Labels With Shortcomings – Mobile Fidelity (All)

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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Rickie Lee Jones – MoFi Reviewed, Positively

More of the Music of Rickie Lee Jones

Reviews and Commentaries for Rickie Lee Jones’ First Album

Sonic Grade: B

Another MoFi LP reviewed, and this one’s pretty good for a change

The Mobile Fidelity pressing of this album can actually be pretty decent.

If you get a good one, that is. Records are records and limited editions have dramatic pressing variations just like all the other records out there in Record Land.

Audio perfection it ain’t, but all in all it’s a very enjoyable record. Its strengths are many and its faults are few. Let’s give credit where credit is due; the MoFi is dynamic, transparent, sweet, and open, and you won’t hear us saying that about very many MOFI pressings.

It belongs in their Top Ten (a list we have yet to make, for some reason we never find the time!), toward the bottom I would guess, due to its own sloppy bottom, but that’s half-speed mastering for you. Like most new audio technologies it was a giant step in the wrong direction.

We suppose you could live with the blubbery MoFi bass found on their remastered LP — most audiophiles seem more than happy to, right? — but instead, we’re happy to report that it will no longer be necessary. All our Hot Stamper copies are guaranteed to trounce it.

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Hall and Oates and Mobile Fidelity – A Counterfactual Approach to Remastering

More of the Music of Hall and Oates

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Hall and Oates

We here present a set of ideas about remastering that Mobile Fidelity could have used to guide themselves when cutting their version of Hall and Oates’ masterpiece, Abandoned Luncheonette.

This is what they could have done when it came time to produce an audiophile pressing of Abandoned Luncheonette, an album originally released in 1973.

By the time Mobile Fidelity released their version of the album in 1980, the record was already a Super Saver bargain re-issue, something of minimal quality offered at a bargain price and produced solely for the purpose of  keeping record store bins stocked with back catalog.

There is nothing wrong with a record like that. And the Super Saver version may even have some merit. But imagine for a moment that it does not.

Why Abandoned Luncheonette?

Now imagine that Mobile Fidelity knows, or at least believes, two things.

One, the album is a masterpiece that belongs in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection, and two, the current version does not sound very good. The wise men at MoFi recognize that an opportunity to do some good for the audiophile community and make a buck at the same time has presented itself.

Audiophiles may not know it, but they are in need of a good sounding copy of this brilliant album, and they deserve one that sounds every bit as good as the shockingly good sounding originals (like the ones we sell).

In addition, we at MoFi can go Atlantic’s original one better. We can actually press the album on quiet vinyl.

Next, Mobile Fidelity greenlights this project and gets a real Master Tape from Atlantic. (There are many tapes that masquerade as masters and aren’t any such thing, but let’s assume for the moment that Mobile Fidelity did get a real tape.)

They would also need a nice batch of original pressings, which in our opinion are the best, and would easily be recognized as being the best sounding by anyone playing the album on good equipment. The best originals are lively, rich and smooth, befitting an expensive, high quality studio recording from the era.

So instead of Mobile Fidelity trying to create a new sound for this album, they could have taken a different approach. They could’ve just said to themselves: let’s make a copy of the record that sounds as good as the original, and because we can press it on expensive, high-quality Japanese vinyl, we can justify selling it at a premium price to audiophiles looking for the best sound and quiet vinyl.

They could then cut a number of reference lacquers trying to re-create the best qualities of the originals, and then test those lacquers up against the best originals, in something that might be called a “shootout” long before the term was commonly used bu audiophiles of our persuasion.

The Counterfactual Part

This is what they could have done. That’s why we are calling this commentary a counterfactual.

They did something else entirely.

They tried to make the record sound better than any of the copies they had at hand. They tried to fix the sound. In trying to fix the sound, they made it worse because they simply were not capable of recognizing how right the good originals were.

They must have thought them dull, because the Brain Trust at Mobile Fidelity boosted the hell out of the upper midrange and top end. (Using the concept of reverse engineering, I assume their playback equipment was dull, a fairly safe assumption considering how many Mobile Fidelity records are bright enough to peel the paint.)

They Were on a Mission

They of course would never have been able to get the bass right, because half speed mastering always causes problems down low.

But they could have made the record tonally correct, and fairly transparent in the midrange, and then could have pressed that sound onto state-of-the-art Japanese vinyl.

But none of these things interested Mobile Fidelity at the time. They were hell-bent on making everything they touched better. In the process, practically everything they touched got worse, as anyone with good equipment and two properly working ears who has ever played a large selection of their records can attest.

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King Crimson – A Very Good Pressing from Mobile Fidelity

More of the Music of King Crimson

Hot Stamper Pressings of Progressive Rock Albums Available Now

Sonic Grade: B

The MoFi pressing shown here is surely one of their best.

Unfortunately, these days we have little tolerance for the dynamic compression, overall lifelessness and wonky bass heard on practically every record they ever remastered. Including this one.

One of the reasons your MoFi might not sound wrong to you is that it isn’t really “wrong.” It’s doing most things right, and it will probably beat most of what you can find to throw at it. A quick survey:

If you have the Atlantic pressing, from any era, you have never begun to hear this record at its best.

UK Polydor reissue? Passable, not really worth the labor to put them in a shootout and have them earn mediocre grades.

The same can be said for some of the early UK Pink Label Island pressings. None of them has ever won a shootout and none probably ever will. We don’t buy them as a rule, for two related reasons: one, they are expensive, and two, their sound quality does not justify paying the premium price sellers typically are asking.

We leave them to the record collectors who like to collect originals.

We and our customers are audiophiles. We like to collect records with good sound. If we have our heads on straight, we don’t care what pressing we buy as long as it’s the one with the best sound. (Of course, not everybody agrees with us about that, but enough of you out there do, such that our business is sure to proper in the years to come. 

Back to the MoFi

It’s lacking some important qualities, and a listen to one of our Hot Stampers will allow you to hear exactly what you’re not getting when you play an audiophile pressing, any audiophile pressing, even one as good as MoFi’s.

Side by side the comparison will surely be striking. How much energy, size, power and passion is missing from the record you own?

There’s only one way to find out, and it’s by playing a better copy of the album.  (more…)

Bob Seger / Night Moves – MoFi Reviewed

More of the Music of Bob Seger

Sonic Grade: F

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

The last time I played a copy of the MoFi pressing I could not believe how ridiculously bright it was.  

It’s interesting to note that some of the brightest records this atrocious label ever released came out about the same time as this one.

Aja is number 033

Night Moves here is number 034.

Tea for the Tillerman is number 035

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Three dogs in a row, all suffering from the same problem: they’re way too bright!

Did MoFi buy some dull studio monitors right before they mastered these awful pressings? Did a tweeter or two blow?

Did Stan Ricker have too much wax buildup in his ears?

What could account for records that are bright enough to peel the paint?

Some mysteries will never be solved, and I would bet this is one of them.

But really, what difference does it make? We should all know to avoid this company’s products by now, and that includes all three eras of records produced by this label:

That should pretty much cover it.

Never buy any record on this label (except the one we sell) if you are interested in top quality sound, and if you own any, get rid of them and replace them with records that actually sound good, like the ones we sell.

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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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Beethoven / Symphony No. 9 – The MoFi Has Two Strikes Against It

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Sonic Grade: F

MoFi took a mediocre-at-best Decca recording from 1972 and made it worse.

They should not have chosen this performance of the Ninth Symphony in the first place, and they certainly should not have added the treble they chose to add, which they did to this title, and to every classical recording they remastered.

Two strikes. In this case, two strikes and you’re out.

If you want the best Ninth on vinyl that we know of, this is the one we recommend.


This is a Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP with ridiculously unnatural sound.

Full of the worst kind of bright, phony string tone, MoFi’s trademark sound for classical recordings. Anyone who has ever attended a concert knows that strings in real life simply do not sound anything like they do on these MoFi records.

The London and Decca pressings of this recording are no great shakes either. Any pressing of this performance should be avoided.

Londons and Deccas from this era (1972 in this case) rarely sound very good to us.

Here is what we specifically don’t like about their sound.

An Overview of the Ninth

The best pressings from the Readers Digest set with Leibowitz conducting were passable but no match for Ansermet and the wonderful hall the legendary Orchestre De La Suisse Romande recorded in. (We like the 4th and 5th from that set; if you own them give them a spin, if you can clean them properly you may be quite pleased.)

In 1972 the engineering team of Gordon Parry and Kenneth Wilkinson recorded a Ninth with Solti and the CSO for Decca. I believe it was on the TAS List for a very long time.

We played it recently and heard the usual problems associated with later Decca recordings. It’s opaque, lacks size and space, and comes off as a bit flat and dry.  Like practically every later Decca pressing we play, it’s passable at best.

If you want to know what’s wrong with the Mobile Fidelity, take the above faults and add some others to them. Start with an overall brighter EQ, add a 10k boost for extra sparkly strings, the kind that MoFi has always been smitten with, and finish with the tubby bass caused by the half-speed mastering process itself.

Voila! You are now in the presence of the kind of mid-fi trash that may have fooled some audiophiles back in the day but now sounds as wrong as the records this ridiculous label is still making today.

The later ’60s Decca/London cycle with Schmidt-Isserstedt and the Vienna Phil has sounded flat and modern to us on every pressing we have ever played. We simply cannot take them seriously and you shouldn’t either.

Stick with Ansermet!


FURTHER READING

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Alison Krauss & Union Station ‎/ So Long So Wrong – 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 wants to hear 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 practically have no equal. 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?

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Creedence Clearwater Revival – Why Take All the Fun Out of the Music?

More of the Music of Creedence Clearwater Revival

Sonic Grade: F

The last time I played the MoFi pressing mentioned below I found the sound so weirdly colored as to defy understanding. Ten years ago when I wrote the commentary below I apparently found it more tolerable.

More recently I obviously did not. When an audiophile record sounds worse than it used to, there is a very good chance that you have made some Progress in Audio.

Of course this is not something to be assumed. (Speaking of assumptions, you can find more on the subject here).

Rather it is something to be tested. (You can read more about some of the rigorous and extensive record testing we have conducted over the last twenty years here.)

Even if 99 times out of a hundred it turns out to be the case that the modern remastered record can now be seen for the fake it always was, there is still a one out of a hundred chance that the record may in fact be better than you remember.

These audiophile records are easily called out for their illusory superiority for the simple reason that the better your stereo gets, the more obvious their colorations and shortcomings become. This was my experience, and I pass this information on in the hopes that you will make progress with your stereo system and find them every bit as wrong as I did.

We’ve created a section for the worst of them, and even with 266 entries we could easily double that number if we were inclined to audition more of them and catalog their shortcomings.

With the number of Heavy Vinyl records being pressed today, triple or quadruple that number I suspect would be doable. Thank god we are in the business of selling good records and not in the business of reviewing bad ones.

Analogue Productions 

As for the AP pressing discussed below, the last time I played one it had all the bad qualities of the Bonnie Raitt disc on DCC that I’ve grown to dislike so much. But what the new AP version really gets wrong is the guitar sound. Creedence’s music lives or dies by its guitar sound, and the AP pressing is as dead as they come.

The fat, smeary, overly-smooth guitars you hear on the record, lacking any semblance of the grungy energy that are the true hallmarks of this band’s recordings, mean that some audiophile mastering engineer got hold of the tapes and tried to “fix” what he didn’t like about the sound.

You know, the sound that is all over the radio to this very day. Something was apparently wrong with it. So now that it’s been fixed, everything that’s good about CCR’s recordings is missing, and everything that has replaced those sonic elements has made the sound worse.

Nice job! Keep up the good work. Chad is proud of ya, no doubt about it.

Our old commentary follows, some of which we obviously no longer agree with:

Years ago a customer sent me his copy of the Analogue Productions LP (mastered by Hoffman and Gray) in order to carry out a little shootout I had planned among the five copies I could pull together: two MoFi’s, the Fantasy ORC reissue, a blue label original, the AP, and another reissue. 

Let’s just say there were no real winners, but there sure were some losers.

My take on the Hoffman version is simply this: it has virtually no trace of TUBEY ANALOG MAGIC. None to speak of anyway.

It sounds like a clean, tonally correct but fairly bass-shy CD. No pressing I played managed to be so tonally correct and so boring at the same time. The MoFi has plenty of weird EQ colorations, the kind that bug the hell out of me on 98% of their crappy catalog, but at least it sounds like analog. It’s warm, rich and sweet. The AP copy has none of those qualities.

More pointless 180g sound, to my ear anyway. I couldn’t sit through it with a gun to my head.

You would need a LOT of vintage tubes in your system to get the AP record to sound right, and then everything else in your collection would sound worse.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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Boston’s First Album on MoFi Anadisq

Sonic Grade: F

The MoFi Anadisc of Boston’s first album has the same problems that plague the whole Anadisq 200 series: turgid, thick, opaque, blobby, murky, mucky sound.

A real slogfest. Audiophile trash of the worst kind.

Do people still pay good money for this kind of awful sound? Yes they do!

Go to ebay and see the high prices these kinds of records are fetching. This is in equal parts both shocking and disgusting. 

Here is what is available for the MoFi pressing on Discogs today (2/2/2022). If you have $400 you can order one there.

Marketplace 3 For Sale from $399.99

And people complain about our prices? At least we send you a great sounding record for all the money we charge.