Half-Speed Mastered Disasters

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 VERSION 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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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…)

Letter of the Week – “…I am surprised at how muddy the bass sounds on the new one.”

Reviews and Commentaries for Ghost in the Machine

More of the Music of 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.

[This Ghost in the Machine link 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 a great deal more about this album than most of the audiophiles expressing their opinions on audiophile forums.

You conducted a shootout, something most of them can’t be bothered to do.

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. It has set you on a better 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 should 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…)

The Doors / Self-Titled – MoFi Reviewed

More of the Music of The Doors

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Doors

Sonic Grade: D 

If anyone still thinks that this pressing is anything but a bad joke played on the audiophile public — so sucked out in the midrange, bass-shy and compressed to death — that person still has a way to go in this hobby. A very long way.

You can hear that something is off with this pressing from another room. The sound is bad enough to have earned a place in our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame.

But wait just a gosh darn minute.

I liked the MoFi just fine when it came out. I guess I had a way to go in this hobby too.

That was back in the early ’80s. I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two in the last forty years.

Some reviewers may be stuck in the ’80s but I sure as hell don’t think I am one of them.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Reviews and Commentaries for The Doors’ Debut

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Supersax Plays Bird on MoFi – Remastered, But Why’d They Bother?

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Audiophile Records with Bad Sound, Bad Music or Both

Awful music, awful sound.

In 1980, this is the record that single-handedly convinced me that MoFi would lower themselves to remastering records that have little in the way of actual musical value.

Update: 2022. I just looked up the mastering engineer credited with cutting the original pressings in 1973, Wally Traugott. Now what are the chances that Stan Ricker cut this record better than Wally Traugott? One in a million? That would be my guess.

Which simply means that the right domestic pressing on Capitol might just be a good sounding record. But why should anyone care? The music is hopeless.

We’ve created a couple of sections for records such as these. There’s one for albums we don’t like, and one for the worst releases by Mobile Fidelity, limited, of course, to the MoFi’s we’ve played (or can remember playing) over the course of the last 40+ years. There are surely plenty of others that would fit the bill if we ever bothered to pick up a copy of the album and audition it.

The Audiophile Record Collectors of the world naturally need this dreadful title to ensure their Mobile Fidelity collections are complete.

Which is precisely the kind of Record Collector Thinking that keeps these awful labels in business. And it certainly does these devoted audiophile record collectors no favors when it comes to the quality of their collections.

I admit to having sold my fair share of these kinds of Audiophile BS titles back when I was an Audiophile Record Dealer. Live and learn is the only excuse I have to offer. I was foolish, but you can learn from my mistakes, right here on this blog.

Back to my story:

I also learned that spending $20 to find out if the music on an album is any good is an expensive way to learn more about music you may not be familiar with.

As curators, the bigwigs at MoFi were generally competent, batting something close to .500, but in cases such as this Supersax title, as far as I’m concerned they failed completely.

FURTHER READING

If you are still buying these audiophile pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered Records.

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Alan Parsons Project – A MoFi Disaster

More Albums Engineered by Alan Parsons

Reviews and Commentaries for Albums Engineered by Alan Parsons

MoFi Regular LP: F / UHQR:

Two — count ’em, two — Hall of Shame pressings and two more MoFi Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile LPs reviewed and found wanting.

The MoFi is a textbook example of their ridiculous affinity for boosted top end, not to mention the extra kick they put in the kick drum, great for mid-fi (sometimes known around these parts as Stone Age Audio systems) but a serious distraction on a high end stereo with good low end reproduction.

If you like the album –and that’s a big if, I myself have never been able to take it seriously — try the Simply Vinyl or the Classic LP.

Even the UHQR sucks. Don’t kid yourself. They’re still mastered by SR, and he likes plenty of top end boost.

Like the old saying goes, if it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing.

If you are still buying these audiophile pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered Records.

The Band / Music From Big Pink – Bad Bass Like This Is Just Annoying

More of the Music of The Band

Roots Rock LPs with Hot Stampers Available Now

Sonic Grade: D

In 2012 the “new” MoFi put out another remastered Big Pink. Since their track record at this point is, to be honest, abysmal, we have not felt the need to audition it.

It’s very possible, even likely, that they restored some of the bass that’s missing from so many of the originals.

But bad half-speed mastered bass — poorly defined, never deep and never punchy — is that the kind of bass that would even be desirable?

To us, it is very much a problem. Bad bass is just plain annoying. Fortunately for us it is a problem we have to deal with much less often now that we’ve all but stopped playing half-speed mastered records.

(Here are some other records with exceptionally sloppy bass. If the bass on these records does not sound sloppy to you, you have your work cut out for you. Some of our favorite records for testing bass definition can be found here.)

Sucked Out Mids

The Doors first album was yet another obvious example of MoFi’s predilection for sucked-out mids. Scooping out the middle of the midrange has the effect of creating an artificial sense of depth where none belongs. Play any original Bruce Botnick engineered album by Love or The Doors and you will notice immediately that the vocals are front and center. 

The midrange suckout effect is easily reproducible in your very own listening room. Pull your speakers farther out into the room and farther apart and you can get that MoFi sound on every record you own. I’ve been hearing it in the various audiophile systems I’ve been exposed to for more than 40 years.

Nowadays I would place it under the general heading of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi. Our one goal for every tweak and upgrade we make is to increase the latter and reduce the former.

And note also that when you play your records too quietly, it results in an exaggerated, artificial sense of depth. That’s one of the main reasons we play them loud; we want to hear the pressings that have real presence and immediacy, because they’re the ones that are most likely to win our shootouts.

If you have any of our White Hot stampers you surely know what I’m talking about.


FURTHER READING

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp

Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Presence

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Donald Fagen / The Nightfly – MoFi Reviewed

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Sonic Grade: F

More MoFi phony EQ on the top right around 10k and sloppy bass.

You should be able to do a whole lot better and you sure won’t have to try very hard to do it.

Robert Ludwig is the man who knows how to cut this album, not Stan Ricker.

The properly pressed, properly cleaned Robert Ludwig-mastered copies are right in a way that the typical Half-Speed Mastered or Heavy Vinyl pressing rarely is. The more critically one listens, the more obvious this distinction becomes.

The real thing just can’t be beat, and you can be pretty sure that the real thing is an old record.

If you are buying these audiophile pressings, 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 remastered LP.

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.


New to the Blog? Start Here

Improving Your Critical Listening Skills

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments