Mofi, Mofi, Mofi. Is there anything left to say? Perhaps.
First off: I really have no skin in this game. The few older Mobile Fidelity LP’s that I’ve picked up over the years have been enjoyable, including Rickie Lee Jones, Sundown, and the Firebird Suite/Pictures At An Exhibition conducted by Muti. This hails back to when you could find those titles for $10-20. Once the prices of Mofi LP’s started soaring (I mean the first time, 25+ years ago) I largely lost interest in them, and haven’t bought or even heard any of the recent crop of work they’ve done over the last decade. So I’m somewhat ignorant, but also objective. It’s not that I thought a Marvin Gaye “One-step” (at $125 US or whatever) wasn’t worthwhile. It just wasn’t something I was interested in, for various reasons, price being one. My overall interest in vinyl also isn’t what it used to be. And I’ve had good results with other reissue companies, and I’ve stuck with them. More on that in a moment.
For me personally there are two issues that dictate a record purchase: desirability and sound quality (I suppose price is a factor too, haha). If you think the same way, then which of these you prioritize higher may determine your reaction to the Mofi “crisis”. “Desirable” can be (and is) defined in so many ways. If your favourite artist, let’s say Jack White, releases a new album, it’s desirable for you to have it on vinyl, for obvious reasons. If Mofi releases a limited edition one-step, say 5,000 copies, that LP can become desirable because it will sell out and become a rarity, driving the price up. In that sense, you could say we now have (at least) three types of LP buyer: the record collector, the speculator, and the audiophile. Then you have the music lover, who could also be any of the above. And the poser – say a college kid who has some records on the shelf just because it’s cool. Beyond that of course, there are musicians, DJ’s, etc. But let’s stick to the first three for this discussion.
I’ll try to keep it simple. For me there’s a magic line here, and we can just call it “1980”. From roughly that year on, digital recording has been the norm, 99.9% of the time. Prior to 1980, virtually 100% of recorded music was recorded to analog tape (or occasionally direct to disc).
Now, pre-1980 recordings – and especially jazz, blues and classical LP’s from the 50’s and 60’s – are of great interest to many of us. This was the analog “golden age”, aka the hi-fi revolution, when great development leaps were seen in recording techniques; and technically, in microphones, tape decks, and in mixing – including the advent of stereo. Record cutting and pressing also came of age during this time. And the music was legendary. That’s why original pressings of many 50’s/60’s recordings are so coveted.
I don’t know many people who consider Mofi to be the pinnacle of vinyl reissues. But they’ve had some excellent releases, and are clearly an important player. Mofi also has one of (if not the) broadest catalogs, spanning just about every genre of modern music, representing many of the top record labels. In Mofi’s earlier history they put many good reissues into our hands, for premium but ‘reasonable’ prices. In more recent years their prime releases have been, by most measures, quite expensive. Their “One-step” releases have sold well – the hype around these has been the target for much of this summer’s banter over the mastering process. I’ll concede that, IT IS POSSIBLE that some of these are the “best-sounding” vinyl versions available. For me, if it’s a golden-age recording and I want it bad enough to pay premium reissue prices – then I want it to be an analog copy, for better or worse. Just as I want the jacket and label to look and feel as authentic to the original as possible, I also want the record to sound like a facsimile of its original version. Is this a rational take? I don’t know. I’m old enough to remember “disco sucks” and “perfect sound forever”. We all have our biases. I AM OPEN to the possibility that a DSD-mastered vinyl reissue could be sonically ‘superior’ in some ways to an all-analog version. But as a record buyer, I identify more as a collector than an audiophile, so I want my copy of something from 1959 to be analogous to the way it was produced at that time. Mofi LP’s will drop in value, and that’s a deserved correction. It doesn’t make them worthless – if you enjoy listening to them, keep on spinning! I would like to see Mofi get through this – they have to come clean and walk back misrepresentations, e.g. terms like “ultra-analog”. I’d also like to see less trolling and grandstanding and outright misinformation online, but it’s unlikely that wish will be granted. The paragraph is too long. Sorry.
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