Labels With Shortcomings – Mobile Fidelity

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.

But Then, A Few Years Later We Played This Copy…

Hot Stamper Sound on the MoFi pressing of Deja Vu, can it be possible? I have NEVER heard the MoFi sound this good, not even close. This just KILLS the other copies I’ve heard. I wrote a scathing review of their badly mastered pressing which you can read below, and I still stand behind every word, because this copy is not your average MoFi. The average one still sucks. What we are selling here is a FLUKE. Here is the story from our Hot Stamper shootout we just did.

This week we picked up a very clean looking MoFi pressing and decided to throw it in the shootout just for fun. We were shocked — this one actually sounded good! Not as amazing as our best Hot Stampers, but much better than we had expected. We checked our old copy and heard the same bad sound described above. 

Pressing variations exist for audiophile records as well, and here was another example. It just goes to show that nothing short of playing a record will tell you how it sounds — except for reading our website! Who besides us could spend so much time playing so many bad records? It’s a dirty job, but we’re happy to do it. Hearing one amazing record makes up for playing 10 bad ones, so we’ll keep at it.

A classic case of Live and Learn.

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is to simply avoid playing them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five or ten years ago, try playing some of your MoFi’s, 180 gram LPs, Japanese pressings, 45 RPM remasters and the like. You might be in for quite a shock.

It’s all good — until the needle hits the groove. Then you might find yourself in need of actual Better Records, not the ones you just hoped were better.

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.

Steely Dan – Katy Lied – A MoFi that Beggars Belief

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

By the time I was avidly collecting Mobile Fidelity records in the late ’70s this title had already gone out of print, one of the first to do so. My guess is that even the cloth-eared audiophiles at MoFi knew when they had a turkey on their hands and mercilessly put this one out to pasture. Yes, the sound is so bad that even MoFi could hear it. 

Compressed and lifeless as the screen speakers so popular at the time, it’s hard to imagine any version sounding worse than this one.

And yet I continued to play my copy, for enjoyment of course, oblivious — I must have been oblivious, right? — to the bad sound. (more…)

Andre Previn & His Pals – West Side Story on MoFi Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B-

Another MoFi LP reviewed.

I played this record a while back — it’s one of the Mobile Fidelity’s I remember liking from the old days — and sure enough it still sounds good. It does not have the phony boosted bottom and top that most MoFis do. Since it’s such a well recorded album, the sound is very impressive. Also the music is great. This is one of Previn’s best piano trio records. And Shelly Manne drums up a storm here. 

Foreigner Double Vision – MoFi Half-Speed Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

There is a Mobile Fidelity Half-Speed Mastered version of this album currently in print, and an older one from the days when their records were pressed in Japan (#052).

We haven’t played the latter in years; as I recall it was as lifeless and sucked-out in the midrange as some other famous MoFis of that period, notably The Doors (#051) and Trick of the Tail (#062). Is there any doubt that the new MoFi will be every bit as bad or worse? (more…)

The Beatles – Let It Be – MoFi Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B or B-

Although I haven’t played my copy in quite a while — it might have been as far back as 2007 or 2008 if memory serves — I recall that it struck me as one of their better titles.

All things considered, it’s actually pretty good, assuming your copy sounds like mine (an assumption we really can’t make of course — no two records sound the same — but for the purposes of this review we’re going to assume it anyway). I would give it a “B” or “B-“. It can’t hold a candle to the real thing, but at least MoFi didn’t ruin it like they did with so many of the other Beatles albums. 

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

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.



If you’re in the market for a Hot Stamper pressing, you may be in luck. Click
 here to see what we currently have on hand.

Our Approach to Audio 

Over the years we have put literally thousands of hours into our system and room in order to extract the maximum amount of information, musical and otherwise, from the records we play, or as close to the maximum as we can manage. Ours is as big and open as any system in an 18 by 20 by 8 room I’ve ever heard. (I can’t compete with bigger rooms and higher ceilings; it’s a glorious sound but custom room additions are just way out of our budget.)

It’s also as free from colorations of any kind as we can possibly make it. We want to hear the record in its naked form; not the way we like it to sound, or want it to sound, but the way it actually does sound. That way, when you get the record home and play it yourself, it should sound the way we described it.

If too much of the sound we hear is what our stereo is doing, not what the record is doing, how can we know what will it sound like on your system? We try to be as truthful and as critical as we can when describing the records we sell. Too much coloration in the system would make those tasks much more difficult, if not downright impossible.

Click here to read more about our playback equipment.

John Lennon Imagine on MoFi (Reviewed in the ’90s)

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better MoFi pressings from the 2000’s

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. At the time we said:

I played this when it came out, and I have to hand it to the new MOFI, they did a great job with this one. It sounds better than I’ve ever heard it, and KILLS the old MoFi vinyl, which is the version we did the shootout with.

It was a short comparison, as in, no comparison. The earlier half speed (a different master tape, but still…) has that classic midrange suckout, so that Lennon and his piano on the first track sound like they are coming from another room. And people to this day still defend the sound of records on that label?! Oy vey. (more…)

The Beatles White Album – A True MoFi Disaster

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Sonic Grade: D

Another MoFi LP debunked. 

The last time I played the MoFi I could not believe how ridiculously phony and compressed it was. And to think I used to like their version when it came out back in the ’80s!

Take Yer Blues. The MFSL pressing positively wreaks havoc with all the added bass and top end The Beatles put on this track. The MoFi version is already too bright, and has sloppy bass to start with, so the result on this track is way too much BAD bass and way too much BAD spitty 10k-boosted treble, unlike the good imports, which have way too much GOOD bass and treble.

Yer Blues ROCKS. Listen to the big jam at the end of the song, where John’s vocal mic is turned off but his performace is still caught by a room or overheard mic. They obviously did this on purpose, killing his vocal track so that the “leaked” vocal could be heard.

Those crazy Beatles. It’s more than just a cool “effect”. It actually seems to kick the energy and power of the song up a notch. It’s clearly an accident, but an accident that works. I rather doubt George Martin approved. That kind of “throw the rule book out” approach is what makes The Beatles’ recordings so fascinating, and The White Album the most fascinating of them all.

The EQ for this song is also a good example of something The Beatles were experimenting with, as detailed in their recording sessions and interviews with the engineers. They were pushing the boundaries of normal EQ, of how much bass and treble a track could have. This track has seriously boosted bass, way too much, but somehow it works!

Difficulty of Reproduction

This recording is quite difficult to reproduce, which means it ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS). Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.

In its way this is an ideal record to gauge how much progress you have made in audio. Here is what I had to say about a Brewer and Shipley album that ranks high on the DOR scale:

I can also tell you that if you have a modest system this record is just going to sound like crap. It sounded like crap for years in my system, even when I thought I had a good one. Vinyl playback has come a long way in the last five or ten years and if you’ve participated in some of the revolutionary changes that I talk about elsewhere on the site, you should hear some pretty respectable sound. Otherwise, I would pass. On the Difficulty of Reproduction scale, this record scores fairly high. You need lots of Tubey Magic and freedom from distortion, the kind of sound I rarely hear on any but the most heavily tweaked systems, the kind of systems that guys like me have been slaving over for thirty years. If you’re a Weekend Warrior when it comes to stereo, this is not the record for you.

Much like Synchronicity, this is a tough record to get the right sound out of — even if you do have an excellent pressing. It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively. It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too. As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring any audio system that tries to reproduce them to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this requires — demands even — you are going to hear some amazing sound when you drop the needle on one of our Hot Stampers.

Bernard Herrmann The Fantasy Film World of… on MoFi Anadisq

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

Obviously our customers know by now that a Hot Stamper London pressing is going to be far better than the Anadisq MoFi cut in the mid ’90s. How much better?

Words fail me.

That record was a complete disaster. Perhaps some of the MoFi collectors didn’t notice because they had nothing to compare to it. 

God forbid they would ever lower themselves to buy a common pressing such as a London. Had they done so, what they would have heard is huge amounts of musical information that is simply nowhere to be found on the MoFi.

There is a place on this album, I failed to note exactly where, in which a group of tubas play a descending scale that is somewhat buried in the mix. On the London, they can clearly be heard and recognized as tubas. On the MoFi, I don’t think they can be heard except as some general group of low notes, and anyone thinking that they were tubas would be guessing, the sound is that murky, muddy, and ill-defined.

Robert Pincus once left a Post-It note stuck to the MoFi jacket of a copy he was playgrading for me that rather pithily summed up our thoughts on the quality of their mastering: “Did MoFi bother to listen to this before they ruined it?”

It’s positively shameful. This music is so good! On top of that, it’s custom made for audiophiles. Audiophiles are the ones who can appreciate the new colors Herrmann created, using what a wise man once called the single greatest instrument ever invented: the symphony orchestra.

Genesis A Trick Of The Tail – A MoFi Disaster

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Half Speed debunked.

The last time I played the MoFi I could not believe how ridiculously COMPRESSED it was. On top of that, the midrange is badly sucked out (as is the case with most MoFi’s) making the sound as dead as dead can be. You think 180 gram records are lifeless? Play this piece of crap and see just how bad an audiophile record can sound.

And to think I used to like this version! I hope I had a better copy back in the ’80s than the one I played a few years ago. I’ll never know of course. If you have one in your collection give it a spin. See if it sounds as bad as we predict it will.