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A Scandal Shakes the Audiophile World

By: William Liao

Mike Esposito, the owner of a small record shop in Phoenix, recently sparked controversy when he posted a video to his store’s YouTube channel. In it, he claimed that MoFi (Mobile Fidelity), a major record company, had been lying to their clients for years on its usage of “original master recordings,” which they had staked much of their legitimacy on.

Almost immediately, prominent members of the audiophile community rose to defend the company, including Shane Buettner, the owner of another company in the reissue business. “I know their process and it’s legit,” he wrote on a popular messaging board dedicated to the topic.

But those at MoFi’s headquarters in Sebastopol, California, knew that Esposito was right. John Wood, the company’s “executive vice president of product development,” even invited Esposito to give an interview to three MoFi engineers to confirm the fact that they had been deceiving their clientele all along. It was a decision he would later regret.

The scandal also reignited the debate over the usage of digital files versus the original tapes. “Not that you can’t make good records with digital, but it just isn’t as natural as when you use the original tape,” argues Bernie Grundman, a mastering engineer who has worked on the original recordings on many songs by prominent groups and artists such as Michael Jackson, Dr. Dre, and Steely Dan.

But nowadays, the equipment involved in digital recordings is so sophisticated that even the best ears are often fooled by them. Indeed, in his video, Esposito said that some of his favorite albums were from MoFi.

The company was founded in the 1970s to cater to audiophiles, but after vinyl sales plummeted in 1999, it declared bankruptcy. Later, Chicago-based Music Direct bought MoFi, reviving it. These days, releases from the company sell out ¬quickly.

Syd Schwartz, MoFi’s chief marketing officer, apologized for his company. “Mobile Fidelity makes great records, the best-sounding records that you can buy,” he said. “There had been choices made over the years and choices in marketing that have led to confusion and anger and a lot of questions, and there were narratives that had been propagating for a while that were untrue or false or myths. We were wrong not to have addressed this sooner.”

MoFi has been using digital recordings since 2011, and by the end of that year, around sixy percent of its releases were in that format. Since then, most of the company’s reissues have been using the technology.

Some people, despite the company’s acknowledgements of wrongdoing, still feel duped.

“They were completely deceitful,” says Richard Drutman, a 50-year-old filmmaker from New York City who has also bought more than 50 of MoFi’s albums over the years. “I never would have ordered a single Mobile Fidelity product if I had known it was sourced from a digital master.”

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