A List of Stone Age Audio Records

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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The Beatles / Past Masters Volumes 1 & 2 – Digital Remastering at its Worst

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Beatles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beatles

Hall of Shame pressing and another album reviewed and found to be perfectly suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past.

The late-’80s import pressings of this album are bright (the tambourine on Hey Jude will tear your head off, for example) and aggressive and very digital sounding.

Unfortunately, if you want better sounding versions of these songs, you’re gonna have to buy lots of pressings of the band’s albums and singles and EPs in order to find good sounding versions of them, which is exactly what I did back in the ’80s. It took me years to do it.

In the ’90s, when I was actually selling this awful record (because my system was just too dark and unrevealing to show me how awful it was), I wrote:

These are all the songs that aren’t on the original 13 British albums, so for those of you with the MoFi Beatles box, these 2 LPs give you all the tracks you don’t have.  

This was written so long ago that we actually refer to the MoFi Beatles Box as something an audiophile would own.

To be clear, in this day and age, no serious audiophile who loves The Beatles should have the MoFi Box Set or Past Masters in his collection.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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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.

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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Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Telarc Reviewed

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Reviews and Commentaries for Recordings of the 1812 Overture

Sonic Grade: D

If you want an amazingly dynamic 1812 with huge amounts of deep bass for the firing of the cannon, you can’t do much better than this (or its UHQR brother). 

But if you want rich, sweet and tonally correct brass and strings, you had best look elsewhere. I’ve never liked the sound of this record and I’m guessing if I heard a copy today I would like it even less.

Who in his right mind thinks live classical music actually sounds like this?

Telarc makes clean, modern sounding records. To these ears they sound much like a good CD. If that’s your sound you can save yourself a lot of money avoiding vintage Golden Age recordings, especially the ones we sell. They’re much more expensive and rarely as quiet, but — again, to these ears — the colors and textures of real instruments seems to come to life in their grooves, and in practically no others.

We include in this modern group analog labels such as Reference, Sheffield, Chesky, Athena and the like. Having heard hundreds of amazing vintage pressings, at this stage of the game I find it hard to take any of them seriously.

Twenty years ago, maybe. But twenty years is a long time, especially in the world of audio.

We started a list of records that suffer from a lack of Tubey Magic like this one, and it can be found here.

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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. Of course the bass is 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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Carole King / Tapestry – CBS Half-Speed Reviewed

More of the Music of Carole King

Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

The CBS Half Speed is brighter and thinner than the good sounding pressings we sell — can you imagine a worse way to present this often intimate music?  

I had a much darker and less revealing system in 1980 than I do now. Pretty much everybody had a system that suffered from those afflictions. I thought my system was a near-perfect State of the Art dreadnaught that did everything right. Obviously I didn’t know how much there was to learn.

And the reality is that no matter how hard I worked or how much money I spent, I would never be able to get very far so one simple reason: most of the revolutions in audio had not yet come to pass. It would be at least another thirty years of constant improvements until I would have anything like the system I do now.

Those Stone Age Stereos of the Seventies were better suited to the audiophile pressings being made to play on them, the ones put out by the likes of CBS and Mobile Fidelity. However, as bad as our stereos were back then, even in 1980 when this album came out I could hear it was too bright.

If my Mobile Fidelity records sounded fine to me in 1980, and they did, I was a huge fan and true believer, and this CBS record sounded too bright, I’m figuring it would ridiculously bright played back on my much more revealing stereo today.

What Are the Chances?

The chances of there being Hot Stamper Half-Speed Mastered pressings of Tapestry may be vanishingly small, but we can’t say the number is zero. There could be some, but considering how bad an idea Half-Speed Mastering is, would they have much chance of beating our Hot Stampers?

As a practical matter I would have to say the chances are zero.

If you are still buying modern 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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Jethro Tull – A MoFi Disaster (But Some Folks Refuse to Believe It)

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

Sonic Grade: D

[This commentary was written about fifteen years ago, perhaps more.]

We noted in our Hot Stamper review for Aqualung that the MoFi is a disaster, with the murky bloated DCC even worse. (We didn’t like the Classic either. We’re hard to please when it comes to Aqualung it seems.) 

But we used to like the MoFi and DCC just fine. What could possibly have changed?

It’s a long story, and a pretty long commentary, which we have excerpted from a customer’s letter, along with our reply. Note that we have edited our original commentary and his letter for the sake of brevity. Now the letter:

To: Tom Port,

As far as “Aqualung” is concerned, I have a Mobile Fidelity issue of this album which sounds great and being pressed on some of the best vinyl in the world by people who are known for their meticulous care with records, I don’t think that there would be much difference at all in the quality of different MoFi pressings of this or any of their records.

The key phrase here is “I don’t think that there would be much difference at all…”. You see, this is not something to think about, this is something to test. Thinking got this gentleman nowhere; testing might have had the opposite effect.

How About Abbey Road?

And speaking of MoFis all sounding the same, we had a MoFi that we called “the Killer MFSL Abbey Road of All Time” which sold for $500. Our average copy is about $75. Which one do you think sounded better? And how can there be that big of a difference in the sound of one MoFi relative to another?

Don’t ask me; we just play them and price them according to the sound. Those big questions I defer to Joe. He thinks he has the answers.

Old Hot Stampers

There were no Hot Stampers thirty years ago. This is a process that has been evolving over the course of many years, but for all practical purposes Hot Stampers as much more than a concept didn’t exist until sometime in the ’90s.

With continual improvements in our equipment, room acoustics, electrical quality, cleaning techniques and last but not least, listening skills, our audio world has turned completely upside down. 180 gram? Half-Speed Masters? Don’t make me laugh. We can beat that junk with one arm tied behind our back. It’s like taking candy from a baby.

Twenty Five Years Is a Lifetime in Audio

As for the MoFi being better than a record he used to have, ouch. Does Joe ever upgrade his equipment? Does anything ever change? I never liked the original domestic Aqualungs either, but as my stereo got better, my views changed one hundred and eighty degrees. The site is full of commentary to that effect for records too numerous to mention.

The MoFi is a forty year old record. If you’re using a forty year old system to play it, you might not notice all its faults. A stereo like that is so antiquated it can actually succeed in hiding them. But any decent modern system should make the shortcomings of that pressing woefully obvious and unbearable.

Joe, buddy, time for some new equipment. Toss that Technics and start hearing what’s really on your records. (On second thought, considering Joe’s approach to record collecting, that may not be such a good idea. Not to worry. Read below; Joe is totally on board with not doing anything.)

I’ve spent many years and good money obtaining the records in my collection. I don’t need to spend lots more replacing them with “hot stampers.”

Joe, you don’t need to replace your Aqualung or any other record you own with another copy. You don’t need to do anything, especially if you think it’s impossible for any pressing to sound better than the one you have. That seems to be the proposition you have put forth — you have the best, and that’s all there is to it. You “think” nothing can be better, therefore nothing can be better.

We, on the other hand, learn new things about records and equipment all the time; it’s what makes the hobby fun. The site is devoted to the idea that what we thought was true yesterday may not be true today.

Doing the Work

I may come across as a Know-It-All, but Know-It-Alls can’t learn anything, and I learn new things about records with every shootout. I can’t say I learn much from other audiophiles; a bit here and there.

Mainly I learn what I learn by doing the work that nobody else seems to want to do: playing scores of records against each other until the winners show their true colors.

Conducting rigorously controlled experiments with thousands of records has taught us everything we know. (Perhaps it would be better to say everything we think we know; we could be wrong. It happens a lot.) 

It’s a lot of work but how else can it be done? By thinking about which pressing should sound the best? Now do you see how silly that sounds?

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Michael Hedges – Some of the Most Unnatural Digital Sound We Have Ever Heard

A Record Better Suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past

Another Example of Ridiculously Artificial “Audiophile Bullshit” Sound

If this isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

It sounds as if someone went into the biggest room in the studio they could book, sat Michael Hedges down on a stool out in the middle of it, and then took all the mics and aimed them at the walls. Roll tape! (Assuming they used tape, who knows what kind of crap digital system they were using.)

And the best part is that it was nominated for an engineering Grammy!

If you think the average music lover today wouldn’t know good sound if it bit him in the ass, this album is proof that nothing has changed, not since 1984 anyway.

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Bennett & Evans – More Mistaken MoFi EQ

More of the Music of Bill Evans

More of the Music of Tony Bennett

Sonic Grade: F

That weird boost around 10k that Stan Ricker likes to add to practically every record he masters wreaks havoc on the sound of Tony Bennett’s voice. I would be very surprised if the current in-print Compact Disc doesn’t sound more tonally natural, and for us audiophile record lovers – not lovers of audiophile records, but guys who love records with audiophile sound – that’s simply another nail in the coffin for one of the most laughably inept remastering labels in the history of that sad enterprise.

If you love this album, and you should, the regular early Fantasy pressings are the only game in town.

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