ideal for most audiophiles.

Ask yourself three questions:

Do you want the expense and hassle of finding a nice original stereo copy?

Do you want to invest in proper record cleaning equipment to restore the glorious sound of the original’s 50-plus year old vinyl?

Do you want to spend the time (decades) and money (tens of thousands of dollars) to build and tweak a top quality analog playback system?

If you don’t want to do these things, you are not alone.

In fact, you are clearly in the majority, part of that enormously tall, fat bulge right in the middle of the bell curve. As the quintessential audiophile record lover, a big part of the mass of the mass-market, Mobile Fidelity has made the perfect record for you.

It’s quiet, it’s tonally correct, and on the mediocre equipment you will use to play it back with, it does not seem to be especially veiled, opaque or compressed.

It is indeed all of these things, and many more, but you will have no reason to suspect that anything is wrong with it.

More precisely, you will have no way to know that anything is wrong with it.

We know exactly what’s wrong with it, but that’s because we are very serious about records and audio, as serious as they come. Who digs deeper than we do?

Now that you have failed to note its many shortcomings, the only thing remaining is for you to go to an audiophile forum and write your review, telling everyone how much better it is than whatever crappy pressing you owned and will be trading in soon. (This assumes you owned anything at all. I would be surprised if the average audiophile has a vintage copy of the album to compare with the new one, but no doubt some do.)

If you want to hold the pressings you play to a higher sonic standard, we are here to help.

If setting a low bar is more your style, Mobile Fidelity has been making records for you for more than fifty years. As long as you keep buying them, they’ll keep making them. They’ve been setting a very low bar for as long as I can remember, and the fact that they are still around is positive proof that their customers like it just fine that way.

FURTHER READING

This record has middling sound, and naturally we have a section for records of that quality.

Pressings with Excellent Sound Quality

Pressings with Middling Sound Quality 

Pressings with Mind-Blowing Sound Quality 

Pressings with Weak Sound Quality or Music 

Letter of the Week – A Ghost in the Machine Shootout, Including the New Abbey Road Reissue

Ghost in the Machine

More Sting and The Police

One of our good customers had this to say about a record he read about on the blog, the Nautilus pressing of Ghost in the Machine.

Hey Tom,   

Did you write something about the Nautilus record… I thought so, but I couldn’t find it. [The Ghost in the Machine link above will take you to it.]

This is one of my favorites from my teenage years and so I decided to do my own little test… Sterling vs. Nautilus vs. half speed abbey road reissue… it feels pretty clear the Sterling is tops with Nautilus close but I am surprised at how muddy the bass sounds on the new one. And just how tamped down the record sounds. Which is I guess your point.

Geoff

Geoff,

You now know more about this album than the typical audiophile expressing an opinion of it on the audiophile forums!

You should not be surprised about muddy bass on half-speed mastered records, they all have it.

And tamped down? Tell me about it. Compressed and lifeless are two qualities the audiophile record can be guaranteed to deliver. How these companies get away with producing one shitty remaster after another is beyond me.  They’ve been making this junk for more than forty years and they’re still making it.

Welcome to the upside down world of the modern audiophile record. The worse they sound, the more audiophiles seem to like them.

Your shootout provided you with a good lesson to learn right from the start to set you on the right path.

Try this experiment: Take four or five UK pressings, clean them up and then compare them to any of the ones you played — the sound would be night and day better. And, after doing that shootout, one of the four or five would be a truly Hot Stamper pressing.

Those are what we sell. We save you all that work and expense and give you a better record than you could probably find on your own, but if you want to do your own shootouts, we have lots of advice on this very blog to help you do that. (more…)

Steely Dan – Katy Lied – A MoFi that Beggars Belief

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

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 MoFi could hear it. 

Compressed and 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. (more…)

The Who ‎/ Who’s Next – Getting It Exactly Backwards

A classic case of Live and Learn

More of The Who

What follows is the commentary for the Canadian One Sided Half-Speed that we had auditioned around 2000. It came in a regular jacket, not the one you see pictured, and was part of a big overstock batch I had gotten my hands on a number of years before.

Getting It Exactly Backwards

Half of this record is Half-Speed Mastered! There’s an interesting story behind this album. Those of you who’ve been collecting audiophile records for a long time may remember that Who’s Next was as an MCA Masterphile Half-Speed Mastered pressing produced in Canada. I remember liking it back in the day, which had to be 15 years ago at least. But they are very rare and I haven’t played one in many years.

I ran into some sealed Canadian pressings of Who’s Next, and when I cracked one open to play it I noted it had Masterphile written in the deadwax on one side. Apparently they had made so few Masterphile pressings that the metal work was still useable and they decided to press some “regular” records with one of the stampers.

And I remember I used to tell people that the good side, side one, was the Masterphile side. Then three or four years ago [circa 2000], I had occasion to play the record. Lo and behold, side one was bright and phony, and side two was rich and sweet, like the good Track Label pressings! I had gotten it exactly backwards.

A recurring theme here at Better Records has to do with the phony sound of audiophile records that we used to like, and the more natural sound of regular records, which are the ones we like now. This is another example. The better your equipment gets, the fewer so-called “audiophile” pressings you will want to have in your collection. The upshot to this story? Side two sounds great on this copy! (more…)

Little Feat – Dixie Chicken – Hard to Find on the Green Label

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TWO AMAZING WHITE HOT SIDES for one of Little Feat’s best-loved albums! This music is tons of fun, but the typical pressing is so flat and lifeless that the music is basically ruined. When you find a copy that’s been properly mastered, like this one, it’s a whole ‘nother story. Richer and fuller, clearer and more transparent, this Green Label will absolutely DESTROY any later pressing!

This album may never be a Demo Disc, but it certainly doesn’t need to sound like a piece of cardboard, and this copy is the proof! As soon as we dropped the needle, there was no doubt in our minds that this was the winner of our shootout. It’s a huge step up in every way.

Most copies of this album sound like cardboard, especially the later pressings on the palm tree and tan labels. To get the best sound you need originals of this album, and Warner Brothers green label originals are getting pretty darn hard to find as more and more collectors and audiophiles are coming to the realization that the unending stream of heavy vinyl reissues flooding the market leaves a lot to be desired. (Our desire for them is at zero as we no longer bother to order the stuff.) (more…)

The Purveyors of Ultra High Quality Records Want to Know: How Much of an Audio Fool Are You?

Record Collecting for Audiophiles

A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

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Today’s record-loving audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making more than forty years ago. Heavy Vinyl, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just audiophile fads, each with a track record of mediocre sound progressively worse than the next?

An Unscientific Approach

In my formative years in audio, starting in the mid-’70s, it would never have occurred to me to buy more than one copy of a record and do a head to head comparison to see which one sounded better. I approached the subject Platonically, not scientifically: the record that should sound better would sound better.

Later on in the decade a label by the name of Mobile Fidelity would come along claiming to actually make better sounding pressings than the ones the major labels put out, and cluelessly I bought into that nonsense too. (To be fair, sometimes they did — Touch, Waiting for Columbus and American Beauty come to mind, but my god, Katy Lied, Year of the Cat and Sundown have to be three of the worst sounding records I’ve ever played in my life.) (more…)

John Klemmer – Straight from the Heart

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Audiophile Recordings with Excellent Sound

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  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, an Audiophile Jazz Demo Disc of the highest quality – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Tubey Magical, lively and clear, with three-dimensionality that will fill your listening room from wall to wall
  • A record that fulfills the promise of the Direct to Disc recording technology
  • Real jazz music make this a Must Own Audiophile disc

This is one of the best Direct-to-Disc recordings we know of, and it’s actually REAL JAZZ — a remarkably unusual combination in the World of Audiophile Records, if my experience over the last thirty-five years can serve as a guide.

Both sides here really get this music right. They’ve got big, full bottom ends and great top end extension, along with a surprising amount of transparency — you can really hear back to the piano behind the horns. (more…)

Bad Santana LPs from Mobile Fidelity – We Admit We Was Wrong

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More Debut Albums of Interest

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This is one of the MoFi LPs we’ve reviewed on the site. And for us audiophile record lovers – not lovers of audiophile records, but guys who love records with audiophile sound – it’s simply another nail in the coffin for one of the most laughably inept remastering labels in the history of that unrelievedly sad enterprise.

We also have a Hall of Shame for bad sounding audiophile records such as these. It currently has 250 members but could easily have double that if someone wanted to take the time to make entries for all the bad audiophile pressings we’ve played over the years. (That person would have to be me and I don’t want to do it.)

Santana is a record we admit to having liked a bit when it first came out. Since then we have changed our minds. As embarrassing as it may be, clearly We Was Wrong.

It’s just too damn compressed and lifeless. The Whomp Factor on this pressing is Zero. Since whomp is critical to the sound of Santana’s music, it’s Game Over for us. The review below is exactly what we wrote at the time the record came in. We tried to like it, but it’s clear to us now that we tried to like it too hard. Please accept our apologies.

I noted in my [now discontinued] web site blog: “But now I would have to say that the MoFi LP is far too lifeless to be acceptable to anyone, even those with the worst kinds of Audiophile BS systems.”

And I noted that the Abraxas they remastered never got past the first elimination round; it had to have been one of the worst half-speeds I have ever heard. Dead dead dead as a doornail. (more…)