Brothers In Arms  at 45rpm From Mobile Fidelity (updated 3/7/15)

Born out of desperation (hence the name), with the release of its eponymous debut album containing "Sultans of Swing", Dire Straits was an instant commercial success. Cynics at the time said the tune made Dylan safe for average folks. The album was eventually certified double platinum.

As popular as was the group and its previous three albums, this, their fifth was the one that did for them what DSOTM did for Pink Floyd. What made it so attractive in 1985 to the music buying public? Audiophiles might say the sound and impeccable production (which was also true of DSOTM and others might say the attractive cynicism and outright bitterness of "Money For Nothing", which takes swipes at both MTV and the in vogue at the time "New Wave" synth-pop—not to mention rock-stardom generally as observed by a particularly bitter, homophobic laborer.

I'd say it was a combination of factors that included "Money For Nothing" but more to the point was the album's blending of old school, then fading guitar-based rock with the era's glossy recording and production techniques then being applied mostly to synth based pop.

Thus both current popsters and greying hippies could enjoy a glossy sounding protest album. The older listeners might hear Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers in "Why Worry", while the younger ones might hear the chorused guitars and tinkly synths.

Springsteen fans might be attracted to the imagery in the lyrics of "Your Latest Trick", while some might catch the Peter Gabriel influenced "Ride Across the River" and those needing a genuine toe-tapping sugar rush have only to wait for the goofy "Walk of Life", which recently made its way into a Farxiga commercial (is the drug manufactured in Albania?), thus ruining it for everyone except for those with type 2 diabetes (what that song is doing on the album has always been a mystery to me).

Lyrically and musically there was something for everyone on this album and for audiophiles there was the sound. Well for some audiophiles. For this one, while the production is astonishing and the recording "pristine" the sound is everything I hate about digital sound combined with its good qualities—and that goes for the original LP and CD, the latter of which was both one of the first true DDD CDs and at the time a "break out" disc for the format.

I don't claim to be a Brothers in Arms authority though I know that the original LP's songs were "manicured" so they'd all fit on a single LP. I don't know how the longer songs on the CD differ, nor do I know which ended up better—there's a case to be made for shorter songs. The recent Mobile Fidelity SACD is the full 55 minute album originally on the CD version.

I took the time to note each LP song's length and what you get here is what appears to be the full CD length songs. I write "appears" because there are some inexplicable discrepancies. Below is a comparison of the Mo-Fi's SACD timing versus the LP's (SACD on left):

5:13 5:05
8:26 8:15
4:13 4:02
6:34 6:26
8:30 8:20
6:58 6:50
4:40 4:37
3:41 3:32
7:01 6:48

Some allowance must be made for fade outs, but still I found the differences unusual. Did I play the discs synched? No. But clearly this reissue includes the full album, not the truncated original. I have contacted Mo-Fi to find out if they know why these timings differ.

By the way, I did locate the older, double LP reissue cut by Stan Ricker and though the label lists the edited shortened song lengths, the reissue does contain the full length songs and we'll publish a comparison.

Surely this would be a release the digital folks would say proves that vinyl fans are out of their minds. Why would you buy a vinyl LP version of a DDD production when you can buy the CD? After all, the Sony 3324 used to record the album is a 16 bit machine capable of at best 48k sampling and given that this release was meant for CD, it's quite possible it is CD resolution (which makes you wonder why Mobile Fidelity bothered with an SACD release not to mention vinyl!).

Since first posting this review I contacted co-producer Neil Dorfsman and got some interesting information, beginning with the fact that contrary to the SPARS code, this was not at "DDD" production! The original digital multitrack recording was done at 48K/16 bit but because it was mixed via an analog SSL (Solid State Logic) mixing board, the digital tracks first had to be converted to analog and then mixed to two-track DAT at 44.1K/16 bit resolution. Therefore, this double 45 was mastered from a CD resolution tape. If it was the original tape, it was a DAT tape.

Now while cynics might say "why not just get the CD"? It's not that simple. "Get the CD" and use what to decode the digits? Your CD player or DAC? Is it as good as the one Mobile Fidelity uses? Or do you think all DACs sound the same? When listening to this double 45 you are hearing a combination of Mo-Fi's D/A converter, the mastering engineer's EQ choices and what the analog cutting process does or does not do to the resulting analog signal, just as when you listen to the original CD or LP you are listening to the gear used for those back "in the day" and the EQ choices made by Bob Ludwig.

Comparing the original Bob Ludwig mastered LP (Warner Brothers WB 9-25264-1) with this double 45rpm edition is easy: there is no comparison. Ludwig was stuck with an early D/A converter and while there still are those declaring those and digital "perfect", you can hear that early converter ringing and if that's not what causes the bright, annoying global glare, then something else is responsible—like maybe the A/D converters in the 3324? In that case nothing could solve the problem other than to apply EQ that would probably kill the record.

Happily, Mobile Fidelity has managed to eliminate the glare without damaging the goods. This reissue at 45rpm is so superior to the original that I think (I wrote I think) even Tom Port, who, in a just published story on called me "deaf" for saying that four original copies of Steely Dan's Aja sounded identical (except that I didn't), will find this reissue superior to the original (I'm not upset at Port. I think his tongue got away from him and at this point, who cares?). True I only have one original copy, but what afflicts the original record is not a pressing variation! And I understand Stan Ricker cut a version of this a few years ago but I've not heard it or for that matter heard of it so I can't tell you how it compares.

Here's the thing though: I currently have three great 'tables set up with three different cartridges: The Continuum, the Sperling and the George Warren (which is affordable and crazy-good) and so I can definitely say that depending upon your set-up this new version (or any version of this DDD production) will sound either really good (for a digital production) or, despite Mobile Fidelity's best efforts, still kind of sterile, hard and ultimately fatiguing as any "pure" digital production vintage 1980s does.

As much as I love XTC's Big Express and admire its subterranean super tight bass and explosive dynamics, its overall sound is so similar to Brothers In Arms, I'd be surprised if it too wasn't recorded on the Sony 3324. By the way, there's one for sale on Ebay as I write this for $2300. Who says digital doesn't have a "sound" (not me)? Analog has a "sound" too, but it's one I much prefer.

In any case, Mark can't go back and re-record this album. He can only go forward in the analog domain. This version features explosive dynamics, super-tight and deep bass, pristine "crystalline" highs (in the best and worst meanings of that word) and yet gone to a great degree is the original's ear-fatiguing glare. Inner detail resolution mesmerizes, the guitars transients are oh-so-cleanly rendered and there's even air and space, but though the drums have been especially well recorded in terms of miking and microphones used, the cymbals remain "pristine" and overly polite, and Omar Hakim's snare hits hard, ringy and lacking in skin (if it's a drum pad they are perfect, though to be fair, a great deal of purposeful processing has been applied to the drum hits to give them a particular sound that the resolution of this record makes abundantly clear). Much of it, though, is surface, little goes deeply into textures or tonalities—it's like M&Ms minus the chocolate center. However, it's fair to say that's what was intended.

Meanwhile if you think Ringo was bummed being replaced by Andy White on "Love Me Do", consider poor Terry Williams who had to sit out the entire album because he couldn't deliver on drums what Knopfler and Dorfsman wanted/needed (but he did play on the supporting tour).

What I most like about the sound of this album—original or reissue—is that it perfectly captures, for better or worse, the glossy, digital frontier emerging in the mid-eighties. It is, as they say, a "time capsule", though at times a headache inducing one, despite Mobile Fidelity's best efforts but if you're a fan of the music and the sound, this is the vinyl version to have. It rocks!. BTW: this sealed copy was perfectly pressed by RTI and I do mean perfect.

Music Direct Buy It Now

lensimons's picture

Does this new MFSL 45RPM edition contain the full 55 minutes of original CD content or does it match the original 47 minute LP? I would hope that with 4 sides to work with we would get the full, unedited album.

Michael Fremer's picture
The SACD is the full 55 minutes. The review has been revised to account for what I found when I timed the LPs.
Michael Fremer's picture
I found out a few interesting things and updated the review.
MerckMercuriadis's picture

While you are editing Michael please remove all of those G's.

MerckMercuriadis's picture

. . . and H's.

Michael Fremer's picture
Yikes! I'm working too hard. That was an embarrassing mistake but not as bad as reading in a review "Billy Holiday". Thankfully it wasn't one of mine!
MerckMercuriadis's picture

I had every faith you would figure it out. I couldn't bring myself to mention Alan White. I figured that was just a slip as at least he had played with Beatle John.

Bluejimbop's picture

If I had the opportunity to get Omar Hakim on my date.

MrRom92's picture

What would be the benefit of having this on vinyl, or even SACD? Aside from euphonic distortions. I'm sure that for anyone who absolutely had to have this on vinyl, this would be the one to get. That said, it's still an early 16/44 record which can barely take advantage of either higher-resolution format. For a title like this I'd much rather have a bit-perfect stream of the original data pushed to my DAC. So what exactly would you say I am missing out on by not getting this analog version, or, "fashion statement" as some may call it.

Michael Fremer's picture
I'm not saying your point isn't well taken but the quality of your DAC versus Mo-Fi's is not to be lightly dismissed and really, whatever EQ Mo-Fi has done plays into what you hear. Having compared master analog tapes with cut lacquers I don't buy into the "euphonic distortions" claim made about vinyl. "A/B"ing the lacquer versus the tape was so close I doubt anyone could tell which was which. Granted by the time it gets plated and pressed there is some loss but CDs and SACDs don't sound like the PCM or DSD from files from which they are made either. They should but they often. In the early days mastering engineers were astonished to get back CD test pressings from different plants that sounded completely different though produced from the same files (or in the early days U-Matic video tapes).... since the original recording is rarely released "as is" and is usually mastered by someone, and the mastering can include EQ and compression, why is that version somehow sacrosanct?
MrRom92's picture

Michael, you raise some very interesting points. One doesn't have to look any further than the fact that even upon release there were a number of very different sounding CDs of this album out at the same time. While I'm sure MoFi's digital chain outdoes mine easily (and thank you for your ADC comparison, by the way - very interesting to me because rarely have I heard a converter that got as close to master tape as lacquer did, or even a final pressed disc) I think the ultimate scenario in the long term would be the original PCM data on the DAT mentioned in your update. (Also wasn't aware DAT was available this early on) I'm very curious if any of the CDs feature that untouched data. I personally listen to my rip of the West German disc when I get the urge.
Mastering moves aside, just as technology marches on, it's very possible that in the future we'll have digital conversion hardware which regenerates the original waveform to a greater degree of accuracy than anything available before. It's not completely impossible that one day the smartphones in our pocket, or neural-implant can have a better performing DAC than anything available to MoFi now. I'm all for this record being available but I know what release I would *really* be supportive of - what we could have and should have gotten back in 1985!

Jon's picture

I've noticed the same thing with the first two volumes of those Mercury Living Presence Collector's Edition LPs. I bought the first two 6-LP sets having no clue as to what the source was (I will buy the third when it is released later this month). I knew it was a digital source because at the price, there is no way in the world it would have been a new remastering from original analogue tapes. And they sounded so good I was convinced the source was 24 bit. I even made a transcription of one of the LPs (1812 Overture) to see what the cannon waveforms looked like. On the CD version that was released in the 90s, those same waveforms are brick-walled on a limiter - they are just pancake flat like you were looking at something from the loudness wars. But the corresponding waveform from my LP version showed all the dynamic range intact with absolutely no brick-walling or limiting whatsoever. Yet I find out these LPs allegedly came from the CD master files that had been kept on hard drives all these years. Given how good these LP sets sound, I still have a lot of difficulty believing it though I guess it is still possible that those master files are actually 24 bit, 44.1 KHz (since that was what the transfers were originally made at using an early model dCS converter) and that could explain why the CD version is so compressed - it happened when it was converted to 16 bit. These LPs even sound better than the Speakers Corner reissues where the titles overlap (though those are from second generation 2 track analogue tapes and there was a lot of quality lost on those second generation tapes compared to the 3 track masters).

Bottom line though is I agree. Whatever an audiophile calibre remastering studio can do with any digital master is clearly well beyond what I can do with any DAC or CD player I've ever heard. And I am sure there is some EQ in there too as those original CDs often pretty gnarly and in-your-face.

I actually no longer really "fear" buying LPs from digital masters for this very reason. I've bought enough of them now to know they all sound good and that most of us probably haven't really heard how good these digital masters can sound.

I just bought a copy of the latest Deutsche Grammophon vinyl reissue of Richter playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto (1963). It sounds absolutely terrific and the pressing is flawless too. It's just as good as any of the Speakers Corner fully analogue DG reissues yet it was cut from a 24/96 master. And cheaper too. With an MP3 download code no less!

Ortofan's picture

Times for each track are all within a few seconds of the times listed for the original CD here:

Michael Fremer's picture
The first song is "So Far Away" not "Money for Nothing"....
pmatt's picture

I'm still new to Analogue Planet, but it really is refreshing to see you time and again dig deeply into such a complex and nuanced process and come to conclusions that don't always agree with your "crusade", as some might call it. I don't doubt for a moment that records that were made during this period using "state of the art" digital recorders like the sony 3324 can be remastered with improvement over the original releases - especially given the crappy quality of the vinyl releases during this period regardless of who mastered them.

Michael Fremer's picture
Has always been about good sound first. It really began when I heard CD versions of familiar records and they uniformly sounded like crap. It wasn't that I was against CDs or digital recording---until I heard them. Then the disparity between what I heard and what I read in the press drove me to act. The idea that the history of recording would be reduced to that uniformly awful sound was sufficient motivation!

What was most disturbing then and now was the charge that vinyl imparted a "euphonic coloration" to the recordings because records in my collection all sounded very different while the CDs I was buying and hearing all had the same sound! it was the CDs that were "colored" only non-euphonically! Digital apologists said it was because in the early days all of them were produced on the same gear but then WHY DIDN'T ANYONE NOTICE AND SAY SO???? Instead their was mass hypnosis and claims of "perfection". That's what got me going.

I remember when i met a well known mastering engineer for the first time back in the early '90s through a circumstance totally unrelated to audio and he told me he'd just remastered the Peter Gabriel catalog. I asked him if he'd heard original Charisma UK pressings and he said "no". So I invited him over and he brought the CDs.

He sat down quite convinced there would be no comparison and there wasn't! But it was way in favor of the LPs. After a few minutes his face turned red, his expression sheepish and he slunked down in the chair! It was a professional life changer for him! And confirmation for me.

pmatt's picture

New technology always holds sway for awhile. And with early digital it was liberation from age old problems like tape hiss, less than satisfactory noise reduction and of course - scratchy records - that surely played a part in denial of overall fidelity. I always think of instant coffee. The wonder of freeze dried coffee crystals was practically held up as a triumph of modern man......
Also agree with the concept of Brothers In Arms as a time capsule for that period. I'm not sure, but this record was probably made before there was much in the way of modern tube gear in the studio to warm up that icy early digital sound. The only tubes around may have been in the guitar amps and the odd Neumann mic.
I referenced one of my favorite records from that era in another post - The Replacements' "Pleased to Meet Me". Recorded in Memphis at Ardent with Jim Dickinson in 1987. Even this corner of old school heaven pumped out the DDD product. Thanks again for the in depth commentary!

myheroiscoltrane's picture

... when dynagroove first came out, too? Who was the Michael Fremer character in that story?

Michael Fremer's picture
J. Gordon Holt, Stereophile founder, was on that one back in 1964.
avi242's picture

There was a rumor (now I know it is) that the original LP was mastered from an analog source, and the CD was mastered from a digital source that was recorded a short time after the analog. Anyway, that was an impression probably made due to differences in the mastering of the LP & the CD. Thanks for a valuable info!

firedog55's picture

A Senior moment? Alan White was probably a little kid in the summer of 1962 when the Love Me Do single was recorded.

Alan White did play with Lennon on some Plastic Ono Band Recordings and on Imagine, though.

You don't want to take poor Andy's moment of fame away from him, do you?

Michael Fremer's picture
Obscenior moment.... that's what copy editors and fact checkers are for. I have neither.
Bix's picture

I thought MFSL didn't release digital recordings in the "Original Master Recording" series?

Michael Fremer's picture
Is "Original Master", whatever the technology....
Bix's picture

Well, yeah, but my understanding was that anything recorded digitally would only be released in the Silver Series.

dobyblue's picture

No, they can use analogue tapes for the Silver Series. The Silver Series represents titles where they don't use the ORIGINAL stereo master for the entire thing. INXS "Kick" for example uses a tape copy of the original stereo master and is on the Silver Series.

Brothers in Arms is originally a digital recording, because MOFI managed to license the original "tapes" (not "analogue tapes", just "tapes") they released it under their OMR series. I too used to think OMR releases meant original stereo analogue master tape but I was incorrect.

Bix's picture

I know that Silver Series includes both analogue (generally dubs) and digital. My understanding was they were still reserving "original master recording" for original analogue stereo masters, with the occasional non-silver, non-OMR release reserved for certain notable digital and remix titles.

tom_lp's picture

Hello. How does the mfsl 45 compare to the warner bros 2lp 33


Michael Fremer's picture
I don't remember that review and what's more, I don't know where that double LP is. Before writing this review I looked for that one. I probably should have searched the site. My pants down. What's interesting about reading something you forgot you wrote is that you read it as if someone else wrote it. It's a slightly different take on the same record but not really at odds with what I wrote here. Now I have to try to find that record! Or perhaps it was a loaner from a friend. I can't remember but if I find it I'll compare the two...
tom_lp's picture
tom_lp's picture
tom_lp's picture

Haha, that's funny! After buying Greatful Dead A.B and W.D on mfsl 45rpm. i think im gonna go for this one too.
Anyways, keep up the good work!

Michael Fremer's picture
The timings indicate it's from the original edited and shortened files. Why they would do that I'm not sure but given the choice between the original edited version and the whole enchilada I'll take the latter!
tom_lp's picture

Michael, i just found my copy of the double 33 and i saw the same thing about the song lenghts that is on tracklist on the labels. Im going to give the double 45 a shot because of the extended song lenghts and maybe better /or different sound (?). Im gonna compare them when i get it.

moon unit's picture

The labels are incorrect on the 2LP Ricker cut, for some reason they listed the original edited timings but they are in fact the full length versions.

The 2LP Bellman cut also has the full length versions and imo is far better sounding.

tom_lp's picture

Thats a weird thing to do. I think when a album gets reissued or remastered they should make the labels up to date with the right times and info on it.
I have the chris bellman remasters of the first four dire straits albums and i think they have pretty good sound. I think they where pressed at pallas if dont remember it wrong.

tom_lp's picture

Or maybe it was Bernie G who did those? (They work in the same company anyway)

AnalogJ's picture

I remember wondering about that at the time before I bought it, whether the new set would include the full times. Stan Ricker, himself, confirmed that the full cuts are on the album. At times, the fuller cuts are welcome, a couple of times, the fuller cut only exhibits a bit of meandering. I often like Mark Knopfler's excursions, but it's almost as though they were padding out the CD in order to justify the time of it rather than cutting the CD to accommodate the LP.

hanuman's picture

For some reason this album got an audiophile reputation at the time and clearly this contiunues today with this re-issue along with the WB release of a couple of years ago. The CD never sounded that special, frankly, and I don't think it really deserved another re-mastering after the WB release. "Making Movies" and "Love over Gold" are both seriously better sounding. Has MoFi done those in double-45? If they haven't they should.

Paul Boudreau's picture

I would love to see those two given the deluxe-reissue treatment.

dobyblue's picture

But the all analogue Bernie Grunman cuts released by WB in 2009 are so bloody perfect already. Sure I'd buy them again, but when you can get AAA bliss pressed at Pallas still in stock at most places for 24.95 - 26.95 it's a no brainer.

Martin's picture

"Mastered from the original master tapes, and possessing a richness befitting the album’s stellar reputation, Mobile Fidelity’s numbered limited-edition hybrid SACD of Brothers In Arms breathes with transparent highs, atmospheric heft, and lifelike tonalities. The sense of realism this edition delivers will leave slack-jawed even the most hard-to-please audiophiles. As the recipient of the Grammy for Best-Engineered Recording, the album has always been a go-to sonic standard, but never has it sounded so reach-out-and-touch-it realistic as it does here. All of the hallmark characteristics—ample spaciousness, ideal balances, widescreen dynamics, immersive depth, lush production—are here in spades. As is music-making of enviable proportions. "

Taking journalistic licence to new heights.
A slight embellishment of the truth.
I wonder what he and everyone was smoking.

I've always loved the music on this, it's great. But I've never been a fan of the sound. It's flat, two dimensional and bright and listening to the whole album left me feeling nervous and edgy.
That said, I will be springing for the MoFi SACD. That I think is a bargain for this one.
But not the vinyl. Two slabs of 45 rpm vinyl for a 44.1k/16 bit recording?
Money for Nothing.

Michael Fremer's picture
Reduces the flatness and edginess and might leave you less nervous. Even if that's due to a "euphonic coloration", why would you care. The bottom line is how it sounds.
Bigrasshopper's picture

Surely someone here who has the MFSL version at 331/3 will also have felt compiled to try the 45. Is anyone willing to share their experience for those who those who do not have both. My only complaint with the recording is the almost pervasive and fatiguingly relentless "drum machine " like pace keeper, that is what I think MF is referring to the Syth. sound that was produced to sound that way, stands out like a papier-mâché sore thumb against all that oceanic reverb. Besides that, I think it's hard to fuck up a good recording. But I have an academic curiosity if the 45 exposes the shortcomings while enhancing the juicier portions so that it ends up being a sort of relative wash between the two ? The 331/3 MFSL was cut by an SR / 2@SRM while newer stuff is KW@MoFi. They may have also made some equipment changes since then, and since Meitner is always credited, I had assumed that was the D to A and A to D ?

Hats Domino's picture

All this argument over format choices, when, in reality, the skill of the engineer is far and away more important. Also more important to the sound of a record, the console used, the converters, the microphones, the monitor speakers, the studio acoustics, the instruments, the musicians... heck, everything has more impact on the sound of a recording than the medium used.

Hats Domino's picture

And this is a DDD recording, according to the SPARS code. The second D refers to the recording deck used for mix down, not the signal path of the mixing console. Digital mixing consoles really didn't become adequate to handle full mixes like this until a decade or so ago. This is why I'm glad that SPARS code is relegated to obscurity now.

And DAT machines were't around in 1985. This was mixed to either an open reel Digital DASH machine or a 1630 or 1610 U-Matic.

Michael Fremer's picture
The producer of the record wrote me in an email that it was mixed to DAT. Yes it was introduced by Sony in 1987 but it is possible that a pre-production one was offered to the studio given that they were using a Sony 3324, which hadn't often been used for rock recordings.

I don't know. I just know what the producer told me in an email. As for DDD, yes technically you are correct but when CDs were introduced there were these nudniks who would only buy "DDD" discs even though almost all of them were featured at least one and sometimes more D/A and A/D conversions. Therefore they were not "pure digital" productions.

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

A possible explanation is that timings on CD/SACD include the silent gaps between tracks. Perhaps the LP uses the sctual music times. I didn't notice any stand out differences from other extended versions I have. BTW my copy has gone for exchange due to a faulty side 4. Even MFSL have QC issues occasionally.

DigitalIsDead's picture

I'm surprised no mention was made in this review, by way of comparison, of the Dire Straits box that Bob Ludwig, Bernie Grundman, and Chris Bellman all particpated in the mastering of. I think the box, including the full length dual lp Brother in Arms, sounds outstanding.

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

As I read this review, I remembered that in 2006 I put a query on Steve Hoffman's about Stan Ricker's 1/2 mastered double LP version.

Some interesting comments, including Steve Hoffman, here's the link...

James, Dublin, Ireland