Does UMe’s 50th Anniversary What’s Going On Beat MoFi’s One Step?

There’s plenty already said about the musical content of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic What’s Going On so I’ll avoid redundancy and just say that its scope—from the sociopolitically-minded lyrics to the carefully assembled song cycle structure and luscious musical arrangements—pushed the boundaries of what a Motown release could be, and truly stands the test of time. It’s an endlessly relevant record (decide yourself if that says more about the album’s excellence or society’s failures), and also one of the most exhaustively reissued: in the past 20 years, we’ve seen Universal’s 30th anniversary 2CD featuring the original Detroit mix, more alternate mixes, and a Kennedy Center live recording from 1972; Mobile Fidelity’s SACD and 33rpm single LP releases; UMG’s 40th anniversary “super deluxe” edition adding further session material and alternate versions; quite a few run-of-the-mill digitally-sourced vinyl reissues of the core album, done at United for the US and GZ for Europe; an Abbey Road half-speed 4LP mirroring the 2001 2CD; and MoFi’s 45rpm double LP UltraDisc One Step cut from tape. That’s not including the “Vinyl Lovers” Russian reissues of dubious legal origin cut and pressed at GZ, the 192kHz/24bit hi-res download, a Blu-ray Audio release (remember that format?), and the Japanese SACDs, CDs, and MQA-UHQCDs featuring a flat transfer of the original master tapes (yes, really!). important to keep in mind.

So what does UMe’s latest reissue, a belated 2LP 50th anniversary edition, have to offer? To start, for the US edition Kevin Gray mastered the core album all-analog at 33rpm, meaning no constant side flipping like MoFi’s 45rpm One Step. There’s also a bonus disc compiling the original mono singles with some alternate versions of the title track, again cut by Gray from a “composite analog reel derived from analog and digital sources,” as per the liner notes. GZ pressed the 180g black vinyl LPs (the hype sticker credits Precision in Canada, though an additional “Made In Czech Republic” sticker means it ended up at GZ), packaged in a glossy tip-on gatefold jacket with printed inner sleeves featuring track details and an essay from author and poet Hanif Abdurraqib. I already have the MoFi One Step, but wanted to see how this 50th anniversary reissue compared. (Please note that Gray did not cut the European What’s Going On 50th anniversary edition, whose hype sticker mentions Dublin Vinyl instead of Precision. While the printed materials credit Gray, Lawrence Dunster at Curve Pusher cut the European pressing from digital files. No matter the reasoning, this is extremely unfair to European customers expecting Gray’s AAA mastering, and is false advertising for which UMe should be held accountable. To be clear, I don’t have anything against Dunster as this isn’t his or Curve Pusher’s fault.)

First, the extra reissue stuff. The short bonus LP is nice but rather inessential. It starts with a new “stripped version” of the title track, using only the vocals, percussion, and some strings; while enjoyable, it’s the only “previously unreleased” track here because it’s a new remix from January 2021. The “rhythm ’n’ strings instrumental mix” rehashed from the 2001 reissue is likewise pleasant but unnecessary. More interesting is a mono test mix of “What’s Going On” believed to be its first ever mix, prepared by Motown’s engineers for a Quality Control meeting before the strings and horns were added. This and “Sympathy (Demo Version),” the song that “What’s Going On” originated from, are easily the most illuminating bonus tracks, but they aren’t new. The mono single mixes on the last side are nice to have in clean LP fidelity, though aside from these alternate versions of “God Is Love” and “Flyin’ High” (the latter labeled as “Sad Tomorrows”), I can’t imagine myself often revisiting them.

This 50th anniversary reissue’s glossy tip-on gatefold faithfully and nicely replicates the original, though the printed inner sleeves are a bit thin and I wish that the records came in poly-lined inner sleeves (there’s a common audiophile complaint you’ll rarely hear from me). Still, the inner sleeves include a poignant essay by writer Hanif Abdurraqib (written on January 6, 2021), a shorter note from professor Andrew Flory appreciating David Van DePitte’s orchestrations, an extra image from the album cover photo shoot, brief but insightful technical info, and extensive credits. Considering I bought this new at Portland’s Second Avenue Records for only $38.99, the packaging is more than satisfactory.

Now, the sound quality. To avoid confusion, in this review I’ll mostly ignore the Detroit mix, which was the initial mix that Berry Gordy deemed uncommercial; I’ll focus only on the more polished West Hollywood mix that you hear on the final record. In 2019, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissued What’s Going On as an UltraDisc One Step, spreading it over a 45rpm double LP pressed at RTI on 180g MoFi SuperVinyl (a Neotech- and RTI-developed compound free of carbon black, also marketed as SRX and VR900). Michael Fremer found that the UD1S “destroys” the RCA-mastered original Tamla LP as well as MoFi’s 2008 half-speed mastered 33rpm single LP: “It’s difficult to believe these are sourced from the same tape. […] The resolution of musical and spatial detail that’s smeared on the other versions is huge. I’ve heard complaints about there being ‘too much bass’ but I think that’s what’s on the tape that’s previously been rolled off. This reissue is a major sonic step forward both for Mobile Fidelity and for vinyl reissues generally.”

However, that supreme quality comes at the expense of the originally intended continuous listening experience, as the sides are split in half. The fades between sides don’t really bother me, though for many it was a dealbreaker, not to mention that the UD1S was a $125 retail (now $300+ on Discogs) box set whose bespoke lift-off packaging is just as inconvenient as the discs it holds, especially for an album less than 36 minutes long. The core album LP in UMe’s US 50th anniversary reissue, cut by Kevin Gray right from those same tapes, solves the side split problem, but how does it sound?

On initial listen, this new pressing sounds quite good, with plenty of definition, a wide soundstage, and sweet-sounding strings. You surely won’t hear the vocals this intricately detailed on any digital version (save for maybe the Japanese flat transfer discs which I haven’t heard), nor will the finger snaps and percussion embellishments be as clear. The tonal balance leans bright, but that’s obviously what’s on the tape and the bass is still tight, focused, and very much present. If you’ve only ever heard digital versions or digitally-sourced vinyl pressings of What’s Going On, this will surely be an upgrade, and it might even beat vintage LP pressings but I don’t have those to compare.

Still, the One Step absolutely obliterates this new pressing to the point where it’s not even funny. Kevin Gray’s cut is very good… until you hear the MoFi. By the time you’ve heard the first 10 seconds, it’s already better: there’s so much more space around the vocals (almost as if Marvin Gaye is right there), an absurd improvement in soundstage depth and three-dimensionality, deep and strong bass, shimmering triangles, vivid shakers and congas, and panoramic strings. I’m not sure what the measurements would say, but the stunningly involving UD1S certainly sounds more dynamic than the KG cut, which in comparison sounds thicker and flattened out, with the bass dialed in a bit. It still retains the analog goodness typical of AAA vinyl, but in terms of spatial detail the One Step wins without contest.

Do you need this 50th anniversary reissue? If you have the One Step and don’t mind the side breaks and other minor inconveniences, you’re all set. If you don’t have the One Step, then whether that one’s still worth the hefty price difference depends on how much you like this record. If What’s Going On is one of your top favorite albums ever and you have the money, don’t hesitate on the One Step. If you only listen to it sporadically, buy the UMe US 2LP and you’ll be plenty satisfied. Still, I’ve included excerpts of the title track (digitized using the SSL 2+ interface)so you can compare the two and determine that yourself.

50th Anniversary Excerpt

MoFi UD1S Excerpt

Considering the mixed source quality, the bonus LP in this 50th anniversary package sounds as good as it reasonably can, and the fact that it was cut from a composite analog reel shows that someone really invested the time and effort into properly doing this reissue. Yet, if you’re in the market for the nth What’s Going On reissue, the all-analog mastering probably means more to you than a slapped together bonus disc; I would’ve preferred the Detroit mix over the singles and alternates compilation, but UMe probably assumes that you already have that or they’re currently devising a way to sell it to you again. GZ did a decent job plating and pressing the 180g LPs, though my copy has some (negligible) non-fill issues as well as light surface noise that after vacuum cleaning dissipated only a bit. The noise floor is of course higher than the SuperVinyl One Step, but that’s an unfair comparison. If my review of this new reissue sounds rather negative, it’s because the One Step is just that great. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Kevin Gray’s 50th anniversary cut, which is placed in a value-minded, high quality package that will leave most listeners very happy and hopefully set a new standard for UMG vinyl.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, avid record collector, and art enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.)

culturcide's picture

Going out on a limb here, but this is in my top 5 overrated LPs of all time because of one song. Save The Children is up there with Lennon's Imagine as one of the worst songs (by a quality artist) ever. 'Save the babies' ugghhh...

MalachiLui's picture

jumping in before the trolls do to say that while i enjoy this record, your argument is certainly valid

jazz's picture

More than overrated, as you say, strictly boring. But only in my opinion, as we’re talking about music here.

tcinoz's picture

I've bought (and sold) the album several times in my record collecting journey, always swayed by others that it's an 'essential' title in any self-respecting collection - and each time I'm left underwhelmed when I try 'just one last time' to connect to the music contained therein. While parts of it may register on an intellectual level, I'm not feeling any of it with my heart.

PeterPani's picture

Always tried the album, too. Glad that ML gave it a 8. Maybe, out of respect, still overrating by 1 point...

Lazer's picture

I’m not a troll and I think everyone has a right to their opinion…..but Imagine is timeless and still relevant today just as this entire Marvin Gaye album is still relevant. To deny otherwise is simply wrong in my humble opinion, especially with the damage Trump has done our democracy.

culturcide's picture

I think you might find that BECAUSE of Trump, RvW may be reversed, which will indeed lead to 'save the children'. And considering the massively imbalanced ratio of black to white abortions throughout the decades (no thanks to Planned Parenthood setting up predominately in black communities), Marvin Gaye would be somewhat happier. And before you jump at me Malachi, I think you'll find the mighty Kanye on board with this line of thinking too. (not trolling, just saying')

MalachiLui's picture

it is true that kanye is against abortion but he's said that if he was president, he wouldn't take that right away from anyone, instead just offering support for those who might choose not to have an abortion. of course, i disagree with kanye's stance but respect that he wouldn't force his opinion on anyone.

firedog's picture

"Of course, it must be remembered that UMG is a white-run company making likely absurd profits off the constant repackaging of Black artists’ work; no matter the exact intentions of those assembling these reissues, it’s important to keep in mind."

Why? Nothing special about record labels making all the money they can with any artist - white, black, purple, or orange. All these classic albums get re-released ad nauseum. Nothing special going on here.

mogelbrod's picture

Why do you say that you'll "mostly ignore the Detroit mix" in the sound quality part of the review - the Detroit mix is not included on this release, but only the singles compilation, right..?

In any case, I suppose I would be one of those that would not mind if UMe were devising a way to sell (an all-analog) Detroit mix to me yet again. There seems to be a standalone japanese release of the Detroit mix on vinyl (2017, reissued 2021), but it's not stated if it is AAA - so it probably isn't.

MalachiLui's picture

the detroit mix is not included in this release, and i didn't want to make the review more confusing by including it in the comparison. the japanese vinyl edition from a few years ago appears to be cut and pressed at GZ actually... i don't have it here.

fruff1976's picture

Geez, I thought I was the only one who thought this didn't sound all that great. I haven't compared it to other versions, but overall I just don't care for the sound of this. I think there is so much emphasis placed on star engineers nowadays that it's just assumed it will be a winner no matter what. Maybe the EU one sounds just as good.

tcinoz's picture

Yep, I've found the same with many of the 'remasters' that get rave reviews on these and other audiophile pages. They end up sounding like they've had the life sucked out of them. I even bought (and sold) the single LP MoFi 'Blood on the Tracks' *twice* on the strength of other people's opinions until concluding that nope, it really is a dud when compared with an original US pressing. (The one-step 45 rpm version, however, was a noticeable step forward.)

anodyne jones's picture

Another lame attempt at social commentary to generate comments and page views. Well done.

In fact if it was up to Berry Gordy, a black American, WGO would NEVER have seen the light of day.

And it is Berry Gordy who became insanely rich beyond his wildest dreams selling Motown to a "white" record company.

Again a boy doing a man's job.

MalachiLui's picture

i didn't express much of an opinion about it one way or the other... just food for thought... maybe go outside for once. you're getting way too worked up. and yes, of course i know the history of motown, berry gordy, and how he sold it. i'm not stupid.

anodyne jones's picture

Eh, no, you don't get to float an idiotic social commentary turd and try to skate away.

Nobody said you were stupid, just tone deaf. Now every time a black artist gets repackeged are we to expect the same? For every Miles Davis, John Coltrane, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix etc are we going to hear about exploitation?

How about Frank Sinatra? Are we going to hear about the exploitation of Italian Americans? The same for Van Morrison? Exploitation of the Irish?

fruff1976's picture

Are they a White owned company?

MalachiLui's picture

but UMG is a lot more of a major player here, cuz mofi has to pay UMG for titles like this... and that licensing isn't cheap either. if it was mofi reissuing this every 2 years, that's what i'd have mentioned. but UMG has all the rights to reissue this ad infinitum... again i'm not giving an opinion, just something to think about.

Mazzy's picture

The president of UMG is Lucian Grainge and yes, he is white. But he is British so he is VERY white :-)

Big Star's picture

A few months ago I was in a Sino decoupling strategy meetings for various US and Canadian companies (because of the genocide in China). I noticed Tencent (the Chinese national conglomerate) had a huge investment in UMe. Didn’t know that. Just found it interesting.

Great review! (Personally MoFi continues to suck the vinyl out of vinyl) Less so with Marvin (it’s tweaked still) but my God Tapestry is really bad. There are other recent titles I won’t bring up - MoFi is a fantastic company, but I haven’t been happy with their last two years.

That all aside - what a fantastic and interesting review. Let the debates continue! (My US 50th pressing came in great shape and plays well thankfully)

Glotz's picture

That would be you.

And you by use of your word 'idiotic', you ARE calling him stupid.

anodyne jones's picture


Too rich to be trolled by a sad clown loser who spends their weekends posting on audio blogs.

Glotz's picture

Turd Troll No. 1 - You.

tcinoz's picture

Your hectoring tone is borderline bullying when directed, as it is, towards a young person. Try not to be a bad vibe merchant all your life.

Glotz's picture

Thank you for sifting through the various releases, like Michael does.

azmoon's picture

..his social commentary is BS.

decameron's picture

What Azmoon and Anodyne said..

rl1856's picture

Inserting social commentary but failing to note facts was (hopefully) a result of ignorance rather than willful omission. Both the UD1S and the new release under review are OFFICIALLY issued. The Gaye estate profits along with the "white-run company"; in fact it is the later that ensures the Gaye estate continues to receive payment. The majority of grey market releases exploit loopholes to make the most profit, but without compensating the artists, or their estates. If one wants to incite outrage, one must direct it in the correct direction. Purchasing grey market releases continues the exploitation cycle that so many artists endured for far too long. If one wants to ensure that artists are paid, then restrict purchases to OFFICIAL the UD1S and the current remaster.

anodyne jones's picture

Very classy Mariachi. You laid an egg and got called out. Own it.

Touch grass? Are you old enough? I am. But I rarely partake.

Glotz's picture

LMAO... Pure bitch.

MalachiLui's picture

has nothing to do with weed. it means "get the fuck off your computer and go outside."

for someone who spends all his time being an internet troll, you certainly aren't fluent in internet-speak.

Michael Fremer's picture
That was completely unnecessary.
azmoon's picture

This used to be such a good site.

Michael Fremer's picture
I think Malachi is entitled to express himself. However, he's being trolled by people who should know better. They could find a way to express in an adult way a different point of view but they choose incitement.
Wymax's picture

Which is why you might want to simply exclude users who's only purpose is to offer insult and troll for obusive reactions.

While I may not always agree with what is written, I see it as an obligation to others to confront them in a respectful tone. However, I would also want for ML to not use words like "idiot" when confronting back, freedom of speach does not necessarily include freedom of insult, even though a troll has been disrespectful. It will only escalate if we pile on top.

Michael Fremer's picture
M made one gratuitous unnecessary remark. One sentence in a very long well written, well-researched and well-thought out review. The response from the "adults" in the room was way over the top IMO. But I've removed the offending sentence.
Mazzy's picture

obliterates the KG is pretty dramatic and not accurate at all from my personal point of view., In fact I prefer the new KG cut over the MoFi. And not just because it is 33 and the flow is better. Also I would say that even if you give this an 8 sound wise, it certainly is a 10 musically. Arguably one of the greatest albums of all time. Every track!!

The Europe version labeling it KG when it is not and a royal F up!!

MalachiLui's picture

it all depends on your system and what your ears prefer... i think the one step obliterates the KG cut but i can see an argument for the KG being more cohesive.

Russo7516's picture

I seen on the SH forum that AP is looking to do a reissue on the Detroit Mix . Do we need another reissue? Should I wait

Rashers's picture

how a record that is plated and pressed in Europe (and exported to the USA) is manufactured using a different (digitally sourced) stamper and pressing plant for the European market. They could easily couriered stampers to the Dublin plant for the European version (or just done the global pressing at GZ!). It is beyond baffling.
Thanks for the heads up Malachi: I received a promotional email from Sound of Vinyl that promoted the Kevin Gray mastering. I had pre-ordered the album from EU Amazon.
The double album, so far as I can see, is not being "officially" released in Europe until May 20th. The 45rpm audiophile received his copy earlier - I wonder if UMC responded to the vitriol and are replacing the product. In any event, I cancelled my preorder and and ordered it from (I hope they don't do a bait and switch for the EU version!).
Incidentally - we have had the same nonsense with a number of Sony Legacy releases (e.g. Kind of Blue) that were AAA in the USA - and then pressed up in Haarlem from digital files. The "Charlie Brown" Vince Guaraldi album - released in the US last year and on blue vinyl (lacquers by KG and pressed at GZ) from VMP - was given the digital treatment for the European market also. The AAA stampers were IN Europe - wtf?

MalachiLui's picture

my thoughts exactly.

colinescott's picture

It's the duty of the rightsholders to make artists' work available. Duty to the artists as well as to company shareholders.
UME chairman Lucian Grainge was dissed as white and British and therefore very white. I don't know Lucian but I knew his late brother, Nigel, who told me that the family name was Goldberg and his parents were refugees. Their father chose "Grainge" because it was the next name in the phone book after "Goldberg." Grainge Sr. would bring home one 78RPM a week for the kids from all styles of music. Nigel and quite possibly Lucian too could talk passionately about music from all eras and many countries, which should be the primary qualification for a record exec.

MalachiLui's picture

i'm not criticizing anyone, calling names, attacking anyone, nothing. was just giving readers food for thought. brought up a point for people to draw their own conclusions and opinions from.

Happy Will's picture

Thank you for the heads up on the EU version, much appreciated. This is not the first time - Craft did this trick with the Terry Callier album for example. And then we get the different vinyl too.....

MalachiLui's picture

how the european market usually gets better pressings of newer albums compared to the american market, but gets ripped off on all the american audiophile stuff.

Tom L's picture

Personally, I found this review to be interesting and right on point, especially the European ripoff info.

BTW, I see something quite often on the net, and this comment section is a great example-some numbnuts says "you're just fishing for page views" and then proceeds to view the page about 50 times in order to spam it repeatedly with their mentally challenged comments. I guess this "page view manipulation" really does work!

AnalogJ's picture

I own both the OneStep and the KG-mastered 50th. While I'll argue that the OneStep sounds bigger, Malachi, and betters the 50th in a few of the ways that you mention, the OneStep hardly obliterates it. I feel like you're doing the New York Post/National Enquirer method of selling copies.

Yes, the OneStep sounds bigger, there's more depth to the soundstage, and it sounds like you're more in the booth with Marvin Gaye - that is, there's a certain presence on the OneStep that is extraordinary.

But to my ears, the OneStep is more about highlighting the details. It's like listening to it using a microscope. Not just in the sense that the music makes more sense presented on two sides rather than four (It's really a suite of songs, meant to convey a feel over the long haul, rather than individual songs), but that there's more of a coherency to the presentation via Kevin Gray. It all sounds of one piece.

On the OneStep, I can hear all of the individual overdubs, which while interesting, are also distracting. It's like not being able to see the forest for the trees, as the saying goes.

The KG is still full, lush, and musical. And Marvin Gaye's musical and social statement is better heard and felt with the uninterrupted flow of each side. With the OneStep's four sides, it interrupts the flow, the momentum too much.

Given the trade-offs, I'll take the 50th because not only does it sound really good, but it delivers the artist's intent better.

I don't say that for all 45s. In fact, I tend to prefer them. It's not like when Herbie Hancock toured during the release of Maiden Voyage, he played those songs in the exact order of the album in concert. But What's Going On was not intended to be listened to as individual songs, but instead it was designed to be listened to as one whole tapestry.

Neither of these pressings obliterates the other. Seriously. Each has its strengths.

Musically for me? 9/10. (I actually think the 33 format is essential for really hearing this piece of art.)

Sonically? The KG gets 9/10. The OneStep a 10/10. (I'd give it an audiophile 11/10, but I do think there's too much fascination with the details over cohesion, but I think being able to hear details like the overdubs and hearing more into the mix is interesting.).

recordhead's picture

"Of course, it must be remembered that UMG is a white-run company making likely absurd profits off the constant repackaging of Black artists’"

This website is ran by a white guy helping those white run record companies sell records to make a profit off of those black artist! And you are a cog in that wheel.

I've been a Fremer apologist since 05 or 06. I own his DVD's, watch his YT videos and I've listened to and recorded every episode of Analog Planet Radio. Hell, I nearly sported wood when he read my comment on air! No more. There are HUNDREDS of other sites and You Tubers out there who don't make everything about politics or PC/woke talking points.

MalachiLui's picture

i'm not oblivious. just food for thought. wow... you guys get really ticked off really fast... it's rather impressive.

Bigmule1972's picture

For years I’ve used this website used to provide a form of escapism and general relaxation of reading casual articles about an industry I used to work in and a hobby I love.

I’ve been asked to leave and am labeled as a troll because I express an opinion different than the masses.

The disappointing reality is that majority of these woke minded members embrace freedom of speech in theory, however their responses clearly identify that they really don’t understand the true core of freedom of speech and the costs associated on both sides of a topic.

In general, a person has the right to say it, I have the right to oppose it, and I also have the right not to listen. I’ve exercised that right and choose to avoid ML’s articles, because of this “gotcha type clickbait” he appears to purposely interject for this exact reason. However, because his writing style nearly is identical to Fremers, I happened to read this article and was set back when I read this specific comment. I then realized it wasn’t Fremer.

This woke minded crowd clearly illustrates there is only one way / one truth, and freedom of speech is not welcomed without repercussions, which then directly challenges freedom of speech.

Hopefully Fremer is coaching ML to stick to the meat of the topic, avoid the unrelated sizzle, and let his writing performance prevail. Although it seems there may be no editor reviewing ML’s work. Ultimately, I’m disappointed because the comment was an easy low hanging fruit tactic and I thought AP was above that type of behavior.

One day ML will feel the weight of his words when bodyguard Fremer is gone and the woke minded behavior is no longer acceptable.

People are here because of Fremer, ML has been “tolerated” for years and allowed to punch way above his weight class. When Fremer leaves, AP is finished because ML will not be able to retain this audience.