Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab has been perfecting the art of remastering audio since 1977. It currently offers a broad catalog of music, from Frank Sinatra and the Pixies to Yes and Little Richard on LP, SACD, and CD.
I recently chatted with Rob LoVerde, one of MoFi's mastering engineers, about how the company's remasters differ from the original label's product.
First and foremost, he said that every MoFi LP--which was originally recorded to analog--is cut from an analog master tape. That's interesting because ever since digital came onto the scene, most, probably about 99 percent, of LPs for sale now are cut from digital masters. So unless you're already buying MoFi LPs, you still haven't heard what a pure analog recording sounds like--older LPs, pressed before the 1980s are all-analog.
Second, LoVerde said that MoFi never uses dynamic range compression. Virtually every new recording is compressed during recording, mixing and mastering. But MoFi eliminates the last compression stage. He also said that equalization is either avoided completely or used sparingly.
LoVerde came to MoFi from Sony, so I was curious about how the two companies approached mastering. At Sony, LoVerde worked within a team, at MoFi each mastering project he takes on is controlled entirely by him. And at Sony, LoVerde had to work fast and complete one or two projects a day. At MoFi he can take his time and track down the best possible master tape. I was surprised to learn that LoVerde doesn't go out of his way to listen to previous remasters. Instead, he's trying to transfer as much of the original master's sound to the final product as possible.
The analog master is also used for MoFi's SACDs and CDs. That means MoFi's analog sourced SACDs are totally PCM-free, which is extremely rare. Most SACDs on the market have at least some PCM digital in them, which means they're not really delivering the format's true potential. MoFi SACDs are the real deal, pure SACD--using Direct Stream Digital DSD coding.
LoVerde said he knows that MoFi customers expect the best possible transfer, so he can't let a "good enough" mastering leave the plant. MoFi has occasionally bailed on a project because the sound wasn't up to its standards.
I listened to a stack of MoFi vinyl and the sound was awesome. Yes, there's more bass, a near absence of vinyl's old friends--clicks and pops--but it's the clarity improvements that were the most impressive.
That was abundantly evident with "The Cars" first LP. My old vinyl copy sounds anemic, dynamically squashed flat, with zippy, overly bright cymbals. The sound was so bad I never really liked the Cars' music; however, now after listening to MoFi LP, my opinion of the band's sound is completely transformed. The music is so much better than I ever thought it was. Sound quality really does matter.
Elvis Costello's first, pre-Attractions LP, "My Aim Is True" on MoFi sounds more natural, less crunchy and brittle than my trusty Columbia pressing. Sound dynamics are way better on the MoFi, the Columbia LP is squished to the point it sounds drab. I know it's a cliche, but a MoFi LP really does sound more like a master tape.
Linda Ronstadt's "Hasten Down the Wind" LP is a gem. Its production is perfect, letting her voice be the star. Also, her LA band sounds killer, but there's something about the music's dynamics that communicate more of Ronstadt's soul. Man, she wails like Aretha Franklin on "Down So Low." The record is so quiet I can hear the original recording's analog tape hiss, and I think it's great that MoFi didn't try to mask that.
Another remastering standout was Frank Sinatra's "Live in Paris" LP. This 1962 set, with a sextet instead of his usual big band, is breathtaking in its vivid, you-are-there sound. Sinatra is having a ball, playing with a select group of Hollywood recording studio and jazz veterans. It's a mono recording, but the soundstage is so huge that I didn't even notice at first that it wasn't in stereo. It's easily the best live Sinatra recording in my collection.
MoFi also makes SACDs and sent me two of its recent remasters: The Band's "Rock of Ages" and the Pixies' "Doolittle." They both have an analog warmth that you never hear from CDs; the Pixies title is also available on MoFi LP.
MoFi's LP packaging is deluxe. Its color reproduction is done to a high standard, with heavy cardboard, a protective inner sleeve, and a plastic liner that are first class; its SACDs are done the same way in a smaller package, with a LP-like cardboard sleeve. The LPs are pressed in California; SACDs in Austria.
Sure, the $30 LP, SACD, and CDs are expensive, but if MoFi has music you've loved your whole life it's worth splurging on. Or buy some for your significant other, they make great gifts!
All MoFi remasters are limited editions of less than 5,000 units and sometimes just 2,000 are pressed. Out-of-print MoFis can easily fetch three or more times their original price, so get 'em while you can.