Miscellany

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 old 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

The Mobile Fidelity Apocalypse, Part Three

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 basics, here is just one of the many thoughts I’ve had concerning the revelation that Mobile Fidelity has been secretly sourcing at least some of their masters digitally since 2015.

Judging by the hundreds of comments on various audiophile forums, there seems to be a great deal of outrage that Mobile Fidelity pressings were not in fact 100% analog, as the label had claimed.

However, I don’t recall ever reading a single post by anyone outraged by the fact that this label’s records rarely sound better than mediocre and more often than not are just plain awful.

I’ve been bashing this label in print and on the web for more than 30 years. During that time I’ve written a large number of reviews describing the extensive and, to me at least, obvious shortcomings of their pressings. Many of those reviews can be found here.

But it has always been hard to find fellow audiophiles who shared my disdain for the sound of MoFi’s badly mastered LPs. Just the opposite in fact. To my unending disappointment, many people who describe themselves as audiophiles seemed to really like them.

After hearing one of our properly-mastered, properly-pressed records, sourced from the best available tapes (also known as Hot Stampers), some of our customers saw the light and took the time to write us about their experience.

There is a great deal more to say concerning this news, 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 Two


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The Mobile Fidelity Apocalypse, Part Two

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

Geoff Edgers is a friend of mine, an audiophile, and a very good reporter. I will be discussing this mess at some point on the blog. His article is well worth your time to read.

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, so sign up now and start reading.


Quick question: Does this record look digital to you?


Speaking of One-Steps

We have never played any of them, but a couple of our customers have:

Customer Comments on MoFi One-Step Pressings

Our next post on the subject can be found here: The Mobile Fidelity Apocalypse, Part Three.

There are no doubt more to come. This link will take you to all of them, probably in the reverse order they should be read.

The Mobile Fidelity Apocalypse, Part One

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, so sign up now and start reading.

Once you are up to date on the basics, check out the video that started it all.

For those of you who can take the abuse, check out the 234 pages of comments about this video on the Steve Hoffman forum.

I will be adding my two cents worth to this discussion soon, which should equal the value of the 234 pages of discussion to date if I may be honest about the value of this label and the people who show respect for it.

I’ve watched about twenty seconds of the video, and read  three or four comments on this thread, just enough to get the gist of both, so I am admitting up front that whatever comments I make will be ill-informed regarding the particulars of what has been claimed and what may have been discussed regarding whatever has been said.

I do know something about the subject, however, and my plan is to limit what I say to the broader questions this video raises, in my mind anyway

If you are wondering whether this In Groove guy knows much about records, allow me to refer you to the two commentaries associated with his reviews that we’ve posted to date, which we believe should answer that question.

One for Aja, and one for Kind of Blue.

Our next post on the subject can be found here: The Mobile Fidelity Apocalypse, Part Two

And here is Part Three.

There are no doubt more to come, so 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

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If You Like Power Pop, Check Out the Big Beat of The Knack’s Drummer, Bruce Gary

We rarely have Get The Knack in stock, but we do have

Other Debut Albums of Interest

This Monster Power Pop Debut by the Knack is an AMAZINGLY well-recorded album, with the kind of Wall to Wall Big Beat Live Rock Sound that rivals Back in Black and Nevermind — if you’re lucky enough to have a copy that sounds like this! (If you’re not then it doesn’t.)

This is a Rock Demo Disc that is very likely to lay waste to whatever rock demo disc you currently treasure. My Sharona is simply STUNNING here. You just can’t record drums and bass any better! That’s why it’s a lifelong member of the prestigious None Rocks Harder club. We love the sound of punchy drums and these are as punchy as they get.

And let’s not forget the song Lucinda. It’s got exactly the same incredibly meaty, grungy, ballsy sound that Back in Black does, but it managed to do it in 1979, a year earlier!

Mike Chapman produced this album and clearly he is an audiophile production genius. With a pair of Number One charting, amazing sounding Pop albums back to back — Blondie’s Parallel Lines in 1978 and this album early the next year — how much better could he get? The answer is: none more better.

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Steely Dan / Aja – Guess Which Pressing This Guy Likes the Best

 


Go ahead, take a guess.

If you guessed the Cisco LP from 2007, one of the worst sounding versions of the album ever pressed, you win a prize!

Occasionally, when I go searching the web to find out something about a record, I find something I had no idea even existed. Look what I found today: a survey of various pressings of Aja, an album I think I know pretty well. I’ve been playing it since the day it came out in 1977.

Are you learning anything useful from the guy in this video? Does he seem to understand much about the sound of the pressings he is reviewing?

I didn’t think so. If you know much about records you should be appalled at the nonsensical opinions coming out of this guy’s mouth. This video will of course garner many ten of thousands of hits, but that is to be expected. Phony record gurus like this guy —  as opposed to authentic record gurus like us — have found a home in every corner of the web, full of advice for those foolish enough to take it.

We Can Help

Would you like some helpful advice, some “actionable intelligence” vis-a-vis Aja?

Good. You’ve come to the right place!  This blog is full of information you can use to do your own shootouts, for Aja as well as any other record you’ve a good supply of.

When you are done you can make your own video if you like.

And if you follow our methods, unlike this video, your video would actually be of value to audiophiles trying to find a better sounding pressing of Aja. It sure ain’t the Cisco. If that pressing doesn’t come in last place in the shootout, you need to try harder. You’re not doing it right.

If this guy had better playback equipment and had developed some basic critical listening skills, he would not be recommending the Cisco pressing. He would be telling you how awful it is just the way we did back in 2007 when it came out.

The Cisco pressing, so beloved by the gentleman above, also happens to be a good example of a Pass/Fail record.  We describe Pass/Fail records this way:

Some records are so wrong, or so lacking in qualities that are crucial to the sound — qualities typically found in abundance on the right vintage pressings — that the advocates for these records, reviewers and audiophiles alike, have clearly failed to judge them accurately.

Tea for the Tillerman on the new 45 may be substandard in almost every way, but it is not a Pass/Fail pressing. It lacks one thing above all others, Tubey Magic, so if your system has an abundance of that quality, the way many vintage tube systems do, the new pressing may be quite listenable and enjoyable. Those whose systems can play the record and not notice this important shortcoming are not exactly failing. Audiophiles of this persuasion most likely have a system that is heavily colored and not very revealing, but it is not a system that is hopeless.

A system that can play the MoFi of Aja without revealing to the listener how risibly wrong it is is clearly on another level of bad entirely, and that we would characterize as a failing system. My system in the ’80s played the MoFi just fine. Looking back on it now, I realize my system was doing more wrong than right. Over the next forty years I worked hard to make it right. It is at the heart of everything we do here at Better Records. Without it there could be no Hot Stampers.

The value of identifying such records is simply this: if you know anyone, or come across anyone, that has anything nice to say about records that are as awful as the ones on this list, you should know that such a person cannot tell a good record from a bad one, and therefore nothing they say about anything on the subject of either audio or records will be of any real value to you if you care about good sound.

Our video maker above fits neatly into this category. Why is he talking about better and worse versions of Aja when he clearly cannot tell the good ones from the bad ones? Why indeed.

Helpful Tips from Real Record Experts (Us)

In our Hot Stamper Aja listings you can find the following advice. It can help you find your own killer pressings of Aja, or it may be used to evaluate the copy we send you as you compare it to whatever pressings you may already have.

Our track commentary for the song Home at Last makes it easy to spot an obvious problem with Cisco’s remastered Aja: This is the toughest song to get right on side two.

Nine out of ten copies have grainy, irritating vocals; the deep bass is often missing too. Home at Last is just plain unpleasant as a rule, which is why it’s such a great test track.

Get this one right and it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there on out.

If you own the Cisco pressing, focus on Victor Feldman’s piano at the beginning of the song. It lacks body, weight and ambience on the new pressing, but any of our better Hot Stamper copies will show you a piano with those qualities in spades all the way through. It’s some of my favorite work by the Steely Dan vibesman.

The thin piano on the Cisco release must be recognized for what it is: a major error on the part of the mastering engineers.

Bonus Listening Test for Side Two

The truly amazing side twos — and they are pretty darn rare — have an extended top end and breathy vocals on the first track, Peg, a track that is dull on nine out of ten copies. (The ridiculously bright MoFi actually kind of works on Peg because of the fact that the mix is somewhat lacking in top end. This is faint praise though: MoFi managed to fix that problem and ruin practically everything else on the album.)

If you play Peg against the tracks that follow it on side two most of the time the highs come back. On the best of the best the highs are there all the way through.

Listening Tests for Side One

Generally what you try to get on side one is a copy with ambience. Most copies are flat, lifeless and dry as a bone. You also want a copy with good punchy bass — many are lean, and the first two tracks simply don’t work at all without good bass. And then you want a copy that has a natural top end, where the cymbals ring sweetly and Wayne Shorter’s saxophone isn’t hard or honky or dull, which it often is on the bad domestic copies.

Also listen for GRAIN and HONK in the vocals on Black Cow. The better your copy is the less grainy and honky the vocals will be.

Shockingly Good Sound

It’s SHOCKING how good this record can sound when you get a good copy. We played more than a dozen of these for the big shootout we conducted many years ago, most of which had already been designated as sounding good. (Almost as many were noisy or bad sounding. Those we just toss or trade back in to local stores.)

I could literally spend hours describing what sets the best copies apart from the very good ones, having critically listened to well over a hundred copies of the album at this point.

And I did! For those of you who would like to join me in taking a deeper dive into all seven tracks on Aja, click here.

We Now Return to The Revolution, Which Is Already in Progress

This music belongs in any serious audiophile record collection worthy of the name. As audiophiles we all know that when an album sounds this good, it makes you appreciate the music even more. I never cared all that much for Aja until a few years ago when I discovered just how amazing the most amazing copies could sound.

That’s what the Revolutionary Changes in Audio link is all about. If you haven’t taken advantage of the new technologies that make LP playback dramatically better than it was five or ten years years ago, Aja won’t do what it’s supposed to do. Trust me, there’s a world of sound lurking in the grooves of the best Aja’s that simply cannot be revealed without Walker cleaning fluids, the Talisman, Aurios, Seismic Sinks, Hallographs, top quality front ends, big speakers and all the rest.

Our playback system is designed to play records like Aja with all the size, weight and power of the real thing. We live for this kind of Big Rock sound here at Better Records. We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to play records like this with Maximum Fidelity, secure in the knowledge that a system that can play Aja right can play pretty much anything right.

More Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

Does It Seem to You That This Guy Knows Anything About Records? Any Records?

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

I had posted one of his videos here under the heading “Does it seem like this guy knows anything about Dark Side of the Moon?”

That was too generous. Apparently he does not know anything about records period. Any records. Records with any titles.

That would include records with the title Led Zeppelin II, the subject of today’s commentary.

This video has to be The. Dumbest. Video. Ever.

Never have I seen this level of vapidity on display. I had no idea people like this existed, but here is one, and unfortunately he knows how to make videos.

Most of the audiophiles I’ve run into over the years had no idea how little they knew about records and audio. (I admit I was one of those guys for the first twenty years I was in high end audio. Thank god there were no audiophile forums or youtube channels around back then.)

The audiophiles of which I speak mostly stayed in their listening rooms where their secrets were safe. With the advent of the internet and youtube, now these clueless types can make their ignorance known to the wider world, the Dunning-Kruger* effect on full display.

The Video

The concept undergirding this demonstration of — now that I think about it, I’m not sure what exactly is being demonstrated other than the fact that records, when spinning on a turntable and scratched by a needle, can make sounds, and those sounds can come out of your computer speakers when you play the video. It’s science.

Anyway, the demonstration is simplicity itself. Watch it, and then you tell me if this isn’t the dumbest video about records that you have ever seen.

This none-too-bright fellow came up with the idea of doing a video about Led Zeppelin II pressing variations. Must have taken him at least an hour to record and edit it. Maybe more!

His plan involved:

  • Playing six different pressings of the album.
  • Playing these six records on a cheap-ass turntable that no audiophile could possibly take seriously.
  • Switching from one pressing to another in the middle of random tracks.
  • Recording the awful sound coming out of the awful speakers while the six pressings were playing.
  • And at the end asking the viewer to discuss the sound in the comments section that they heard on the various pressings

As it happens, I know four of these six titles very well.

The MoFi is a ridiculously bright, ridiculously phony remastering hack job. You can read my review of it by clicking on the link at the top of this page.

So is the Classic, so tonally wrong it defies understanding. Again, my review is here for all to see.

Now it’s your turn. Please to play the video.

Did you hear how bright those two pressings are?

I sure didn’t!

Now, if you play one of the best sounding versions of Led Zeppelin II, the Robert Ludwig “Hot Mix,” which incidentally is not a different mix. hot or otherwise, and you play three of the worst sounding versions (I’m including the early recut in that trio, a real piece of garbage), and they all kind of sound the same, what could possibly be the value of a video such as this?

It can have no value. When it was over I felt dumber than when it started.

And of course this person never makes a single statement comparing the sound of any of these pressings to any of the other pressings. Apparently that’s your job.

It is unlikely he would have anything of value to say. Perhaps it’s best he doesn’t open his mouth and remove all doubt regarding the question of his being a fool, to butcher a much more elegant formulation ascribed to Mark Twain.

He may be as deaf as he is stupid, but even if he is neither, the comments section should be overflowing with audiophiles questioning this guy’s sanity. The fact that it is not does not speak well for audiophiles, music lovers or the human race in general.

I posted another of this fellow’s videos here. Below is an extract from the commentary accompanying it.

Two Minutes Was Enough

I frankly admit I did not spend two minutes watching this video. I simply do not have the patience to watch audiophiles like this guy opine about records he thinks he knows a lot better than he actually does.

That said, if there is a pressing that he thinks is the best, and you own one, we would be happy to send you a Hot Stamper to go head to head with it and let the chips fall where they may.

We are not in the opinion business. Opinions are cheap. Everybody has them.

We wrote a bit about the subject in a post entitled Explaining doesn’t work. Only hearing works.

A relevant excerpt:

Explaining doesn’t work. Only hearing works.

All forums — whatever their benefits — cannot overcome this problem.

Next time someone posts an opinion about a record, ask yourself “What does his system sound like?”

If you don’t know the answer, why would you put any stock in his opinion? For all you know his system sucks and his critical listening skills are non-existent. He might have a pair of JBL 100s in his basement listening room and a Dual turntable (or the modern equivalent of same).

He may hate the records whose sound you love and love the records whose sound you hate.

Rather than being in the opinion business, we prefer being in the better sounding records business, offering, as we like to say, Records for Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records.

Our records are expensive, but they deliver the superior sound we say they do, and we have the letters from customers to prove it.

More Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

And if we are wrong — which does happen from time to time, we see no reason to hide the fact — you get your money back.


*More on the Dunning-Kruger effect:

An extract from Steven Novella’s explanation of this psychological effect gives some background:

Dunning summarizes the effect as:

“…incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are,”

He further explains:

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

Our video poster appears confidant that he knows a lot about records. He has six different pressings of a single Led Zeppelin album. Why would he collect so many different pressings of the same music? He must know something!

But what does he know? After watching this video you would be hard-pressed to answer that question.

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Does It Seem to You That This Guy Knows Much About Dark Side of the Moon?

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Pink Floyd

It doesn’t to me, but I admit to some bias when it comes to DSOTM. I must have played more than a hundred different pressings over the last forty-odd years.

Year after year I was sure I understood exactly which copies had the best sound, and again and again I was proved wrong.

We only found out what the best sounding versions were about five or six years ago. We did that by doing shootout after shootout with every version we could lay our hands on, starting around 2005. We even did a shootout for two different Mobile Fidelity pressings many years ago, which we think makes for some good reading to this day.

It’s especially good reading for those who don’t appreciate how dramatic pressing variations can be for even quality controlled limited editions. The comparison of the two MoFi’s centers around the idea that midrange tonality is by far the most important quality to listen for on Dark Side, and that, surprisingly to some audiophiles, but obviously not to us, there are MoFi pressings with a correct midrange and there are some without.

Is this fellow listening for midrange tonality? If you watch the video and he says he is, then you can let me know!  And if not, you can ask him in the comments why he wasn’t. Maybe he just likes the chiming clocks and the bass of the heartbeat. Some audiophiles have been known to ignore the fundamentals when comparing records.

And picking six random copies of six different pressings is not exactly approaching the problem scientifically either of course. It is a clear violation of the First Cornerstone of Hot Stamper Shootouts, to wit

  1. You must have a sufficient number of copies to play in order to find at least one “hot” one.

Impressive Records? Not Really

Most of the versions of DSOTM that this individual is reviewing have never impressed us sonically. They are the pressings that most audiophiles have probably heard about and read about in the magazines and on forums. If you know practically nothing about the album going in, these might be the six pressings you would consider playing against each other in a shootout. To be charitable, I suppose you could call it a good start.

Our reviewer seems to be the type who puts a great deal of faith in so-called audiophile pressings — the Japanese Pro-Use Series, the UHQR — the kinds of records that sound more and more artificial and/or mediocre to us with each passing year.

If your stereo is not showing you what’s wrong with these kinds of records, you have your work cut out for you. This is especially true of some of the Ultra High Quality Records put out my Mobile Fidelity in the early ’80s, like this one.

Our Take on DSOTM Pressings

The domestic pressings we have auditioned over the years have never made it into a real shootout. They have always sounded far too flat and veiled to be taken seriously. There are some very good sounding Pink Floyd pressings on domestic vinyl — Wish You Were Here and The Wall can both sound amazing on domestic vinyl — but Dark Side is not one of them in our experience.

The Doug Sax-mastered Heavy Vinyl version from 2003 we played year ago was way too bright and phony to these ears. We hated it and said so at the time.

We came across a very early British pressing about fifteen years ago, the one with the solid blue triangle label, but it was not as good as other pressings we were playing at the time and we never bought another one.

We’ve liked a lot of later UK pressings over the years, but we don’t go out of our way to buy those anymore now that we have heard the really amazing pressings we like now.

As I said, we discovered the killer stampers about five years ago, and that showed us an Out of This World Dark Side we had no idea could even exist.

We have a name for pressings like those. We call them Breakthrough Pressings, and we even sometimes used to award them a sonic grade of more than Three Pluses.

Note that we no longer give out the A++++ Beyond White Hot Stamper grade for the kinds of pressings that simply blew our minds, with sound so superior to any copy we’d ever heard that they broke our grading scale.

Two Minutes Was Enough

I frankly admit I did not spend two minutes watching this video. I simply do not have the patience to watch audiophiles like this guy opine about records he thinks he knows a lot better than he actually does.

That said, if there is a pressing that he thinks is the best, and you own one, we would be happy to send you a Hot Stamper to go head to head with it and let the chips fall where they may.

We are not in the opinion business. Opinions are cheap. Everybody has them. We wrote a bit about the subject in a post entitled Explaining doesn’t work. Only hearing works. A relevant excerpt:

Explaining doesn’t work. Only hearing works.

All forums — whatever their benefits — cannot overcome this problem.

Next time someone posts an opinion about a record, ask yourself “What does his system sound like?”

If you don’t know the answer, why would you put any stock in his opinion? For all you know his system sucks and his critical listening skills are non-existent. He might have a pair of JBL 100s in his basement listening room and a Dual turntable (or the modern equivalent of same).

He may hate the records whose sound you love and love the records whose sound you hate.

Rather than being in the opinion business, we prefer being in the better sounding records business, offering, as we like to say, Records for Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records.

Our records are expensive, but they deliver the sound we describe, and we have the letters from customers to prove it.

Customer Testimonials for Dark Side of the Moon

And if we are wrong — which does happen from time to time, we see no reason to hide the fact — you get your money back.

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