Right from the very first audio-industry show I attended with SoundStage!, the 2001 Son et Image show in Montreal (now called Montreal Audiofest), I found myself extremely dissatisfied with the music at these events, both in terms of what exhibitors would play and showgoers would request. How can you possibly gauge a system by listening to a solo flute? And why would anyone wish to inflict it on a room full of strangers?

Beyond the simple solo acoustic instrument thing, I have also taken offense, over the years, at two other forms of audiophile music that are rampant at shows. I’d like to classify them as Sting and Diana Krall. Sting made my shit list back in the early 2000s, when I asked an exhibitor to play a somewhat complicated piece of music for me. I was a bit reactionary back then, so my choice wasn’t exactly optimum given the audience. The exhibitor played it, but cut it off in short order, which got my back up a bit. And as he hit the Stop button, a showgoer shouted, “Could you play some Sting?” Moments later, as I sat there grinding my teeth, “Englishman in New York” filled the air with its syrupy cheeriness.


And Diana Krall? Okay, she’s a great pianist with a lovely touch and a great voice. But I find it somewhat distasteful that she’s been elevated to somehow represent jazz as a whole by so many people who previously wouldn’t have given the genre the time of day. What about Nancy Wilson? What about Cassandra Wilson? What about Julie London? How come some of the most wonderful female jazz singers haven’t been “discovered” by showgoers and exhibitors?

“Do you like jazz?” I might ask a new acquaintance.

“Oh yes, I love Diana Krall,” they might respond, causing a vein to start pulsing on my temple.

And as I walked the halls of shows through the years, I’d sometimes hear two different Diana Krall songs emanating from two different rooms, so I’d get an out-of-synch, multiversed, stereo version of her music that would annoy me further.

Diana Krall

Right now, I imagine you’re thinking that I’m a judgmental son-of-a-bitch, and you’d be right in part. I have strong opinions, and here’s where I share them with you. But I think it’s expedient for me to back off a little and freely admit that there are a few audiophile chestnuts that I listen to on a semi-regular basis.

Case in point: I’ve owned a copy of Mobile Fidelity’s Anadisc 200gm release of Folk Singer (MFSL 1-201) since, I think, it was first released in 1994. Somewhere along the way I bought a second copy that I left unopened, in case of emergencies, I guess. But I sold that in a fit of capitalistic greed when prices got crazy.

Muddy Waters

This record has it all. First off, it’s entirely acoustic, so when I want to geek out and hear what’s really going on with a component, I can throw Folk Singer on the ’table, and it’ll give me a great approximation of a real event happening in a real room. It’s honest, genuine, heartfelt music played by superb musicians with serious historical credibility.

Just look at that lineup! I’m not a hardcore, devoted blues fan, which is evident as I only just now looked up the personnel, but there are several musicians on this album, aside from Muddy Waters, who jump right out at me. Willie Dixon on bass, Buddy Guy on guitar, Otis Spann on piano and harmonica—those are some heavy hitters right there.

Muddy Waters

But that’s just the music, right? That’s not enough for us audiophiles, right? Well, the 1994 MoFi Anadisc pressing of Folk Singer is an astonishing achievement. There are dynamics on this record that just shouldn’t be possible. For instance, “My Captain” is one of the softer, more introspective tracks on this album, and Waters’s voice just slams out at certain points, rocketing out without any distortion and sending my mind’s VU meters ricocheting off the right-hand peg. The entire album is full of this sort of dynamic athleticism.

Just before Christmas I received a copy of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s Ultradisc One-Step version of Folk Singer (UD1S 2-023), and it’s a magnificent package—sumptuous even. The box itself is finished in a matte coating that immediately feels luxurious and expensive. The two 45 rpm LPs inside are individually sleeved in the same material, further protected by MoFi’s traditional white cardboard and one of their Original Master Record inner sleeves. There are also a couple of nice photos on high-quality cardstock and a reproduction of the original (MoFi) LP sleeve. The current retail price of the MoFi One-Step records is $125 (all prices in USD), and that seems reasonable, given only the packaging and presentation.

Muddy Waters

Those extras and the luxe packaging sure are nice to have, but I think we’d all agree that the records themselves are the meat and potatoes. The two 180gm LPs are pressed on MoFi’s proprietary SuperVinyl, which was developed in cooperation with Neotech and RTI, and it’s made without carbon dye. Hold one of the translucent LPs up to the light and you can see right through it. This isn’t your grandpa’s clear vinyl—MoFi claims their SuperVinyl formulation results in a reduced noise floor and facilitates enhanced groove definition.

Mobile Fidelity’s Ultradisc One-Step pressing process removes the father and mother steps, which are used to make a metal replica of the original lacquer from which multiple stampers can be made. In the One-Step process, MoFi uses the original plated lacquer directly to create a stamper—making only one stamper possible from each cut lacquer.

Muddy Waters

Of course, the elephant in the room here is the one additional step whereby MoFi first creates a DSD copy of the master tape rather than cutting that tape directly to vinyl. This topic has been literally beaten to death by everyone and their mother, and you can read about my feelings on the topic.

The TL;DR of my thoughts on MoFi’s DSD revelation is that, while it does diminish some of the cachet connected to what everyone thought was a tape-straight-to-lacquer performance, it doesn’t for a second change the result of what comes out the other side. I’ve listened to a whole bunch of MoFi releases that incorporated the DSD step, and they all sounded absolutely tremendous. MoFi makes great records—the end.

That said, since I first heard about MoFi’s One-Step version of Folk Singer, I’ve been extremely keen to hear it back-to-back with their original, all-analog version. Not, I’d like to point out, because I wanted to determine if I could hear digital because that’s just silly. Rather, I was keen to hear if it’s possible to improve in any way on this tremendous record.

So here we are. I spent the first few evenings of my time with these records listening to the original 33 rpm version. The highlight on this album for me, despite its decidedly creepy title and lyrics, is “Good Morning Little School Girl,” which segues into the incredibly introspective “You Gonna Need My Help.”

Muddy Waters

After flipping over to the One-Step, my first impression was that, yes, there’s less surface noise on the new version. This might not be an entirely fair comparison, as my original has been played a whole bunch of times. That said, I’ve taken extremely good care of this LP, and I gave it a thorough wet wash right before starting this process. As it’s a well-played record, I excluded the original’s occasional tick and pop from the comparison, but it was still clear to me that the One-Step’s overall surface noise, the low-level rumble that lets you know you’re listening to a record, was vanishingly low.

After only one more back-and-forth, it was immediately clear there were some serious improvements in the One-Step. Flipping back to the original, there was notably less air around Waters’s voice on “My Captain.” The One-Step revealed a huge aura around Waters’s head.

This increase in spatial resolution, in my opinion, is the nut of the matter. The bass on the One-Step was just a touch tighter, but not so much that I would dramatically prefer one over the other. But still, it was a nice-to-have. Likewise, the definition on the mumbling, lightly strummed guitar was clearer and better defined, string to string. I can’t say there was any improvement to the already outstanding dynamics. No, it was the overarching sense of space, the massive physical acoustic projecting out from the speakers that really showed the original version who’s boss.

Muddy Waters

Perhaps the best way for me to describe the sound of the One-Step version is that it’s huge. My system projected an absolutely monstrous acoustic, perhaps larger than life, but still intensely realistic. Image placement was more precise than the original, and the sense of the instruments’ sizes grew commensurately.

I do realize that the One-Step version of Folk Singer is no longer in print, so you may be wondering about the ultimate point of this exercise. First off, I just checked Discogs, and there are a number of copies of the One-Step version available for reasonable prices, so there’s that. But beyond the apples-to-apples concept of this comparison, I think I’ve validated a worthwhile hypothesis. That the Anadisc version of Folk Singer is an absolutely superb record, one that’s been used and continues to be used, as a reference by me and, I have no doubt, a whole bunch of other fussy audiophiles. And the One-Step version is noticeably better. In our small, insular audiophile world—in which incremental improvements are the most reliable outcomes—a difference of this magnitude doesn’t come along every day.

Muddy Waters

So I think that it’s fair to extrapolate what I’ve discovered in this comparison to the ongoing stream of MoFi’s new Ultradisc One-Step releases. Most of these One-Step records retail for $125, which is a big jump from the $59.95 they charge for their regular SuperVinyl releases and an even bigger premium over the $29.95 you’ll pay for the company’s standard LPs. So if the difference were just packaging and hype, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be bothered.

My experience here indicates that these records are certainly not built on a foundation of hype. While I may not be a big fan of all the titles MoFi chooses to reissue, I’ll tell you this—I’m certainly going to pick out some favorites and pull the trigger. Just now I put in preorders for both Van Halen’s first album and Fair Warning. Once they’re released and on my ’table, I’ll be sure to tell you about them.

. . . Jason Thorpe