Labels With Shortcomings – Mobile Fidelity

Michael McDonald – If That’s What It Takes – Another MoFi Disaster

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

The MoFi pressing of this album is a complete disaster — it’s even fatter, muddier and more compressed than the standard domestic copy, as improbable as that may seem. It was mastered by Jack Hunt, a man we know to be responsible for some of the thickest, dullest, deadest MoFi recuts in the history of their shameful catalog. With mastering credits on this album, Gerry Rafferty (058) and Blondie (050) you have to wonder how this guy kept getting work.  

Jethro Tull – Aqualung – A MoFi Disaster (But Don’t Tell This Guy)

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Sonic Grade: D

We noted in our Hot Stamper review for Aqualung that the MoFi is a disaster, with the murky bloated DCC even worse. (We didn’t like the Classic either.) 

But we used to like the MoFi and DCC just fine. What could possibly have changed?

It’s a long story, and a pretty long commentary, which we have excerpted from a customer’s letter, along with our reply.

We have edited our original commentary and his letter for the sake of brevity.

Now the letter:

To: Tom Port,

As far as “Aqualung” is concerned, I have a Mobile Fidelity issue of this album which sounds great and being pressed on some of the best vinyl in the world by people who are known for their meticulous care with records, I don’t think that there would be much difference at all in the quality of different Mo-Fi pressings of this or any of their records.

The key phrase here is “I don’t think that there would be much difference at all…”. You see, this is not something to think about, this is something to test. Thinking got this gentleman nowhere; testing might have had the opposite effect. (more…)

Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones – MoFi Reviewed

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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). 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, 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: backward. 

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. (more…)

Mobile Fidelity and the Limited Edition Pressing

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Many audiophiles are still operating under the misapprehension that Mobile Fidelity, what with their strict ’quality control’, managed to eliminate pressing variations of the kind we discuss endlessly on the site. 

Such is simply not the case, and it’s child’s play to demonstrate how false this way of thinking is, assuming you have these four things: good cleaning fluids and a machine, multiple copies of the same record, a reasonably revealing stereo, and two working ears (I guess that’s actually five things, my bad). With all five the reality of pressing variations for ALL pressings is both obvious and incontrovertible.

The raison d’être of the Limited Edition Audiophile Record is to take the guesswork out of buying the Best Sounding Pressing money can buy.

But it just doesn’t work that way. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but our entire website is based on the proposition that nothing of the sort is true. If paying more money for an audiophile pressing guaranteed the buyer better sound, 80% of what we do around here would be a waste of time. Everybody knows what the audiophile pressings are, and there would be nothing for us to do but find them and throw them up on the website for you to buy. Why even bother to play them if they all sound so good?

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. (more…)

Hall and Oates – Abandoned Luncheonette – Another MoFi Disaster

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked. 

Those of you who have had the misfortune to play the MoFi LP know that they absolutely ruined this album. They boosted the hell out of the top end, the last thing in the world this recording needed. 

Actually, that’s probably not true. People who collect MoFi records probably like the kind of phony sound found on the MoFi of this title.

To the extent that a MoFi collector is not happy with the sound, my guess is he would more than likely place the blame on the recording, not the mastering. (more…)

Grateful Dead – Wake Of The Flood

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  • Stunning sound throughout with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides and vinyl that is about as quiet as we can find
  • This original pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce
  • A difficult album to find audiophile quality sound for, this is one of the best copies to ever hit the site
  • “Wake of the Flood was certainly as good – if not arguably better than – most of their previous non-live efforts.”

This is the album that comes after American Beauty on the Grateful Dead timeline, and while it’s certainly not in the same league as that masterpiece, there’s still a lot of good music on here. The All Music Guide gives it four stars out of five and calls it “certainly as good — if not arguably better than — most of their previous non-live efforts”. (more…)

Grateful Dead – Grateful Dead

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  • KILLER sound throughout for this original WB Gold Label pressing with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Both sides here are super rich and full-bodied yet still clean, clear and open with tons of energy and a great bottom end
  • A copy like this lets you hear what the band was going for without the grit and congestion (not to mention godawful surfaces) that you find on the typical pressing
  • “… a valiant attempt to corral the group’s hydra-headed psychedelic jug-band music on vinyl…” – All Music

We just finished a big shootout for this title and it was pretty difficult. The best Gold Label originals and Green Label pressings can be superb, but most of them are noisy and many of them don’t sound any good. Those of you who are familiar with this music are sure to be surprised at how good these songs sound here.

Unfortunately, Viola Lee Blues, the last track on side two, never sounds all that good. It’s pretty easy to imagine that high-fidelity audiophile-quality sonics were not what these guys were going for in 1966. (more…)

Grateful Dead – Europe ’72

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  • Stunning sound throughout with all six sides of this epic live collection earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • “No record album can replace a live appearance by the Dead — but those who can’t get enough of this exceptional band will be kept busy for a good little while with this one.” – Rolling Stone
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The band mixes a bevy of new material with revisitations of back-catalog favorites. Sadly, this European jaunt would be the last of its kind to include the formidable talents and soul of founding member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who was in increasingly fragile health. Although few in number, his contributions to Europe ’72 are among the most commanding not only of this release, but of his career.”

*NOTE: A mark makes three light ticks near the end of track one, Truckin’.

All six sides of this White Hot Europe ’72 have the best sound we have ever heard for the album!

A bunch of classic Dead songs that never appeared on a studio album are here in their definitive versions, including He’s Gone, Jack Straw, Brown-Eyed Woman, Ramble On Rose and Tennessee Jed. (more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu – A Tale of Two MoFi Pressings

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Sonic Grade: F (or not!)

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

Just for fun about 10 years ago I pulled out a MoFi pressing of Deja Vu I had laying around. I hadn’t played their version in a long time. I could have gone a lot longer without playing it, because what I heard was pretty disappointing. Playing their record confirmed all my prejudices. The highs sizzled and spit. The heart of the midrange was recessed and sour.

Know what it reminded me of? A bad Japanese pressing. (Since most of them are pretty bad I could have just said a typical Japanese pressing, but that’s another story for another day.)

And if that’s not bad enough, the bass definition disappeared. Bass notes and bass parts that were clearly audible and easily followed on our Hot Stamper copies were murky, ill-defined mud on the MoFi.

If you own the MoFi you owe it to yourself to hear a better sounding version. You really don’t know what you’re missing. (more…)

With the Beatles – The MoFi Half Speed Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C+

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The Mobile Fidelity pressing of this album has so many problems it would take an hour to describe them all. Suffice it to say, it’s thinner and brighter, with voices that are grittier and grainier. The overall effect is the sinking feeling that you are listening to a cheap reissue and not the real thing. Don’t the Beatles sound better than this? To be fair, some tracks are okay, others a disaster.

If you own the MoFi, play it. Listen to it carefully. Make notes of which songs sound better than others and why. That’s how we spend our days, evaluating the relative merits of various pressings, and it’s that and that alone that has given us the critical listening skills necessary to recognize and appreciate the differences among the records we play.

One of the biggest problems with the average Parlophone copy is just the reverse of the MOFI. They tend to have rolled off highs, which emphasizes the harshness in the upper midrange and causes a loss of transparency. (The best Hot Stamper copies are of course as smooth, sweet, and transparent as they come.) Even with those shortcomings though, I would still rather listen to a typical Parlophone pressing. I wouldn’t be frustrated by the sound of somebody fooling with the EQ and screwing it up. 

Generic Audiophile 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.