Labels With Shortcomings – Mobile Fidelity (All)

Steely Dan / Aja – One of the Great Audio Disasters, Courtesy of Mobile Fidelity

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

Sonic Grade: F

More MoFi bashing, but boy does this MoFi deserve it. In our estimation, it is tied with the Cisco 180g pressing (2007) for The Worst Version Ever.

I remember back in the ’70s when the album came out. I was a big Steely Dan fan by then, having been turned on to their albums with Countdown to Ecstasy. With each new Dan record I became more impressed with their music, from Pretzel Logic to Katy Lied to Royal Scam and finally on to this, their commercial breakthrough, Aja.

At the time I thought the album sounded pretty good on my plain old ABC original.

Then I got a copy of the Mobile Fidelity pressing and I thought it sounded even better. Side two of the MoFi had bass that was only hinted at on my domestic copy. Wow! Listen to all that bass!

Sometime in the ’80s, I realized that the MoFi was hideously phony sounding, and that all the bass on side two was boosted far out of proportion to what must be (I’m guessing) on the master tape. The song Home At Last has at least an extra three or four DBs added around 50 cycles. It’s ridiculous.

And that’s just the bottom end; the highs are every bit as wrong.

Side one has its top end boosted beyond all understanding. The snare drum that opens the song Black Cow sounds like a hi-hat, all top and no body, and the hi-hat sounds so bright you can barely even tell it’s a hi-hat.

Of course the vocals sharing the midrange are all ridiculously thinned out and compressed to death. Fagen’s voice sounds tonally unlike his voice on any other Steely Dan record. That should tell you something.

Fagen’s Evin Twin

Mobile Fidelity was not revealing or discovering the true nature of Donald Fagen’s voice. They were creating an entirely new version of it, one with no relation to the living Donald Fagen, the perfect example of an approach we call My-Fi, not Hi-Fi, as if the world needed such a thing.

Mobile Fidelity took this fairly artificial recording and made it even more artificial sounding than it already was.

We don’t like it when a mastering engineer creates a new sound for a well-known recording, a sound that nobody involved with the original production could have wanted, since no other version of the album ever sounded like this one.

The MoFi Aja is a giant black mark against Mobile Fidelity and half-speed mastering in general. I’m astonished that anybody who calls himself an audiophile in this day and age would not be able to recognize how laughably wrong it is, but I am sure plenty of people still play the record and like it.

If you have small speakers, or screens with no subs, it might actually give you some of the bass and highs your speakers have trouble reproducing. This is not a good way to pursue audio of course. We are of the opposite persuasion and have been since 1975 or thereabouts.

This is exactly what is going on with the Speakers Corner Mercury reissue series from about twenty years ago as well. They are finding a Mercury “sound” that no one ever found before. More to the point, they are finding a sound that no one with two working ears would even want.

If you can’t tell what’s wrong with the MoFi Aja –and I’m guessing that’s a sizeable contingent of self-described audiophiles — then it’s hard to know how to help you.

Like our friend with the MoFi Aqualung, we would not know where to start. Something ain’t workin’ right — room, stereo, who knows what it might be?

In order to build a record collection of high quality pressings, the first thing you need to do is get good sound.

It is the sine qua non of record collecting. Without it you are almost guaranteed to fail. Until you’ve achieved good sound, you most likely will be wasting money on one bad sounding audiophile record after another, and that would really be a shame.

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Ridiculously Phony and Compressed Sound – The Beatles White Album on MoFi

Sonic Grade: F

Another MoFi LP reviewed and found seriously wanting.

The last time I played a copy of the MoFi, I could not believe how ridiculously bright, phony and compressed it was.

As sibilant as any Beatles record they ever did. Cry Baby Cry spits like crazy!

And to think I used to like their version when it came out back in the ’80s.

A good example: on Yer Blues, the MFSL pressing positively wreaks havoc with all the added bass and top end The Beatles put on this track. The MoFi version is already too bright, and has sloppy bass to start with, so the result on this track is way too much BAD bass and way too much BAD spitty 10k-boosted treble. The MoFi is nothing like the good imports, which have way too much GOOD bass and treble.

Yer Blues ROCKS! Listen to the big jam at the end of the song, where John’s vocal mic is turned off but his performance is still caught by a room or overheard mic. They obviously did this on purpose, killing his vocal track so that the “leaked” vocal could be heard. (We have since learned from Ken Scott that it was mistake, but one they liked and left in.)

Those crazy Beatles! It’s more than just a cool “effect.” It actually seems to kick the energy and power of the song up a notch. It’s clearly an accident, but an accident that works. I rather doubt George Martin approved. That kind of “throw the rule book out” approach is what makes Beatles recordings so fascinating, and The White Album the most fascinating of them all.

The EQ for this song is also a good example of something The Beatles were experimenting with, as detailed in their recording sessions and later interviews with the engineers. They were pushing the boundaries of normal EQ, of how much bass and treble a track could have. This track has seriously boosted bass, way too much, but somehow it works.
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John Klemmer – Touch

  • This copy of the best MoFi title to ever hit the site is close to the best we’ve heard, with stunning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades on both sides, just shy of our Shootout Winner – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • Musically and sonically this is the pinnacle of Klemmer’s smooth jazz – we know of none better
  • The best sounding Smooth – But Real – Jazz Album ever made, and the only vintage MoFi we know of that deserves a place in your collection
  • “This is music straight from the heart, smooth but with a few twists and turns to make it interesting. But there are no cliche blues licks, none of the crap that players in this genre try to foist upon as ‘hip.’ Indeed, Klemmer has more in common with the late 60’s mantra playing of Coltrane or Sanders than those other guys (whose names will not be mentioned.)”
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know better, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy amazing audiophile-quality recordings like this one can bring to your life. Touch is a good example of a record many audiophiles may not know well but should.

Touch is probably the best sounding record Mobile Fidelity ever made, and the only record of theirs I know of that can’t be beaten by a standard real-time mastered pressing.

We’re talking Demo Disc quality sound here. The spaciousness of the studio and the three-dimensional placement of the myriad percussion instruments and bells within its walls make this something of an audiophile spectacular of a different kind — dreamy and intensely emotional.

Shocking as it may be, Mobile Fidelity, maker of some of the worst sounding records in the history of audio, is truly the king on this title.

Klemmer says pure emotion is what inspired the album’s creation. Whatever he tapped into to find the source of that inspiration, he really hit paydirt with Touch. It’s the heaviest smooth jazz ever recorded. Musically and sonically, this is the pinnacle of Klemmer’s smooth jazz body of work. I know of none better. (If you want to hear him play more straight-ahead jazz, try Straight from the Heart on Nautilus Direct to Disc.) (more…)

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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Cat Stevens and the Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

Our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame listings totaled more than 40 back in 2010, and we noted at the time that the real number would be at least double that and probably more than triple that figure if we took the time to make listings for all the bad records this label has released, It stands at 50 or so as of 2022.

In case you don’t already know, one of the worst sounding, if not THE worst sounding pressing of all time, of our beloved Teaser and the Firecat is the Mobile Fidelity Anadisq pressing that came out in the ’90s.

If you own that record, you really owe it to yourself to pull it out and play it. It’s just a mess and it should sound like a mess, whether you have anything to compare it to or not.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would strike this record from it in a heartbeat.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

We offer a number of Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

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

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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…)

Dire Straits Gets the Mobile Fidelity Treatment (Just Updated)

Reviews and Commentaries for Dire Straits’ Debut

More of the Music of Dire Straits

Geoff Edgers watched me and my lovely assistant, Sunshine, do a lengthy shootout for Dire Straits first album, but licensing problems prevented the Washington Post from using the footage. You can still see Sunshine in the video, and the yellow Phonogram label you see at one point is attached to one of the Dire Straits pressings we played that day.

Toward the end of the shootout for the first side, we put on the Mobile Fidelity pressing, and, interrupted from time to time by the sound of me howling and gnashing my teeth, I pointed out for Geoff’s edification everything that was wrong with their pressing.

This took some time.

I will be writing more about their dismal effort one of these days, but for now let me leave you with this thought.

When you read the comments section for the article, it seems that quite a number of those discussing my lifelong interest in the world of audio and records go out of their way to state the obvious, that folks my age cannot hear high frequencies.

This is true, and I have never denied it. Case in point: After playing the MoFi pressing of Dire Straits, Sunshine, sitting at the turntable, asked what all that weirdly high-pitched, swirling, shusshing sound was. It wasn’t on the Phonogram pressings she had played. Only the MoFi.

I looked at her and asked “What shusshing sound?”

Sunshine had clearly heard it, Geoff may have, I don’t remember, but I had no idea there was anything untoward happening way up in that area of the frequency range. [1]

In my defense, not that I need one, I had no trouble telling how bad that Mobile Fidelity pressing was, or which of the five Dire Straits pressings sounded the best, or what each of them were doing, rightly and wrongly. What I was noting and explaining about the sound of these identical-looking UK pressings, their strengths and weaknesses, was clear enough for everyone in the room to hear over the course of the hour or so we spent doing it.

My goal was to walk Geoff through the steps of the shootout, and as far as I could tell he was with me all the way.

Those commenting about high frequency hearing loss are engaging in the fallacy of “begging the question,” assuming what they are trying to prove instead of proving it, which I suppose is the kind of thing you can expect to read in the comments left by those with a great deal of regard for their own opinions but little for the evidence required to support them. More here.


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, a 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.

[1.] Did Mobile Fidelity’s engineers hear this high-frequency hash? Has any audiophile come forward to expose this problem? The answers to both questions are very likely to be no.


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

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

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The Doors – 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 – 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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