Labels With Shortcomings – Mobile Fidelity

Elton John Disasters from MoFi and Direct Disk Labs

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Sonic Grade: F (DD Labs) / D (MoFi)

Hall of Shame and two more Half Speeds debunked.

If you have the Direct Disc Labs half-speed you have one truly awful record in your collection, so sucked out in the midrange, so compressed everywhere, what the hell were they thinking making this rockin’ album sound like that? It’s positively disgraceful. It makes MoFi look like they knew what they doing, and we know that sure isn’t true.

In truth we did not actually have a copy of the MoFi handy for this shootout, but in our defense let us just say that we’ve heard their pressing many times over the course of the last twenty years. It’s better than the DD Labs version but not good enough for me to want to play it — compressed and sucked-out like practically every record they ever made, just not as badly as the DD Labs version. (more…)

King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King – A Good Pressing from Mobile Fidelity

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Sonic Grade: B

Another MoFi LP reviewed.

The MoFi pressing shown here is surely one of their best. Unfortunately we have little tolerance for the dynamic compression, overall lifelessness and wonky bass heard on practically every record they ever remastered. 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. But 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, even one as good as MoFi’s.

But 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 of In The Court Of The Crimson King, even one as good as MoFi’s.

Side by side the comparison will surely be striking. How much energy, size and 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. 

Size and Space

Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center of the soundfield.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation. (more…)

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

 

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Half Speed reviewed.

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…)

Sgt. Pepper’s and Bad Audiophile Thinking (Hint: the UHQR Is Wrong)

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Sonic Grade: D

We charge hundreds of dollars for a Hot Stamper Sgt. Pepper, which is a lot to pay for a record. But consider this: the MoFi UHQR typically sells for more than the price we charge and doesn’t sound as good. 

Of course the people that buy UHQRs would never find themselves in a position to recognize how much better one of our Hot Stampers sounds in a head to head shootout with their precious and oh-so-collectible UHQR. They assume that they’ve already purchased the Ultimate Pressing and see no need to try another.

I was guilty of the same Bad Audiophile Thinking myself in 1982. I remember buying the UHQR of Sgt. Pepper and thinking how amazing it sounded and how lucky I was to have the world’s best version of Sgt. Pepper.

If I were to play that record now it would be positively painful. All I would hear would be the famous MoFi 10K Boost on the top end (the one that MoFi lovers never seem to notice), and the flabby Half-Speed mastered bass (ditto). Having heard really good copies of Sgt. Pepper, like the wonderful Hot Stampers we put on the site from time to time, now the MoFi UHQR sounds so phony to me that I wouldn’t be able to sit through it with a gun to my head.

Gino Vannelli – Powerful People – What Was I Thinking?

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked. 

At the time of our last shootout in 2014 I still had the MoFi pressing of Powerful People in my personal, very small (at this point) record collection. Almost all the best sounding records from my collection had long ago been sold off, going to good homes that I can only assume would play them more than I had in the last ten years. If it’s a record you see on our site, chances are good I have listened to it until I’d practically turned blue in the face.

But I had kept my Powerful People half-speed these 30+ years because the domestic pressings I’d played were just too damn midrangy to enjoy. At least the MoFi had bass, top end and didn’t sound squawky or hard on the vocals.

Well, let me tell you, played against the best domestic pressings, of which this is one, the MoFi is laughable. (In that respect it shares much with the current crop of audiophile reissues.) It’s unbelievably compressed, a problem that is easily heard on the biggest, most exciting parts of the tracks — they never get remotely as big or as loud on the MoFi as they do on the lowly A&M originals. (more…)

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

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Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings. 

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. (more…)

Mobile Fidelity’s Approach to Mastering – I Have a Theory

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I have a theory about why MoFi’s mastering approach here tended to work for the album when it failed so miserably for so many others. It goes a little something like this. 

Back in their early days MoFi tended to add bass and treble to practically every record they mastered, regardless of whether or not the master tape they were using needed any such boost. A little extra sparkle up top and a little extra slam down below was what the audiophile public seemed to want. Truth be told, I was a member of that group and I know I did.

Fortunately for them Waiting for Columbus is an album that can really use a little at both ends. Rarely did The Mastering Lab supply it, making the original domestic pressings somewhat bass-shy and dull up top. The MoFi clearly corrected the poor EQ choices The Mastering Lab had made for the most part.

The Bottom

But at what cost? At a very high one, revealed to us during our shootout by the killer pressings we uncovered. On the MoFi the bass, although there is more of it, just the right amount in fact, is BLUBBER. The lack of definition is positively painful, once you’ve heard how well-recorded it is, which is what the best copies can show you.

The Cowbell Test

And the top isn’t quite as good as I always thought — you can hear their standard 10k boost on the cowbell at the opening of Fat Man in a Bathtub. That cowbell just does not sound right. The typical original gets the cowbell even more wrong, but that’s a good reason not to settle for the typical copy and to find yourself a Hot Stamper. Or let us find one for you.

Top Sound

Many of Little Feat’s earlier albums are difficult to find with good sound. (I won’t say they were badly recorded; I was nowhere near the studio at the time and have no idea what the real master tapes sound like. All I know is their records usually don’t sound very good.)

But this is a BEAUTIFULLY recorded concert, and the versions they do of their old material are MUCH BETTER than the studio album versions for the most part. Fat Man In A Bathtub on this album is out of this world. You will have a hard time listening to the studio versions of these songs once you have heard them performed with this kind of energy, enthusiasm and technical virtuosity. This is some of the best sounding live rock and roll sound you will ever hear outside of a concert venue.

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.

Blondie – Parallel Lines on Audiophile Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: D or worse

All Hall of Shame Pressings.

EMI and Simply Vinyl both released Heavy Vinyl versions of the album with little sonic success. I remember being underwhelmed by the Simply Vinyl version, the perfect example of the smeary sub-gen sound you get when a record is made from a dub tape. The EMI 180 was brighter and thinner and every bit as wrong in its own way. Choosing among them would have been difficult. The best choice: none of the above. 

As is so often the case, the Heavy Vinyl Reissues are simply a disgrace.

MOBILE FIDELITY

Two words: compressed muck (like most domestic pressings, to be fair).

I became a giant fan of this album the moment I heard it, but I always felt that the sound of my old original left something to be desired. So many copies are thick and lifeless; the music wants to cook but the sound seems to be holding it back.

And like an idiot I’m sure I had traded my original domestic pressing in for the MoFi when it came out in the early ’80s, the kind of dumbass audiophile move I discuss in the commentary Audiophilia 101: What Kind of Fool Was I?

As previously noted, the MoFi, one of those Jack Hunt turgid muckfests (check out City to City #058 for the ultimate in murky MoFi sound), is incapable of conveying anything resembling the kind of clean, clear, oh-so-radio-friendly pop rock sound that Mike Chapman 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.

 

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour on MoFi Anadisc

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.  

Pure Anadisc mud, like all the Moody Blues records MoFi remastered and ruined.

Completely worthless to those of us who play records and want to hear them sound good but, unsurprisingly, they’re still worth money to those who collect this sort of audiophile trash. Folks, seriously, you really have to work at it to find pressings of the Moody Blues albums that sound worse than the ones MoFi did in the ’90s.

Metallica – Ride The Lightning (45 RPM) – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

This is the Warner Brothers 45 RPM 180g Double LP Half-Speed Mastered at Mobile Fidelity from the original analog master tapes.

Hall of Shame pressing and another Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile Pressing Debunked

Compressed, sucked-out mids, no deep bass and muddy mid-bass, the mastering of this album is an absolute disaster on every level. If you want to know how clueless the average audiophile is, a quick Google search will bring up plenty of positive comments from listeners and reviewers alike.