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No. 221 October 2022


images Wojciech Pacuła

No 221

October 1, 2022

Or, good intentions are not enough, and you also need honesty

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab is a specialist record label, aiming at satisfying needs of the audiophile market. It was founded in 1977 by BRAD MILLER. The first releases contained high-quality recordings of… trains passing, with the sounds of a steam locomotive. In later years, they released new versions of well-known titles using their own techniques. Its leading slogan is "Original Master Recording", which informs buyers that the remasters were made from original, analog "master" tapes. Miller died in 1998, and in 2001 the company was bought by JIM DAVIS, owner of the Music Direct audio store chain.

DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but when I go on vacation I lose contact with the so-called everyday life. I do not read e-mails by design, I do not use the Internet, I do not watch TV. It is much easier when we go abroad, because there is no TV and we only have the Internet. For some time now, however, I have been dealing with it better and better. I was doing particularly well this year, because for the first and only time I used this twentieth-century benefit only after five or six days away from home.

⸜ FRANK SINATRA’S Songs For Swingin' Lovers!, remastered from the original master tape by Mobile Fidelity. The "master" tape was the source of the message at the top of the cover; year 1990. z oryginalnej taśmy-matki przez Mobile Fidelity. O tym, ze źródłem była taśma „master” informował napis na górze okładki; rok 1990.

And it was not my fault. Lying in the hotel’s bed in the evening, I got a message from a friend who told me to "go online" because there was a drama going on. And that it would be interesting for me. I did not resist much and clicked on the link he sent, which redirected me to the pages of "The Washington Post" (→, accessed: 25.08.2022).

The link itself already turned all the alarm lights in my head on - MoFi + Records + Digital + Scandal - but it was only the title of the article that truly stunned me. It read: How a Phoenix record store owner set the audiophile world on fire . Let me add - I was stunned not from what I read, but from the fact that knowing some of the story I couldn't add two and two together and took the word like an idiot.

Since almost a month has passed since then, all interested parties have already presented their opinions on the matter, some sensible, wise, but also stupid and simply lying words were uttered and today we can look at the matter a little more objectively. It's about Mobile Fidelity and greed. And it went like this: MIKE ESPOSITO, the owner of the above-mentioned store, informed in one of his video posts on YT that he knew from a good source that most of the analog MoFi releases from the last ten years are cut from digital files. Although the label claims to only use analog "master" tapes.

And all hell broke loose ... Many people shared their view, including SHANE BUETTNER, owner of another audiophile label, defending MoFi, and former editor of "Stereophile" magazine, MIKE FREMER, who accused Esposito of ignorance , lack of professionalism and just a lie. However, also another person spoke, someone who gave the matter a new dimension - John Wood. He holds the position of executive vice president of product development at MoFi.

Wood has been working for Mobile Fidelity for 26 years and knows the company inside out. The label owes its growth and prosperity mostly to him. Anyway, Wood made an unexpected move and invited the owner of In Groove - that's the name of the Esposito store - to Mobile's headquarters in Sebastopol. Esposito accepted the invitation, bought himself a ticket and travelled there.

Already in the car that Woods was taking our hero in, he found out that it was true - Mobile Fidelity since 2011, has cut most analog discs from DSD files - in 2011-2014 they used DSD64, and later DSD256. The first title was Tony Bennett’s I Left My Heart in San Francisco; at the end of 2011 it was already more than 60% of the discs. And this percentage grew year by year.

⸜ The first foul - JOHN LENNON's Imagine with the Original Master Recording inscription, but mastered from PCM files, and not original ones, and additionally remastered under the supervision of Yoko Ono; year 2003.

The reason is prosaic - labels no longer borrow master tapes for new remasters and at most allow you to copy them in their archives. Of course, you can make an analog copy of the master tape on site, but then you are dealing with a disc cut from a 2nd generation master tape. And since it is impossible to cut a disc from the original master tape, MoFi engineers came to the conclusion that the best medium would be DSD in quadruple speed. This is how almost all but one of the titles from the expensive "One Step" series were cut. Its last title was, moreover, an indirect cause of Esposito's doubts.

Michael Jackson's Thriller planned for this year was to be pressed in 40,000 copies. In the "one step" process, the matrix wears out very quickly and has to be changed every 1000 pressings. This would mean that the tape would have to be played 40 times. And no reasonable owner would agree to that. So how is it possible to make as many as 40,000 records from one playback of the master tape? - Well, it is not, hence the reasonable suspicions that somewhere along the way, either an analog or a digital copy was made.

But let's go back to the visit to the label’s headquarters. Wood enabled the inquisitive shop owner to have a long interview with all three engineers mastering Mobile Fidelity discs, he also allowed him to film the entire conversation, as well as the mastering process - the recording was released on his channel on July 20th. One thing is for sure: the discs of this label are prepared by top engineers. The process is worked out down to the smallest detail. And now - these albums usually sound insanely good and they are often the best versions of a given title. Yes, this also applies to discs released after 2011 and cut from DSD files.

The point is not that the label in question used DSD files. It seems that this will be an increasingly common method. The thing is, they lied to all of us - at least that's how I see it. Based on the press materials, on their website, as well as in inserts for the aforementioned "one step" discs, it is clear that this material is a direct copy from the 1st generation analog "master" tape and that the mastering was done in analog technology.

It's a scandal, no doubt. But the scandal is not about the technology, but the lies that the company has fed us over the years. Because in terms of sound quality, I repeat, it is often Mount Everest. And the company was caught because of its greed. If they pressed copies, we could believe everything was fine. However, the desire for profit outweighed common sense.

⸜ DEAD CAN DANCE’s Into The Labyrinth on LP. The Mobile Fidelity’s idea of how to come out of the situation with face and to propose LPs mastered from PCM digital files, the so-called Silver Line. There is no more "Original Master Recording" at the top and the ribbon is silver, not gold. As you can see, the manufacturer knew exactly that this type of release must be different from those cut directly from analog master tapes; year 2010.

After the scandal was exposed, SYD SCHWARTZ, Mobile's head of promotion apologized, but not directly. His statements suggest that it is all about a misinformation, not a lie. JIM DAVIS, the owner of Music Direct, its current owner, posted extensive explanations on the website (more → HERE). But even his explanations do not say "sorry for misleading", but this is just an attempt to cover up the problem, a soft of "crisis management".

Anyway, it was promised that from now on all titles will have, according to MoFi's declaration, a clearly specified mastering chain, the inserts for the "One Step" series will also be changed. The label informs that with time all albums released by MoFi will be described in this way. Can we be sure?

I checked out some new titles and, indeed, specific processes were explained in capital letters. With Bill Withers' LP Still Bill we read: "1/4" / 15 IPS analog copy to DSD 256 to analog console to lathe ", and with Mark Knopfler’s Local Hero: "Digital clone of 3M digital master". While everything is OK with Withers, with Knopfler not entirely. Apart from the fact that this title was recorded on a JVC digital tape recorder, and not M3, we do not get information about the fact, that the source of the signal was digital reel tape, PCM 16 bit, 48 kHz. "Master" sounds better, right? What's more, I'm almost sure that MoFi received PCM files copied from this tape by one of the specialists, so this is not a copy from the original tape, but from files - this is a problem similar to the one the company is trying to deal with.

So the problem remains. I did not find any detail regarding the process for the SACDs. In the description of The Eagles album entitled One Of These Nights we read the same information as in the past, that it was: "Mastered from the Original Analog Tapes". And we know that this is not true. If, in their case, MoFi masters the signal in an analog path - and this is probably the case - then when acquiring a DSD file, it has to convert it into an analog one, and then back to a digital one. But there is no information about it. The owners of SACD players were therefore treated as second-class customers. I have the impression that Jim Davis is operating in a typically corporate manner, trying to dilute the problem, not solve it. As if he forgot that audio is a small industry in which everyone knows each other.

I started with a confession about my state of mind. My bewilderment resulted from the collision of two pieces of information. On one side I was naive and on the other I knew that this had happened in the past. Naivety was that I was under a similar delusion as others - I assumed that if a traditional company was saying something, it was telling the truth. Knowledge, in turn, concerned a kind of understatement - to put it mildly - about the remasters of JOHN LENNON's releases from 2003 (CD) and 2005 (LP).

It so happened that I interviewed one of the MoFi engineers at the time - I don't remember which one, I would have to look it up. Anyway, he said two interesting things to me then. One concerned the SACDs introduced to the offer in place of gold CDs. My interlocutor suggested that it was not their idea and that Sony had forced it on them to some extent. The second was related to the aforementioned remasters. Well, despite the inscription "Original Master Recording" on them, both the CD and LP discs were made of digital files. And not the originals, but new digital remasters approved by Yoko Ono.

⸜ A foul that lasted for 11 years, from 2011. Here is the "One-Step" insert: above the original, and below the new version, prepared by MoFi after the scandal broke out. As you can see, "only" one element was added, information that the remaster was made from DSD256 files. Unfortunately, there is still no information about what it looks like with SACDs; A.D. 2022.

The interview was published only in Polish, so it was not noticed in the world. But it was then that what turned out to be a scandal began. This seems not to be a problem for the label's engineers, as they talk openly about their work and are excellent at it. The problem is with the owner. The scandal is not about cutting discs from digital files, which is the norm, but about misleading customers as to the basic properties of the product they are buying. So I am very curious if there will be any daredevils who will sue MoFi.

Because honesty pays off. And the damage to the image may be irreparable. Pride and well-being are often more important than other values such as money. I had it in mind when I read the article in "The Washington Post", which immediately stuck to the reality I was in. We spent our holidays in Barcelona and Madrid. Beautiful places, great people, delicious cuisine, and those alcohols ...

But there was one thing that hurt me throughout the trip - the sight of Russian tourists and the Russian language omnipresent in almost every menu and guide of the museum. And yet a cost-free action would do it, it would be enough to give up the Russian language and replace it with Ukrainian. A small thing, but on the other hand, it would harm the pride and well-being of people who murder their neighbors. Most importantly, however, it would be fair. Because, once again, honesty makes sense and greed usually ends in a scandal.

Chief editor

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Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the”, “”“”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

Once a year, we prepare a printed edition of one of reviews published online. This unique, limited collector's edition is given to the visitors of the Audio Show in Warsaw, Poland, held in November of each year.

For years, "High Fidelity" has been cooperating with other audio magazines, including “Enjoy the” and “” in the U.S. and “”  in Germany. Our reviews have also been published by “”.

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