Or kicking them while they’re down. Pick whichever one you like best, they both work for me.
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.
First, a thought for the day.
“Everyone complains about his memory, and no one complains about his judgment.“
François de La Rochefoucauld
Before we start talking about where the blame lies in this mess — with Esposito, Fremer, Jim Davis, or the so-called “engineers” who work for Mobile Fidelity — I would like bring up a couple of ideas that you have no doubt seen before, mostly because they are discussed endlessly on this blog.
We Make Mistakes
The first is that anyone who has been on an audio journey for very long has made a lot of mistakes along the way.
Uniquely among reviewers and record dealers, we go out of way to admit when we were wrong. You might say we are even proud of the fact that we used to get so many things wrong about records and audio.
Our experimental, evidence-based approach, requiring that we not only make mistakes but that we embrace them, is surely key to the progress we have made in understanding recordings and home audio. One of our favorite quotes on the subject is attributed to Alexander Pope.
“A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying… that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.”
To say that few audiophiles have followed our approach is not to admit defeat. Rather it is simply to say that the approach we use to find better sounding pressings involves a great deal of tedious, expensive, time-consuming work, work that few audiophiles seem interested in doing.
Instead, the approach that most audiophiles these days take is to buy ready-made audiophile pressings. They convince themselves — how, I cannot begin to imagine — that these pressings are superior to all others because of the exceptional skills and superior methods of those tasked with mastering and pressing them. Also I think I remember reading that their hearts were in the right place or something to that effect.
These Heavy Vinyl aficionados see themselves as the Self-Anointed Faithful, the Vinyl True Believers, the Disciples of Analog, and now their faith in one of their Holiest of Holies has torn them asunder and brought them low. Seems the castles they were living in were built on sand. So the bible says, and it still is news.
Mistakes Were Made
What follows is one way to look at what happened and who it happened to.
This gentleman you see pictured above, a certain Mike Esposito, made a foolish mistake.
He believed what he was told. Rather than being skeptical, he wanted to believe what they told him.
He did not use his own ears to make judgments, he let some others — reviewers, fellow audiophiles, the label itself — tell him what was pure and good.
Now he has learned that he was misinformed by those whom he placed his trust; even worse, he was lied to by the label he… is worshipped to strong a word?
He was also misinformed by the audiophile reviewers who should have known something was wrong. Not being able to recognize the shortcomings in the sound of these pressings was entirely predictable, since these reviewers never developed listening skills much better than those of Mr Esposito. (For more on just how out of his depth the man was, click here.)
His world has been turned upside down. But it was always upside down.
We know of practically no evidence to support the proposition that this label knows how to make good sounding records. It has made some in the past we liked, this group, for example, but the New MoFi, the one Jim Davis owns, is responsible for so many bad records that we finally had to give up bothering to review them. Our Audiophile Hall of Shame is overflowing as it is.
Finding good records and being able to reproduce them well is hard. Perhaps now Mr Esposito is coming to appreciate just how little he knew about either.
A Whole New World
His ears and his stereo we’re not enough to show him the error of his ways.
But now just imagine the new world he finds himself in. He will now hear the faults of this useless label’s records with ease, not because he can actually hear them, but because he knows something about how the records were made that will color his thinking.
He’ll know what’s good and bad about the sound the same way that Michael Fremer knew that the Beatles Reissues on Heavy Vinyl had sonic issues because they were digitally sourced. MF knew they wouldn’t sound right because they weren’t made right.
He didn’t know they wouldn’t sound right because they didn’t sound right. He has never been capable of that kind of judgment, the kind of judgment that requires carefully nurtured critical listening skills. We noted as much in 1995 and have seen no evidence to the contrary since then. (If you know of some, please send it to me, I would love to read it.)
When the big guns at Apple told him they were doing the mono albums from the analog tapes, he knew those would sound good because they are being made the right way. We knew they didn’t sound good because they weren’t good sounding. We could care less how they were made. A bad record is a bad record. Trying to figure out what caused it to be bad is not a good use of anyone’s time.
When you’re an audiophile true believer, you don’t need to listen, you just need to know something, or think you know something, and then it’s easy to make judgments about the records you’re playing. You don’t even need to play them to know how they sound. They sound the way they’re supposed to, depending on how they were made, right?
This is foolishness of the worst kind. But this foolishness seems to be the most common kind in the audio world. Audiophiles are skilled at reading and thinking, not so skilled at listening and understanding what they are hearing.
Our blog is dedicated to helping audiophiles learn to hear better, following the processes that worked for us. Once you have achieved even a modest level of critical listening skills, it’s the rare Mobile Fidelity that will sound any better than mediocre to you, and most of them will just be awful. They sure sound awful to us.
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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