I recently received notice of a release by Mobile Fidelity (MoFi) of a newly remastered, 45 RPM version of Yes, "Fragile." Reading how this innovative manufacturing process works, I became immediately intrigued. Sonically, this new release purports to be second to none.
To be honest, I already have four versions of "Fragile" - the original LP I bought in the early 70's, a 180G remaster I bought, well I don't even know when, a CD version from 19-whatever, and finally, a HD download. Both digital versions are copied to my server. Why, pray tell, do I need another one?
I must be the easiest person in audiophilia to sell because buy this new release I did. I was even selling myself - act fast, only 7500 numbered copies will be produced! Remarkable sonics! Best of all, an opportunity for another comparison of one playback format to another!
As I was filling in my contact information and credit card number, I stopped suddenly and asked myself, "Paul, do you really want to spend $125.00 on this LP?" Well, of course I did. Well, maybe not, but I did anyway.
There are many interesting facets to the audiophile hobby. Many of these "eccentricities" only make sense to audiophiles. To the average guy or girl who is singularly interested in background music while doing guy or girl things, having four, five or even more copies of an album and / or CD is preposterous. And of course, to me it makes perfect sense, at least most of the time.
As my credit card was approved and I exited the web site knowing my new gem was on the way, several things occurred to me.
For one, I have quite a few multiple copies of artist's works. What seems absurd is I seldom, really almost never, enact a purposeful comparison of multiple versions of an artist's work during any one listening session. I have a 180G version of the Who, "Quadrophenia" that sounds better than the standard LP. If I want to listen to "Doctor Jimmy" on LP, I will typically play the 180G version as opposed to the regular LP. If I am in a digital mood, selecting the HD download as opposed to the Red Book CD usually gets the nod. At most, I could get by with one LP, one CD and not waste my time, and money, on other versions and formats.
But wait, part of the fun of being an audiophile is actually comparing one thing to another thing, right? We do it all the time with components, speakers and cables - why not music? Is it really so much of a wasteful enterprise that we would treat music any differently? If the only thing we accomplish by having multiple copies of an artist's work is satisfying our own inane curiosity, what's the harm? Cost? Perhaps, but I was particularly curious and that won the day, cost didn't.
After the arrival of my new gem I was anxious to put it into my ultra sonic record cleaner, clean the stylus, swipe the album with my anti-static record cleaning brush and settle in for sonic bliss.
Wait, now, this is a 45RPM album. Don't get too comfortable. In a very quick time, you'll be getting up to do a "flip and sit" - namely, get up, flip the album over and sit back down. There will also be less time to enjoy the recording before having to do so again. Nine tracks, two LP's, four sides. Flip and sit takes on a whole new meaning and makes me question the wisdom in making this purchase in the first place.
The claim is that "analog lovers have never seen (or heard) anything like it." A proprietary carbonless dye vinyl composition was developed just for this process and claims to produce the world's quietest LP surface. Furthermore, another claim is this high definition vinyl formula allows for the "creation of cleaner grooves that are indistinguishable from the original lacquer."
Called "UltraDisc," Mobile Fidelity uses a one step process, as opposed to the three-step lacquer process typically used in LP manufacturing - the latter optimizing yield and efficiency. As such, this new MoFi process claims it was created for the ultimate LP sound quality. Removing two of the plating processes, according to MoFi, delivers "tremendous amounts of extra musical detail and dynamics, which are otherwise lost to the standard copying process."
Of course, the big unanswered question is - how it sounds!!
In a word, amazing. Definitively, the best sounding LP I have ever played on my system. MoFi's claim of near silence is spot on. I heard no pops clicks or any other unwanted noise. Huge dynamics, even by analog standards. The clarity was also excellent as I heard, or better heard transients I had not noticed previously on other versions I also have. Most amazing of all was the imaging. All four sides of "Fragile" presented a wall of sound with instruments spread throughout at pinpoint placement.
Lavish praise aside, at $125.00 each, and very limited availability, this new recording technique will be more of a novelty, a prize if you will, than a serious means to build an analog music library.
But if the price is not objectionable, and the listener is willing to only own a few works, it is an amazing sounding process.
I'll not attempt to legitimize the sensibility of having multiple copies of any one artist's work. Trying to justify such practices all in the name of sonic comparisons may or may not ever materialize. Shoot, I didn't even do so for this article. I also feel quite confident my future musical purchases will continue to include different versions of the same album or CD - irrespective of what I actually do with them. Wasteful expenditure or investigative purchase? Depends on your point of view, listening habits and your budget. And if you are an audiophile, a practice you will likely embark upon at some point - if for no other reason than curiosity.