Half-Speed Mastered Records – Reviews and Commentaries

Joan Baez / Diamonds and Rust – The Half-Speed that Beats Most Pressings

More Folk Rock

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joan Baez

Sonic Grade: B+

This review is from many years ago, at least ten I would think, so take it for what it’s worth.

One of the best Half Speed Mastered Records we have ever played.

In our recent shootout we were shocked — shocked — to hear how good our old copy of Diamonds and Rust on Nautilus sounded head to head against some of the best pressings we could find.

If I hadn’t heard it with my own two ears, I wouldn’t have believed it. 

Wonderful sound — rich, full, warm, and sweet. The vocals are full-bodied and breathy. The acoustic guitars are fairly natural for a pop recording from 1975.

Play Jesse on side two to hear the lovely space of the studio, as well as more harmonic extension on the acoustic instruments. Watch out for track two; the EQ on the vocal is always a problem. (more…)

Gaucho According to MCA Masterphile

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Gaucho

The Masterphile Half-Speed is a pathetic shadow of the real MASTERDISK pressings cut by Robert Ludwig.

We’ve played at least a hundred of the original pressings, and I would be surprised if every one of them did not sound better than this compressed, desiccated audiophile piece of trash.

With sound like that, the MCA Masterphile gets our vote for the worst version of the album ever made.

Of all the great albums Steely Dan released, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses. Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho.

Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to contemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a serious DEMO DISC on anyone’s system system.

Mistakes Were Made

If you are still buying these modern remastered pressings, making the same mistakes that I was making before I knew better, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered LPs.

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Steely Dan / Aja – One of the Great Audio Disasters, Courtesy of Mobile Fidelity

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

Sonic Grade: F

More MoFi bashing, but boy does this MoFi deserve it. In our estimation, it is tied with the Cisco 180g pressing (2007) for The Worst Version Ever.

I remember back in the ’70s when the album came out. I was a big Steely Dan fan by then, having been turned on to their albums with Countdown to Ecstasy. With each new Dan record I became more impressed with their music, from Pretzel Logic to Katy Lied to Royal Scam and finally on to this, their commercial breakthrough, Aja.

At the time I thought the album sounded pretty good on my plain old ABC original.

Then I got a copy of the Mobile Fidelity pressing and I thought it sounded even better. Side two of the MoFi had bass that was only hinted at on my domestic copy. Wow! Listen to all that bass!

Sometime in the ’80s, I realized that the MoFi was hideously phony sounding, and that all the bass on side two was boosted far out of proportion to what must be (I’m guessing) on the master tape. The song Home At Last has at least an extra three or four DBs added around 50 cycles. It’s ridiculous.

And that’s just the bottom end; the highs are every bit as wrong.

Side one has its top end boosted beyond all understanding. The snare drum that opens the song Black Cow sounds like a hi-hat, all top and no body, and the hi-hat sounds so bright you can barely even tell it’s a hi-hat.

Of course the vocals sharing the midrange are all ridiculously thinned out and compressed to death. Fagen’s voice sounds tonally unlike his voice on any other Steely Dan record. That should tell you something.

Fagen’s Evin Twin

Mobile Fidelity was not revealing or discovering the true nature of Donald Fagen’s voice. They were creating an entirely new version of it, one with no relation to the living Donald Fagen, the perfect example of an approach we call My-Fi, not Hi-Fi, as if the world needed such a thing.

Mobile Fidelity took this fairly artificial recording and made it even more artificial sounding than it already was.

We don’t like it when a mastering engineer creates a new sound for a well-known recording, a sound that nobody involved with the original production could have wanted, since no other version of the album ever sounded like this one.

The MoFi Aja is a giant black mark against Mobile Fidelity and half-speed mastering in general. I’m astonished that anybody who calls himself an audiophile in this day and age would not be able to recognize how laughably wrong it is, but I am sure plenty of people still play the record and like it.

If you have small speakers, or screens with no subs, it might actually give you some of the bass and highs your speakers have trouble reproducing. This is not a good way to pursue audio of course. We are of the opposite persuasion and have been since 1975 or thereabouts.

This is exactly what is going on with the Speakers Corner Mercury reissue series from about twenty years ago as well. They are finding a Mercury “sound” that no one ever found before. More to the point, they are finding a sound that no one with two working ears would even want.

If you can’t tell what’s wrong with the MoFi Aja –and I’m guessing that’s a sizeable contingent of self-described audiophiles — then it’s hard to know how to help you.

Like our friend with the MoFi Aqualung, we would not know where to start. Something ain’t workin’ right — room, stereo, who knows what it might be?

In order to build a record collection of high quality pressings, the first thing you need to do is get good sound.

It is the sine qua non of record collecting. Without it you are almost guaranteed to fail. Until you’ve achieved good sound, you most likely will be wasting money on one bad sounding audiophile record after another, and that would really be a shame.

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Ridiculously Phony and Compressed Sound – The Beatles White Album on MoFi

Sonic Grade: F

Another MoFi LP reviewed and found seriously wanting.

The last time I played a copy of the MoFi, I could not believe how ridiculously bright, phony and compressed it was.

As sibilant as any Beatles record they ever did. Cry Baby Cry spits like crazy!

And to think I used to like their version when it came out back in the ’80s.

A good example: on Yer Blues, the MFSL pressing positively wreaks havoc with all the added bass and top end The Beatles put on this track. The MoFi version is already too bright, and has sloppy bass to start with, so the result on this track is way too much BAD bass and way too much BAD spitty 10k-boosted treble. The MoFi is nothing like the good imports, which have way too much GOOD bass and treble.

Yer Blues ROCKS! Listen to the big jam at the end of the song, where John’s vocal mic is turned off but his performance is still caught by a room or overheard mic. They obviously did this on purpose, killing his vocal track so that the “leaked” vocal could be heard. (We have since learned from Ken Scott that it was mistake, but one they liked and left in.)

Those crazy Beatles! It’s more than just a cool “effect.” It actually seems to kick the energy and power of the song up a notch. It’s clearly an accident, but an accident that works. I rather doubt George Martin approved. That kind of “throw the rule book out” approach is what makes Beatles recordings so fascinating, and The White Album the most fascinating of them all.

The EQ for this song is also a good example of something The Beatles were experimenting with, as detailed in their recording sessions and later interviews with the engineers. They were pushing the boundaries of normal EQ, of how much bass and treble a track could have. This track has seriously boosted bass, way too much, but somehow it works.
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John Klemmer – Touch

  • This copy of the best MoFi title to ever hit the site is close to the best we’ve heard, with stunning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on both sides, just shy of our Shootout Winner – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • Musically and sonically this is the pinnacle of Klemmer’s smooth jazz – we know of none better
  • The best sounding Smooth – But Real – Jazz Album ever made, and the only vintage MoFi we know of that deserves a place in your collection
  • “This is music straight from the heart, smooth but with a few twists and turns to make it interesting. But there are no cliche blues licks, none of the crap that players in this genre try to foist upon as ‘hip.’ Indeed, Klemmer has more in common with the late 60’s mantra playing of Coltrane or Sanders than those other guys (whose names will not be mentioned.)”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy amazing audiophile-quality recordings like this one can bring to your life. Touch is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

Touch is probably the best sounding record Mobile Fidelity ever made, and the only record of theirs I know of that can’t be beaten by a standard real-time mastered pressing.

We’re talking Demo Disc quality sound here. The spaciousness of the studio and the three-dimensional placement of the myriad percussion instruments and bells within its walls make this something of an audiophile spectacular of a different kind — dreamy and intensely emotional.

Shocking as it may be, Mobile Fidelity, maker of some of the worst sounding records in the history of audio, is truly the king on this title.

Klemmer says pure emotion is what inspired the album’s creation. Whatever he tapped into to find the source of that inspiration, he really hit paydirt with Touch. It’s the heaviest smooth jazz ever recorded. Musically and sonically, this is the pinnacle of Klemmer’s smooth jazz body of work. I know of none better. (If you want to hear him play more straight-ahead jazz, try Straight from the Heart on Nautilus Direct to Disc.) (more…)

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.

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Cat Stevens and the Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

Our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame listings totaled more than 40 back in 2010, and we noted at the time that the real number would be at least double that and probably more than triple that figure if we took the time to make listings for all the bad records this label has released, It stands at 50 or so as of 2022.

In case you don’t already know, one of the worst sounding, if not THE worst sounding pressing of all time, of our beloved Teaser and the Firecat is the Mobile Fidelity Anadisq pressing that came out in the ’90s.

If you own that record, you really owe it to yourself to pull it out and play it. It’s just a mess and it should sound like a mess, whether you have anything to compare it to or not.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would strike this record from it in a heartbeat.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

We offer a number of Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

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

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“There is nothing to be learned from the second kick of a mule.”

Hot Stamper Pressings of Revolver Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Revolver

We review the newly remixed Revolver.

As I was reading the newspaper today, I chanced upon Mark Twain’s famous quote and immediately recognized a way to put it to good use. I had been searching my brain for a good way to start a commentary detailing the multitudinous problems with the remixed, half-speed mastered Revolver LP. Kicked in the head was exactly what I needed.

In 2020 I had reviewed the Abbey Road remix and was astonished that anyone would release a record of such utter sonic worthlessness. A few choice lines:

The half-speed mastered remixed Abbey Road has to be one of the worst sounding Beatles records we have ever had the displeasure to play.

Hard to imagine you could make Abbey Road sound any worse. It’s absolutely disgraceful.

I will be writing more about its specific shortcomings down the road, but for now let this serve as a warning that you are throwing your money away if you buy this newly remixed LP.

Of course I never did write more about it. The thought of listening critically to the album in order to detail its manifold shortcomings was more than I could bear and onto the back burner the idea went, where it remains to this day.

In 2020 I warned the audiophile community not to go down this foolish half-speed mastered road, and now that they have been kicked in the head a second time, perhaps when they wake up they will come to their senses, although I doubt very much that they will.

Giles Martin is the guilty party here, and I hope it is clear by now that he simply has no clue as to how a Beatles record should sound. If he did have such a clue, this new Revolver would never have seen the light of day.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Here are the notes our crack listening panel (our very own Wrecking Crew) made as they listened to the new Revolver.

Note that they listened to side two first, playing a Super Hot stamper ’70s UK pressing head to head with the new release, so we have listed our notes for side two above those for side one.

They listened to the first two tracks on side two in this order:

Good Day Sunshine, And Your Bird Can Sing.

On side one they played the first three tracks and listened to them in this order:

I’m Only Sleeping, Taxman, Eleanor Rigby.


Some of the highlights from side two:

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Grateful Dead / American Beauty – An Honest-to-Goodness Killer MoFi LP

More of the Music of The Grateful Dead

Hot Stamper Pressings of Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

Sonic Grade: B+

This is a Mobile Fidelity LP with SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND. The transparency and presence in the midrange is outstanding for a MoFi. This copy does not have the usual midrange suckout that ruins so many of their records.

The bass actually sounds mostly in control on this copy — there’s much less of the typically bloated MoFi bass to be found here.

This is the best sounding Mobile Fidelity American Beauty we have ever heard. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s hugely better than we expected.

Any original Green Label domestic pressing is sure to be better, but sure to be noisier too, so if you must have quiet vinyl, you can do a lot worse than this MoFi.

Which means it belongs on our list of The Best Sounding Mobile Fidelity Records We’ve Ever Played.

FURTHER READING on the subject of Half-Speed Mastering

People sometimes ask us:

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

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Charlie Byrd – Another Hyped-Up MoFi

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed [decades ago] and found seriously wanting.

This is a title Mobile Fidelity ruined (what else is new?), and having just played an early Riverside LP I can see how their mastering approach was — as is so often the case — misguided to say the least.

First off, the guitar and the drums on the original are tonally right on the money. They sound like bass and drums should. They sound, in a word, correct.

Mobile Fidelity felt it necessary to brighten up both and the results are a phony sounding guitar and phony sounding drums, with tizzy cymbals thrown in for good measure.

(The Wes Montgomery MoFi title has many of the same faults, but it’s not quite as bad as this one. We’ve had Hot Stamper copies of the originals so we know they can sound superb, some of RVG’s best work.)

The old Mobile Fidelity — the pre-Heavy Vinyl Mobile Fidelity — rarely met a master tape they didn’t think needed a healthy dose of top end boost. They also never understood what an acoustic guitar sounds like. They blew it on every last one of the Cat Stevens albums, brightening up the guitars, which, as we all know from playing with the treble controls on our receivers way back when, emphasizes the “picking” of the strings at the expense of the resonating guitar body as well as the vibrating string harmonics.

What makes Byrd At The Gate a good record is the natural acoustic guitar tone. Once you screw that up, what’s left?

An audiophile record, for audiophiles who like phony sounding guitars. (Chesky anyone?)

Another reason the Mobile Fidelity is such a joke is that this recording inherently has a lot of ill-defined bass. Since Half-Speed mastering causes a loss of bass definition, their pressing is even WORSE in this respect. Bad guitars, bad drums and bad bass — that pretty much covers everybody in the trio. Resulting score: 0 for 3. (more…)