Labels With Shortcomings – Mobile Fidelity (All)

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.

Dire Straits Gets the Mobile Fidelity Treatment

Reviews and Commentaries for Dire Straits’ Debut

More of the Music of Dire Straits

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, the kind of 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!


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

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

To learn more about records that sound dramatically better than any Half-Speed ever made (with one rare exception, John Klemmer’s Touch), please consult our FAQs:

More Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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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

Facing Some Hard Truths in Phoenix

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.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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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 wrote 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. The bass is of course 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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The Mobile Fidelity Apocalypse, Part Four

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 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.

Good Luck

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.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Thinking Critically About Records

Thinking Skeptically About Everything