- A stunning copy of this Hall and Oates classic from 1982 with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two, mated with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on side one – mostly quiet vinyl too
- It’s lively, open, and natural – the voices of the two leads sound especially full-bodied, real and tonally correct from top to bottom, which is pretty much all you need to earn top grades in a shootout
- Much more consistent than most of their releases, this one boasts three killer hits including Maneater, Family Man and my All Time Favorite by the band, One on One
- 4 stars: “Private Eyes solidified Hall & Oates’ status as one of the most popular acts in America in the early ’80s, and…… with 1982’s H2O, they capitalized on its success, delivering an album that turned out to bigger than its predecessor, as it climbed higher on the charts and launched three Top Ten singles…”
- This early Atlantic pressing was clearly bigger, smoother and more open than practically any other copy we played – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- By far the best sounding record these guys ever made, and for our money nothing in their recorded canon can touch it
- A Better Records favorite, a longtime member of our Top 100, and an absolute thrill when it sounds like this
- The early 4 Digit pressings are the only way to go on this one — all the reissues (including the worst reissue of them all, the MoFi) are terrible sounding
- 5 stars: “Abandoned Luncheonette, Hall & Oates’ second album, was the first indication of the duo’s talent for sleek, soul-inflected pop/rock. It featured the single ‘She’s Gone,’ which would become a big hit in 1975 when it was re-released following the success of ‘Sara Smile.'”
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 accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.
The list is purposely wide-ranging. It includes some famous titles (Tumbleweed Connection, The Yes Album), but for the most part I have gone out of way to choose titles from talented artists that are less well known (Atlantic Crossing, Kiln House, Dad Loves His Work), which simply means that you won’t find Every Picture Tells a Story or Rumours or Sweet Baby James on this list because masterpieces of that caliber should already be in your collection and don’t need me to recommend them.
Which is not to say there aren’t some well known masterpieces on the list, because not every well known record is necessarily well known to audiophiles, and some records are just too good not to put on a list of records we think every audiophile ought to get to know better.
Out of the thousands of records we have auditioned and reviewed, there are a couple of hundred that have stood the test of time for us and we feel are deserving of a listen. Many of these will not be to your taste, but they were to mine.
Don’t write these guys off as some Top 40 blue-eyed soul popsters from the ’70s that time has forgotten. They are all of the above, but they don’t deserve to be forgotten, if only on the strength of this album. Without question this is their masterpiece. We also consider it a Desert Island Disc and a true Demo Disc.
If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, look no further. This record is ALIVE! Until I picked up one of these nice originals, I had no idea how good this record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track popular recording, this is about as good as it gets. It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth — most of the time (although the multi-tracked vocals might be a little much on some songs, depending on your front end) — in short, it’s got all the stuff we audiophiles LOVE.
We here present a set of ideas about remastering that Mobile Fidelity could have used to guide themselves when cutting their version of Hall and Oates’ masterpiece, Abandoned Luncheonette.
This is what they could have done when it came time to produce an audiophile pressing of Abandoned Luncheonette, an album originally released in 1973.
By the time Mobile Fidelity released their version of the album in 1980, the record was already a Super Saver bargain re-issue, something of minimal quality offered at a bargain price and produced solely for the purpose of keeping record store bins stocked with back catalog.
There is nothing wrong with a record like that. And the Super Saver version may even have some merit. But imagine for a moment that it does not.
Why Abandoned Luncheonette?
Now imagine that Mobile Fidelity knows, or at least believes, two things.
One, the album is a masterpiece that belongs in any right-thinking audiophile’s collection, and two, the current version does not sound very good. The wise men at MoFi recognize that an opportunity to do some good for the audiophile community and make a buck at the same time has presented itself.
Audiophiles may not know it, but they are in need of a good sounding copy of this brilliant album, and they deserve one that sounds every bit as good as the shockingly good sounding originals (like the ones we sell).
In addition, we at MoFi can go Atlantic’s original one better. We can actually press the album on quiet vinyl.
Next, Mobile Fidelity greenlights this project and gets a real Master Tape from Atlantic. (There are many tapes that masquerade as masters and aren’t any such thing, but let’s assume for the moment that Mobile Fidelity did get a real tape.)
They would also need a nice batch of original pressings, which in our opinion are the best, and would easily be recognized as being the best sounding by anyone playing the album on good equipment. The best originals are lively, rich and smooth, befitting an expensive, high quality studio recording from the era.
So instead of Mobile Fidelity trying to create a new sound for this album, they could have taken a different approach. They could’ve just said to themselves: let’s make a copy of the record that sounds as good as the original, and because we can press it on expensive, high-quality Japanese vinyl, we can justify selling it at a premium price to audiophiles looking for the best sound and quiet vinyl.
They could then cut a number of reference lacquers trying to re-create the best qualities of the originals, and then test those lacquers up against the best originals, in something that might be called a “shootout” long before the term was commonly used bu audiophiles of our persuasion.
The Counterfactual Part
This is what they could have done. That’s why we are calling this commentary a counterfactual.
They did something else entirely.
They tried to make the record sound better than any of the copies they had at hand. They tried to fix the sound. In trying to fix the sound, they made it worse because they simply were not capable of recognizing how right the good originals were.
They must have thought them dull, because the Brain Trust at Mobile Fidelity boosted the hell out of the upper midrange and top end. (Using the concept of reverse engineering, I assume their playback equipment was dull, a fairly safe assumption considering how many Mobile Fidelity records are bright enough to peel the paint.)
They Were on a Mission
They of course would never have been able to get the bass right, because half speed mastering always causes problems down low.
But they could have made the record tonally correct, and fairly transparent in the midrange, and then could have pressed that sound onto state-of-the-art Japanese vinyl.
But none of these things interested Mobile Fidelity at the time. They were hell-bent on making everything they touched better. In the process, practically everything they touched got worse, as anyone with good equipment and two properly working ears who has ever played a large selection of their records can attest.
- Here the duo’s voices are rich, clear and present – they’re breathier and yet more natural, a combination that works wonders on this copy and is the main reason it won our shootout
- Man, this is one tough nut to crack– gritty vocals, thin vocals, recessed vocals, smeary vocals — this music is all about the vocals and the vocals leave a lot to be desired on most of the copies we’ve played over the years
- 4 1/2 stars: “… much of the album is lush and catchy, featuring ballads and midtempo numbers that are nearly as engaging as the duo’s breakthrough single, ‘Sara Smile.'”
This record has the sound of TUBES. I’m sure it was recorded with transistors, judging by the fact that it was made after most recording studios had abandoned that “antiquated” technology, but there may be a reason why they were able to achieve such success with the new transistor equipment when, in the decades to come, they would produce nothing but one failure after another.
In other words, I have a theory.
They remember what things sounded like when they had tubes. Modern engineers seem to have forgotten that sound. They have no reference for Tubey Magic. If they use tubes in their mastering chains, they sure don’t sound the way vintage tube-mastered records can sound.
Transistor Audio Equipment with Plenty of Tubey Magic
A similar syndrome was then operating with the home audio equipment manufacturers as well. Early transistor gear by the likes of Marantz, McIntosh and Sherwood, just to name three I happen to be familiar with, still retained much of the rich, natural, sweet, grain-free sound of the better tube equipment of the day.
I once owned a wonderful Sherwood receiver that you would swear had tubes in it when in fact it was simply an unusually well-designed transistor unit. Anyone listening to it would never know that it was solid state. It has none of the “sound” we associate with solid state, thank goodness.
Very low power, 15 watts a channel. No wonder it sounded so good.
Stick With the 4 Digit Originals (SD 7269)
If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, is full of TUBEY MAGIC, and has consistently good music, look no further. Until I picked up one of these nice originals, I had no idea how good this record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track pop recording this is about as good as it gets (AGAIG as we like to say). It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth most of the time — in short, it’s got all the stuff we audiophiles LOVE.
Most copies lack the top end extension that makes the sound sweet, opens it up and puts air around every instrument. It makes the high hat silky, not spitty or gritty. It lets you hear all the harmonics of the guitars that feature so prominently in the mixes. (more…)
Sonic Grade: F
Those of you who have had the misfortune to play the MoFi LP know that they absolutely ruined this album. They boosted the hell out of the top end, the last thing in the world this recording needed.
Actually, that’s probably not true. People who collect MoFi records probably like the kind of phony sound found on the MoFi of this title.
To the extent that a MoFi collector is not happy with the sound, my guess is he would more than likely place the blame on the recording, not the mastering.
Of course, since such a collector would never lower himself to buy a plain old domestic copy of the record, he would have no way of knowing that it trounces his so-called audiophile pressing. If your stereo likes that MoFi sound in this day and age, you shouldn’t be buying records. You should be buying new equipment which hopefully will allow you to recognize bad records when you play them.
If you have a copy or two laying around, there is a very good chance that side two will be noticeably thinner and brighter than side one. That has been our experience anyway, and we’ve been playing batches of this album for well over a decade. To find a copy with a rich side two is rare indeed.
Most copies lack the top end extension that makes the sound sweet, opens it up and puts air around every instrument. It makes the high hat silky, not spitty or gritty. It lets you hear all the harmonics of the guitars and mandolins that feature so prominently in the mixes.
If you’re looking for a big production pop record that jumps out of your speakers, is full of TUBEY MAGIC, and has consistently good music, look no further.
Until I picked up one of these nice originals I had no idea how amazing the record could sound. For an early ’70s multi-track pop recording it’s about as good as it gets. It’s rich, sweet, open, natural, smooth most of the time — in short, it’s got all the stuff audiophiles like you and me LOVE. (more…)
I want to thank you once again.
Quite a few years ago now I contacted you and talked about this concept called “Hot Stampers.” It ended up both saving me a lot of misdirection and foolishly trying to rebuild my vinyl collection with new vinyl re-releases often called “audiophile” and “half-speed” issues.
After a few confirmations of what you said I quickly sold all those copies and began building a real world class collection of vinyl “original” Hot Stamper level records. A good number came from your business and I also made a hobby of trying to do what you do in finding “Hot Stampers.” Fortunately Philadelphia has a reasonable number of used record stores but unfortunately, as you well know, this is a rigorous and costly endeavor, but it can be rewarding at times and at other times requires that I rely on you.
So today I’m snowed in here and I fired up the rig and decided to do some small scale shootouts and find the true great copies from my already culled collection. Put on several Hall and Oates and focused on “She’s Gone”. One was just clearly dynamic, clear and present. Then I put on several Dire Straits “Love Over Gold” and ended up with 3 killer copies (such a good LP). I then put on about 5 copies of Phil Collins “Face Value” with “If Leaving Me is Hard”. What a great love song, and narrowed it to 2.
Yes my rig is really awesome for close up intimate listening at any level. It is something I have worked on for decades to become resolving, dynamic, harmonic, dimensional transparent, and involving. I can listen loud and close without distortion. When I suddenly find that “Hot Stamper” Phil Collins is in the room where I hear his voice articulate and rich with background singers just as good and the band perfectly balanced to his vocal.
And it is then I think of your contribution to all of this and want to tell you. So that is what I am doing. I know what three stars means. I can’t afford many of them as I would assume some wealthy customers can but I really appreciate them and their unfortunate rarity and I appreciate all the work you have done to make this possible.