The MOFI dilemma

July 22, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

For those of you that are into controversies here’s a juicy one for you. The fine folks at MoFi, the wonderful company that makes remastered audiophile vinyl of classic music, like that of Santana and others, seem embroiled in a bit of controversy. (Wait! Audiophiles and controversy?)

I would normally not even think of getting anywhere near this hornet’s nest but it’s been on the PS forums and a number of you have asked me to offer an opinion on the matter.

Briefly, a YouTube video on the “in” Groove channel interviews the engineers at MoFi. In that interview they let folks know that in the process of copying the original master analog tape they use DSD as the recording and capture medium.

I guess the controversy on our forums surrounding all this concerns the use of DSD/digital in what most people thought was always an all analog chain.

I am not going to comment at all on what people thought or why, but I will chime in and offer my opinion on this practice of theirs using DSD256 to capture the original analog master.

Bravo! Well done and if it were me I’d do exactly the same thing. DSD256 is the perfect capture medium to accurately and without affectation save these classic analog recordings.

Though, to some it’s heresy.

Certainly, the ideal situation would be for the MoFi engineers to have days of access to those masters and cut the vinyl stampers directly from the analog master. That’d be nice but apparently not practical. In many cases they have but a few hours of access to those masters and they must make a copy.

And, that’s really it. The last thing you’d want to do is lose a generation by copying the analog master to yet another analog tape. That to me is criminal IF you have access to DSD256 recording technology.

Hats off to the folks at MoFi for being brave enough to do it right.

As to all the fur and feathers flying over this “reveal”, I leave that to others.

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52 comments on “The MOFI dilemma”

  1. https://mofi.com/pages/technologies#supervinyl

    MFSL appear to be far more transparent about this than most companies. They are very clear that they do full analogue using TdeP machinery, analogue masters using DSD transfers, and SACD releases. They are priced accordingly.

    Given DSD was intended as an archive format in the first place, it seems to make sense.

    1. Thanks, Steven. That seems pretty clear.

      They master in in DSD, which is perfect for that purpose, and they make the stampers using a pure analog chain. That’s exactly what we do and the right way to do it.

      Looks to me people are pissed because they thought one thing and now realize they were wrong.

      BTW, I would be the first to jump up and down if they were actually lying to people. Just because we’re in the same industry doesn’t matter to me when it comes to being honest.

      A clear distinction should be made between the Mastering process and the cutting process.

      From the link you sent:

      “GAIN 2™ Mastering Technology for Ultradisc UHR™ Hybrid SACD and Ultradisc II™ 24kt Gold CDs
      For over twenty years, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab has continually searched for the ultimate audio experience. During this search MFSL engineers and associates created The GAIN™ System, a proprietary mastering technology which brought warmth and ambience to the compact disc format. A few years ago – with higher resolution formats on the horizon – the vision of GAIN 2™ began. As it stands today, GAIN 2™ is one of the greatest technical advancements in analogue and digital technology in the last ten years. It consists of a series of critical modifications and new components to Mobile Fidelity’s proprietary mastering chain.

      We feel that GAIN 2™ has come extremely close to meeting this goal. The key accomplishments of GAIN 2™ System are 1) the ability to extract all the musical information as possible through the Ultra High bandwidth analogue tape playback system with proprietary custom tape playback heads, reproducer electronics and 2) transparently capturing and storing that information with the Direct Stream Digital recording system.

      GAIN 2™ Ultra Analog™ System for Vinyl
      GAIN 2 Ultra Analog™ is a proprietary cutting system built and designed by legendary design genius Tim De Paravicini, with consultation from one of MFSL’s founding fathers – Stan Ricker, an audio engineer responsible for many of MFSL’s most heralded past releases.

      The GAIN 2 Ultra Analog™ system is comprised of a Studer™ tape machine with customized reproduction electronics* and handcrafted cutting amps that drive an Ortofon cutting head on a restored Neumann VMS-70 lathe. (*It is worth noting that independent studies have confirmed that the GAIN 2 Ultra Analog™ system can unveil sonic information all the way up to 122kHz!)

      First and foremost, we only utilize first generation original master recordings as source material for our releases. Our lacquers are then plated in a specialized process that protects transients in the musical signal. (Due to this process, there may be occasional pops or ticks inherent in initial play back, but as the disc is played more, a high quality stylus will actually polish the grooves and improve the sound). We further ensure optimum sound quality by strictly limiting the number of pressings printed for each release. These limited editions, in addition to being collectors’ items, ensure that the quality of the last pressing matches the quality of the first.

      As you can imagine, all these efforts involve a tremendous amount of time, technology, cost and effort. The introduction of GAIN 2 Ultra Analog™ maintains Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s position as the world’s leading audiophile record label, where a passion for music with extraordinary sound quality matters most.”

      1. Hi Paul,

        I’m not pissed at all 😀
        But I understand the controversy and different opinions.

        Sound matters, that’s all, doesn’t it?

        I know that Octave is a nall digital/DSD-label. It is clear and I understand the policy. For MoFi it wasn’t so clear 😉

      2. The problem is Paul, you have too little information also historically to see it differently than you now do. The first video I posted just gives a hint how they tried to avoid being clear, how they changed incorrect website content in the background after practicing differently than they told. The second one shows them lying and there’s more.
        I just can say, the whole scene wouldn’t be so upset if the topic just was a few audiophiles who wanted to understand something that wasn’t told. This topic is nothing for a short post and people just joining it for a moment.

      3. To be fair they are being transparent after the storm. This is the previous version of the page and doesn’t mention DSD neither in the diagram nor in the content:

        https://web.archive.org/web/20220217213028/https://mofi.com/pages/technologies

        I think the sound or the benefits of this process is not in dispute, but the fact that the company was never fully transparent and people built collections under the assumption that the chain was fully analog.

        MoFi like many companies in other industries is selling fake scarcity. It would be perfectly reasonable to charge a premium (i.e. $40 / record) for the great job they do, but charging $100 per record apparently due an all analog chain is misleading in my opinion.

        They had many opportunities to come clean and choose to silently re-write history while the window is closing. If this controversy ends up in a trial MoFi won’t be in a good position.

  2. I fully agree with your findings about the initial reason for them and that this (if DSD256 is used) is probably much better than making an analog copy in their situation. And I understand that decision from their point of view as they don’t seem to get enough masters anymore to their facility (others still seem to get them).

    Anyway I’d prefer a mastering directly from the analog master tapes (as others still do).

    And no, not hats off!

    At least not generally. Shame on them (Mofi, Musicdirect, whoever responsible) for lying to and cheating people about their mastering practice for so long! It’s not what they did in mastering for certain reasons, it’s how they communicated and held back about it for commercial reasons.

    I understand that you as part of the industry can’t or don’t want to go into that matter, but it must be said. They were only transparent as far as their financial advantage of it went. I think they showed about the opposite of your own usual pretense and character.

    1. I totally agree with you!
      It’s about honesty. If you tell your customers, that the complete chain is analogue and you then say (after years) that there are digital steps in the chain (no matter how sophisticated and no matter that there are serious reasons to do so), than you have to be honest and tell it. But in the end of had to sound good – that’s in fact the most important point. 🙂

      1. Yes indeed!

        Wouldn’t they have long time tried and successfully made money noteworthy based on the misleading implications and documented lies about what they offer, we would concentrate on just the quality of their products.

        I understand Paul’s focus on the pure marketing support for the technology he also uses, but that’s a too superficial approach to this topic imo.

        The fact alone, that part of Mofi’s releases are clearly better and others clearly worse sounding than competing releases, doesn’t prove anything like that the sound quality is good or bad because or inspite of the DSD step, but that it’s depending on mainly source quality, mastering gear and skill, combined with the advantage of One Step process (where used) over normal 3 Step process LP’s.

    2. Well, I have to agree with you if that’s what happened. Is that what happened? I honestly don’t know as I haven’t been paying attention.

      From the little I saw from a quick scan of the issue it appears to me that people thought they were all analog but they never said they were. Please correct me if that’s wrong.

      Even their one step stamper business focuses on the vinyl cutting and pressing of it.

      If there is a blatant lie being promoted please point it out.

      1. Yes Paul, there are several obvious evidences in their way to communicate and imply to their advantage and against facts and there are also YouTube videos proofing they told the opposite (while practicing differently) of what they tell today.

        You would have to go through several current YouTube’s, Fremers statements what happened in his communication with them, go through the old YouTube videos of the 2 or 3 of the Mofi guys saying they use an all analog process, read their LP inserts and how they have changed just to be legally safe while still implicating wrongly etc. to get it all.

        I can just post one link here and do it with the one that covers the intentionally misleading implications, maybe this is a good start. For those like me who rarely have the patience to watch lengthy videos it needs a bit of scrolling forward.

        https://youtu.be/S6kFRQ9NTDw

        1. jn, I looked at your link and it does nothing to convince me that there was some grand conspiracy to mislead the consumers of MFSL vinyl releases. The minor changes in their literature over the years does not look like a conspiracy to me. The minor confusions about what happened years ago does not surprise me. Does MFSL’s advertising make it sound like they have the best process in the world? Yes, of course, it does. Every company does that.

          What is clear to me is that MFSL should have been more complete in their description of their process. Their marketing / media people should have understood how the internet, youtube and social media complex works and behaves and been in front of this instead of behind it.

          What amazes me is how many people are more concerned with how imperfect MFSL’s advertising is versus how great their vinyl sounds.

          1. If it didn’t convince you yet, then look at this video and the small sequence from 1:30 where they say that their LP cutting system is all analog. The opposite of what they say today. Seems to be 5 years old, a time when they cut from digital since about 9-10 years in my understanding of the facts.

            https://youtu.be/z-td3Uk5TIQ

            1. I hate this, everyone wants to say that MFSL is lying. What that mastering engineer was talking about at 1:30 in the interview is that their cutting system is an all analog system, that is what he meant when he said “all analog chain”. He had no idea that there would be this uproar 5 or 6 years later.

              1. Well he talks about the system they use in the cutting room and that people often want to know if the mastering chain is all analog and then he said yes and that the cutting chain is from Paravincini. Mastering and cutting (if done all analog) is practically the same, there’s no differentiation, Kevin Gray once told me. So they certainly knew what the question aimed for and answered it by implying all is analog and left out the DSD fact.

                If you don’t see any intention of them, going into explicit details (from analog masters to the analog part of the chain and cutting) since years, but to not mention with a word, the cutting from DSD although they now tell how proud and convinced they are by this step, then I can’t help us 2. It can’t get more obvious how they wanted to utilize what people understood by their omitting of only this DSD fact and answering all questions regarding “all analog” with yes.

      2. As you can see from the pinned comment on this page, meanwhile written evidences occur (which was to expect) where Mofi denied the digital step. Mostly on the typical, legally not clearly critical way.

        It certainly all is on a too unsure level that people like you jump up as you said or risk a strong opinion or even rethink their first reflexes (which I really understand as it’s still risky), but it will get more and more obvious how Mofi acted…it’s like in politics…the path from denial over skepticism to evidence is long and slow but steady. At the end this is an unimportant topic, but it may hurt them anyway that they lost all credit in the scene (aside of the great quality of a good part of their releases)

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6kFRQ9NTDw

  3. The topic of capture with DSD & transfer to vinyl has already been discussed here a few months ago.
    This is nothing new & nothing to be overly concerned about.
    I believe that my comment at the time was that it is akin to hybrid amplifiers…part vacuum tube,
    part solid state for the best result.

    Today’s Jan 6th Committee Hearings are far more important than this ridiculous storm in a teacup.

    Meanwhile…A very warm welcome to America’s new Ambassador to Australia who arrived here today.
    Hello Caroline Kennedy 😀

  4. Paul, I agree 100%

    If you are interested you can see how crazy this thing has become by going to: https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/mobile-fidelity-cutting-vinyl-from-digital-since-a-long-time-ago.1150351/

    I have been a member on the above forum for almost 20 years. I think it is the best Music/Audio forum out there. This topic is getting about 500 posts a day! Below is what I post late last night on the above thread. It was post 6330. This morning the count is already up to 6511

    “Wow, this think has really caught fire.

    FWIW, I have personal experience having both the MoFi OMR SACD and the 45 RPM vinyl made from the same master. I almost always prefer the vinyl, not by a lot, but I prefer the vinyl. On occasion, I use my TASCAM DV-RA1000HD to make a DSD needle drop of the vinyl. The TASCAM records in DSD 128 but then down samples to DSD 64 for the output. It also has a Source / “Tape” toggle switch that lets you go between the two like a three head cassette deck use to do. The DSD copy of the vinyl sounds like vinyl, I can hardly tell the difference between the two and I know which is which. If the MoFi guys are making DSD 256 copies of the original master tape, IMHO, they are getting a perfect copy of that tape.”

    Much of the energy that drives this topic is that MoFi produces a series of records called “one step” records that sell for $125 ( I know that is crazy, so am I, I have about a dozen of them 😮 ). Some people who have bought these felt betrayed and cheated because they assumed these were pure analog and were very shocked and disappointed to find out that MoFi uses DSD256. The problem here is that the MoFi literature on the “one step” focused on the plating process of how MoFi made the stamper that is used to make the vinyl records and did not focus on how the actual music was transferred from the original master tape to the vinyl cutter head.

    Even though on a scale of 1 to 10 about problems in the world this is a 1.1 it is an excellent example of how important communication is. This could have all been avoided if MoFi had given more information on the album cover about the whole process.

  5. I was clueless on this issue until this morning when in my Facebook feed and then here are all kinds of reference to it. FB has a YouTube link to a guy’s site called My Own Devices and he is clear he is OK with this practice as well. As pointed out, using a finely calibrated machine to make a DSD digital copy is as good as it will get and can be copied and not deteriorate or be lost.

    I have not bought into replacing any of my vintage vinyl with any new remastered vinyl reissues. I am more than happy with the nostalgia (and to me the more than adequate sound quality) of the LP I paid $4 for back in the day, or, I paid $6 for in the used bin from the local record shop. A good cleaning of even the dirtiest of LP’s from the 60’s – early 80’s played back on my rig is good enough!

  6. Bravo MoFi for preserving the past. Great story, and a lesson to all the ‘analog purists’. In Vintage Audio, there are similar school’s of thought about keeping equipment “all original” and risk dramatic component failure or worse, a burned Power Transformer secondary winding.

  7. You know what. This is terrific. Great record labels like OCTAVE and MoFi just kicking ass and doing it right. Paul, this is a lovely post and about 5 days ago I watched that interview from the Run Out Groove YouTube channel.
    In the end I support both MoFi and Octave.

    Paul. For good measure I just want to say I just ordered the “Brazilian Beasts” and “ The Gas Pops” CDs. The music seems really appealing to me and a bit more sensible to my interests. I can’t wait to throw those discs on my new Tube Amp.
    I will definitely report back how much I end up loving these albums. Thank you for all that you do…especially music being recorded properly!! Oh goodness. It is such a lost art, but it really shouldn’t be.

    Love Octave Records. No politics. Just great sound. 🙂

  8. My perspective on this is simple. There’s definitely an uncharge for MoFi vinyl. I’m interested in how it sounds far more than how it was made. I’ve heard some really terrible recordings on CD that were remasters. Many of them went to the recycled record store immediately. If MoFi does a remaster and makes a recording that sounds better to my ears on my modern equipment, more power to them. I’m not going to get wrapped up in my knickers over the process. Blessed are they who do it right.

  9. I think the controversy is more about transparency. People have come to expect all analog from mofi. They had always been advertised that way. When the switch was made to dsd sources, it should have been revealed at that time.

  10. Is it like marrying Olive Oil thinking she was Extra Virgin and then later finding out from a taped interview with Popeye that it ‘aint so? 🙂

  11. I can’t imagine anything more ridiculous to be pissed about.
    Some “audiophiles” earn their reputations.

    PS…Brava to Cookie and her company!

    1. I also don’t understand those who now think different about a record they previously liked, that’s nonsense.

      But, that people are pissed when they got screwed is quite normal. In a way it’s as if those who have participated for years in Paul’s and Cookie’s stories about the benefits of DSD and buy their recordings, also because they find this quality claim important and want to support it, and then find out, that the two have been producing converted PCM for years and have spread their story just to have a unique selling point and increased sales. Being pissed about such behavior is independent of how the product sounds.

      I’d wonder if Paul and Cookie said, they wouldn’t expect much protest if they’d uncover they didn’t record in DSD all the time and people shouldn’t complain, as they liked their products as they did sound all the way.

      I understand this. And I bet 98% here buy the story and don’t hear the difference of DSD 😉 They buy here for several different reasons, too, aside of the „outstanding musical quality“ of these artists compared to others and a sound quality not only few other labels have, too.

      1. Sorry, I do not understand why people feel screwed.
        Do they like less the MOFI vinyl after knowing this?
        Did they think that they have the better sounding release and now they doubt it?
        Please! Trust your ears and trust yourself.

        1. Then I understand why you don’t understand, as this is exactly not the point. It’s not that their releases are bad or that they’d now be worse than before. Just read my post about the comparison to the DSD story.

          It’s not about sound quality or listening, it’s about marketing, pure commercial interest and honesty.

          1. I understand your point, what I do not see it is the importance of the techniques used.
            As I say in a more recent comment: would have MOFI reached the same sales figures if their customers had known about the digital step?
            The gigantic marketing campaign of the music companies and the interests of many other players in this business have pushed people to look for technics and not for sound.

            1. Importance aside (it may or may not be in the one case or the other), I think they definitely would have sold noticeably less when telling about the digital step. Lesser than they will now sell less…which would show they have done right to hide this information (for commercial reasons).

              Compare to someone selling food with advertising healthy or good quality ingredients. After it would turn out they don’t, their food still tastes the same…but people don’t buy it anymore n the same amount…and wouldn’t have done so if they directly told.

  12. Cool thread here.

    Always good to hear from Paul, Cookie and the ‘usual suspects’ here.

    My teenage collection of vinyl was lost, then 20-27 was out of touch, and finally back into listening, I was fortunate to get an early pressing on Sheffield. (Lincoln Mayorga III.

    This really kickstarted my love for quality recordings and genuine cutting processes.

    MoFi was in the mix also -including a Stones MoFi box set in ‘86 or so.

    Interesting controversy about MoFi.

  13. What is selling MOFI, Octave and others? What is people buying?
    For me the answer to first question is clear: something that sounds amazingly good.
    To the second question, the answer was not so clear for me although I thought that mainly people wants to buy excellent sound.
    Now I think that most of people is more interested in the way that in the result, in the used techniques than in the sound you get.
    What opens a new question: would have MOFI sold the same numbers if the people would have realized that they were using a digital step in the chain.
    The answer for me is clear ….. and then: SHAME ON US, AUDIOPHILES!

  14. In 2006 I noticed some deuteriation in some of my masters. The ampex 406 and 456 all had to be baked and immediately transferred to another format. After some research I landed on the Alesis HD 24 hard drive recorder and transferred over 300 master tapes. In listening tests none of my friends (audiophiles) could tell in blind tests which was the tape and visa versa. If I had not done this I would have lost 20 years of discreet 4 channel recordings. The HD 24 was the most ANALOG sounding of the digital systems I auditioned.

    1. I have an old Alesis myself. Too bad you did not use a TASCAM or Korg DSD recorder. Your audiophile friends would be hard press to tell which is which.

  15. I think most of the folks that are upset are the ones that thought they could tell the difference between analog and digital and then were proven wrong.
    Kinda like the time my father-in-law
    had his milk switched from whole to 2%.
    He had no idea we switched it, but man he was pissed when we told him!

  16. Apapros of nothing…I picked up a used CD on the Telarc lable..recorded in DSD. and guess what? It sounds downright lousy. I guess DSD isn’t the magic bullet some might have us believe.

  17. You know after going through so many YouTube videos and reading comments on carious forums I’ve come to the conclusion that there is such a thing as what can be known as “a Digital Racist.” Lol.

    1. I have never thought of it this way, but in several ways the audio community is very ” audio format racist”. Of course, we can laugh at it when it is just very opinionated likes and dislikes in our hobby, however, real racism in our society is a very serious problem.

      1. I am trying to laugh at it, however you are very correct about racism being an intensely serious problem still, however I had to use that word to magnify the intense segregation that some vinyl/analog purists have taken. Many are mortified that “digital” entered into their analog domains to make their records sound so good.
        Now why I can laugh a bit is because they never knew the difference, although Michael Fremner with his sonar-bat hearing claims he can.

        Overall Tony, no doubt the marketing is or was set up with some ambiguity. For that, some can be a little upset about that. Not only that the one-steps are really expensive and they’ve made with DSD. I get it. 😉

  18. Once again, Paul takes a pragmatic approach to this controversy and it makes sense. DSD is as “analog” as digital is ever likely to get, so there is that. I guess the “issue” is that many feel they were mislead by MoFi and maybe they were.

    Transparency from the record labels should be expected. Heck, MoFi lost an opportunity to express that, yes, DSD256 is GREAT for preserving these deteriorating analog masters as well as they can be so they aren’t lost to the future.

    This “hobby” is very niche. We all (including MoFi) should beware of eating it and making it even smaller.

    Thanks Paul for some clarity.

  19. The price of gasoline on Jan 6th 2020 and the less than 2% inflation rate are far more important than this ridiculous storm in a teacup.

  20. I read that Andrew Jones is making speakers for MOFI now. Wonder if they are incorporating those into the recording studios like Paul did with the FR30’s.

  21. Paul’s 2 cents… Time marker 3:28 in this 2017 YouTube video seems pretty clear to me that MoFi mastering engineer Rob LoVerde specifically and clearly states they are now capturing analogue tape to DSD 4X. https://youtu.be/z-td3Uk5TIQ?t=208

    My simple question. How can anyone accuse the MoFi folks of lying when the DSD 4X capture of an analogue tape is clearly stated ~5 years ago ??? On a side note to remove confusion… I do think it would be ideal if the MoFi folks demonstrated in their marketing literature the specific and exact process they use to capture, master and cut MoFi LP’s. Same for all LP manufacturers.

    As Paul M suggested, the mastering process for the LP is still all analogue but the source is a DSD copy of the master tape which IMHO is a much better way to do things vs capturing an analogue tape to analogue tape. E.g. the whole idea with the “One Step” process is to remove the Father / Mother analogue copies to improve transparency and S/N ratios.

    On the positive side of things… All this controversy will likely mean a larger audience will learn about MoFi and that will likely improve the viability of their business model. (Some would say… Any press is good press) That could mean more titles and I for one have no intention of slowing down my purchase of MoFi pressings and SACD’s. Simply put they sound amazing to my ears and I do love collecting physical media.

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