For those of you who have not been following this story, here is the best place to start:
How a Phoenix record store owner set the audiophile world on fire
Although it’s behind a paywall, you can get a free test drive easily enough. (In September there will be a long-form video of me going about a Hot Stamper shootout and discussing the world of audiophile records, which you do not want to miss!)
Now that you are up to date on the overall contours of this mess, here is another one of the many thoughts I have had concerning the revelation that Mobile Fidelity has been secretly sourcing at least some of their masters digitally since 2015.
Thoughts for Today, 8/9
I wrote a commentary about the subject of master tapes about twenty years ago, using the heading: Master Tape? Yeah, Right
Here, for your reading pleasure, is a big old chunk of it.
Let me ask you one question. If so many of the current labels making 180 gram reissues are using the real master tapes — the real two-track stereo masters, not dubs, not cutting masters, not high-resolution digital copies, but the real thing — then why do so many of their records sound so bad?
If you’re honest you’ll say “I Don’t Know…” because, and here I want you to trust me on this, you don’t know. I don’t know either. Nobody does.
Records are mysterious. Their mysteries are many and deep. If you don’t know that you clearly haven’t spent much time with them, or don’t have a very revealing stereo, or don’t listen critically, or something else, who knows what.
They’re mysterious. That’s just a fact.
There is no shortage of records that say “Made From the Original Master Tapes” that simply aren’t. I know this dirty little secret for a fact. I would never say which ones those are for one simple reason: it would make it seem as though others must be, when in fact we have little evidence that very many of them are.
We want them to be — I’m all for it — but how can we know if they are or not? Face it: we can’t.
We must make do — heaven forbid — with actually opening up our own ears and engaging the sound of whichever Heavy Vinyl Reissue we may find spinning on our turntable. Judging the quality of the sound — no doubt imperfectly — coming out of the speakers.
If you want to believe the press releases (made from Ian Anderson’s secret master tape!), the hype, the liner notes, the reviews and all the rest of it, that’s your business. Good luck with that approach; you’re going to need it. When you reach the dead end that surely awaits you, come see us. After 35 years in the record business, there is a very good chance we will still be around.
Our approach, on the other hand, is based on the simple idea of cleaning and playing as many pressings as we can get our hands on, and then judging them on their merits and nothing but their merits. We call them as we see them to the best of our ability, without fear or favor.
We think the complete commentary is well worth reading. It can be found here.
There is a great deal more to say concerning the Digital Revelation (not to be confused with the Digital Revolution, which I can only hope has come and gone), and I expect to be posting regularly in the coming weeks about it.
Our previous post on the subject can be found here: The Mobile Fidelity Apocalypse, Part Three
There are no doubt more posts to come. This link will take you to all of them, probably in the reverse order they should be read.
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Thinking Critically About Records
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