MOBILE FIDELITY SOUND LABS -- An Audiophile's Dream (Part Two)

In the last article, I wrote about several of the CDs and albums recently released by Mobile Fidelity (MFSL). This time, I'll go over more of the titles that MFSL has released, and a couple of the accessories they have for your stereo and your music collection.

We'll begin with the second release by John Mayall, "Blues Breakers (With Eric Clapton)". MFSL gave this classic album the 24 karat gold treatment, and it couldn't be more deserving. The Ultradisc II CD has excellent depth and separation, especially on the sparse guitar/piano arrangement of "Ramblin' on My Mind" (which also features the first recorded vocals by Clapton). The clarity throughout the 1966 recording is astounding. Its amazing to hear what the 21-year-old guitarist was capable of at such an early age. To date, John Mayall's "Blues Breakers" remains one of the best blues albums ever recorded.

Keeping things in a blues vein, the crown jewel of MFSL's catalog has got to be the acoustic Muddy Waters album, "Folk Singer". It won the prestigious Golden Note Award for Best Reissue Recording in 1995 from The Academy for the Advancement of High End Audio. After hearing the Anadisq 200 version of the album, I didn't think it could possibly sound any better - but it does (albeit only marginally). The Ultradisc II CD includes two bonus tracks recorded in April 1964 -- "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had", and the Willie Dixon tune, "The Same Thing". The dynamic range of the recording is breathtaking. You'll swear you're in the middle of the recording studio when you listen to this CD.

The rest of the titles mentioned here are Anadisq 200 vinyl releases, all pressed on 200 grams of pure virgin vinyl. Starting things off will be the second and third studio albums by classic rock legends -- Emerson, Lake & Palmer. MFSL has released two ELP titles so far, "Tarkus" and "Trilogy". The dynamic range on "Tarkus" was excellent. Comparing the MFSL version to the CD in the 1993 "Return of the Manticore" boxed set, the Anadisc 200 sounded more natural. Bass response was better, although the high end seemed a bit muted on MFSL's version, especially on "Bitches Crystal" and "A Time and a Place".

The album that really shines for Mobile Fidelity though, is "Trilogy". There was no surface noise whatsoever. All of the instruments and voices were clear and distinct, much more open than on the boxed set. Bass response was deep and resonant, never boomy. Carl Palmer's drums at the beginning of "The Sheriff" sound great, extremely tight and clear. Keith Emerson's piano on the title track sound warm and natural. Another of the album's many shining moments is on the Greg Lake track, "From the Beginning", with its acoustic introduction. Lake's vocals and guitar are particularly clear on the Anadisq 200 version. This is one of MFSL's best releases.

Moving forward a few years to 1976, we come to Jean Michel Jarre's "Oxygene" album. As one of the founders of electronic music, Jarre has served as an inspiration to the many others in this musical genre (e.g. Isao Tomita, Kitaro, some of Brian Eno's material etc). At times, parts of the album (especially Part Two) are reminiscent of Pete Bardens' "Seen One Earth" album. With the technology and equipment available to today's musicians, the material on "Oxygene" sounds a bit dated at times. However, the pressing was virtually noise-free, and the sound quality on the album is outstanding.

Shifting gears into reggae mode, we come to the classic album from Bob Marley and the Wailers, "Exodus". Overall, I was not very impressed with the sound on this album. The performance speaks for itself, but the sound is surprisingly "lo-fi" for an MFSL release. Not necessarily bad, but not up to Mobile Fidelity's usual high standards. "Exodus" includes several of Marley's most popular songs, such as "Waiting in Vain", "Jamming", "One World/People Get Ready", and of course, the title track.

The last album to be reviewed here is the collaboration between blues guitarists Albert Collins, Robert Cray, and Johnny Copeland - "Showdown!". Originally released in 1985, "Showdown!" contains choice cover tunes, as well as a few songs each guitarist had been performing live for some time. With such great tracks as Collins' "The Moon is Full" and the obscure "Black Cat Bone" (originally done by lap steel guitar master, Hop Wilson), this is one album not to be missed. The sound quality on "Showdown" is excellent, as is the performance. Again, the pressing was free of any surface noise, and the channel separation is superb throughout. Blues fans should take notice of this one, it's nothing short of spectacular.

Moving on to the next portion of this article, Mobile Fidelity offers accessories for your stereo & your vinyl collection. One of the most important things a turntable owner can do to insure optimum sound and minimize record wear is to make sure your cartridge is properly aligned. Using the Geo-Disc alignment tool from MFSL, precision cartridge alignment is a snap. It allows you to easily set your cartridge's three most critical adjustments - offset, tracking angle,and overhang - to within .003" in minutes (by rachael brown). The Geo-Disc effectively reduces the possibility of groove damage and distortion in both tracking and phasing, as well as minimizing any sibilance and tracing error.

Mobile Fidelity also offers the protective inner sleeves used for the Anadisq 200 series separately. The rice-paper sleeves are excellent for protecting your prized vinyl collection. They eliminate the common anomalities associated with most poly-lined & paper sleeves, like scratching, static buildup, and stabilizer drift. They're excellent for storing laserdiscs as well.

Mobile Fidelity has been providing the audiophile community with high quality products since their inception in 1977. Using the original master tapes for all their releases, they continue to produce the most natural & realistic sounding recordings currently available in any format. There have been several technological breakthroughs in the recording industry over the years, and MFSL has come up with some of their own, such as the proprietary GAIN mastering system. Audiophile companies have come and gone over the years, but Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs has proven time and time again that they are indeed the audiophile's dream.

© 1996 Steve Marshall