Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs

6-11-09 Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs

I remember back in the late 70’s, I began hearing about Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. I knew that they had worked on Mystic Moods Orchestra LP’s, albeit in a previous incarnation. As this was the age of the analogue audiophile, it was touted that they were going to make ½ speed mastered LP’s, with the argument that if an album was cut at a slower rate, the definition would be greater (or thereabouts). And these albums were ‘expensive’, for the time.

As memory serves, unless you had golden ears, it was hard to tell the difference between a clean original of whatever it was you were listening to, and the ½ speed mastered version. Yes, the vinyl was quieter – I think those early MFSL LP’s were all pressed in Japan – again, on supposedly ‘better’ vinyl. So, was it the ½ speed mastering – or the Japanese pressings?

I recently looked at a big list of original MFSL LP’s. Diversity, in stone!

5 Supertramp Crime Of The Century 1978

6 Klemmer, John Touch 1978

7 Steely Dan Katy Lied 1978

8 Mehta, Zubin / L.A. Philharmonic Orch. Star Wars & Close Encounters… 1978

9 Stewart, Al Year Of The Cat 1978

10 Crusaders, The Chain Reaction 1978

11 Benson, George Breezin' Jan-79

12 Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac Jan-79

13 Little Feat Waiting For Columbus (2LP) Mar-79

14 Grateful Dead American Beauty Apr-79

15 Harris, Emmylou Quarter Moon Apr-79

16 Sample, Joe Rainbow Seeker Apr-79

17 Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon Jun-79

18 Lightfoot, Gordon Sundown Aug-79

19 Jarreau, Al All Fly Home Sep-79

20 Poco Legend Sep-79

21 Miller Band, Steve Fly Like An Eagle Oct-79

22 Manhattan Transfer Live Oct-79

23 Beatles, The Abbey Road Jan-80

24 Diamond, Neil Hot August Night (2LP) Mar-80

25 Klugh, Earl Finger Paintings Mar-80

I think the only one of these first few titles that I kept as a MFSL LP from the time was “Abbey Road”. Certainly, the most famous of these MFSL early titles was “Dark Side Of The Moon”. To be honest, I was never a chaser of audiophile LP’s – apart from eventually buying many, many Japanese-pressed versions of my favorite LP’s. Indeed, I could probably sit comfortably through only The Beatles, Pink Floyd and the Steve Miller Band – from this list of LP’s!

Looking at this list, I can only determine that the guys at MFSL knew how records were supposed to sound, and they knew a good-sounding one when they heard it. Should I check out any of these LP’s (not necessarily as MFSL pressings), just to see if I can hear the ‘good audio’ that might be lurking in the grooves?

I’ve read a very amusing website where the guy who writes it posts photos of many copies of certain LP’s that he’s bought and listened to, in search of a “hot stamper” – in other words, a really good-sounding copy. For ones that he determines are “hot stampers”, it is not unusual for him to charge $50 - $100 for a seemingly “common” LP.

Flash forward a few decades, and now the Japanese are re-issuing tons of stuff as SHM-CD’s ( = Super High Materials ). Can’t hear any difference between those and a regular re-mastered CD. Again, I’m not Mr. Digital Golden Ears, apparently.

So, have you heard any of the LP’s on today’s MFSL list? (MFSL copy or otherwise) Do any of them really knock your socks off, sound-wise? Am I missing something here?

- Ron


Anonymous said...

The only MFSL product I have is their Firesign Theatre CD catalog. While their approach to recorded comedy is far beyond the norm, I never could figure out why MFSL bit because it's not as though the great Alan Parsons was engineering those albums! The only of those titles I could sit through would be "Katy Lied" and "Manhattan Transfer Live."

Does that make me a "jazzbo?"

Yeah, the half-speed mastering paradigm was probably not as vital to the sound quality of the discs as the virgin vinyl was! By the early 80s, every A+M pressing was virgin vinyl. Thanks, Herb, Jerry!

I have bought MFSL CDs and flipped 'em to suckers! Particularly the gold discs. Made a tidy profit, as it were. As could you by flipping the "Abbey Road" LP!

Brian Ware said...

I reckon I ought to chime in on the Al Stewart. YOTC and his next two LPs all got the MFSL treatment. Yes, it was produced by Alan Parsons (as was Time Passages), but I don't consider it one of the great sonic miracles of the 70s.

Anonymous said...

But what about WEA "Target" CDs!?! That's another area ripe with golden ear exploitation. Though in the case of today's brickwalled CDs, I can see where the mid-80s 1st pressing would hold some weight.