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The MoFi predicament

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The fallout from the MoFi/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab/Music Direct debacle is far-reaching. It affects not only audiophiles and vinyl enthusiasts, but the entire HiFi industry if not directly, then by association.

Let’s be clear: if indeed MoFi is now transparent after coaxing to publish the provenance and digital step(s) in its releases, they could/should have done so beginning in 2015 when their much-vaunted GAIN™ System was introduced. Having pored over the now transparent (sic) online MoFi catalogue it would appear that in their lexicon GAIN = DIGITAL. I was disheartened to learn that my recent acquisition of MoFi’s Miles Davis Kind of Blue 2-LP 45RPM set contained a digital step making use of a DSD 64 transfer. I would have been content purchasing the set, even with the digital step, had MoFi been upfront about it.

I waited to write this commentary because rather than dogpile on the issue and work from assumptions and conjecture, I wanted to give those in the middle of this controversy at MoFi/MFSL/Music Direct the benefit of the doubt. I did write to their newly placed Director of Marketing and Communications with a set of interview questions and, when I did not hear back for almost a week, I wrote to Jim Davis, the President of MoFi/MFSL/Music Direct to get some answers. His response to me was to read his public statement and for me to know that, moving forward, MFSL will be transparent in providing the provenance and source information for all of its releases.

What we now know is this:

  • Not all MoFi releases are 100% analog
  • MoFi is indeed going to document their releases retroactively and moving forward
  • The GAIN™ System of 2015 and onward does indeed incorporate digital steps in processing
  • My Miles Davis Kind of Blue 2-LP 45 RPM contains a DSD 64 digital step.

The TRUST model between MoFi/MFSL/Music Direct has been broken. Now that they are admitting the misstep, the question is why would they hide this from the audiophile community and the public for so long? Why does it take public humiliation to bring about this newfound transparency? It is not only MoFi/MFSL that need to be transparent but Music Direct and all of its employees and representatives who engage with audiophiles and the general public. As a reviewer and correspondent for Dagogo I have attended numerous HiFi shows all over since 2017, well after 2015 and the launch of  MoFi GAIN™ System. At these shows, I sat through presentations and seminars touting and lauding the latest and greatest MoFi re-issues and not once did any Mofi/MFSL/Music Direct personalities, self-proclaimed analog aficionados, or dealers (online and/or brick and mortar) mention anything about digital steps in the process.

Whatever we, as audiophiles and vinyl enthusiasts, may have wanted to believe about the re-issues being 100% analog, the onus was/is on MoFi/MFSL/Music Direct and its representatives/agents to come clean and not, by omission, allow their customers to believe otherwise. But they did not. There is no getting around this fact. It makes me wonder what else did they know and not share internally with their staff. Were their representatives at HiFi shows knowingly or unknowingly spreading the MoFi gospel?

In the past few weeks, there have been folks online pondering lawsuits against Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab for fraud and misrepresentation, not to mention class-action filings. And there were those who have decided that they would not only stop buying MoFi re-issues but boycott parent company Music Direct as well.

Discogs and eBay serve many purposes for many people. For this commentary, I set up alerts for various MoFi re-issues to track their prices on the secondary market in the wake of this debacle. I can tell you from this limited research that prices are indeed dropping, not precipitously yet, but meaningfully. I managed to track down consistent sellers of sealed MoFi re-issues (these are probably speculators), and they are looking to steadily diminish their stocks/inventory.

Am I going to sell my sealed Miles Davis Kind of Blue 2-LP 45 RPM?  No. I did think long and hard about it, but I am going to crack it open this coming weekend. I have come to terms with this purchase over these past few weeks, and it’s not something I ever thought I would have to do with a MoFi release.

Now, where does this leave other purveyors of audiophile re-issues/releases? Analogue Productions, for example, saw fit to create a YouTube video to address this issue concerning their processes. How many others will do likewise? I wonder how they feel about all this and about being placed in such a position? And re: YouTube, who at MoFi/MFSL/Music Direct thought that the best media vehicle to initially respond to this debacle would be a YouTube video in response to the claims made by an independent YouTube channel whose claims (up to that point) were not rooted in fact until Jim Davis of MoFi/MFSL/Music Direct made his public statement and proclamation of transparency.

How many of you are going to purchase/acquire MoFi re-issues? Or re-issues and releases from any of the other myriad of companies/labels? And what are your feelings in all of this?

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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26 Responses to The MoFi predicament


  1. Richard Colburn says:

    I’m ambivalent about this. Honestly, if the record sounds good to you, what’s the big deal?
    If you’re OCD about provenance, then worry, shout, gnash your teeth, and scream away.

    • Ryan says:

      Sounding great remains unchallenged. They could have been honest about the digital step and let the market decide if they accept and purchase. Knowing people are passionate analog purists and knowingly misleading them to believe it’s a sole analog chain, and milking said chain for every penny is fraud.

    • It is not entirely about the quality of the recordings and their provenance, but more to do with the broken trust between the audiophile, the vinyl enthusiast, the consumer and MoFi, MSFL and Music Direct. If they know it NOW, they knew it THEN!!! Obfuscation by omission. Letting people believe what they want to believe, for so long, might very well be worse than lying to them directly. This went on for eight calendar years. It’s not like way back in 2015, 20 years AFTER the introduction of the World Wide Web each and every re-issue couldn’t have had its provenance listed as it is now. One direct and honest data point accompanying each reissue’s web page. That’s all that was needed from 2015 onward, but one could only surmise what that might have done to sales figures. Some folks might have paused and thought twice about making purchases.

      It is not like the HiFi community is so large, it is rather tight-knit and time will tell of the knock-on effects. I alluded to what I’m seeing presently in the secondary market online. There are those who have cancelled their Michael Jackson Thriller pre-orders and have put the sealed MoFi boxes/sets up for sale on eBay and/or Discogs. This entire matter should serve as a cautionary tale. The buyer should be made aware and now hopefully, moving forward, the necessary information not just from MoFi/MFSL will be made available but from all the other purveyors of audiophile LPs as well.

    • Andy Thomas says:

      ‘The big deal,’ I’d suggest, is $125 for a OneStep, sold as analogue, but now discovered to be digitally sourced.

      There is no precedent in the market for a digitally sourced record at $125 because, frankly, there is no market for a record at that price point. MoFi knew that, hence the deception, and why this qualifies as fraud.

      For me, the issue isn’t provenance. The issue is deception designed to extract a premium not justified in the market.

  2. Marc Silver says:

    I am very surprised MFSL didn’t disclose this when it occurred. When I consulted with MFSL back in the 1990s something like this never would have happened. They were staunchly dedicated to the analog format from beginning to end. Brad Miller would be rolling over in his grave. I have no problem with MFSL using digital mastering but if they are they need to be transparent.

  3. Ron says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful analysis of the implications of Mobile Fidelity’s history of misleading statements and its new transparency!

  4. I, too, have MoFi 45rpm records from the last few years that I thought was from purely analog production process. This debacle just informed me that I wasn’t experiencing pure analog through those LPs per se. Whether the music is sounding good is beside the point; I suspect some readers wouldn’t have bought some of them, much less a second copy for safekeeping and backup like I did.

    That said, we are living in an age in which any documents, pictures, movies and music worth saving are digitized and even stored in the cloud. In fact, witness the remastering of legendary films, and even the practice of reshooting and touching up scenes in such movies as Star Wars and E.T. In this case, I just wish we weren’t all misled.

  5. Bob Dog says:

    My issue is that their business model is built around creating false scarcity to inflate prices. Paying $125 for a record is insane. If the borderline OCD collectors stopped buying MOFI they’d go out of business. I wish these revelations would make the OCD crowd snap out of it but I don’t think it will. The mentally ill love their mental illness.

  6. Danny says:

    This episode is sort of funny.
    Some of the vinyl fanatics never acknowledge that about 99% of modern vinyl releases are either sourced from a digital master, or have a digital step in the production. It’s not at all unique to Mofi.
    If there’s a digital source or digital step in the process, the “superiority of analog” you claim to be hearing isn’t there.
    You are hearing some kiind of so called “analog like” euphonic (to your ears) distortion introduced by the LP making process after the digital stage.
    If you like that sound great, buy the vinyl. But claiming it shows “analog” as superior to digital is simply a false claim.

  7. BB says:

    I agree, in the whole, with David Blumenstein’s comment. It is the omission of of truthful representation that is the most damaging deception. I have purchased many MFSL Lp’s , going back at 35-40 years, including many over the past 10 years. Some of the 1 Steps are fantastic, and others are significantly less so. I care about how they sound, not so much how they are mastered. Over time I have become less enchanted with most of the modern remasterings, but there are exceptions, and those production houses are quite dependable, but they are few. The piece of the MFSL story that pisses me off the most is the exorbitant price (in relation to the implied scarcity of availability) are the 1-Steps, now revealed as DSD mastered. The packaging is elegant, consumes a lot of space, but as we understand it now, do not need to be rarefied or overly-monetized. A cynical money making deception of the adoring public- How will this play back? What a pity!

  8. Kent says:

    At the end of the day, I am buying an experience; I either like the experience or I don’t. And while I understand the argument, for me personally the arbiter is ultimately and exclusively the music and how I react to it. A change of providence does not personally change my level of satisfaction with the product. Music I’ve treasured in the past will continue to be treasured and future releases shall stand on their own merit.

  9. John says:

    I understand the ethical stance some are taking. The “They lied. I dont deal with liars”. Fair enough. But let me counter: Will you be dumping your copy of Paul Simons Graceland knowing how he basically stole from Los Lobos? What about your 50’s records that Little Richard got cheated money on by those who stole from him? etc etc Point: The music business is full of liars, cheats and swindles. You going to dump your Dylan albums? He was complete asshat to many folks for years. And abusive to his wife? Where are your ethics there?

    It all gets a bit silly now doesnt it.

    Do the Mofi’s sound better in some cases than any other version? That imo is the bottom line. Do I like they lied? Nope. But I am about listening to records. And trying to find the best. The rest is just hypocritical hogwash built on some high horse ethical stance that no one is being across the board with. Get back to me when you toss your Zeppelin albums for their blantant ripping off of black blues artists.

  10. David C. Snyder says:

    I always enjoy David Blumenstein’s writing. Well done. On the topic, as many have pointed out, sound quality is not the issue here. I know many audiophiles who are also collectors. Provenance is one of several factors that contributes to an item’s collectability and to the value of a collection.

  11. Steve H says:

    This just the latest example of people fooling audiophiles. I’m sure there is another one on the horizon.

    The audio press is generally either asleep at the wheel or helping cover stuff up so it is not unreasonable to think they could get away it.

  12. Bluck Mutter says:

    The (OCD?) people who live for vinyl reissues need to face reality… the master tapes for the recordings they need multiple releases of (just in case the last one wasnt really the bees knees) are getting old and creaky/leaky.

    In many cases, raw digital transfers of the master tapes are all that will/can remain (esp after the 2008 Universal fire).

    So the decisons that you will have to make going forward are (1) buying a re-release that uses say a second/third generation saftey copy of the original master [yuk] or (2) a re-release using a hi res digital copy from the original master [more yuk]

    And even if the original master still exits, in many cases their use by date has long gone so basing a re-release on them cant improve on earlier re-releases.

    Orignal Master tapes have only so much blood to give so maybe its time to give up chasing the Holy Grail (cause you may find the providers of the Grail took an airplane and not a horse to get you there)

    Bluck

    PS Amusingly, I notice that yet another Kind of Blue re-release is now available!!!!

    • Al Moritz says:

      It is also funny how die-hard vinyl audiophiles are enthusiastic about the current “vinyl revival”. Most of current vinyl is digitally sourced, even starting with the recording itself, and youngsters listen on turntables with, wait, USB output. Sure, it is a vinyl revival alright, but how is that an “analog revival” in the old-fashioned way, something to get all excited about?

      Don’t get me wrong, while I am a digital-only guy (old-fashioned CD playback, beats most streaming) I love the true analog experience in friends’ systems. And yes, I am genuinely excited about the recent Blue Note Tone Poet series for example (apparently all-analog). But to equate the current “vinyl revival” with a revival of analog? Please, don’t make me laugh.

  13. Someone had questioned the point I was making about “dogpiling” and they took my quote out of context. Too many had jumped on the bandwagon PRIOR to Jim Davis’ public statement and promise of transparency. I wanted to see what form this transparency would take and to what extent it would be executed before publishing anything on the subject. And I also wanted to gauge the fullness of the “mea culpa”.

    * Refer to paragraph #3 in the piece above.

  14. tony says:

    I applaud your candor and the fact that you are not discounting the MoFi customers who are experiencing a variety of emotions, most of them negative, about the digital step revelation in some very expensive, premium priced vinyl releases.
    So many of the audiophile and vinyl pundits have taken an apologetic stance that belittles the disillusioned consumer’s view point.
    It is disappointing that they so easily dismiss the outcry and minimize any wrongdoing.
    And yes, I too have heard the MoFi one-step demos at the AXPONA audio show. One could easily imagine the responses if the word digital were mentioned as part of the process.

  15. Grainger Morrison says:

    I have been collecting MOFI since the ’70s. I’m 72. I have a number of MOFI releases. My One Step Abraxas sounds better than my MOFI 33.33 release of the same album. So I’ll keep it.

    But my future purchases will be more well considered.

  16. jeromelang says:

    All of the MFSL SACDs that I have tried (roughly 26, out of around 50 purchased) have sounded worst off against the same recordings on SACDs from other reissue labels (Analogue Productions) and from the original labels. Many others have also articulated the same experience. So, there might even be an issue with the so-called dsd “masters” or the transfer processes that Mofi is using to reissue their SACDs.

  17. Al Moritz says:

    Washington Post: How a Phoenix record store owner set the audiophile world on fire

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/music/2022/08/05/mofi-records-analog-digital-scandal/

    • Al, what that summary report doesn’t mention is how a Phoenix record store owner managed to determine that there were indeed digital steps being taken by MoFi. The reporter did a fine job with the timeline, providing context along the way. What is interesting mind you in the days afterwards a number of folks were coming to the defence of MoFi, even going as far as to challenge the claims being made. MoFi’s YouTube response video where its engineers dithered with their responses, talking over each other added some fuel to the fire, but it took the statement and promise of Music Direct/MoFis President to factually admit the Digital steps being taken.

      I communicated with the reporter today and not-so oddly, he had read my piece. Am just saying that the article in the Washington Post does NOT end things.

      https://archive.ph/z83rO

      • Michael Fremer’s latest Tracking Angle video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz9Zi3uAteA&t=445s seeks to rebut some of what was reported in the Washington Post article. Most notably ‘in the absence of a source coming forward, Michael of In Groove and Michael of 45 RPM made their claims based on rumour’, and Fremer further adds that he knew of the rumour” but could not prove it.” Odd then, that Mobile Fidelity would react as it did, in so quickly granting Michael Esposito an interview. Would they not have first asked him for proof of his claims?

  18. Peter Veth says:

    I would be interested to buy these DSD files , is MoFi offering this?

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