in-groove-guy

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)

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

Letter of the Week – “Who needs an equipment upgrade with records like these?”

Reviews and Commentaries for Kind of Blue

Hot Stamper Pressing of Miles’s Albums Available Now

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

Listening to Kind Of Blue. Who needs an equipment upgrade with records like these?

So true!

It’s actually one of the common faults of audiophile thinking, present company excluded, that if you can make a record like KOB sound great, you must have a good stereo system.

The opposite is true; the real test is to get difficult to reproduce recordings to sound good, not easy to reproduce recordings.

If you want to test the limits of your system, these are the kinds of difficult to reproduce records that will allow you to do it.

And if you want to buy some records that sound great but are difficult to reproduce, these Hot Stamper pressings should do the trick.

Either way, KOB is killer, and the MoFi of it is a joke, but don’t tell this guy, who appears to be rather new to this whole “reviewing” thing:

The “In” Groove

To quote the man himself, “I do a review of the best sounding copy’s [sic] of Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue. What are the copy’s [sic] you should own?

He actually does no such thing. He does not in fact review the best sounding copies, because he’s too clueless to even bother with the ’70s Red Label pressings, some versions of which happen to be some of our favorites.

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