Labels With Shortcomings – Mobile Fidelity

Charlie Byrd – Byrd at the Gate – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

This is a title Mobile Fidelity ruined, 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-RTI 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 and 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.

AMG Review

This is a listening pleasure to the first degree. Unlike any other, Charlie Byrd sincerely knows how to make his instrument speak, sending graceful chords and melodies to this attentive audience… Cheers to the Charlie Byrd Trio for a dynamic effort during this May 1963 gig. Applause, applause.

Gerry Rafferty – City To City – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

The MoFi pressing of this album is a complete disaster — it’s fat, muddy and compressed. It was mastered by Jack Hunt, a man we know to be responsible for some of the thickest, dullest, deadest MoFi recuts throughout their shameful catalog. With mastering credits on this album, Michael McDonald (149) and Blondie (050), you have to wonder how this guy kept getting work.

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.

Donald Fagen – The Nightfly – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing.

More phony MoFi EQ on the top and sloppy bass. You can do a whole lot better and you sure won’t have to try very hard to do it.

Yet another Mobile Fidelity Pressing Debunked. Our Audiophile Scorecard has plenty more where this one came from.

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie – Sinatra At The Sands – Mobile Fidelity Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B

Another MoFi LP reviewed.

It’s pretty good. Compressed and veiled, but the tonality is correct. I give it a B. It will beat the vast majority of reissues, which tend to be thin, gritty, and woefully lacking in Tubey Magic. And the vinyl will be quiet, which is something not many of the best pressings can offer. 

But who wants to listen to a B grade record when we you can buy A and A+ pressings from us?

What Hot Stampers of Sinatra At The Sands have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1966
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the Sands

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What to Listen for

There is some edge on Sinatra’s voice on every side of every copy; it’s so common it’s got to be on the tape. Those copies with less edge and grit on the vocals which are not overly smooth or dull tend to do very well in our shootouts.

Also, richness is very important. We look for a combination of rich, Tubey Magical sound that still maintains a fair amount of space, clarity, transparency and freedom from smear.

The original label pressings (always in stereo; the monos are really a joke) are richer and thicker as a rule.

The pressings with the orange two-tone labels tend to be thinner and clearer. A high percentage of them are way too modern, bright and gritty, and we throw them right in the trade-in pile.

Finding the copy with “best of both worlds” sound is the trick. Pressings on both labels have won shootouts in the past. With this album we do what we always do. We play the record without looking at the label and simply grade the quality of the sound coming out of the speakers. Any other approach is liable to fall prey to unconscious biases. As we like to say, record shootouts may not be rocket science, but they’re a science of a kind, one with strict protocols developed over the course of many years to insure that the results we arrive at are as accurate as we can possibly make them.

My First Time

Back in the early ’70s this was actually the album that first introduced me to honest-to-goodness “audiophile” sound.

I was at my local stereo store listening to speakers one day, and the salesman made a comment that the speakers we were listening to (the old Infinity Monitors with the Walsh tweeter) sounded “boxy”. I confessed to him that I didn’t actually know what that meant or what it would sound like if it weren’t boxy.

So he hooked up a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10s and put Sinatra at the Sands on. I was amazed at how the sound just floated in the room, free from the speakers, presenting an image that was as wide and deep as the showroom we were in. That speaker may have many flaws, but boxiness is definitely not one of them.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Come Fly With Me 
I’ve Got a Crush on You 
I’ve Got You Under My Skin 
The Shadow of Your Smile 
Street of Dreams 
One for My Baby (And One More for the…

Side Two

Fly Me to the Moon

One of the best tracks on the album. It can have SUPERB sound!

One O’Clock Jump 
The Tea Break 
You Make Me Feel So Young

Side Three

All of Me 
The September of My Years

Another high point and one of the best reasons to own this album. This is a much better performance than the famous studio version which was such a big hit in its day.

Luck Be a Lady 
Get Me to the Church on Time 
It Was a Very Good Year 
Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me 
Makin’ Whoopee

Side Four

Where or When 
Angel Eyes 
My Kind of Town 
A Few Last Words 
My Kind of Town (Reprise)

AMG Rave Review

In many ways, Sinatra at the Sands is the definitive portrait of Frank Sinatra in the ’60s. Recorded in April of 1966, At the Sands is the first commercially released live Frank Sinatra album, recorded at a relaxed Las Vegas club show. For these dates at the Sands, Sinatra worked with Count Basie and his orchestra, which was conducted by Quincy Jones.

Like any of his concerts, the material was fairly predictable, with his standard show numbers punctuated by some nice surprises. Throughout the show, Sinatra is in fine voice, turning in a particularly affecting version of “Angel Eyes.” He is also in fine humor, constantly joking with the audience and the band, as well as delivering an entertaining, if rambling, monologue halfway through the album. Some of the humor has dated poorly, appearing insensitive, but that sentiment cannot be applied to the music.

Basie and the orchestra are swinging and dynamic, inspiring a textured, dramatic, and thoroughly enjoyable performance from Sinatra.

Blondie – Parallel Lines – MoFi Debunked

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Audiophile Versions of This Album Suck (The Life Right Out of the Music)  

As previously noted, the MoFi, one of those Jack Hunt turgid muckfests (check out City to City #058 for the ulitimate in murky MOFI sound), is incapable of conveying anything resembling the kind of clear, radio-friendly pop rock sound that Chris Thomas 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. (more…)

Emmylou Harris – Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

I comment below about the ridiculous sound of the MoFi pressing. When you have a recording that is already plenty bright, adding more top end and taking out more lower midrange is the last thing in the world you should be doing. Since that is standard operating procedure for MoFi (and other Half-Speed mastering outfits), that’s exactly the approach they ended up taking.

The sound that Emmylou and her producers were going for here is clean, detailed and low distortion, which is exactly what the best pressings, the “hottest stampers”, deliver.

Those of you who have had the opportunity to play the Mobile Fidelity pressing of this record should know what a disaster it is.

Is brighter better? Apparently Mobile Fidelity thinks so. And they did the same thing to Gordon Lightfoot’s album. His voice sounds so phony on the MoFi that you’d swear it’s a bad CD. But it’s not a bad CD. It’s an expensive audiophile record! (more…)

Cat Stevens – Tea For The Tillerman – MoFi (UHQR too) Debunked

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Sonic Grade: MoFi Regular LP: D / UHQR: F 

This is, I hope it goes without saying, one of the greatest rock records of all time, music that belongs in any collection. I’ve been playing this album for 30 years and I can honestly say I’ve never once been tired of hearing it. I do get tired of hearing bad copies. I become absolutely incensed when I have to play the Mobile Fidelity version of this album, because what they did to this record is a travesty. If you want to know what the guitars on this album are NOT supposed to sound like, play the MOFI. And if you want to hear an even worse version, play the UHQR.

Blood Sweat and Tears – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade – MoFi: D

We found a Hot Stamper copy for one of our best customers a while back and he wrote an incisive commentary which may be of interest to you. To see the results of his comparison between the Direct Disc Labs Half-Speed, the MOFI Anadisq, his original domestic pressing, and the Hot Stamper he bought from us, check out his letter.

1/13

[I want to thank Roger Lawry for his extensive commentary on the BS&T’s second album. His critical listening skills are obviously quite well developed, especially since he agrees with me about what is the best sounding BS&T — the one I sold him! I will be adding some caveats in places to clarify a few issues, but basically Roger’s assessment is right on the money. I added the underlining below for emphasis.]

Hi, Tom:

I listened to 3 versions of the BS&T record and here is what I found (I wrote up a little review–you can use it on your website or laugh and delete it, whatever). (more…)

Alan Parsons Project – I Robot – A MoFi Disaster, on UHQR too

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Sonic Grade: MoFi Regular LP: F / UHQR: D 

Hall of Shame pressings and two more MoFi Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile LPs debunked.

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 but a serious distraction on a high end system with good low end reproduction.

If you like the album –and that’s a big if — 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 high end. Like the old saying goes, if it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing.