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Mobile Fidelity Caught In Scam


thebes
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Mo-Fi, one of the vinyl industries purveyors of top quality-top pricey record re-issues has been nailed for putting out records with the use of digital, rather than, analogue, files in its pressings. No telling how long they have been doing this but they were outed by a record store owner who also has an online audio talk show.  Big names, such has Michael Fremmer, who took Mo-Fi's side have also weighed in.

 

My feeling is that it was wrong and will probably affect re-sale value on those particular pressings, and anger their numerous vinyl junky fans.

 

Following is a link to the article, but if you can't access it I'll post some excerpts below.

 

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

 

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

MoFi claimed its expensive reissues were purely analog reproductions. It had been deceiving its customer base for years.

Mike Esposito still won’t say who gave him the tip about the records. But on July 14, he went public with an explosive claim.

In a sometimes halting video posted to the YouTube channel of his Phoenix record shop, the ‘In’ Groove, Esposito said that “pretty reliable sources” told him that MoFi (Mobile Fidelity), the Sebastopol, Calif., company that has prided itself on using original master tapes for its pricey reissues, had actually been using digital files in its production chain. In the world of audiophiles — where provenance is everything and the quest is to get as close to the sound of an album’s original recording as possible — digital is considered almost unholy. And using digital while claiming not to is the gravest sin a manufacturer can commit.

There was immediate pushback to Esposito’s video, including from some of the bigger names in the passionate audio community.

Shane Buettner, owner of Intervention Records, another company in the reissue business, defended MoFi on the popular message board moderated by mastering engineer Steve Hoffman. He remembered running into one of the company’s engineers at a recording studio working with a master tape. “I know their process and it’s legit,” he wrote. Michael Fremer, the dean of audiophile writing, was less measured. He slammed Esposito for irresponsibly spreading rumors and said his own unnamed source told him the record store owner was wrong. “Will speculative click bait YouTube videos claiming otherwise be taken down after reading this?” he tweeted.

But at MoFi’s headquarters in Sebastopol, John Wood knew the truth. The company’s executive vice president of product development felt crushed as he watched Esposito’s video. He has worked at the company for more than 26 years and, like most of his colleagues, championed its much lauded direct-from-master chain. Wood could hear the disappointment as Esposito, while delivering his report, also said that some of MoFi’s albums were among his favorites. So Wood picked up the phone, called Esposito and suggested he fly to California for a tour. It’s an invite he would later regret.

That visit resulted in a second video, published July 20, in which MoFi’s engineers confirmed, with a kind of awkward casualness, that Esposito was correct with his claims. The company that made its name on authenticity had been deceptive about its practices. The episode is part of a crisis MoFi now concedes was mishandled.

“It’s the biggest debacle I’ve ever seen in the vinyl realm,” says Kevin Gray, a mastering engineer who has not worked with MoFi but has produced reissues of musicians such as John Coltrane and Marvin Gaye.

“They were completely deceitful,” says Richard Drutman, 50, a New York City filmmaker who has purchased more than 50 of MoFi’s albums over the years. “I never would have ordered a single Mobile Fidelity product if I had known it was sourced from a digital master.”

Record labels use digital files to make albums all the time: It’s been the industry norm for more than a decade. But a few specialty houses — the Kansas-based Analogue Productions, London’s Electric Recording Co. and MoFi among them — have long advocated for the warmth of analog.

“Not that you can’t make good records with digital, but it just isn’t as natural as when you use the original tape,” says Bernie Grundman, 78, the mastering engineer who worked on the original recordings of Steely Dan’s “Aja,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.”

 

Mobile Fidelity and its parent company, Music Direct, were slow to respond to the revelation. But last week, the company began updating the sourcing information on its website and also agreed to its first interview, with The Washington Post. The company says it first used DSD, or Direct Stream Digital technology, on a 2011 reissue of Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” By the end of 2011, 60 percent of its vinyl releases incorporated DSD. All but one of the reissues as part of its One-Step series, which include $125 box-set editions of Santana, Carole King and the Eagles, have used that technology. Going forward, all MoFi cutting will incorporate DSD.

Syd Schwartz, Mobile Fidelity’s chief marketing officer, made an apology.

 

“Mobile Fidelity makes great records, the best-sounding records that you can buy,” he said. “There had been choices made over the years and choices in marketing that have led to confusion and anger and a lot of questions, and there were narratives that had been propagating for a while that were untrue or false or myths. We were wrong not to have addressed this sooner.”

 

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Thanks, thebes, for the helpful post of link and excerpt and your thoughts.  Also to billybob for quickly posting the link a few days ago.

 

This is beyond odd and deceitful, especially considering their target audience.  Also very interesting how this finally broke out into the light of day, and the company's late admission and the CEO's attempt to keep this underwraps even as his employees were finally dishing the dirt.

 

billybob, owner's retort ?  I probably have some idea what it is ( Still sounds great, what's the big deal ? ) but curious to follow up on it.

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5 minutes ago, Racer X said:

billybob, owner's retort ?  I probably have some idea what it is ( Still sounds great, what's the big deal ? ) but curious to follow up on it.

Saw an article yesterday where the owner responded. Maybe it will show up again. Thanks!

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Maybe loop. No just glanced at article briefly.

Something to the effect that mastertapes not available for some so...Thebes topic so, more interested in what he has to say and others like you.

Thanks!

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This is a side note... The best vinyl album I have is Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms. It was recorded on a Sony 24 track digital recorder ... The LP sounds terrific.

 

The recorder also only did 16 bit/ and 44.1 or 48Khz sampling.

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36 minutes ago, Marvel said:

This is a side note... The best vinyl album I have is Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms. It was recorded on a Sony 24 track digital recorder ... The LP sounds terrific.

 

The recorder also only did 16 bit/ and 44.1 or 48Khz sampling.

I have it on both vinyl and CD. Amazingly, the vinyl sounds better.

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Very interesting take.  Really don't follow the audio press at all anymore, fed up with the Stereophile well before my subscription ran out 12 years ago.

 

Very thankful for all the expertise and helpfulness right here....

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2 hours ago, billybob said:

Maybe loop. No just glanced at article briefly.

Something to the effect that mastertapes not available for some so...Thebes topic so, more interested in what he has to say and others like you.

Thanks!

To my mind the company should have been honest with its recording chain.  I'm a vinyl guy and while I love the detail in most cd's the vinyl gets me grooving. It's often easier on the ears yet somehow brings more to the table than digital. However, that's a great generalization.  After all many records were recorded for vinyl using digital methods, particularly from, say the late 80's on when you had multiple formats, cd, cassette, eight track and vinyl. You had vinyl releases recorded using digital methods and digital releases made using tape.

 

One telling point in the article is that Mo-Fi is able to do bigger runs on a "One- Step"using the digital technology, thus increasing their profit. The article indicates that master tapes could take a beating on those larger runs without that cheating, something the holders of the tape (ie record companies) would not want happening.

 

This is a classic case of greed ruining an iconic brand or product.  New Coke anyone?  It's particularly stupid because the people that buy these pressing are fanatics about their music, not some casual buyer.

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My angle on this is Fremer's reaction. I don't know him and what I am about to say is not critical of him personally.

 

There is a feeling among many professions that unless you possess a degree in the field and you are connected with academia, what is referred to as "The Academy" regardless of field, that you should not publicly comment or educate or have commercial practice in that field. For doctors, lawyers, certain science fields, this all is correct. I might add that if you practice in a field, you should obey the ethics of that community, because they are there for good reasons.

 

However, to say that Academy professionals are the only ones who should address issues in their fields is ludicrous, territorial and ultimately sad. I understand that people with expensive educations feel cheated when a non-Academy person takes center stage on what "should be" their professional interests. I've run into this myself. 

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were/are not engineers. The information explosion of the last 20 years has opened up new vectors of learning and knowledge, and academia is struggling to adapt.

 

For audio, the non-Academy folks have taken us in some interesting directions and built up the industry. It's true that some of those directions have been trips to charlatan la-la land, but, well, caveat emptor.

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2 hours ago, Edgar said:

I have it on both vinyl and CD. Amazingly, the vinyl sounds better.

 

In my experience, LPs often sound better than CDs, but DVDs sound better than both of them.

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21 minutes ago, Islander said:

 

In my experience, LPs often sound better than CDs, but DVDs sound better than both of them.

Maybe, but if it was digitally mastered at 44.1 kHz, then the CD should be a more faithful representation of the master.

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Dr. AIX, Mark Waldrep's book on "Music and Audio" lays it all out in the open. He states there are very few recordings released nowadays that have not gone through an A/D and the D/A at least once if not a few times. Reason is because most professional equipment is digital. Will you be able to find a specialty outfit that guarantees it is all analog from start to finish---maybe.

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16 minutes ago, Edgar said:

Maybe, but if it was digitally mastered at 44.1 kHz, then the CD should be a more faithful representation of the master.

 

But DVD 24 / 96, even if the source just 44.1 or 48, the upsample shouldn't hurt, although some maintain 44.1 to 96 problematic. 

 

For me, 320 kps mp3s almost same as 44.1 cds, just my quick conclusion when I tried to compare, your mileage may vary.

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15 minutes ago, Edgar said:

Maybe, but if it was digitally mastered at 44.1 kHz, then the CD should be a more faithful representation of the master.

Can you say"loudness wars". CDs and LPs get mastered differently on purpose. Yes the Redbook CD SHOULD BE ABLE to best an LP by tons. Frequency response should be better, none of that RIAA pre emphasis/de emphasis non sense. Signal to noise and dynamic range should be better by 20-30 dB. But unfortunately these advantages most times are thrown in the garbage ON PURPOSE. It really is a shame.

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2 minutes ago, Racer X said:

 

But DVD 24 / 96, even if the source just 44.1 or 48, the upsample shouldn't hurt, although some maintain 44.1 to 96 problematic. 

 

For me, 320 kps mp3s almost same as 44.1 cds, just my quick conclusion when I tried to compare, your mileage may vary.

Assuming that @Marvel was correct, that it was mastered at 44.1/16, then the 24 bits on DVD won't really help except to prevent numerical overflow in the mix. And non-integer upsampling (like 44.1 to 96) is never quite as clean as integer upsampling (like 48 to 96).

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