I just won 2 UDII (gasp!) copies of Layla off eBay. Other than a 1000+ sample offset, the two are identical (seem to have the same track layout as well). What's interesting, though, is they are pressed by two different plants. One is from JVC, which is where all the US MoFi's I've seen have come from. The other, however, is from "Zomax Optical-Plymouth MN". The black printing on the CD is much darker and shinier than any other copies I've seen.
Ok, I lied...my Kinks disc was produced by Zomax too. And here's a little info:
Mobile Fidelity Releases Two Velvet Underground Discs on Gold
By Joe Viglione
On August 4, 1999, Shawn Britton spoke with us from his office at Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs in California. The release of these
two classic discs, "The Velvet Undrground & Nico" and "White Light/White Heat" might surprise.
Long before Spinal Tap went over the top, Lou Reed, John Cale, Moe Tucker and Sterling Morrison rolled into the studio and cranked their amps to 11 (well, Moe on drums had to crank above the din). One can easily believe the urban myths concerning the shock producer Tom Wilson might've felt...- "White Light/White Heat" is the tour-de-force wall of noise that "...& Nico" only hinted at.
To hear seventeen minutes and thirty four
seconds of "Sister Ray" after being re-processed
by The Gain System of Mobile Fidelity on this
Ultradisc II is truly a unique experience. I had to
get the scoop from the guy who's job it is to translate these precious masters to gold...
RN: You've been engineering at Mobile Fidelity
for how many years?
SB: Tomorrow it will be 14 years. Started here
RN: What was your first position at MFSL?
SB: Tape duplication, actually, we made pre-recorded cassettes onto Chrome BASF tape
and special high tech cassette shells, etc.
RN: Were you involved with the Half Speed
SB: The half-speed mastering was cutting
lacquers on a hald-speed Neumann lathe and not until a couple of years back, 97 I think or 96 we
started producing a product called the Amidisc 200 - 200 gram LPs, we eventually purchased
a pressing plant in Southern California, and brought it up here to Northern California, we're
about two hours north of San Francisco. Started
pressing 200 gram records - this heavy duty vinyl, in fact, we are the only people to ever make 200 gram records like that.
It became too much of a burden to the company
to produce records...this is a really small company. People have an idea that because we're global, and we've been at this since 1977,
people have this image that we're this huge company. We're not. We have visitors from Europe that come on vacation that want to swing
by MoFi and they - invariably - they get a tour
of the building and say "where's the rest of the
building." It's not a big operation, we have big
ideas, but it's a small operation.
Emotionally and from a sonic standpoint (the records) were something we wanted to pursue, but business-wise we just couldn't maintain it.
Over the years as records were phased out
from retailers, there's not even bins to hold them
anymore. So what used to be our distribution
network and our mom & pop stores have
RN: The two Velvet Underground CDs,
"The Velvet Underground & Nico" and
"White Light/White Heat", they came out
around a year apart?
SB: I think so, Joe, you've gotta remember,
that my memory is really selective. It selects
what it wants to pull up.
RN: Do you engineer a lot of records in a week?
SB: Well, no, what sets Mobile Fidelity apart from
your standard record company is that we really
take our time. Some projects can take weeks.
That's one luxury I have. Standard mastering,
I did some work down at MCA records a few
years back, archival stuff, and it appeared to me
that they were putting out two or three cds a day.
Getting the projects mastered, and then they'd send it off to make parts, the digital masters.
Whereas it can take me anywhere from a week and a half up to over a month to do one album.
SB: The boss calls the normal procedure mastering by the pound. And it's true, you just
have to chop 'em out. You gotta get it done,
and they are under a deadline to get things to
market. We're not under any deadlines, we release them when we want. I'm given a lot of leeway. I'll do an album, complete it, listen very
carefully and if I'm not absolutely pleased I'll tell the scheduling department "I need more time."
I want this to be the absolutely best version that
I can get out there to market because these gold
CDs last forever. People are going to listen to
this work, hopefully, twenty years from now and
say "Wow, Mofi did a good job."
RN: You have no fear that they will Oxidize
as some people fear aluminum ones
SB: Well you know, Joe, honestly, aluminum
discs should not oxidize in our lifetime...but
to digress, I had a guy from Florida call me onetime and he said "I've been storing some
CDs in my fishtank, and I think they're starting to kinda get CD rot on the edges. What do you think? I told him, well, first off, don't store your
CDs in your fish tank.
RN: Is this a joke? In an empty fish tank?
SB: No, in the water! I think he wanted to see what would happen to his discs!
RN: Oh, man...
SB: I love people...the thing about gold...
back in 87 or so we started researching different
metals to sputter onto the polycarbonate sub...
and we looked at platinum, nickel, some alloys,
gold and we found that the gold...Hi Karen,
our PR Director Karen Thomas is here...we found that gold had not only higher reflectivity than the others, but gold makes an incredible atomic bond to the substrength, it sputters very very well.
It's called the metalization process by the way.
Gold will never oxidize. And as a benefit of this,
the way they lay it down onto the polycarbonite
it makes for very smooth even coating, that's why gold is used in electrical contact, not just oxidation resistance, it's a very smooth coat. And in terms
of a compact disc, there's no pin holes where...in the early days of aluminum discs if you hold one up to a strong backlight, you can see pin holes in there...
SB: It kind of looks like stars on a night sky,
and what that means is your air correction circuitry
in your cd player will be enabled...well its got to
guess at that missing data...and with gold you don't get those pin holes. So that was something
that we discovered at the time and thought "well, this is great" and as far as sonics, what that yields is a more stable image in your soundstage, and in exhaustive tests.... we've been vindicated after doing this for so many years...in the industry people said "oh this is a gimmick, their trying to
make more money." Well, independent of MoFi
I think Polygram Europe did exhaustive tests on this and engineers can tell in A/B switching which is an aluminum disc and which is a gold disc
just from the stabilization of the imaging.
Shawn Britton, part 2
RN: Now Columbia Records released gold discs,
they had Spirit's "The Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus" in release. But they also give
material to you, the Blood Sweat & Tears record,
for example. Why do they do some gold discs
in house, and give some to MoFi?
SB: Well, actually, we have gone back and re-mastered some things that they released on gold and I think their gold master sound series...
I think its discontinued. It's a prohibitively expensive process and the replication costs is high. Because its going to be in Replication News
it says right on the discs, by Zomac Optical out there in Minnesota...we are allowed licensing on titles and the odd part - one would think there would be competition in the marketplace. I guess as far as Columbia feels and it works through their special projects division they probably feel
"well, we're going to make our money on this" so what the heck we'll just make extra money by licensing this out. In reality, these gold discs,
this is a niche market...that's direct competition,
so I can't explain the justification why Columbia
would release something on one hand, and then license it out on the other. I just assume that a company that huge, they don't talk to one another.
In the early 80's when we were producing compact discs, Mobile Fidelity had a distinct advantage in A to D converters and high end
gear because we're sort of a hybrid, if you will,
a mastering house that uses high end audiofile
type gear that you can go down to your local
hi fi store and pick up. Theta Digital projects
things of that nature, Nelson Pass amplification, and we have pro audio gear as well. And way
back when most record companies, a)they didn't take the time b)they didn't have the gear like we do but now there's mastering houses in these
major record companies that have gear that
rivals ours. We don't have as much of a technolofical advantage beause digital technology has come along so much in the last ten yeas.
Think about it in terms of computers, things change very very rapidly. I think as far as PCM
audio is concerned we're approaching the maximum threshold as far as revolution with
96k sample rate and 24 bit work length. That's just about the ceiling - and that's partly why Mobile Fidelity is using the DSD technology from Sony
is because the resolution on it is so incredible.
The DSD is bit stream technology It's the technology that will be used in its full resolution on
the super audio cd, SACD, which we will be coming out with in a couple of months. You'll be seeing Mobile Fidelity releasing some Super Audio titles, it's a high res format Joe.
The Super Audio CD - it has the capability to have a hybrid disc, that will play your normal compact disc layer or the red book spec layer, and it's got a high resolution layer, which will allow you to play the high res super audio cd layer, which is what the DSD - so as far as product is concerned...right now what Mobile Fidelity does...and what we did...the first (DSD) title was Tom Petty's "Full Moon Fever."
part 3, tape 2
RN: Back to the master tapes you get, does
Mobile Fidelity ever bake or restore tapes?
SB: We don't own these tapes, we have our own
restoration techniques, but we do not ever bake
a record company tape, that's up to them.
RN: When you cut half-speed mastering vinyl,
did that include the "Gain" system used on these
Velvet Underground discs?
SB: Well, yes, the Gain system, when it was introduced, was an upgrade to both mastering
chains, the analog and the digital side. And on
the analog side we had Nelson Pass, who is a high end designer - he worked at Threshold for
many years sold that company, now he's got
Pass Laboratories. Nelson built us a complete
cutting rack system with a control unit and these
cutting amplifiers to drive the cutter head of our
Neumann Lathe VMN 70 lathe which cuts at half speed. Now with half speed it was really developed to its maximum potential by JVC in
the 70's for cutting quad, if you remember quad.
Well the JVC version of Quad had to have a 50k
carrier cycle, this frequency which allowed you to adjust your matrix for proper trackimg. Well, 50K
is an insane frequency to cut, it burns up most
cutter heads so in order to do that they used a half speed technology wherein you run the tape at half speed and you run the lathe at half speed, and then you're able to get incredible frequency.
And that's why Mobile Fidelity, as it began with
Brad Miller, he contacted Sam Ricker at the JVC
cutting center in L.A. and they cut some - primarily sound effects records, trains and things of that nature, Brad used to do location recording for audiofile stuff. I'm sure you remember back in the early days of hi fi people would have these recordings of trains which would go from one side of your stereo to the other...it was a demo record.
Well then they took this technology and they thought "why don't we cut some music" and they approached some record labels and licencsed the
Mystic Moods Orchestra then they licensed John
Klemmers Touch, a number of early software titles like that, and cut half speed and the results were
Compared to what other record labels were doing
back then, it just knocked the audio file world on its ear. The MoFi version of "Dark Side Of The
Moon" is still very, very desirable on lp and on the UHQR Ultra High Quality Record, which was pressed by JVC on the Super Vinyl Compound.
RN: So they were a competitor of yours back
SB: Well actually, they pressed our records for
us in Japan...that's what the whole half speed
thing was about. And then the other side of the
mastering chain was the digital end, where we
had Theta Digital...Theta built us this hot rod
A to D converter, that used incredible oversampling and then its decimated down to
sixteen bits for CD purposes at the 44.1K sample rate...and that was the first "Gain" system in that
incarnation at that time. Since that time i think it was last year we came out with "Gain II" which was an upgrade to our Studer Tape Transport by Tim deParavacini, and we've got ultra wide frequency response now. I have never seen electronic gear have this kind of frequency response. It's phenomenal. If there's something on the master tape, we can capture it now.
RN: Wow. Do you employ the Super Bit Mapping Direct which was introduced by Sony?
SB: We talked about the Sony DSD system that I'm using... Sony started using Super Bit Mapping it's a dithering scheme where you can take longer
word length - let's say 24 bit, and then decimate it down using noise shaping - to the 16 bit 44.1 sample rate for cd purposes, the cd specification.
What MoFi is doing is using DSD, Direct Stream
Digital, which is incredibly high resolution, and then its decimated down using Super Bit Mapping Direct...and this is a very specific process only for DSD...and you should hear, Joe, if you ever get the chance to come out here to California, one
we'll go wine tasting, two, you can listen to this
DSD, and it is so close to what the master tape
sounds like, it's phenomenal, it's a real step forward for digital. And it's what we call Future Proof because they can decimate it down very
easily to different sample rates. Right now I archive everything in this high resolution medium to an A.I.P. tape and then decimate it down later
for release on a compact disc.
So we have the capability now to do the Super
Audio CD's for the high resolution layer and for
the standard CD redbook spec layer. It's all
RN: And one more question about Ultradisc.
You have the Gain System, and then you
have Ultradisc. Is that a name for the disc,
or is that a process as well?
SB: Well, Ultradisc was a name for the high end
line of CDs we were coming out with, and that
started back in '87, like I said it's hard to remember that far back exactly when we released
these gold discs. It's not necessarily tied to the
gold sputter...it was more a separate product line than the standard aluminum cd. So Ultradisc as
far as the years have gone by, were referred to
the Gold CDs, and then Ultradisc II was a new
formulation of the Gold CDs, improved sub straight or pit formation if you will, more gold
being deposited on for more reflectivity. In fact now with Zomax Optical we have some of the lowest error rates in the industry. They are a
tremendous, tremendous replicator. I've been
nothing but pleased with their quality. They're
phenomenal. If we have any questions or any
points to bring up with them they immediately jump on it. This is high ticket stuff, it's really the
best that CD replication has to offer.
RN: OK, now one final question on Mobile
Fidelity and then we'll get to The Velvet Underground. The Ultradisc then is a combination of the Gain System and the gold cds...
SB: Well, the Gain system is the mastering chain...actually its Gain II now. so Gain II
is not just used for gold cds. Gain II because its our mastering chain - is also going to be used for the Super Audio CDs and we have some DVD's
coming out, so Gain II is really the mastering chain. The Ultradisc is a software. Now, our
DVD's when they come out, are not going to be
called Ultradiscs or Ultradisc II they're going to have their own name.
RN: Ok now we have to digress again. You brought up Quad Records, I heard that a lot of the Quad Records will turn into DVD's first because they're already separated.
SB: Well some have, actually, some ...I don't know if they're DVD's, but Brad Miller had gone back with his 5.1 records and they released on DTS...you have to have a processor to play it back and you have discreet channels for Surroundsound...and it is phenomenal...
RN: So the Quad Joplin "Pearl" album and Santana's Quad "Abraxas" . and even the Carpenters had one. The one pretty much available is The Doors Greatest Hits...Elektra seemed to press a lot of them - perhaps these will be the first...
SB: It's hard to find systems anymore, the actual
hardware to play them back.
There was no specification for DVD A
If you release titles under the DVD video specifcation, if players come out later and they won't play these discs, its going to be confusing for the consumer, it confuses the market place so we've been sort of waiting to see how things shake out and we'll begin releasing our DVD's here in a couple of months.