Labels With Shortcomings – Mobile Fidelity (Older)

Steely Dan / Katy Lied – A MoFi that Beggars Belief

Sonic Grade: F

Katy Lied is bad enough to have earned a place in our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame. If it isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

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 the brain trust at MoFi could hear it. 

Compressed and lifeless (almost as 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.

Why? That’s hard to say, but here’s a stab at it.

The vinyl was exceptionally quiet for one thing, and for another, as an audiophile I knew this MoFi pressing had been made with tender loving care, using a superior process, Half-Speed Mastering, from The Original Master Tapes, and had been pressed in Japan on the quietest, flattest vinyl in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

My old story about One Man Dog gets to the heart of it. I didn’t understand records very well and I sure didn’t understand the value of doing shootouts or even how to do them with different pressings of the same album.

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Grateful Dead / American Beauty – An Honest-to-Goodness Killer MoFi LP

More of the Music of The Grateful Dead

Hot Stamper Pressings of Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

Sonic Grade: B+

This is a Mobile Fidelity LP with SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND. The transparency and presence in the midrange is outstanding for a MoFi. This copy does not have the usual midrange suckout that ruins so many of their records.

The bass actually sounds mostly in control on this copy — there’s much less of the typically bloated MoFi bass to be found here.

This is the best sounding Mobile Fidelity American Beauty we have ever heard. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s hugely better than we expected.

Any original Green Label domestic pressing is sure to be better, but sure to be noisier too, so if you must have quiet vinyl, you can do a lot worse than this MoFi.

Which means it belongs on our list of The Best Sounding Mobile Fidelity Records We’ve Ever Played.

FURTHER READING on the subject of Half-Speed Mastering

People sometimes ask us:

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

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Charlie Byrd – Another Hyped-Up MoFi

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed [decades ago] and found seriously wanting.

This is a title Mobile Fidelity ruined (what else is new?), 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-Heavy Vinyl 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 as well as the 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. (more…)

The Doors / Self-Titled – MoFi Reviewed

More of the Music of The Doors

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Doors

Sonic Grade: D 

If anyone still thinks that this pressing is anything but a bad joke played on the audiophile public — so sucked out in the midrange, bass-shy and compressed to death — that person still has a way to go in this hobby. A very long way.

You can hear that something is off with this pressing from another room. The sound is bad enough to have earned a place in our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame.

But wait just a gosh darn minute.

I liked the MoFi just fine when it came out. I guess I had a way to go in this hobby too.

That was back in the early ’80s. I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two in the last forty years.

Some reviewers may be stuck in the ’80s but I sure as hell don’t think I am one of them.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Reviews and Commentaries for The Doors’ Debut

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Supersax Plays Bird on MoFi – Remastered, But Why’d They Bother?

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Audiophile Records with Bad Sound, Bad Music or Both

Awful music, awful sound.

In 1980, this is the record that single-handedly convinced me that MoFi would lower themselves to remastering records that have little in the way of actual musical value.

Update: 2022. I just looked up the mastering engineer credited with cutting the original pressings in 1973, Wally Traugott. Now what are the chances that Stan Ricker cut this record better than Wally Traugott? One in a million? That would be my guess.

Which simply means that the right domestic pressing on Capitol might just be a good sounding record. But why should anyone care? The music is hopeless.

We’ve created a couple of sections for records such as these. There’s one for albums we don’t like, and one for the worst releases by Mobile Fidelity, limited, of course, to the MoFi’s we’ve played (or can remember playing) over the course of the last 40+ years. There are surely plenty of others that would fit the bill if we ever bothered to pick up a copy of the album and audition it.

The Audiophile Record Collectors of the world naturally need this dreadful title to ensure their Mobile Fidelity collections are complete.

Which is precisely the kind of Record Collector Thinking that keeps these awful labels in business. And it certainly does these devoted audiophile record collectors no favors when it comes to the quality of their collections.

I admit to having sold my fair share of these kinds of Audiophile BS titles back when I was an Audiophile Record Dealer. Live and learn is the only excuse I have to offer. I was foolish, but you can learn from my mistakes, right here on this blog.

Back to my story:

I also learned that spending $20 to find out if the music on an album is any good is an expensive way to learn more about music you may not be familiar with.

As curators, the bigwigs at MoFi were generally competent, batting something close to .500, but in cases such as this Supersax title, as far as I’m concerned they failed completely.

FURTHER READING

If you are still buying these audiophile pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered Records.

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Alan Parsons Project – A MoFi Disaster

More Albums Engineered by Alan Parsons

Reviews and Commentaries for Albums Engineered by Alan Parsons

MoFi Regular LP: F / UHQR:

Two — count ’em, two — Hall of Shame pressings and two more MoFi Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile LPs reviewed and found wanting.

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 (sometimes known around these parts as Stone Age Audio systems) but a serious distraction on a high end stereo with good low end reproduction.

If you like the album –and that’s a big if, I myself have never been able to take it seriously — 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 top end boost.

Like the old saying goes, if it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing.

If you are still buying these audiophile pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered Records.

The Band / Music From Big Pink – Bad Bass Like This Is Just Annoying

More of the Music of The Band

Roots Rock LPs with Hot Stampers Available Now

Sonic Grade: D

In 2012 the “new” MoFi put out another remastered Big Pink. Since their track record at this point is, to be honest, abysmal, we have not felt the need to audition it.

It’s very possible, even likely, that they restored some of the bass that’s missing from so many of the originals.

But bad half-speed mastered bass — poorly defined, never deep and never punchy — is that the kind of bass that would even be desirable?

To us, it is very much a problem. Bad bass is just plain annoying. Fortunately for us it is a problem we have to deal with much less often now that we’ve all but stopped playing half-speed mastered records.

(Here are some other records with exceptionally sloppy bass. If the bass on these records does not sound sloppy to you, you have your work cut out for you. Some of our favorite records for testing bass definition can be found here.)

Sucked Out Mids

The Doors first album was yet another obvious example of MoFi’s predilection for sucked-out mids. Scooping out the middle of the midrange has the effect of creating an artificial sense of depth where none belongs. Play any original Bruce Botnick engineered album by Love or The Doors and you will notice immediately that the vocals are front and center. 

The midrange suckout effect is easily reproducible in your very own listening room. Pull your speakers farther out into the room and farther apart and you can get that MoFi sound on every record you own. I’ve been hearing it in the various audiophile systems I’ve been exposed to for more than 40 years.

Nowadays I would place it under the general heading of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi. Our one goal for every tweak and upgrade we make is to increase the latter and reduce the former.

And note also that when you play your records too quietly, it results in an exaggerated, artificial sense of depth. That’s one of the main reasons we play them loud; we want to hear the pressings that have real presence and immediacy, because they’re the ones that are most likely to win our shootouts.

If you have any of our White Hot stampers you surely know what I’m talking about.


FURTHER READING

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp

Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Presence

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Donald Fagen / The Nightfly – MoFi Reviewed

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Sonic Grade: F

More MoFi phony EQ on the top right around 10k and sloppy bass.

You should be able to do a whole lot better and you sure won’t have to try very hard to do it.

Robert Ludwig is the man who knows how to cut this album, not Stan Ricker.

The properly pressed, properly cleaned Robert Ludwig-mastered copies are right in a way that the typical Half-Speed Mastered or Heavy Vinyl pressing rarely is. The more critically one listens, the more obvious this distinction becomes.

The real thing just can’t be beat, and you can be pretty sure that the real thing is an old record.

If you are buying these audiophile pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered LPs.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your remastered LP.

And if for some reason you disagree with us that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.


New to the Blog? Start Here

Improving Your Critical Listening Skills

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments

Little Feat – A MoFi Pseudo-Hot Stamper

Little Feat Albums with Hot Stampers

Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

Sonic Grade: C

Ten or fifteen years ago we did a listing for this Mobile Fidelity pressing as a Pseudo-Hot Stamper. Here is what we had to say about it at the time:

This is actually a pretty good sounding record, all things considered. We put this one through our cleaning process and gave it a listen. Although our Hot Stamper copies do sound better, they’re also quite a bit more expensive. This copy had the best sound we heard out of the three or four we played, which makes it a Hot Stamper I suppose, but we are instead just calling it a Very Good Sounding Copy.

Waiting for Columbus is one of the greatest live rock and roll albums ever made, containing performances by one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever play. If you only buy one Little Feat album in your lifetime, make it this one.

We spent years trying to get shootouts together for this album, but kept running into the fact that in a head to head shootout the right MoFi pressing — sloppy bass and all — was hard to beat.

This is no longer the case, courtesy of that same old laundry list you have no doubt seen on the site countless times: better equipment, tweaks, record cleaning, room treatments, etcetera, etcetera. Now the shortcomings of the MoFi are clear for all to see, and the strengths of the best non-half-speed mastered pressings are too, which simply means that playing the MoFi now would be an excruciating experience. All I can hear is what it does wrong. I was so much happier with it when I didn’t know better.

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Today’s MoFi Disaster Is Pictures at an Exhibition

moussmofiMore of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found seriously wanting.

The MoFi mastering of Pictures and The Firebird here are a joke. All that phony boosted top end makes the strings sound funny and causes mischief in virtually every other part of the orchestra as well. Not surprisingly, those boosted highs are missing from the real EMIs.

These are exactly the kind of unbearably bright strings that Stan Ricker seems to favor.

moussmofiThe proof? Find me a Mobile Fidelity classical record with that little SR/2 in the dead wax that does not have bright string tone. I have yet to hear one.

The last time I played a copy of MFSL 1-520 I found the sound so hi-fi-ish I couldn’t stand to be in the room with it for more than a minute. Of course the bass is jello as well. The EMI with the right stampers is worlds better.

(Warning: The domestic Angel regular version and the 45 are both awful.)

MoFi had a bad habit of making bright classical records. I suppose you could say they had a bad habit of making bright records in general. A few are dull, some are just right, but most of them are bright in one way or another. Dull playback equipment? An attempt to confuse detail with resolution?

Whatever the reasons, the more accurate and revealing your equipment becomes, the more obvious the shortcomings of Mobile Fidelity’s records will be. My tolerance for their phony EQ is at an all time low. But hey, that’s me.

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