This one’s a real treat folks – an incredible album, on two sublime vinyl and tape formats. The album in question is Muddy Waters’ 1964 masterpiece, Folk Singer, which was originally released on Chess Records.
This is another video review, so if you want to jump straight to it, just scroll down. Or, for a bit of background and an introduction to what you’ll find in there, read on.
So, unusually for me, I start by listening to the album in a couple of digital formats – streaming from Tidal, via Roon – just to get a baseline I guess, or like a kind of listening ‘warm-up’. As it turns out, that was interesting in itself and so in the video I also make a few brief observations about my experiences of two different digital streamed versions – the ‘master’ 24-192 FLAC and the standard 16-44.1 FLAC.
Next comes the vinyl, which is something very special indeed: Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s Ultradisc One-Step pressing, played through my reference hi-fi system, of which I give a bit of a guided tour. I also unpack the beautiful inserts that come with the album, and am interested to discover in the credit notes a reference to my late, dear friend Tim de Paravicini, a master of all things tape and a generous adviser when I was first setting up this website and blog. (You can read more about Tim in Ken Kessler’s recent tributes: Ken Kessler remembers Tim de Paravicini as a “true god of open-reel tape” and Ken Kessler recalls Tim de Paravicini’s considerable contribution to professional recording).
Anyway, as you’d expect, the difference in moving from digital to vinyl is considerable. The jump in space, colour, depth, detail – it’s like being in a black and white room and then throwing open the doors to find yourself in a multicoloured landscape.
The vocals and guitar on this album are beautifully soft and yet at the same time, totally dynamic; on vinyl, the brilliance and ease of that apparent paradox really comes to life. And the sense of presence – you can hear the taps and scuffs of the players’ hands on the guitar body, strings and neck. The sensitivity of playing and vocals is sublime, this is a truly justifiable classic album. “My Home Is In The Delta” – mine isn’t, but right now I sure can feel it in the weight, depth and body of this recording!
There’s no question that the MOFI One-Step UltraDisc is a stunning virtuoso example of the recording art, and this is easily as good as any MOFI Ultradisc I’ve heard – I unpack the experience in more detail in the video – and so now I’m left wondering (again, unusually for me): how much better can the tape be? Am I going to have to climb off my tape high-horse and admit that there are instances where the differences are pretty small?
Spoiler alert: in a word, no. The tape is an Analogue Productions Ultra Tape, and a one-to-one copy of the original master tape. Again, I kick off by unpacking the goodies in the box, before setting off on a listening journey that has a relaxed realism that just carries me effortlessly away, back to 1964. I’m there with Muddy, he’s leaning into the mic, leaning back away from the mic, facing to the side, looking up, looking down. It’s utterly captivating, stunning.
And there are two surprise extras, a pair of additional tracks: “The Same Thing” and “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had”. I wasn’t expecting these at all, they’re not listed on the sleeve notes or the tape box labels. Seems these were the A and B sides of a 1964 single. Nice!
Again, more detail in the video below… along with the final verdict on all 3 formats.
If you’re in the market, you can find more details of the vinyl and the tape at:
- Vinyl: https://mofi.com/collections/ultradisc-one-step/artist-muddy_waters
- Tape: https://store.acousticsounds.com/d/130634/Muddy_Waters-Folk_Singer-14_Inch_-_15_IPS_Tape