Half-Speed Mastered Mediocrities

Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle – Decent at Best on Mobile Fidelity

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The top end of this album is a problem on most pressings — dry and somewhat brittle — but on the best pressings the highs are extended, sweet and fairly natural. The soundfield is open and transparent with three-dimensional space that brings out the “trippy” sound the band threw in all over this album.

The MOFI has a bit more going on up top than most dometic pressings (forget the dubby imports) but the combination of blurry bass and compressed, lifeless sound fail to make this album sound the way you remember it in your head from back in the day.

Finding a good sounding copy of this record is not easy. Most of them sound like they’re playing underwater. (more…)

Boston Hot Stamper Testimonial – Shooting Out the Big Three

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This week’s letter comes from our good customer Roger, who did a little shootout of his own among three very different sounding pressings: two Half-Speeds, one by MoFi and one by CBS, probably the two most popular pressings among audiophiles, and our very own Hot Stamper LP. Here are his findings. Keep in mind that Roger bought a copy priced at $125, half the price of the best copy in our shootout.

Hi Tom,

I got your Boston hot stamper today and enjoyed comparing it to MFSL and CBS half-speed versions in a shootout. I had long since given up on listening to this record since it became part of a communist ploy to brainwash us by playing Boston repeatedly on the radio until we would give up any information they desired. “Deep Purple Lite” was what my college buddies and I used to derisively call it. Now I only wish we had this type of music still around. So I had fun reliving my college days and listening to this LP.

For a pop recording, it is a pretty good recording soundwise, and all 3 pressings were indeed good, if not interesting. I tried the CBS half-speed first, and it was tonally lean with good speed and detail, and bass was extended and quick. However, its Achilles heel was that it had too much energy on top and excessive brightness, something that couldn’t hide from my speakers’ ion tweeters.

Roger, you seem to be using the phrase “tonally lean” unpejoratively (if I can make up such a word), whereas for us here at Better Records, that is the kiss of death for Half-Speeds, and in fact Audiophile Records of All Kinds. Lack of weight down below, lack of Whomp Factor, is the main reason half-speed mastered records are so consistently and ridiculously bad. If not bad, certainly wrong. You can be very sure that Boston would not want, nor would they put up with, that kind of anemic sound for a minute. (more…)

The Beatles / Please Please Me – We Review the Mobile Fidelity Half-Speed

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Sonic Grade: C

If you own the MoFi LP, do yourself a favor and buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings. (Actually any good British import pressing will do.) What’s the first thing you will notice other than correct tonality, better bass and a lot more “life” overall?

No spit! As we’ve commented elsewhere, because of the wacky cutting system they used, MoFis are full of sibilance. 

As I was playing this record many years ago, maybe by about the fifth or sixth song it occurred to me that I hadn’t been hearing the spit that I was used to from my MoFi LP. You don’t notice it when it’s not there. But your MoFi sure has a bad case of spitty vocals. If you never noticed them before, you will now. (more…)

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust – MoFi Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C-

The MoFi pressing is decent, probably better than the average domestic copy I suppose. The colorations and the limitations of their cutting system make it painful for me to listen to it though, especially the sloppy bass and compression. You can do worse but you sure can do a lot better.

MoFi did two of the greatest Bowie albums of all time, Ziggy and Let’s Dance, and neither one can hold a candle to the real thing. If you want to settle for a pretty poor imitation of either or both of those albums, stick with your MoFi. If you want to hear the kind of Demo Disc sound that Bowie’s records are capable of, try a Hot Stamper

Boston – Boston – A CBS Half-Speed I Used to Like (Gulp)

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Sonic Grade: C

Lack of weight down below, or as we like to call it, Whomp Factor, is the main reason half-speed mastered records are so consistently bad. (If not bad, certainly wrong.) You can be sure that Boston would not have wanted, nor would they have been willing to accept, the kind of anemic sound that the half speed delivers.

The CBS is cut clean from a good tape, so it easily beats the bad domestic pressings, of which there are many. But it can’t rock. What good is a Boston record that doesn’t rock? It’s a contradiction in terms; the band, as well as their debut album, have no other reason to exist.

Here’s what we used to say about the record:

“This is the best sounding version of this music that I know of. A Better Records recommended pressing!”

Which means it’s another We Was Wrong listing. We have a whole section of them.

Blind Faith – Blind Faith – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: C-

Our latest shootout this time around (07/09) left us with a fairly large serving of egg on our face concerning the commentary we had written for the MoFi pressing of Blind Faith, a textbook example of We Was Wrong.

It’s rich and sweet with SHOCKINGLY GOOD SOUND. MFSL did a masterful job with this one, I’d put it in the top 10 MOFIs of all-time!

I regret to say none of that is true.

Blind Faith has many of the same problems as the later Japanese pressed MoFis like Thick As A Brick and Meddle which we discuss in more detail below.

About Thick As A Brick we wrote:

As we noted last time we listed the MOFI LP:

“This MOFI is super TRANSPARENT and OPEN, and the top end should sound lush and extended. If you prize clarity, this is the one!”

But if you prize clarity at the expense of everything else, you are seriously missing the boat on Thick As A Brick. The MOFI is all mids and highs with almost nothing going on below. This is a rock record, but without bass and dynamics the MOFI can’t rock, so what exactly is it good for?

Like Meddle, one of the last of the MOFI titles to be pressed in Japan, it’s a pale shadow of the real thing. It has no business in the collection of any audiophile worth his salt. If you want to hear this music right, let us get you a Hot Stamper pressing. It’s guaranteed to blow your mind. We’ll even take your MOFI in trade and sell it to some unsuspecting audiophile who still buys into that Half-Speed Mastered Nonsense.

Little Feat – Waiting for Columbus – A Passable (!) MoFi

More Little Feat

More Waiting for Columbus

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Mobile Fidelity Pressing reviewed. Our Audiophile Scorecard has plenty more where this one came from

This is actually a pretty good sounding record, all things considered. We put this one through our cleaning process and gave it a listen. Although our Hot Stamper copies do sound better, they’re also quite a bit more expensive. This copy had the best sound we heard out of the three or four we played, which makes it a Hot Stamper I suppose, but we are instead just calling it a Very Good Sounding Copy.

Waiting for Columbus is one of the greatest live rock and roll albums ever made, containing performances by one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever play. If you only buy one Little Feat album in your lifetime, make it this one.

We spent years trying to get shootouts together for this album, but kept running into the fact that in a head to head shootout the right MoFi pressing — sloppy bass and all — was hard to beat.

This is no longer the case, courtesy of that same old laundry list you have no doubt seen on the site countless times: better equipment, tweaks, record cleaning, room treatments, etcetera, etcetera. Now the shortcomings of the MoFi are clear for all to see, and the strengths of the best non-half-speed mastered pressings are too, which simply means that playing the MoFi now would be an excruciating experience. All I can hear is what it does wrong. I was so much happier with it when I didn’t know better. (more…)

Heart – Dreamboat Annie – Nautilus Hot Stamper (from Long, Long Ago)

More Heart

More Dreamboat Annie

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This is a Minty looking Nautilus Half-Speed Mastered LP with SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND on side two. I think I finally figured out why people like these half-speed mastered records so much. If you get one like this, it’s great! The mids and highs are transparent, sweet, open, and tonally correct. There’s none of that MOFI 10k top end boost here! Listen critically to the vocals — there’s almost no phony hi-fi-ish quality to the midrange, the kind you hear on so many half-speed mastered records.  

Flip the record over to side one and there they are, plain as day: audiophile BS vocals. That makes this a Hot Stamper on side two and a pretty much run-of-the-mill stamper for side one.

Both sides actually have pretty good bass (for a half-speed), so maybe that’s being a bit too harsh. More accurately one could say both sides are better than average, with side two actually being pretty much right on the money. (more…)

Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat – Is the MoFi Good or Bad?

Sonic Grade: D to B-

If you own the typical MoFi version of this album you happen to own one of the All Time Mastering Disasters of the modern era. Ridiculously boosted at both ends, their version is all but unlistenable on a high end stereo. 

Some copies are worse than others, so we are conservatively giving MoFi’s pressing a sonic grade of D. We’ve played some in the past that clearly deserved an F (F as in Failing), but we also once played one that sounded pretty good, which we describe below. If you’ve played half a dozen MoFi copies and plucked out the best one, yours might be good too. If you haven’t heard a bunch, chances are slim that yours is any better than awful.

There’s only one way to tell of course, and that’s to pull it off the shelf and give it a spin. You may be shocked at just how hyped-up it has gotten since the last time you heard it.

If you play your records back on an old console, with maybe a blown woofer or two, okay, I can see how the sound of the MoFi might work. But I’m guessing most of you have something better than that, and since you do, one of our Hot Stamper pressings will absolutely positively blow your mind, showing you the real Year of the Cat. We guarantee it. (more…)

Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Memphis – MoFi Reviewed

More Elvis Presley

More From Elvis in Memphis

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Sonic Grade: B-? C+?

Another MoFi LP reviewed. 

I first heard From Elvis in Memphis the way I heard so many albums back in the late ’70s and early ’80s: on the Mobile Fidelity pressing. I was an audiophile record collector in 1981 and if MoFi was impressed enough with the sound and the music to remaster it and offer it to their dedicated fans, of which I was clearly one, then who was I to say no to an album I had never heard? (Soon enough I would learn my lesson about MoFi’s A&R department. The MoFi release of Supersax Plays Bird, a record that had virtually nothing going for it, was the last time I took their advice.)

Turns out they did a pretty good job on the Elvis album though, not that I would have any way to know — back then it would not even have occurred to me to buy a standard RCA pressing and compare it to my half-speed-mastered pressed-in-Japan, double-the-price-of-a-regular LP. A decade or thereabouts later it would be obvious to me that MoFi had fooled around with the sound and that the right real RCA pressing would be more correct and more natural (but probably not as quiet of course).

Generic Audiophile LP Bashing

The most serious fault of the typical Half-Speed Mastered LP is not incorrect tonality or poor bass definition, although you will have a hard time finding one that doesn’t suffer from both.

It’s Dead As A Doornail sound, plain and simple, a subject we discuss in greater depth here.

And most Heavy Vinyl pressings coming down the pike these days are as guilty of this sin as their audiophile forerunners from the ’70s and ’80s. The average Heavy Vinyl LP I throw on my turntable sounds like it’s playing in another room. What audiophile in his right mind could possibly find that quality appealing? But there are scores of companies turning out this crap; somebody must be buying it. (more…)