If you’re not an audiophile, and not many people are, these discs are not for you. They’re expensive to start with — then they usually skyrocket in price when their limited production runs end. But they have been given so much delicate handling with regards to the remastering that they are very worth the investment.
I remember when my friends and I first found the elusive “gold discs,” as we simply called them. Back then, when we were teens in the late 1980s, it was widely believed that the high-sound quality of these releases was due to the gold reflective layer that became so symbolic of Mobile Fidelity CD products. I mean, it made sense: We didn’t understand mastering and stuff like that. We just knew that the other CDs were silver, and these were gold, and these sounded great, therefore gold = great sound quality. It turns out that the gold was used because it was a superior reflective layer. It didn’t have the tendency to age and tarnish like aluminum did in regular CDs. Oh well. It sure is pretty, however.
I had actually picked up a trio of earlier Rush discs for prices between $8.99 to $15.99 over a period of a couple of years. Unknowing owners dropped them off on the trade counter at Zia, getting a measly amount of money for what had been quite an investment. I didn’t pick them up because I was any kind of audiophile. I picked them up merely because I wanted them — being a dorky completist fan, that’s all, and, really, at the time, before the remasters came out, these had better liner notes than the bland original CDs did. And, you know, they were pretty gold.
The discs sat in my collection, surpassed as favorites by the 1997 remasters, until a few years ago when I was trying to conserve space and moved them. And then I kind of forgot about them. Oh, I saw them sitting up there, on top of my big CD racks, but I never grabbed them to listen to. I had already made up my mind: The remasters sounded great, why bother?
Yet the dorky completist fan in me made me salivate over the thought of new MoFi Permanent Waves a few years ago. For whatever reason, those long-ignored gold discs on my shelf suddenly grabbed my interest again. In the days before my order arrived, I pulled those discs down and gave them a listen. Audio nirvana: All those years listening to the remasters that I thought superior was erased by the calming, soothing, beautiful mastering of the Mobile Fidelity issues. I couldn’t believe my ears. I jumped back and forth between the remasters and the MoFi discs, and, in the case of Moving Pictures, the original, unremastered CD.
Things were different, very different — everything sounded better, clearer, brighter, cleaner … the soundstage is wider and more relaxed. Most of all, they were a pure joy to listen to. There’s that weird thing I like to call “room sound.” Some people I talk to know what I’m talking about, others don’t. The MoFi discs reveal the room in which the instruments were recorded. One can sense the walls and space around them, especially Neil Peart’s drums, which practically sound alive.
Permanent Waves arrived (stamped with #00398 in gold lettering; sweet!) went through the same process — A/B-ing with the 1997 remaster. The conclusion is the same, though this Mobile Fidelity offering did not find itself forgotten like the other Rush MoFi releases did. Neither did the previous three, thereafter. They took over a permanent home on my Ipod, ripped in Apple Lossless format for the highest sound quality possible on that iconic little box.
As for the new packaging style, it was beautiful. I’ll always miss the cool and smart Lift-Lock cases, but these mini-LP replicas are very nice. But … unfortunately there has to be a “but” … for some very strange reason, while Mobile Fidelity focused so much time and energy recreating the original packaging, with nice, sharp images used for the cover and all photos, they really fudged it when it came to the lyrics book cover — which is the same as the album cover. Instead of being the same crisp, sharp image, it was a murky, blurry, off-color red. Truly baffling, but it’s relatively minor when everything else was so nice.
I’m older, maybe wiser, but certainly by now my hearing should be worse, not better, right? Isn’t that how things work? You get older, and time and exposure takes its toll and things start wearing out, right? Perhaps that’s not as it seems. Maybe as we get older, our hearing may start to go, but maybe there’s a grace period where we’re given a chance to really experience things the way we should.
Maybe before it starts to deteriorate we get more sensitive. Or maybe I’m just lucky that I decided a decade ago to really start taking care of my hearing by watching the volume and wearing ear plugs at concerts. There are a million maybes. What’s certain is that I’m lucky that I decided to give those discs a chance again. I might have missed this window of opportunity all together.