The Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab record label, more commonly known as MoFi or MFSL, has been specialized in audiophile grade vinyl record production since 1977. A pioneer in audiophile disc production, the American company only works with original, non-remastered recordings and uses a unique pressing technique to ensure pure recordings that are identical to the originals. Considered to be the Holy Grail of vinyl, for several decades MoFi records have become essential items for audiophiles searching for audio perfection. This is the history of MoFi and their unique fabrication process that propelled this little-known label into hi-fi stardom.
MoFi: records made using only original analog tapes
Brad Miller, MoFi’s founding father, began his career recording the sound of steam engines in the fifties. He was one of the first people to record outdoor environmental and mechanical sounds in stereo. With more than 27 years of experience and many productions to his name, he founded the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab record label in 1977. MFSL specializes in audiophile vinyl records, combining the artistry of the initial recordings with state-of-the-art half-speed engraving techniques, ensuring sound quality that had never before been achieved.
Today, MoFi has an extensive catalogue of audiophile vinyl records that covers rock, jazz and blues. In order to provide vinyl recordings with the most accurate restitution possible, all MoFi discs are made using only original tapes recorded in the studio by the musicians, unlike the digital copies often used in mass production. MoFi receives the tapes in their labs when possible or goes to the recording studio with all of their equipment when it isn’t. Abbey Road Studios doesn’t often let tapes leave the studio, for example.
Once the original tapes have been recovered, the painstaking process of cleaning them begins. It is important to know that MoFi doesn’t remaster the recordings, but removes any defects and damage that they may have suffered during years of storage. Some tapes may be damaged, and copies are used for the flawed parts. The goal is to reveal all of the subtle details present in the initial recording, without adding any of the deterioration, coloration or sonic artifacts that come with digitization.
MoFi: half-speed engraving procedure
The LP matrix is then created using a skillful half-speed procedure. This consists of slowing the engraving procedure by half to guarantee a more thorough and precise transfer of information from the original tape onto a lacquer of the vinyl record. Therefore, a 33RPM disc isn’t engraved at actual speed, but at 12.5 revolutions per minute. This process provides better dynamics, with a wider bandwidth and ensures that the vinyl recording is identical to the initial recording. Moreover, the matrix used is of higher quality thanks to a fabrication process that includes only one step, instead of the usual three. This matrix is an aluminum disc that is entirely covered in lacquer via a specialized process that protects the transients in the musical signal. A heated diamond cutting head then carves a spiral groove. Once the matrix is engraved, the lacquer disc is electroplated with metal to create a steel disc (stamper) for future presses. Generally, labels produce around 10,000 presses with one stamper, but after the first 1000 presses, the sound quality begins to deteriorate. By limiting the number of presses for each stamper, MoFi guarantees optimal sound quality. The sound quality of the last press is identical to that of the first press.
In addition to this technique of half-speed engraving onto a high-quality matrix, MoFi made major improvements to the vinyl record itself. The American brand only works with brand-new discs, unlike other labels that use recycled vinyls to reduce production costs. The engraving surface is therefore cleaner, allowing clearer sound restitution and eliminating crackling. MoFi has also made significant improvements to the vinyl composition, in particular by using a new carbonless dye. This dye ensures that the disc is more resistant to light and creates more precise grooves that are indistinguishable from the original lacquer.
MoFi: high-fidelity products
The sound quality provided by MoFi records is perceivable with any turntable and hi-fi system. However, it is clearly highlighted by audiophile components capable of restituting all of the information present in the records’ microgrooves. To guarantee the best restitution possible, MoFi has also been adding high-performance turntables, phono cartridges, RIAA preamps and vinyl record maintenance accessories to their catalog since 2016.
At the moment, the brand offers two turntables: the MoFi StudioDeck+ and the MoFi UltraDeck+. The first of these two high-end, belt-driven models is fitted with a MoFi StudioTracker cartridge, and the second with a MoFi UltraTracker cartridge.
To accompany these turntables, MoFi also provides two phono preamps: the MoFi StudioPhono and the MoFi UltraPhono. These two models are designed in collaboration with Tim de Paravicini, an electronic engineer and vinyl expert. They are compatible with both MM and MC cartridges and allow you to adjust the impedance, capacitance and gain to optimize the preamplification according to the phono cartridge’s specifications. The MoFi UltraPhono preamp also features an excellent headphone amplifier so you can listen to your vinyl records without disturbing the people around you.
For several decades, the key to the high-quality audio performance of MoFi’s vinyl records has been the use of original master tapes, the creation process and engraving processes of the records and the highly meticulous pressing. The American brand is constantly striving for perfection and collaborates with many engineers and major players of the vinyl scene, such as Tim de Paravicini, Ed Meither Pass Labs, Lipinski Sound and Sony Electronics, to provide the best sound restitution vinyl records have ever been able to offer.