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By Chris Cooke | Posted on Monday, August 22, 2022
A lawsuit has been filed following recent revelations that Chicago-based Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab – a label specializing in pressing high-quality record reissues for the good old audiophile community – has not been fully honest about his mastering process.
These revelations originally came via a YouTube video posted last month by Mike Esposito of Phoenix-based record store The In Groove. He accused the label – often referred to as MoFi – of using digital technology in its vinyl mastering process, while advertising its records as purely analog recordings. Which might not seem so important. Unless you’re an audiophile.
In the terms of the lawsuit filed in connection with these disclosures: “The defendant announced that the discs were purely analog recordings – that is, directly from the master recording or from the original analog tapes – without any kind digital mastering process. Defendant also charged a price premium for the recordings based on them”.
And while that was true, the lawsuit adds, “since 2011, defendant has used digital mastering or digital files – specifically Direct Stream Digital technology – in its production chain. Worse still, the defendant continued to mislead consumers that it did not use digital mastering, or failed to disclose the use of digital mastering, while still charging the same price premium for the discs as it did. they were all analog recordings”.
And why is it important? Well, the lawsuit explains, “Analog records are coveted not only for their superior sound quality, but also for their collectability. The original recording tapes age, so only a limited number of analog recordings can be produced. Also, since analog tapes are those used to record songs in the studio, a recording cut from original analog tapes is as close to studio recording as possible.
“Digital recordings, on the other hand,” he continues, “are not as valuable because they can be reproduced endlessly; once a digital recording is made, it can be copied as many times as a person wishes. So when defendant began to use a digital mastering process in its recordings, as opposed to a purely analog process, it inherently produced less valuable recordings.” And yet he would have continued to charge the higher price an analog record might command.
The lawsuit was filed against Adam Stiles, who has purchased various versions of MoFi over the years, although he is seeking class action status for his litigation to benefit anyone else who has purchased a vinyl record sold by the label. where digital technology was used in the mastering process but not stated.
“Had Defendant not misrepresented that the discs were purely analog recordings or otherwise disclosed that the discs included digital mastering in their production chain,” states the lawsuit, “Plaintiff and putative band members n ‘wouldn’t have bought the records or paid less for the records than they did’.
Before things became legal, MoFi Chairman Jim Davis responded to the controversy unfolding within the audiophile community regarding his company’s mastering processes.
“At Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, we are aware of customer complaints regarding the use of digital technology in our mastering chain,” he wrote in a statement. “We apologize for using vague language, allowing false narratives to spread, and for taking for granted the goodwill and trust our customers place in the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab brand.”
“We recognize that our conduct has caused both anger and confusion in the marketplace,” he continued. “Going forward, we are adopting a policy of 100% transparency regarding the provenance of our audio products. We are working immediately to update our websites, future printed materials and packaging, as well as providing this information to our sales and customer service representatives.”
Davis later gave an interview to The Absolute Sound and confirmed that MoFi started using direct-stream digital technology — or DSD — in 2011, initially on a pressing of Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” He added: “Over time, we gradually mastered more titles using the DSD archive capture stage. Supply information for all MoFi vinyl titles is added daily to the MoFi website, and a full discography will be posted on the site.
So this is it. It remains to be seen how much of the controversy around MoFi’s past misleading claims about its mastering processes will have on sales of the company’s releases in the future. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how Stiles’ class action lawsuit progresses. He is suing, among other things, for breach of the express and tacit guarantee, unjust enrichment and fraud.