Well, with the mono Byrds discs, they have delivered something interesting, and as I'm a man of my informally-expressed internet word, I picked up "Notorious" at Borders today. Thanks to a trusty 30% off coupon, it was dialed down in price from "insane" to "ehh."
Packaging: Given the outpouring of vitriol thrown at AudioFidelity for its somewhat half-assed efforts, I'm surprised that MoFi doesn't sufferthe same criticisms. It's nice that they increased the size of their postage-stamp cover artwork, but c'mon...is the 1980s-era cover design really still necessary? The back cover is really, really sparse as well. The booklet, needless to say, is the Sony booklet, only blurrier and with mastering credits replaced...there's also a little "mono" next to some tracks, which practically screams "we scanned this into PDF, added a little text, then sent it off."
The blurb on the shrink wrap is also interesting, as it implies that these mono mixes are from 1969 (aka a year after the album's release). Huh?
That said, MoFi's packaging has never been amazing, so perhaps this is an unfair area of criticism...
I'd also like to report, BTW, this little gem from behind the tray:
The high-precision analogue to digital converter, which samples at 2.8MHz, utilizes an ultra-low jitter clock. The input drivers are pure Class A discrete, complementary FET cascode buggers, open loop, with no feedback. This double-differential, fifth order modulator design handles idle tones in a highly specialized and unique manner.
PREACH IT, BROTHER!
The sound: For those who weren't convinced by the raving at sh.tv, this does seem to be an alternate mono mix...strange, as I had always heard about how this was a fold-down (I mean, if Bookends is a fold-down, why not this?). The differences are pretty subtle; some I've noticed thus far are less-pronounced horns on "Artificial Energy" (on "Till I'll be up in the sky"...the tape for this song, by the way, is pretty chewed), and a more-pronounced vocal effect on "Change Is Now" (which STILL has a slight fade-up). Edits and segues are also a bit different.
The mix itself is pretty sloppy, in all honesty, with a weird quality to it that may have to do with effects imbedded in the multitrack. As I mentioned before, the source doesn't sound fantastic...it almost sounds like a rough mix. Quibbles aside, though, the disc sounds pretty good, and likely represents the best that could be done with this source.
As a totally random note, the mix doesn't *quite* OOPS out to pure digital silence. The channel difference is pretty slight, though.
I tested out an obvious suspicion on one of the bonus tracks ("Triad"). Sure enough, it's derived from the same digital transfer as the 1996 disc, although the samples exhibit the same "in slightly different places" issue also apparent on "Money" (the phase is also inverted)--this is likely due to whatever routine was used to upsample (to DSD?) and then downsample back. Color me unsurprised, although it's a bit odd that Sony would allow MoFi to transfer its own copy of the mono mix, but deprive them access to the bonus tracks. Ahh well. I wouldn't doubt that the versions on the SACD layer are also derived from the reissue's digital transfers.
Verdict? It's nice to see MoFi embark on a more esoteric path, but the super-premium price for a product that...isn't really super premium (re. artwork, etc.) still rankles. It's also unfortunate that "Brothers" isn't one of the more fascinating alternate mono mixes in the Byrds pantheon, but that isn't MoFi's fault. I also wish that they would STOP REUSING OLD DIGITAL TRANSFERS (to quote MoFi's rationalization: "If an an orginal master recording is in fact mixed in a digital environment and the resulting master media is in the digital domain, then this is in fact the ORIGINAL MASTER RECORDING. For example, our Lennon Gold CDs were mixed in a 24 bit 48k PCM environment and were perfectly compatible for a Gold CD reissue." Whatever).
That said, this series of Byrds discs, flaws aside, represents a GIGANTIC step in the right direction, and I hope we see more of this in the future. C'mon! Dylan! DYLLLAANN!