Labels With Shortcomings – Mobile Fidelity (Newer)

Dire Straits Gets the Mobile Fidelity Treatment (Just Updated)

Reviews and Commentaries for Dire Straits’ Debut

More of the Music of Dire Straits

Geoff Edgers watched me and my lovely assistant, Sunshine, do a lengthy shootout for Dire Straits first album, but licensing problems prevented the Washington Post from using the footage. You can still see Sunshine in the video, and the yellow Phonogram label you see at one point is attached to one of the Dire Straits pressings we played that day.

Toward the end of the shootout for the first side, we put on the Mobile Fidelity pressing, and, interrupted from time to time by the sound of me howling and gnashing my teeth, I pointed out for Geoff’s edification everything that was wrong with their pressing.

This took some time.

I will be writing more about their dismal effort one of these days, but for now let me leave you with this thought.

When you read the comments section for the article, it seems that quite a number of those discussing my lifelong interest in the world of audio and records go out of their way to state the obvious, that folks my age cannot hear high frequencies.

This is true, and I have never denied it. Case in point: After playing the MoFi pressing of Dire Straits, Sunshine, sitting at the turntable, asked what all that weirdly high-pitched, swirling, shusshing sound was. It wasn’t on the Phonogram pressings she had played. Only the MoFi.

I looked at her and asked “What shusshing sound?”

Sunshine had clearly heard it, Geoff may have, I don’t remember, but I had no idea there was anything untoward happening way up in that area of the frequency range. [1]

In my defense, not that I need one, I had no trouble telling how bad that Mobile Fidelity pressing was, or which of the five Dire Straits pressings sounded the best, or what each of them were doing, rightly and wrongly. What I was noting and explaining about the sound of these identical-looking UK pressings, their strengths and weaknesses, was clear enough for everyone in the room to hear over the course of the hour or so we spent doing it.

My goal was to walk Geoff through the steps of the shootout, and as far as I could tell he was with me all the way.

Those commenting about high frequency hearing loss are engaging in the fallacy of “begging the question,” assuming what they are trying to prove instead of proving it, which I suppose is the kind of thing you can expect to read in the comments left by those with a great deal of regard for their own opinions but little for the evidence required to support them. More here.


One of our good customers, Robert Brook, has started writing a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below you will find his review of a record I too know a fair bit about, the first Dire Straits album on Mobile Fidelity. I hope to write my review of the Mobile Fidelity pressing soon.

Ugh! Mobile Fidelity’s Remaster of DIRE STRAITS

As of 2015, this label may have entered a new and even more disgraceful era, but considering how bad their records have been from the very start — something that should be obvious to any audiophile with a high quality playback system, a system that should have no difficulty exposing the manifold shortcomings of their remastered pressings — how much lower can they possibly fall?

Only time will tell.

[1.] Did Mobile Fidelity’s engineers hear this high-frequency hash? Has any audiophile come forward to expose this problem? The answers to both questions are very likely to be no.


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

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Santana / Abraxas – MoFi Manages to Disgrace Itself Even Further

More of the Music of Santana

Reviews and Commentaries for Abraxas

Sonic Grade: F

The remastered Abraxas never got past the first elimination round; it had to have been one of the worst half-speeds I have ever heard. Dead dead dead as a doornail.

Santana’s first album on MoFi is a record we admit to having liked a bit when it first came out. Since then we have changed our minds. It’s just too damn compressed and lifeless. The Whomp Factor on this pressing is Zero. Since whomp is critical to the sound of Santana’s music, it’s Game Over for us. The review below is exactly what we wrote at the time the record came in. We tried to like it, but it’s clear to us now that we tried to like it too hard. Please accept our apologies.

I noted in my old blog: “But now I would have to say that the MoFi LP is far too lifeless to be acceptable to anyone, even those with the worst kinds of audiophile BS systems.”

We also mentioned a while back (4/29/08) on our blog how bad the latest crop of MoFi vinyl was, with the heading: “Mobile Fidelity, Ouch.

On another note, we played some godawful sounding MOFI pressings over the last few weeks: Linda Ronstadt (which appears to be out of phase, more on that down the road); Metallica (with blobby bass at 45 RPM no less; only half-speed mastering can guarantee muddy bass under any and all circumstances!); and Rush (nothing even resembling a top end. How do these things happen?).

These three albums have to be some of the worst sounding vinyl I have ever heard in my life. I won’t waste any more of your time or mine talking about them. Buy them if you feel the need, and if you like what you hear, drop us a line. Maybe the copy we cracked open was a “bad” one, unrepresentative of the general pressing run in the same way that the latest Crisis half-speed was.

Well, maybe so, but we are going to have to leave that conundrum unsolved for the time being. To crack open more copies to see if they are all as bad as the first one we played is not something we are particularly inclined to do. We call that throwing good money after bad around here at Better Records.

This is a label making some seriously bad records these days.

But why single them out? They all are.

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Dires Straits / Brothers In Arms – Our Take on the MoFi 45

More of the Music of Dire Straits

Reviews and Commentaries for Brothers in Arms

We have never bothered to play their remaster, along with some other Heavy Vinyl reissues we think have very little chance of actually sounding good to us.

NEWSFLASH: I just found out today that the MoFi is now on the TAS Super Disc list. You can find it along with the domestic — yes, you read that right — domestic pressing of the first album.

Now just how hard of hearing do you have to be to think that the domestic pressing of Dire Straits’ first album is a Super Disc? A nice record, sure, but nice records aren’t really Super Discs, are they?

Not when there are UK pressings that trounce it. We should know, we’ve played them by the dozens. How the writers for The Absolute Sound can be this far off the mark is a question we cannot begin to answer. More Reviewer Malpractice? What else could it be?

We have written quite a number of reviews and commentaries for the first album and we encourage you to read some of them.

Speaking of Super Discs, the good British pressings are so good we put them on our Top Ten Most Tubey Magical Rock and Pop Recordings List. No domestic pressing we have ever played would qualify as a Hot Stamper, not when even the average British copy is better.


A few years ago we received this email from a customer.

“How would you compare the Brothers in Arms SHS to the Mobile Fidelity 45 rpm copy?”

Dear Sir,

We have never bothered to play their remaster, and why would we? Every MoFi pressing made by the current regime has had major sound problems when compared head to head with the “real” records we sell, and it’s simply not worth our time to find out exactly what is wrong with the sound of any of these new reissues, theirs included.

[I will be reviewing their unbelievably awful Dire Straits first album on 45 one of these days. Rarely have I heard such a good recording, a brilliant recording, turned into such a piece of crap.]

However, we have been known to make an exception to that rule from time to time. Recently we did so in the case of the Tea for the Tillerman George Marino cut at 45 RPM for Analogue Productions.

As long as Analogue Productions is around, at least no one can say that Mobile Fidelity makes the worst sounding audiophile records in the history of the world. They are certainly some of the worst, but, to be fair, they are not so bad that they have never made a single good sounding record, which is the title that Chad Kassem holds. (To the best of our knowledge. Obviously we have only played a small fraction of the records released by him. In our defense let me say that that small fraction was all we could take.)

Why not give the new Brothers in Arms a listen to see how it stacks up to your Hot Stampers?

Because Half-Speed Mastering is a bad approach to mastering, one that almost never produces good sounding records.

Even when it’s done right, it results in sloppy bass. This is very obvious to us but it seems most audiophiles and reviewers don’t notice this shortcoming. (I try not to reflect too much on systems that hide from their owners the problems in the low end that MoFi records are prone to, practically without exception. I once borrowed a $5000 Dynavector cartridge to audition. Although it had a wonderfully extended and sweet top end, clearly better than my 17D3, the bass was so sloppy I could not wait to take it out and get it back to its owner. I never said a word about it and he never complained about the bass.)

You don’t have to make the mistake of mastering your records at Half-Speed to end up with sloppy bass. You just have to be bad at mastering records, like this label, Music Matters.

We find listening to the sound of these veiled, compressed, strangely-eq’d remastered records painful, so we avoid playing them unless one comes our way for free, which does happen from time to time.

We played their Sinatra at the Sands record a few years back after someone gave us a free copy.

And it was pretty good. It might earn a sonic grade of “B.” That’s about the most you can hope for. We’ve reviewed a lot of their albums over the years, and you can read about them here: Mobile Fidelity

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

Sonic Grade: F

This review is for the 2008 Warner Brothers 45 RPM 180g Double LP Half-Speed Mastered by Mobile Fidelity from the original analog master tapes.

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. 

Here are some other records that are good for testing the faults of this awful sounding release.

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass Definition 

Records that Are Good for Testing Compression 

Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Presence 


FURTHER READING

Here are some of our reviews and commentaries concerning the many Heavy Vinyl pressings we’ve played over the years, well over 200 at this stage of the game. Feel free to pick your poison.

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

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

Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

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.

OUR PREVIOUS HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY

Folks, this is no demo disc by any means, but the later pressings strip away the two qualities that really make this music work and bring it to life: Tubey Magic and Big Bass. This side two has both in SPADES.

Listen to how breathy and transparent the chorus is on the first track. Now layer that sound on top of a fat and punchy bottom end and you have the formula for Little Feat Magic at its funky best. This is the sound they heard in the control room, of that I have no doubt, and it is all over this side two. No side of any copy we played was better.

Personally

The All Music Guide (and lots of other critics) think this is Little Feat at their best. With tracks such as Two Trains, Dixie Chicken, Fat Man in the Bathtub and Roll Um Easy, who’s gonna disagree!? (I guess I am. I prefer Waiting for Columbus and The Last Record Album but cannot deny that Dixie Chicken is probably the best of the albums that came before them.)

Some Relevant Commentaries

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Frank Sinatra / Sinatra At The Sands – The Ideal Audiophile Pressing

More of the Music of Frank Sinatra

More of the Music of Count Basie

As you will see below, Mobile Fidelity may have made the perfect record for you.

This, of course, depends on who you are. More precisely, it depends on whether you care about having better sound, and whether you know how to acquire pressings with better sound.

As for the MoFi you see pictured, it’s quiet, it’s tonally correct, and on the equipment most audiophiles will probably use to play it back, it does not seem to be especially veiled, opaque or compressed.

If you’re the kind of audiophile who doesn’t want to do the work required to find a top quality vintage pressing on his own, or buy one from us, this is actually a very good sounding record and a good way for you to go.

In that sense it is the ideal pressing for most audiophiles.

Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do you want the expense and hassle of finding a nice original stereo copy?
  2. Do you want to invest in proper record cleaning equipment to restore the glorious sound of the original’s 50-plus year old vinyl?
  3. Do you want to spend the time (decades) and money (many tens of thousands of dollars) to build and tweak a top quality analog playback system?

If you don’t want to do these things, you are not alone.

In fact, you are clearly in the majority, part of that enormously tall, fat bulge right in the middle of the bell curve. As the quintessential audiophile record lover, a big part of the mass of the mass-market, Mobile Fidelity has made the perfect record for you.

It’s quiet, it’s tonally correct, and on the audiophile equipment you will most probably use to play it back with, it does not seem to be especially veiled, opaque or compressed.

It is indeed all of these things, and many more, but you will have no reason to suspect that anything is wrong with it.

More precisely, you will have no way to know that anything is wrong with it.

We know exactly what’s wrong with it, but that’s because we are very serious about records and audio, as serious as they come. Who digs deeper than we do?

Now that you have failed to note its many shortcomings, the only thing remaining is for you to go to an audiophile forum and write your review, telling everyone how much better it is than whatever crappy pressing you owned and will be trading in soon. This assumes you owned anything at all. I would be surprised if the average audiophile has a vintage copy of the album to compare with the new one, but no doubt some do. The later reissues of the album, which are common in clean condition, give ammunition to all of those who proclaim that reissues are consistently awful. That’s often not the case, but is definitely the case in this case.

If you want to hold the pressings you play to a higher sonic standard, we are here to help.

If setting a low bar is more your style, Mobile Fidelity has been making records for you for more than fifty years. As long as you keep buying them, they’ll keep making them. They’ve been setting a very low bar for as long as I can remember, and the fact that they are still around is positive proof that their customers like things just fine that way.

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Alison Krauss & Union Station – Still Wrong in the Vocal Department

We audiophiles have a soft spot for female vocals. It’s a sound that a high end stereo — practically any high end stereo — reproduces well.

But why do some audiophiles listen to poorly recorded junk like Patricia Barber and Diana Krall? Their recordings are DRENCHED in digital reverb. Who is his right mind likes the sound of digital reverb?

Rickie Lee Jones may not be my favorite female vocal of all time, but at least you can make the case for it as a Well Recorded Vocal Album. It’s worlds better than anything either of the above-mentioned artists have ever done.

The MoFi pressing of Alison Krauss (5276) is a disaster in the vocal department too.

Audiophiles for some reason never seem to notice how bad she sounds on that record. Can’t make sense of it. Any of the good Sergio Mendes records will show you female vocals that are hard to beat. Our best Hot Stampers bring the exquisite vocal harmonies of Lani Hall (aka Mrs. Herb Alpert) and Janis Hansen (and others) right into your living room.

Why bother with trash like this Mobile Fidelity?

xxxx

This is the record you bothered to take a photo of and post next to your front end? Something is wrong somewhere.

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Santana on MoFi – We Owe You an Apology

More of the Music of Santana

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Santana

Sonic Grade: F

Santana is a record we admit to having liked when it first came out. Since then we have changed our minds. As embarrassing as it may be, and let’s be clear, this pressing is very embarrassing, We Was Wrong and there is no sense trying to hide it.

It’s just too damn compressed and lifeless.

The Whomp Factor on this pressing is Zero. Since whomp is critical to the sound of Santana’s music, it’s Game Over for us. The review below is exactly what we wrote at the time the record came in.

We tried to like it, but it’s clear to us now that we tried to like it too hard. Please accept our apologies.

I noted in my [now discontinued] blog: “But now I would have to say that the MoFi LP is far too lifeless to be acceptable to anyone, even those with the worst kinds of Audiophile BS systems.”

And I noted that the Abraxas they remastered never got past the first elimination round. It had to have been one of the worst half-speeds I have ever heard. Dead dead dead as a doornail.

We also mentioned a while back (4/29/08, time flies) on our blog how bad the latest crop of MoFi vinyl was, with the heading: “Mobile Fidelity, Ouch.” Please to enjoy:

On another note, we played some godawful sounding MoFi pressings over the last few weeks:

  • Linda Ronstadt (which appears to be out of phase, more on that down the road);
  • Metallica (with blobby bass at 45 RPM no less; only half-speed mastering can guarantee muddy bass under any and all circumstances!); and
  • Rush (nothing even resembling a top end. How do these things happen?).

These three albums have to be some of the worst sounding vinyl I have ever heard in my life. I won’t waste any more of your time or mine talking about them. Buy them if you feel the need, and if you like what you hear, drop us a line.

Maybe the copy we cracked open was a “bad” one, unrepresentative of the general pressing run.

Well, maybe so, but we are going to have to leave that conundrum unsolved for the time being. To crack open more copies to see if they are all as bad as the first one we played is not something we are particularly inclined to do. We call that throwing good money after bad around here at Better Records.

This is a label making some seriously bad records these days.

But why single them out? They all are.

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You’ll Be Crying When You Get This Piece of MoFi Crap on Your Turntable

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Linda Ronstadt

Hall of Shame pressing and a Half-Speed Mastered Disaster if there ever was one.

You’re looking at one of the worst audiophile disasters in recent memory. Talk about dead as a doornail sound, folks, if you own this pressing, take it from us, you don’t know what you’re missing. Buy the next domestic copy you spot at your local record store for five bucks and find out. No way it can sound as bad as this compressed, lifeless, dull “audiophile” record.

Shortly after the MoFi release of the album we decided not to carry their records anymore. Coincidence? We’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

The most common problem with these Ronstadt records from the ’70s is grainy, upper-midrangy sound. The average copy of Heart Like a Wheel, the album that followed this one, is pure transistory grain on most copies, making it practically unlistenable.

The average copy of Don’t Cry Now, though not quite as bad as HLAW, shares many of its shortcomings. The smooth copies that still have plenty of presence, life, energy and top end extension are the ones that really get this music sounding RIGHT.

Letter of the Week – “Closed, muffled and flat as a pancake.”

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

Our good customer Bennett bought very expensive, top quality pressings of two killer Miles Davis albums from us recently.

His letter reads:

Hi Tom,

Last night I listened to my 2015 Mobile Fidelity 45 RPM pressing.

I couldn’t get through the first cut.

Closed, muffled and flat as a pancake. No life or energy whatsoever.

Bennett,

Agreed on all counts. My notes for their pressing read:

  • Thick, dark, flat.
  • Lacks air, space, presence.
  • Not a bad sound but it’s not right.

Thanks for  your letter,

Tom

PS

Having listened to the record more extensively, I see now I was being much too kind.

A longer review will be coming soon I hope.