Mobile Fidelity's One Step "Abraxas": Is Any Record Worth $100?

Before you pay $100 for any record you have to ask yourself if you really like the music, right? Then the question becomes is this version that much better than the one you already have, assuming you already have one.

The record is Santana's Abraxas the group's second album was released in 1970. If you're of a certain vintage you know the music and especially the hit "Black Magic Woman", which is known to music fans of all ages. The version is the new "one-step" edition 1/2 speed mastered at 45rpm..

There's nothing new about the process. But because of the cost involved it's not commercially practical.

For those who don't know: records are made by first cutting grooves in a lacquer, which is an aluminum disc coated with a soft paint-like compound. The cut lacquer is quickly metal-plated. Prying the metal from the lacquer produces a ridged metal part that can be used to press records. That is how Mobile Fidelity is doing it, and why it's called a "one step" process.

The advantage of course is that you're one generation from the tape. The disadvantage is that once the stamper wears out after around a thousand records you have to cut another lacquer. In the real world of record manufacturing the metal part (called "the father") is again plated resulting in a playable grooved disc commonly referred to as "the mother". The "mother" can be plated to produce a second generation stamper that's used to press records.

The "mother" can then be reused many times to produce well more than one hundred stampers, each of which is capable of pressing many hundred or thousand records. The few times you rely on the same mother to produce stampers and fewer records you press with each stamper, the better the records generally will sound.

Here Mobile-Fidelity produces from the original master tapes a "one step" Abraxas pressed as two 45rpm records packaged in a box reminiscent of but far more opulent and value-packed than the old Mo-Fi's "UHQR" boxed records.

But first the music. That's your call of course. Mine is that I was never much of fan of this album. To me it was like Persuasive (Hispanic) Percussion—a mildly interesting, percussion-heavy, high drama, swaggering entrant into the hyphen rock genre as in "folk-rock", "jazz-rock", "raga-rock" and in this case "latino-rock" or something similar. It's the rock spirit and vibe with something grafted to the body, whether a tabla and sitar as in "tabla-rock" or lilting latino rhythm exclaimed by meaty percussion .

So i paid only minor attention to the record when it first came out though I have two or three versions to which I paid very little attention...until now.

Halfway through this "one step"'s side one I said to myself "This might be the best record I've ever heard". I meant by that the technical quality of the record and how much it resembles tape in four critical parameters: the wide dynamics and low bass response, the unlimited dynamic range, the tape-like sense of flow and especially the enormity of the soundstage presentation. More importantly I got a greater appreciation for the music, the musicianship and the showmanship too.

I had to refresh my sonic memory with the alternative versions I have here that include two originals, a German pressing from the 1990s and the Columbia "Mastersound" half-speed mastered version. First of all, about half of this record is magnificently recorded and hard work would be necessary to make it sound bad but this "one step" version is mind-glowingly better than any of the other versions I have beginning with the earth shaking bass that extends to near-impossible depths, moving on to the enormity of the stage width and especially depth and the transparency and the dynamic slam plus the blackest backdrops you'll hear on a record. I'm telling you, if you love the album it's worth spending $100 on it. Compared to this version the half-speed mastered Columbia sounds like a cassette tape.

The first two sides are so spectacularly recorded and reproduced even if you're not a big fan of the music, you'll find yourself luxuriating in the sonic riches.The spectacular sound got me to listen often just for he sonic thrill, but doing so made me appreciate more the muscular music, now unleashed as never before. The louder you play it the better this record sounds and that 's something that doesn't happen that often.

The percussion explodes forward from the speakers perfectly focused with a dead-black background intensifying the picture. Instrumental textures are visceral while attack is supple yet sufficiently gritty to engage. Sustain is impossibly long and decay into black is audible down to bottom of the sonic pit, which means Carlos Santana's guitar comes to life before you as you're never before heard it—and that's not hyperbole (ok, it is, but....) . If you hear this record on your system as I do on mine and you crank it up to sufficiently realistic SPLs you'll likely exclaim a "wow" or two through side one.

I don't know much about this record's production but it takes a weird sonic turn about half way through. Sonically the first half is truly astonishing and then it head south fast as if the group got tossed from the more costly studio to one they could afford. Not saying the second half sounds bad but it doesn't sound as spacious or textural suave as the first half though it sounds better than any of the other versions.

The packaging puts to shame Mo-Fi's '70s-'80s era "UHQR" boxes. Mo-Fi retains the black foam.The box is finished in a supple, soft matte black stock with gold leaf accents and an especially well reproduced though smaller than the standard cover image of Mati Klarwein's original artwork. Each of the two records repeats the cover motif. The records in a rice paper sleeve are each contained in an inner folded sleeve that produces a tight fit. Also inside is a generously sized cover image reproduced of course without the wrap-around required on the album cover. Also included is a one-sheet explaining the "one-step" process.

So will this limited edition record become a collectible? No doubt. Should you buy a copy to listen to and one to leave sealed? That's up to your investment strategy but if this among your faves, you'll be glad you invested $99 in a copy. (The sound rating is especially for the first of the two records).

Music Direct Buy It Now

COMMENTS
Wimbo's picture

I'd buy Moonflower for that money if the LP was S..t hot.
Otherwise, not interested.

Neward Thelman's picture

"Otherwise, not interested."

Thank God that you've informed us. The world wouldn't have been able to function otherwise.

Wimbo's picture

bad day mate?

mauidj's picture

Bloody hell mate. What is your problem? I for one like to hear other opinions. Unlike your negative egotistical pointless blather.

AnalogJ's picture

Could you comment more specifically on the other pressings you compared this to, including the German (ARS)?

By the way, Steve Hoffman made a couple of interesting comments on his blog regarding this:

1) 1 or 3 steps to make the stampers, that difference shouldn't make much of a sonic difference compared to going from 1 to 3 tape generations. The great sound would be in the recording and the mastering engineer's work, and, of course, the cutting at 45rpm.

2) 1-step is cheaper for the record pressing company, not more costly. Having to make fathers and mothers to press costs more. But having those extra steps leaves archival material. You can always go back to them to press more records, even decades later.

Michael Fremer's picture
1 step is more expensive if you're pressing large #s of records.
kimi imacman's picture

It's a shame you're not a fan of this album, if you were you may have had the recent 45rpm or 33rpm from Mofi to compare to. Assuming they were all mastered by Kreig Wunderlich then that would be a more informative comparison as to the gains for the one step process would it not?

Great review as ever so thank you

K

Superfuzz's picture

There is no other 45RPM of this title to compare with. Only the 2008 MOFI @33RPM

kimi imacman's picture

..but only ST was ever pressed at 45, my bad. Even so, my comment stands regarding the 33 cut. For me at least there are many other title I would drop £120 (yep in the UK we're gouged though the exchange rates make it less obvious of late) before this one as much as I do like it. ST for sure. Love to hear one though out of curiosity.

AZ's picture

Shawn R. Britton mastered that one.

mauidj's picture

I agree. A comparison with the MoFi would be most educational. I think $100 is expensive and I'm one who would not invest that much in this particular title. Like a few others here, Caravanserai might get my credit card out. But based on Michael's glowing review I'm looking forward to seeing what's coming down the pipe.

Audio 1's picture

Did it again! I ordered this and I have never been let down from past recommendations.

MrRom92's picture

It's a title of minimal interest to me so I'm happy with the standard old LP, or a hi-res version. For now anyway. But I'd definitely love to know what other titles are in the pipeline for the double 45/1 step process.

I think Analogue Productions is also bringing back the UHQR and Clarity Vinyl so between that and their entry into tape, it should be nice to see some more premium product on the marketplace. My only hope is that MoFi decides tape is something they'd want to get into as well - they have incredible leverage when it comes to what tiles they are able to license.

Chemguy's picture

How different that this should be the first title released utilizing this new process. I shall bide my time, however, and invest in a record that I personally would feel is indispensable.

Joe Crowe's picture

I have become a little choked over the topic of Analogue Productions and Clarity vinyl, ever since they pressed the "best ever, last ever till the end of the world" version of Tea for the Tillerman and didn't use it, and, despite extensive searching I have not find a single reason why. This is Area 51 crap. If it is that damn good and supplies are available why use anything else? I even sent them an e-mail when the project was first announced and asked if Clarity would be used and I was told no. Given their assertions that that was the "last ever" Tillerman they can't even back peddle without pissing off a lot of customers. They really touched my inner cynic with that one.

thomoz's picture

I'm with you, if the music doesn't move you, why pay $100 for it? I'm hoping they apply this method to something emotionally as well as sonically compelling.

Neward Thelman's picture

Betcha think that the Bleeding Rectals are pure genius, don't you?

Wimbo's picture

what you say mate, the Neward police are out and about.

mraudioguru's picture

While I agree that the music is just okay, this recording is spectacular. You really need to listen to this, even if you're not fan of Santana.

Michael Fremer's picture
Bill Evans "Live at the Village Vanguard"
drdarkfish's picture

That's exciting news. I have a number of pressing of LATVV and they always seem to get something wrong with the mastering.

I agree with you in regards to Abraxas.. I think this press is one of the best I own.

I will pre-order the next One Step for sure.

AnalogJ's picture

Do you have the 45rpm of LATVV mastered by Gray and Hoffman which AP put out? It sounds great to me.

Roy Martin's picture

What?!?! Not "Waltz for Debby"? Sad.

AnalogJ's picture

Really, that is the 2nd title in their agenda.

sfojws's picture

LATVV would be a good next release, as it is recognized by a lot of LP lovers, and could help establish this type of reissue. I have to agree that the audiophile labels seem to focus on a small number of releases. One long-time favorite, for both the music and the sound quality, that I have not seen reissued in an HQ format is David Lindley's El Rayo-X. How about it, MoFi?

scirica's picture

I have Abraxas on pre-order and I'll do the same with Bill Evans!!

Lazer's picture

I received album number 0285. This is easily the best sounding album in my relatively small collection, and that includes a pretty good "hot" RL Zeppelin II. I'm glad my far inferior ears heard the same things Mikey heard. It's kinda cool to have my opinion verified by the expert. Is it worth $100 to hear your system sound it's absolute best? It is for me.

Lazer's picture

Eric Clapton, " I Still Do", which is mastered on alalogue tape and every step to vinyl is analogue, sounds pretty great too.

SLS's picture

I can hear my system at it's best for a whole lot less! The question or statement should have been, Is it worth $100 to hear "Abraxas" at it's best?

TommyTunes's picture

For God's sake this is the fourth time they have issued an audiophile vinyl pressing of this album. There are hundreds of thousands of great albums issued since the LP was invented, can't someone find a title that hasn't been done to death? Why not do Carvanseri, great Santana album and never had an audiophile reissue. It'll appeal to the same crowd.

Neward Thelman's picture

The RCA Living Stereo classical catalog's been re-released even more often then that - and likely will continue to be re-released with every new stride in technology.

Meanwhile, there remain plenty of titles that never see the light of remastering day.

"They" have no shame.

weirdo12's picture

Maybe if you bankrolled a Carvanseri they'd be in to it.

JC1957's picture

Issued by Speakers Corner a few years ago.

Neward Thelman's picture

My hatred for and for rock "music" is well known [search audioasylum.com], and firmly based on unassailable and correct musical principles. However, even I acknowledge that within the [severely limited] musical boundaries of rock and roll, this is outstanding.

The music isn't really complex, but for many simpleton rock listeners, it's actually too complex. Hence, the antipathy for it.

Lazer's picture

Do you even care how sanctimonious and condescending you are? I'm sure your preferrred musical genres are far superior to us simpletons. If we were just a little bit smarter, we would hate rock just like you do.

Wimbo's picture

Charles on M.A.S.H.

AnalogJ's picture

I think he was just poking us with a stick, having a little fun. I mean, look at the name he registered with -- Neward Thelman. I mean, really??

Rayman's picture

You need to buy a set of bongos man and let it out.
Like go Beat Crazy Bro and get out that Classical Gas!
Good Luck.

Neward Thelman's picture

Go man go.

gbougard's picture

Hello

may we peasants know what music you enjoy? We understand Rock is not your thing, but is it Funk, Reggae, Rap or Dancehall that moves you???? Or Afrobeat, maybe.

Here is one in your honor

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90qcH9TriEo

Neward Thelman's picture

"...is it Funk, Reggae, Rap or Dancehall..".

And that's your sum total universe of music types. Bernie's right. We need free general education.

I really oughtn't lose my yolk over your reaction and response. Musically speaking you, and pretty much everyone else these days, are the product of a monumental failure of our educational system.

Before the cutbacks in schools, grade school children were at the very least given an hour or so of music education. Besides learning that there were things such as scales, kids were exposed to music from the classical literature, jazz, and the indigenous folk music of our country. Note that the folk music to which I refer had nothing to do with what's now known as "folk" music - and it's now virtually a lost music genre.

The result was that even if most kids didn't grow up loving classical music, or jazz, or Stephan Foster, they had broader music awareness and a rudimentary knowledge of music. [Fremer should've had some wider music exposure during his (misbegotten) youth, so he ought to know better].

That's all gone now. In it's wake is a bottomless pit of ignorance of music. [Exhale].

So, given all of that, let me try to convey a simple concept - simple, except to today's listeners, who find it incomprehensibly abstruse. That crap you specify - Funk, Reggae, cRap, Dancehall - and all of the rest - all of that [expletive deleted] falls under the category of rubric of Rock.

Cowntry, soul, techno, and any and every other form of pop all belong to the same thing - it's all rock. I know - howls of protestation. Sigh - you'll either grasp it - you either get it - or you don't.

Look at it this way. Does your "funk" or whatever belong to classical music? Or, to put it even more crudely, if the rhythm consists of thump-WHAP - it's rock.

Rock on.

Lazer's picture

Seemes to need to tell itself that you are superior to the rest of us. Why is that? Is it because your superior intellect tells yourself that your presuppositions are a crock of shit? I think it is.
Dude, just enjoy the fucking music...don't disparage the rest of us who enjoy music you consider inferior. It's insulting and that's why you say it....why do you want to insult others?

Neward Thelman's picture

"...your presuppositions are a crock of shit..". Is that bad?

"...Dude, just enjoy the fucking music...". Exactly what - zackly what - makes you think that I don't "enjoy the fucking music"?

Da [*] muzik.

Pure genius roams this site. And, so articulate.

Dum dum dum, dum dum dum. Ta dum.

Rock on.

Lazer's picture

Focus on "why" you want to tell others they are stupid. Focus on why you "think" you are superior. It's a serious psychological flaw that you have. I hope you are seeing a talented psychiatrist.

Neward Thelman's picture

Is that as horrible as proclaiming the gospel of "humaness"? Humaneth?

Yeth.

Joe Crowe's picture

My raison d'etre is to find 1/2 speed reissues of Enrico Caruso 78's and leave them there so Neward can find them and feel important. Reviews to follow I'm sure. Personally I think he's a closet Wayne Newton fan.

Muso's picture

...you seem to equate knowledge of music (and its theory) with taste in music. They don't necessarily relate, though.

I know scales and chords, and I can read them, play them, and identify them by ear. I am well trained in music and have a thorough knowledge of music theory and performance. I've played professionally since I was a teenager. I enjoy music from the Medieval to the Romantic (I'll pass on post Great War symphonies), Jazz, and Stephen Foster too.

I have friends who are bloody tone deaf who wouldn't know the difference between a B and a C Flat, and they love Bach and can't stand Santana. But I like to rock out from time to time, and I think Abraxas is great stuff. I like plenty of other rock music, too. And blues, and funk.

On the other hand, Smooth Jazz makes my brain want to explode - I think it's nauseous, insipid musical twaddle that should have been drowned at birth. But that's just my taste and many people love it - it helps them relax, I guess. It gives me agita, but I'm not going to insult the mental capacity of others just because they like it. Go ride that Nooooo Stress Express with Kenny G, baby - I'll just pass.

I think it's a matter of taste rather than education. No need to insult each other over it.

klatuu's picture

And so how does the current plethora of symphonic music(along with whistles, car horns and gunshots)factor into your comments..or does your musical interest end with Stravinsky, Copland, Bernstein, or do you inhabit late Classical.
By the way, when I was in grade school the hour of musical education consisted of Americana from AM radio.
And I LOVE all forms of music, from ambient(will make an exception for disco, tolerate that)through zydeco as long as someone has a message no matter how it is presented. Even if the message is get up and dance. Recordings, on the other hand, have gotten worse, due to the cut and paste mentality of the modern producer. Used to be that the mark of a great artist was the ability to replicate live what was in the recording, perhaps with some embellishment.

Neward Thelman's picture

"And I LOVE all forms of music, from ambient(will make an exception for disco, tolerate that)through zydeco".

Definately.

All forms.

Country.....

AND

Western.

All forms.

[I stand by every word of my original post].

Rock awwn.

Joe Crowe's picture

Why don't you just descend from your pedestal and admit to the proletariat that you like it. Glenn Gould disliked the Beatles but had the cred to back up his assertions. You sir just sound like a snob. Also your claim that it is too complex for simpletons, hence your antipathy, is the kind of disjointed logic that explains you hanging around an asylum. I once had a VERY rich friend (deceased) who claimed to be an audiophile but never owned anything better than a mediocre turntable. His explanation was that all the better decks had such varied limitations and imperfections he could never decide. Truth was he could have made Mickey blush with a row of Townshends, Goldmunds, Clearaudios and Caliburns without blinking but like most really rich people he was just too cheap to part with the bucks to get something half decent. You guys would have been great friends.

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