Half-Speed Mastered Records – Reviews and Commentaries

Holst / The Planets – MoFi and UHQR Reviewed

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Sonic Grade: Regular MoFi LP: F / UHQR: D

Years ago we auditioned an excellent sounding Decca Purple Label British import LP, the same performance, the same recording that Mobile Fidelity remastered (#510), but, thankfully, it sounded A WHOLE LOT BETTER!

I just listened to both and a catalog of the faults of the MFSL pressing would be quite lengthy. I won’t waste your time listing them.

Although the recording is far from perfect, the Decca pressing shows it in its proper light. It finds the right balance between the multi-miked sound of the Super Disc List Mehta and a vintage recording from the Golden Age such as the famous Boult. The sound is very dynamic and the brass has tremendous weight.

The MoFi is thin and bright.

Their UHQR is somewhat better, not quite as thin and phony up top, but not really very good either.

Avoid them both.


Our favorite performance of The Planets can be found here.

Many of Solti’s recordings from the Seventies are not to our liking, for reasons we lay out here.

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Led Zeppelin / II – Back to the Stone Age

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed.

Yes, it’s yet another record perfectly suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past.

This version of Zep’s sophomore release from 1969 has to be one of the worst audiophile remastering jobs in the history of the world. There is NOT ONE aspect of the sound that isn’t wrong. Not one!

The highs are boosted, the upper midrange is boosted, the mid-bass is boosted, the low bass is missing — what part of the frequency spectrum is even close to correct on this pressing? The answer: none.

If you’re in the market for a Hot Stamper pressing of Led Zeppelin II, we can help you, but prices these days are steep and show no sign of coming down. We typically pay $1000+ or more for the used copies we buy if that tells you anything about what to expect a Hot Stamper pressing will cost you.

Records are getting awfully expensive these days, and it’s not just our Hot Stampers that seem priced for perfection.

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.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. of the album.

And if for some reason you disagree with us that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

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Little Feat / Dixie Chicken – How Does the MoFi Sound?

Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

How does the MoFi pressing sound?

We have no idea; we’ve never bothered to order one, for at least one very good reason. This is an album about rhythm.

Half-Speed mastered records have sloppy bass and, consequently, lack rhythmic drive.

Who is his right mind would want to half-speed master an album by Little Feat, one of the most rhythmically accomplished bands in rock and roll history?

The obvious answer is that it was a bad idea. But, if you’re Mobile Fidelity, and that’s the only idea you’ve ever had because you are in the half-speed mastering business, then what else can you do?

As the old saying goes, to a hammer everything looks like a nail.

OUR PREVIOUS HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY

Folks, this is no demo disc by any means, but the later pressings strip away the two qualities that really make this music work and bring it to life: Tubey Magic and Big Bass. This side two has both in SPADES.

Listen to how breathy and transparent the chorus is on the first track. Now layer that sound on top of a fat and punchy bottom end and you have the formula for Little Feat Magic at its funky best. This is the sound they heard in the control room, of that I have no doubt, and it is all over this side two. No side of any copy we played was better.

Personally

The All Music Guide (and lots of other critics) think this is Little Feat at their best. With tracks such as Two Trains, Dixie Chicken, Fat Man in the Bathtub and Roll Um Easy, who’s gonna disagree!? (I guess I am. I prefer Waiting for Columbus and The Last Record Album but cannot deny that Dixie Chicken is probably the best of the albums that came before them.)

Some Relevant Commentaries

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Rickie Lee Jones – MoFi Reviewed, Positively

More of the Music of Rickie Lee Jones

Reviews and Commentaries for Rickie Lee Jones’ First Album

Sonic Grade: B

Another MoFi LP reviewed, and this one’s pretty good for a change

The Mobile Fidelity pressing of this album can actually be pretty decent.

If you get a good one, that is. Records are records and limited editions have dramatic pressing variations just like all the other records out there in Record Land.

Audio perfection it ain’t, but all in all it’s a very enjoyable record. Its strengths are many and its faults are few. Let’s give credit where credit is due; the MoFi is dynamic, transparent, sweet, and open, and you won’t hear us saying that about very many MOFI pressings.

It belongs in their Top Ten (a list we have yet to make, for some reason we never find the time!), toward the bottom I would guess, due to its own sloppy bottom, but that’s half-speed mastering for you. Like most new audio technologies it was a giant step in the wrong direction.

We suppose you could live with the blubbery MoFi bass found on their remastered LP — most audiophiles seem more than happy to, right? — but instead, we’re happy to report that it will no longer be necessary. All our Hot Stamper copies are guaranteed to trounce it.

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King Crimson – A Very Good Pressing from Mobile Fidelity

More of the Music of King Crimson

Hot Stamper Pressings of Progressive Rock Albums Available Now

Sonic Grade: B

The MoFi pressing shown here is surely one of their best.

Unfortunately, these days we have little tolerance for the dynamic compression, overall lifelessness and wonky bass heard on practically every record they ever remastered. Including this one.

One of the reasons your MoFi might not sound wrong to you is that it isn’t really “wrong.” It’s doing most things right, and it will probably beat most of what you can find to throw at it. A quick survey:

If you have the Atlantic pressing, from any era, you have never begun to hear this record at its best.

UK Polydor reissue? Passable, not really worth the labor to put them in a shootout and have them earn mediocre grades.

The same can be said for some of the early UK Pink Label Island pressings. None of them has ever won a shootout and none probably ever will. We don’t buy them as a rule, for two related reasons: one, they are expensive, and two, their sound quality does not justify paying the premium price sellers typically are asking.

We leave them to the record collectors who like to collect originals.

We and our customers are audiophiles. We like to collect records with good sound. If we have our heads on straight, we don’t care what pressing we buy as long as it’s the one with the best sound. (Of course, not everybody agrees with us about that, but enough of you out there do, such that our business is sure to proper in the years to come. 

Back to the MoFi

It’s lacking some important qualities, and a listen to one of our Hot Stampers will allow you to hear exactly what you’re not getting when you play an audiophile pressing, any audiophile pressing, even one as good as MoFi’s.

Side by side the comparison will surely be striking. How much energy, size, power and passion is missing from the record you own?

There’s only one way to find out, and it’s by playing a better copy of the album.  (more…)

Bob Seger / Night Moves – MoFi Reviewed

More of the Music of Bob Seger

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found seriously wanting.

The last time I played a copy of the MoFi pressing I could not believe how ridiculously bright it was.  

It’s interesting to note that some of the brightest records this atrocious label ever released came out about the same time as this one.

Aja is number 033

Night Moves here is number 034.

Tea for the Tillerman is number 035

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Three dogs in a row, all suffering from the same problem: they’re way too bright!

Did MoFi buy some dull studio monitors right before they mastered these awful pressings? Did a tweeter or two blow?

Did Stan Ricker have too much wax buildup in his ears?

What could account for records that are bright enough to peel the paint?

Some mysteries will never be solved, and I would bet this is one of them.

But really, what difference does it make? We should all know to avoid this company’s products by now, and that includes all three eras of records produced by this label:

That should pretty much cover it.

Never buy any record on this label (except the one we sell) if you are interested in top quality sound, and if you own any, get rid of them and replace them with records that actually sound good, like the ones we sell.

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

More of the Music of Frank Sinatra

More of the Music of Count Basie

As you will see below, Mobile Fidelity may have made the perfect record for you.

This, of course, depends on who you are. More precisely, it depends on whether you care about having better sound, and whether you know how to acquire pressings with better sound.

As for the MoFi you see pictured, it’s quiet, it’s tonally correct, and on the equipment most audiophiles will probably use to play it back, it does not seem to be especially veiled, opaque or compressed.

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.

In that sense it is the ideal pressing for most audiophiles.

Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do you want the expense and hassle of finding a nice original stereo copy?
  2. Do you want to invest in proper record cleaning equipment to restore the glorious sound of the original’s 50-plus year old vinyl?
  3. Do you want to spend the time (decades) and money (many 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 audiophile equipment you will most probably 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. The later reissues of the album, which are common in clean condition, give ammunition to all of those who proclaim that reissues are consistently awful. That’s often not the case, but is definitely the case in this case.

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 things just fine that way.

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The Cars on Nautilus – Ouch!

Sonic Grade: F

This Nautilus Half-Speed Mastered LP is pure mud — compressed, thick and congested, a disaster on every level, much like their atrocious remastering of Candy-O.

If you own this Audiophile BS pressing (NR-14) and you can’t hear what’s wrong with it, you seriously need to reconsider ditching your playback system or getting another one.  It is doing you no favors.

Our Nautilus pressing here is yet another one of those Jack Hunt turgid muckfests (check out City to City #058 for the ultimate in murky sound), is incapable of conveying anything resembling the kind of clean, clear, oh-so-radio-friendly pop rock sound that producer Roy Thomas Baker, engineer Geoff Workman and the band were aiming for.

The recording has copious amounts of Analog Richness and Fullness to start with. Adding more is not an improvement; in fact it’s positively ruinous.

More of The Cars

More Records that Sound Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Here’s a good question:

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

Beethoven / Symphony No. 9 – The MoFi Has Two Strikes Against It

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonic Grade: F

MoFi took a mediocre-at-best Decca recording from 1972 and made it worse.

They should not have chosen this performance of the Ninth Symphony in the first place, and they certainly should not have added the treble they chose to add, which they did to this title, and to every classical recording they remastered.

Two strikes. In this case, two strikes and you’re out.

If you want the best Ninth on vinyl that we know of, this is the one we recommend.


This is a Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP with ridiculously unnatural sound.

Full of the worst kind of bright, phony string tone, MoFi’s trademark sound for classical recordings. Anyone who has ever attended a concert knows that strings in real life simply do not sound anything like they do on these MoFi records.

The London and Decca pressings of this recording are no great shakes either. Any pressing of this performance should be avoided.

Londons and Deccas from this era (1972 in this case) rarely sound very good to us.

Here is what we specifically don’t like about their sound.

An Overview of the Ninth

The best pressings from the Readers Digest set with Leibowitz conducting were passable but no match for Ansermet and the wonderful hall the legendary Orchestre De La Suisse Romande recorded in. (We like the 4th and 5th from that set; if you own them give them a spin, if you can clean them properly you may be quite pleased.)

In 1972 the engineering team of Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson recorded a Ninth with Solti and the CSO for Decca. I believe it was on the TAS List for a very long time.

We played it recently and heard the usual problems associated with later Decca recordings. It’s opaque, lacks size and space, and comes off as a bit flat and dry.  Like practically every later Decca pressing we play, it’s passable at best.

If you want to know what’s wrong with the Mobile Fidelity, take the above faults and add some others to them. Start with an overall brighter EQ, add a 10k boost for extra sparkly strings, the kind that MoFi has always been smitten with, and finish with the tubby bass caused by the half-speed mastering process itself.

Voila! You are now in the presence of the kind of mid-fi trash that may have fooled some audiophiles back in the day but now sounds as wrong as the records this ridiculous label is still making today.

The later ’60s Decca/London cycle with Schmidt-Isserstedt and the Vienna Phil has sounded flat and modern to us on every pressing we have ever played. We simply cannot take them seriously and you shouldn’t either.

Stick with Ansermet!


FURTHER READING

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Alison Krauss & Union Station ‎/ So Long So Wrong – Still Wrong in the Vocal Department

We audiophiles have a soft spot for female vocals. It’s a sound that a high end stereo — practically any high end stereo — reproduces well.

But why do some audiophiles listen to poorly recorded junk like Patricia Barber and Diana Krall? Their recordings are DRENCHED in digital reverb. Who is his right mind wants to hear the sound of digital reverb?

Rickie Lee Jones may not be my favorite female vocal of all time, but at least you can make the case for it as a Well Recorded Vocal Album. It’s worlds better than anything either of the above-mentioned artists have ever done.

The MoFi pressing of Alison Krauss (5276) is a disaster in the vocal department too.

Audiophiles for some reason never seem to notice how bad she sounds on that record. Can’t make sense of it. Any of the good Sergio Mendes records will show you female vocals that practically have no equal. Our best Hot Stampers bring the exquisite vocal harmonies of Lani Hall (aka Mrs. Herb Alpert) and Janis Hansen (and others) right into your living room.

Why bother with trash like this Mobile Fidelity?

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