Half-Speed Mastered Mediocrities

David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust – MoFi Reviewed

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Reviews and Commentaries for Ziggy Stardust

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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 dynamic 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. (more…)

Yes / Close To The Edge – A MoFi Winner, Or Was It? I Don’t Think We’ll Ever Really Know

Hot Stamper Pressings of Close to the Edge Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Close to the Edge

Sonic Grade: Side One: B to B+ / Side Two: C

Many, many years ago (2005?) we wrote the commentary you see below. We can’t say if we would still agree with the sentiments expressed, so take what you read with a grain of salt, and remember that no two records sound the same. If your copy is better or worse on either side it will not come as a surprise to us here at Better Records!

This is a great MOFI! (On side one anyway.) I have to admit I was partly wrong about this pressing. I used to think it was mud. Either the copy I have here is much better than the copy I played years ago, or my stereo has changed. I’m going to guess that it’s the stereo that has changed. I used to like the original American copies of this album and now I hear that they are upper midrangy and aggressive. So my stereo must have been too forgiving in that area, which in turn would have made this MOFI sound too dull.

Side one is as good as I’ve ever heard it outside of the best British originals. [We don’t even buy those anymore. Maybe that’s the problem with this comparison.] Since almost none of those have survived in clean enough condition to be played on modern audiophile turntables, there isn’t much of an alternative to this pressing.

And it should be noted that there is distortion on the tape. It’s on every LP copy and it’s on the CD too. There are cacophonous passages that have what sounds like board overload, mike preamp overload, tape saturation or something of the kind.

Eddie Offord, the recording engineer, is famous for complaining that the boys in the band were totally out of control when it came to adding layer upon layer and track upon track to their recordings, running the risk of such a dense mix that nothing would be heard above the din. He was always fighting a losing battle trying to rein them in. Although he did his best, it appears his efforts failed in some of the musical passages on this album.

So here’s a MOFI I like, but I only really like side one. Side two, although it’s decent enough, errs a little on the smooth, dull side. I have copies in which the guitars have wonderfully extended harmonics and sweeter tone. Some of them are even domestic pressings! On the MOFI there is a “blunting” of the acoustic guitar transients. (more…)

Blood Sweat and Tears / Self-Titled – Direct Disc Labs Half-Speed Reviewed

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Reviews and Commentaries for Blood, Sweat and Tears

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Sonic Grade: C [not sure it would rate that highly today, my guess it would not]

Back in the ’80s I thought this DD Labs version smoked domestic copies, because the only domestic copy I had ever bought was a bad sounding one. This was many years before I came to understand that no two domestic copies were the same and that there were dozens of pressing variations.

I believe it was not until about 1990 that I heard my first Hot Stamper of BS&T. Oddly enough, those stamper numbers managed to best all comers for about the next 15 years. Now we know that although they can be awesome, there is actually another stamper that is potentially even better. It’s so good in fact that it has been awarded our Four Plus grade. 

The reason this pressing doesn’t get a lower grade is that, regardless of how compressed and veiled the sound is, the average Columbia pressing is surely no better.

When it comes to finding your own great sounding pressing, sure, you can do it, but it’s a lot of hard work. I’m guessing most of you already have a job and don’t need another one. I do this for a living as well as for a hobby, so I’m willing to put in the time and effort to slog through all the trash in order to find the treasure.

Also, we have a big advantage over our customers. I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I have a big head start on all of you. I know many stampers that are good and many that are bad. I found out the hard way. On BS&T I know exactly which copies to buy and which copies to avoid. I have literally played more than 100 copies of this record.

This is true for scores if not hundreds of other albums. Why did I bother to listen to so many different pressings? The overriding reason is because I wanted to find a better sounding version for myself.

It’s not worth the effort if it’s not music you love.

This is also the reason you will never find Hot Stamper pressings of some artists’ records on the site. I don’t like their music and I will just never make the effort to listen to enough pressings of their albums in order to find a hot one.

[Most of this was written way back in 2005.]


FURTHER READING

Half-Speed Mastered Disasters

(more…)

John Williams / Star Wars & Close Encounters / Mehta

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

This Mobile Fidelity LP contains the music of Star Wars and Close Encounters, conducted by Zubin Mehta. This MoFi pressing is far more TRANSPARENT than the London pressings we have of the same music, even the ones half-speed mastered by Stan Ricker himself. Yes, he cut the original Londons!

It’s still one of the better MoFi remasters, all things considered. The music, to these ears, has always been hi-fi-ish schlock, and the recording itself is way too multi-miked, in the tradition of Phase IV, than I could ever begin to take seriously.

Bottom line, a loser, but the original Londons are even worse!
(more…)

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

More Steve Miller

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

More of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Please Please Me

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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…)

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 / Self-Titled – MoFi Reviewed

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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.

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

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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…)