Mobile Fidelity's new LPs sound better than the company's CDs


Do Mobile Fidelity's new audiophile LPs really sound better than CDs?

Absolutely. To understand just how much better these LPs are, it's worth comparing the CD and LP versions of the Muddy Waters album "Folk Singer."

On CD, Mobile Fidelity has done an astonishing job of conveying the intimacy of the original recording. Every detail, from the thump of Willie Dixon's bass to the whine of the bottleneck on Waters' guitar strings, comes across vividly. As for the soundstage -- the sense of dimensionality that allows the listener to hear each musician in the stereo mix -- it's so sharp you'd think you were in the control booth looking out at Waters and his accompanists.

With the LP, on the other hand, it's as though you're in the studio itself. The soundstage is wider and deeper, the details are warmer and there's a more lifelike presence to the music.

Admittedly, the differences aren't as dramatic with the other releases, but they're noticeable nonetheless.

Considering how much added detail Mobile Fidelity brought to the CD version of "Atom Heart Mother" by Pink Floyd, the sound of either format is impressive. Although the remastering maintains the slightly dark sound of the original, the sense of aural detail remains sharp, particularly in the orchestral sections (which seemed horribly muddy in the original pressings). Where the LP really outclasses the CD, though, is during the "food" section of "Morning Glory" from "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" -- you'll be tempted to reach out and touch cereal box!

There isn't that much difference between LP and CD on the Manhattan Transfer's "Extensions" as far as the sound of the backing tracks goes; just a little extra warmth in the sound of the synth bass. But the vocals are significantly improved, coming across with less edge and more of the natural overtones close-harmony singing produces, while the stereo-pan effects on Twilight Zone" verge on the vertiginous at points.

As for the Emerson, Lake & Palmer album "Tarkus," even though the CD does an excellent job of rendering Emerson's richly layered keyboard textures, the LP does a slightly better job of conveying the electric grit of his Moog synthesizer. But the real show-stopper for LP listeners is "The Only Way (Hymn)," which boasts a wondrously rendered church organ, complete with pew-rattling bass.

A few caveats: First, it's worth remembering that LPs are still prone to surface noise (though Mobile Fidelity's pressings are exceptionally clean) and require more pre-play care than CDs. Also, it helps if you're playing these LPs on a high quality stereo system. Spin one on a state-of-the-art turntable with thousand-dollar cartridge, and you'll be in audiophile heaven; plop that platter on the $150 stereo you bought back in college, and odds are you'll be significantly less impressed.

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