Labels With Shortcomings – Mobile Fidelity

Gino Vannelli / Powerful People – What Was I Thinking?

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Sonic Grade: F

At the time of our last shootout in 2014 I still had the MoFi pressing of Powerful People in my personal, very small (at this point) record collection. Almost all the best sounding records from my collection had long ago been sold off, going to good homes that I can only assume would play them more than I had in the last ten years. If it’s a record you see on our site, chances are good I have listened to it until I’d practically turned blue in the face.

But I had kept my Powerful People half-speed these 30+ years because the domestic pressings I’d played were just too damn midrangy to enjoy. At least the MoFi had bass, top end and didn’t sound squawky or hard on the vocals.

Well, let me tell you, played against the best domestic pressings, of which this is one, the MoFi is laughable. (In that respect it shares much with the current crop of audiophile reissues.) It’s unbelievably compressed, a problem that is easily heard on the biggest, most exciting parts of the tracks — they never get remotely as big or as loud on the MoFi as they do on the lowly A&M originals. (more…)

Led Zeppelin II – Stan Ricker Versus Robert Ludwig

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

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Here is the story of my first encounter with a amazing sounding copy of Zep II.

I had a friend who had come into possession of a White Label Demo pressing of the album and wanted to trade it in to me for the Mobile Fidelity pressing that I had played for him once or twice over the years, and which we both thought was The King on that album.

To my shock and dismay, his stupid American copy KILLED the MoFi. It TROUNCED it in every way. The bass was deeper and punchier. Everything was more dynamic. The vocals were more natural and correct sounding. The highs were sweeter and more extended. The whole pressing was just full of life in a way that the Mobile Fidelity wasn’t.

The Mobile Fidelity didn’t sound Bad. It sounded Not As Good. More importantly, in comparison with the good domestic copy, in many ways it now sounded wrong.

Let me tell you, it was a watershed moment in my growth as a record collector. I had long ago discovered that many MoFi’s weren’t all they were cracked up to be. But this was a MoFi I liked. And it had killed the other copies I had heard in the past.

So I learned something very important that day. I learned that hearing a good pressing is the best way to understand what’s wrong with a bad pressing. (more…)

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

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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.

It’s ideal for most audiophiles.

Ask yourself three questions:

Do you want the expense and hassle of finding a nice original stereo copy?

Do you want to invest in proper record cleaning equipment to restore the glorious sound of the original’s 50-plus year old vinyl?

Do you want to spend the time (decades) and money (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 mediocre equipment you will 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.)

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 it just fine that way.

FURTHER READING

This record has middling sound, and naturally we have a section for records of that quality.

Pressings with Excellent Sound Quality

Pressings with Middling Sound Quality 

Pressings with Mind-Blowing Sound Quality 

Pressings with Weak Sound Quality or Music 

Steely Dan – Katy Lied – A MoFi that Beggars Belief

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

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 MoFi could hear it. 

Compressed and 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. (more…)

Little Feat – Dixie Chicken – Hard to Find on the Green Label

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TWO AMAZING WHITE HOT SIDES for one of Little Feat’s best-loved albums! This music is tons of fun, but the typical pressing is so flat and lifeless that the music is basically ruined. When you find a copy that’s been properly mastered, like this one, it’s a whole ‘nother story. Richer and fuller, clearer and more transparent, this Green Label will absolutely DESTROY any later pressing!

This album may never be a Demo Disc, but it certainly doesn’t need to sound like a piece of cardboard, and this copy is the proof! As soon as we dropped the needle, there was no doubt in our minds that this was the winner of our shootout. It’s a huge step up in every way.

Most copies of this album sound like cardboard, especially the later pressings on the palm tree and tan labels. To get the best sound you need originals of this album, and Warner Brothers green label originals are getting pretty darn hard to find as more and more collectors and audiophiles are coming to the realization that the unending stream of heavy vinyl reissues flooding the market leaves a lot to be desired. (Our desire for them is at zero as we no longer bother to order the stuff.) (more…)

A Reviewer Liked London CS 6357 a Whole Lot More Than I Did – A Cautionary Tale

While digging around the web I ran into a site called From Miles to Mozart, which purports to be “An exploration of the incredible world of classical and jazz recordings”

Fair enough. Here is what the reviewer had to say about a London we did not think sounded very good, CS 6357. At the time, he was most of the way through a fairly complete survey of London Bluebacks, and when those were done he went on to review a Whiteback pressing of this London, which appears to be the only pressing he had on hand. (We of course had only the one as well.)

I’d run out of blue so next up was CS 6357 with its retro FFSS label, a white back FFSS. Clifford Curzon scores a knockout with the Dvorak Quintet with a very refined late Blueback sound; truly transcendental sound of the highest order. Another white back FFSS followed in CS 6379 Mozart Clarinet Quintet with a magical clarinet but some edginess at times with some of the instruments. Overall the Clarinet Quintet had very strong sound to rival most any Blueback. Unfortunately, the Mozart Divertimenti on side 2 was not as assured with quite a few signs of strain in the highs indicative some early transistor changing the precious Blueback sound. CS 6379 was recorded by Smith and Parry October, 1963 at Sofiensaal, Vienna with the LP coming out in May of 1964. CS 6357 was recorded in Sofiensaal, Vienna by Culshaw and Parry in October 1962 with the LP in October 1963. Overall two strong LP’s without a Blueback! (Well, CS 6357 does exist with a Blueback.)

He has some ideas about “precious Blueback sound” and the half-speed mastering setup used to achieve them. I will leave that for others to discuss, mostly because I could not seriously entertain this fellow’s writing once I found out what he had to say about one of Mobile Fidelity’s earliest half-speed mastered releases:

Zubin Mehta Conducts Music from Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (MFSL 1-008)

Comments: If you want to hear what audiophile vinyl sounds like, this is a great way to start. Whether you like science fiction movies or not, this record is a must hear … and try to turn up the volume if you can. This Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab pressing of Decca SXL 6885 (London ZM 1001) is one of the most incredible sounding orchestral recordings I have ever heard. It may not be the recording used for the movies (John Williams conducted those himself), but it sounds significantly better in terms of recording quality. Talk about lifelike presence, huge dynamic range, bass depth with real visceral impact — this record has DEMONSTRATION written all over it. Even the Cantina Band track gives you the impression of an alien jazz/pop band playing right before you. I was fortunate enough to get my copy for free from a friend, and only recently did I realize that this album sells for some money. Looking for a change from the same old EMI, Decca, RCA, Mercury, DG, or Philips? Try this one.

If this is your idea of an audiophile Demo Disc, you are setting the bar awfully low, about even with the height of the carpeting. I consider it a piece of Audiophile trash, one that I never bothered to discuss on the blog. Were I to grade it today I would probably give it a D for sound and an F for music. I remember playing it back in the late-’70 or early-’80s and wondering what on earth was the appeal of such a cheesy, lowest-common-denominator schlockfest. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “Just Enough Midrange To Give The Impression There Was A Good Recording Back In There Somewhere”

Reviews and Commentaries for Year of the Cat

One of our good customers had this to say about a record he played recently:

Hey Tom, 

I know you’ve got this on my Want List, but I also know it is a hard one to find. So thought I would try a cheap used MoFi from Discogs. Cover was shot so didn’t cost much, what the heck, right? Wow, what a lesson! Clean and quiet is the best I can say. Forget about it being almost too warped to play, that was not described, but almost beside the point. What we care about is sound quality, and this MoFi is abysmal!

I mean never mind Hot Stamper, it does not compare even to my old original random played-a-million times copy! The sound is pallid, sapped of all life, rolled off on the top, missing entirely on the bottom, and with just enough midrange to give the impression there was a good recording back in there somewhere, once upon a time. Before MoFi stepped all over it.

That’s not even the worst! Track 2, On the Border, begins with two piano notes alternating back and forth setting the tempo. Where are they??? There is no piano! None! Strings come suddenly out of nowhere! I thought MoFi was supposed to use Original Master Tape??

Easily the worst MoFi ever. Although quite honestly none of them can hold a candle to one of your Hot Stampers. Genuine diamonds in the rough.

Anyway, thought I would let you know. Good luck finding my YOTC. Truly would love to hear what it’s supposed to sound like. (more…)

The Purveyors of Ultra High Quality Records Want to Know: How Much of an Audio Fool Are You?

Record Collecting for Audiophiles

A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

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Today’s record-loving audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making more than forty years ago. Heavy Vinyl, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just audiophile fads, each with a track record of mediocre sound progressively worse than the next?

An Unscientific Approach

In my formative years in audio, starting in the mid-’70s, it would never have occurred to me to buy more than one copy of a record and do a head to head comparison to see which one sounded better. I approached the subject Platonically, not scientifically: the record that should sound better would sound better.

Later on in the decade a label by the name of Mobile Fidelity would come along claiming to actually make better sounding pressings than the ones the major labels put out, and cluelessly I bought into that nonsense too. (To be fair, sometimes they did — Touch, Waiting for Columbus and American Beauty come to mind, but my god, Katy Lied, Year of the Cat and Sundown have to be three of the worst sounding records I’ve ever played in my life.) (more…)

Bad Santana LPs from Mobile Fidelity – We Admit We Was Wrong

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This is one of the MoFi LPs we’ve reviewed on the site. And for us audiophile record lovers – not lovers of audiophile records, but guys who love records with audiophile sound – it’s simply another nail in the coffin for one of the most laughably inept remastering labels in the history of that unrelievedly sad enterprise.

We also have a Hall of Shame for bad sounding audiophile records such as these. It currently has 250 members but could easily have double that if someone wanted to take the time to make entries for all the bad audiophile pressings we’ve played over the years. (That person would have to be me and I don’t want to do it.)

Santana is a record we admit to having liked a bit when it first came out. Since then we have changed our minds. As embarrassing as it may be, clearly We Was Wrong.

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] web site 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. (more…)

The Crusaders – Chain Reaction – MoFi Hot Stamper

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This is a Minty looking Mobile Fidelity LP with VERY GOOD SOUND. We just did a mini shootout and this copy killed the competition. Obviously it won’t sound as good as one of our regular Hot Stampers but they go for quite a bit more money. Depending on what you listen for, this MoFi should be quite a bit better than yer average domestic pressing.