November 1998

Simon & Garfunkel - Bookends
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 732
Originally Released: 1968
Remastered Released: 1998

by Greg Smith

Sound Quality ***

Comparison Release:

Collected Works
Columbia C3K 45322

Sound Quality **

[Reviewed on Gold CD]Some people wander into my listening room and have a very good question for me: "Why?" The implications: Why the huge speakers? What need is there for that garden-hose-sized speaker cable? And, most confusing of all, what possesses me to buy $25 gold CDs? The only real way to address questions like these is a demo, and I have a number of popular tracks for that purpose. Particularly fun is to pull out a familiar song the person has heard a million times and let him or her hear one of those details totally hidden on a mundane system. Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends is one of my common sources for these exercises, and I had been using the version of the disc that's included on the Collected Works boxed set. That one is better in every way than the original CD release, so I won't even bother mentioning the older version for comparison. Note that most of these tracks are also available in remastered form as part of 1997's Old Friends boxed set, which unfortunately I wasn't able to round up for this review.

"Bookends Theme/Save the Life of My Child"

  • Columbia: Playing this back with the dB-calibrated volume control on my Lexicon DC-1, I'm struck by how low the recorded level on the disc is. I had to crank it up around 6dB louder than I normally listen to music at for these reviews. This low recording level, not using the full capabilities of the compact disc, is bound to result in a lower dynamic range. So it's no surprise that this version is lackluster. The body of the acoustic guitar is oddly noisy, and there's the expected general recording hiss.
  • MoFi: While it's still a bit noisy in the background, the huge volume increase over the Columbia release makes for a monstrous improvement in dynamics. The background hiss is still there, but the acoustic-guitar body now sounds right, and there's far more detail.


Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike -- hey, I do that when stuck in traffic all the time! I don't recommend it as a form of recreation, however.

  • Columbia: While the first two tracks on the disc sounded a bit dull, this one overcompensates with a nasty emphasis on the vocals. There's a funky resonance on the humming during the intro, and the sibilance on "real estate," "cigarettes," and other "s"-words is horrid. At :36 we hear the first of the hidden bass thumps, which usually shocks the hell out of the casual listener who's only used to hearing the song on the radio.
  • MoFi: A sign of relief escapes me as I note the humming is free of problems. There's still some sibilance here, but it's merely bad instead of unbearable. Best of all, the joke's on me. Even I wasn't hearing half of the details to be found in those bass parts! A very restored fullness to the drum and impact of the bass guitar make those sections sound quite different.

"Mrs. Robinson"

You don't have to be Dustin Hoffman to be seduced by this catchy tune.

  • Columbia: This one sounds quite good. The resolution is a bit low, but there's little to complain about if you heard this one in isolation from other versions.
  • MoFi: A big bass line is saved from obscurity by MoFi's GAIN mastering, and some of the spitting peaks of the older version are smoothed out. The kick drum also comes to life. I'm tempted to write a song: "Save the life of my drums." OK, maybe not.

"At the Zoo"

I stopped trusting giraffes after I first heard this song.

  • Columbia: We find more vocal aberrations on this track, along with this weird crackling all over. I'm sorry, but are those supposed to be bells or something else in the background? This song sounds like AM radio.
  • MoFi: That mysterious percussion in the background? Those are chimes, pal. Who knew? News to me. It's still a bit noisy, and on the grand scale you could consider the resolution a bit low, but it's a massive improvement in dynamics from the older release.

The liner notes include complete lyrics to all the songs and a spiffy picture of the boys inside. But the real bonus is a big foldout poster of Simon, Garfunkel, a bridge, and some flowers. It's cool, but not quite suitable for framing because of the folding. While Bookends is still very much limited by the technology of the late-60's recording studio, Mobile Fidelity makes the best of a poor master to give us the most impressive Simon and Garfunkel recording I've heard.