My Aim Is True, the debut album by Elvis Costello, was originally only intended as a demo. How much sound quality can such a test recording offer? Mobile Fidelity brought it all to life.
A little background on My Aim Is True
Costello’s debut album from 1977 – still recorded without the Attractions – is based on an almost unbelievable story. Actually, his label Stiff only wanted to sign Costello as a songwriter for Dave Edmunds. To convince Edmunds of Costello’s songwriting qualities, demos of his songs were recorded. In a cheap studio with a mini-budget and a borrowed band of members of the band Clover. The recordings lasted no longer than 24 hours, but they turned out so well that Stiff abandoned the original plan and signed Costello as an artist after all. And released the demo recordings as an LP under the title My Aim Is True. The rest is history.
Which versions of My Aim Is True are we comparing?
The Stiff pressing is already a reissue. My Aim Is True was released in 1977 – our pressing went on sale in Italy in 1984. The vinyl weighs 142g and it is in a single sleeve and has no visually noticeable flaws.
The pressing by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MoFi) also shows no visible flaws, it weighs a proud 202g and was cut using the Half Speed Mastering process. Like most releases of the Original Master Recordings, MoFi’s My Aim Is True comes in a gatefold cover made of very heavy cardboard. It comes with the usual high quality Mofi inner sleeve, stiffeners and the lyrics as well as pictures of the original master tapes on the inside of the gatefold cover.
The MoFi reissue is based on the US edition and contains Watching The Detectives, originally released as a single. The cover motif is based on the first edition and shows a grey background. In contrast, the picture on the front cover of the Italian stiff has a green coloured background, like most reissues.
How does My Aim Is True sound in comparison to the Stiff and MoFi pressings?
Italian pressings like the ones by Stiff are not directly famous for their audiophile quality – but this one has something. The sound is completely trimmed for aggression. That’s not a bad match for this New Wave classic bursting with energy.
The MoFi, on the other hand, is much quieter. At an adjusted level (we rarely had to turn up the volume control that far), the voice no longer sounds as aggressive as on the older pressing. The overall sound is somewhat rounder. However, since the source material is better demos, there are narrow limits to the audiophile splendour.
How do the level and frequency response of the two pressings of My Aim Is True differ?
It’s hard to believe how low the level of the MoFi is in reality. In contrast, the Stiff’s two-track band was heavily processed with a limiter (but not quite as much as Costello’s second album This Year’s Model). The Stiff’s level often peaks (top red graph). The differences between loud and quiet passages in the music thus become smaller.
Here it becomes apparent that the recordings were not originally intended for release and were therefore not mastered in the strict sense of the word. Shawn R. Britton from Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab apparently decided not to apply any additional compression to the sum signal. We hear the demo tape as it sounded after the mix in the studio.
The waveform for Alison shows a similar picture. Again, limiter and compressor were used on the 84 to produce an average level that is usable for radio. MoFi once again did without any subsequent dynamic processing. Alison, however, is not quite as low levelled as Welcome To The Working Week, for example.
In the waveform for Less Than Zero, hardly any dynamic compression can be seen. Both versions have different lengths for the transients (level peaks). The MoFi is simply quieter than the Stiff. The dynamic range should be the same.
How does the loudness of the Stiff and MoFi pressings differ?
The Youlean Loudness Meter is used by sound engineers to measure the loudness of a master. For My Aim Is True, we determined a value of -18.9 LUFS integrated (Loudness Units relative to Full Scale) for the Stiff (upper diagram), and -26.3 LUFS for the Mobile Fidelity. This means that the MoFi is 7.4 dB quieter than the Stiff. We have never had such a large deviation. Note: We have left out the seventh track of the MoFi, Watching The Detectives, for this comparison, as this song is only included on the MoFi. The comparison only refers to the six tracks that can be found on both versions.
The loudness measurement for page 2 did not show such a stark difference between the two pressings, but still a considerable deviation of 4.7 dB. For the MoFi the pointer stopped at -24.9 LUFS integrated, for the Stiff it was –20.2 LUFS integrated.
How do the frequency ranges of the two pressings differ?
The higher average level of the Stiff is also reflected in the frequency spectrogram. Motörhead’s motto applies here: “Everything Louder Than Everything Else”. In the upper diagram, we see considerably more red and overall also higher deflections, which is a sign of more energy in the respective frequency range. However, because of the extremely large level differences, the results are hardly comparable.
Also with Alison, the spectrogram method of comparison reaches its limits. If you look very closely, you will also find spikes all the way up with the MoFi. However, these are so much quieter than with the Stiff that they are hardly noticeable.
The logarithmic scaling produces spectrograms for the assessment of the low frequencies. Here, the Stiff for Alison reveals larger purple areas: These reproduce loud frequencies predominantly in the lower mids between 100 and 200 Hertz. However, the higher level of the Stiff also comes into play here. And considering the huge difference in level, we would have expected even bigger differences in the bass. In addition, the spectrogram for Alison shows even greater differences than the other diagrams. We are determined: The MoFi is certainly not weak in the bass. It is – and we repeat ourselves – simply much quieter.
Which pressing of Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True is better?
In direct comparison, the Mofi version is not only quieter, it also seems somewhat rounder. The special attraction of the MoFi is that it reproduces the original analogue master tape virtually unchanged. Without additional dynamic compression and almost without frequency processing. Sound-wise, no miracles are to be expected with these low-budget recordings. But Mobiel Fidelity Sound Lab gets everything out of the source material. As always, it’s a matter of taste. I prefer the MoFi.
- Welcome To The Working Week
- Miracle Man
- No Dancing
- Blame It On Cain
- Sneaky Feelings
- Watching The Detectives (just Mofi)
- (The Angels) Wanna Wear My Red Shoes
- Less Than Zero
- Mystery Dance
- Pay It Back
- I’m Not Angry
- Waiting For The End Of The World
|Title||My Aim Is True|
|Label||Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab||Stiff|
|Catalogue number||MFSL 1-329||STLP 1006|
|Revolutions/minute||33 1/3||33 1/3|
|Mastered by||Shawn R. Britton||Not specified|
|Pressing plant||RTI||Not specified|
|Matrix-Runout||ILLEGAL LEGS (Pig Symbol) MFSL 1-329A3 SRB/2||STLP 1006-1L-5-3-84-DD-(Helix Symbol)|
|Country of manufacture||USA||Italy|