Mobile Fidelity Returns

Slow beginnings are sometimes the most successful. Months after its acquisition by Chicago-based Music Direct, legendary audiophile record label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab plans to release Super Audio Compact Discs this winter.

One of the first will be a high-resolution version of Patricia Barber's popular Modern Cool, due to appear in late February, according to MoFi's director of new technology, John Wood. MoFi has worked closely on the project with Barber's label, Premonition Records, also based in Chicago. The release will be part of a MoFi "soft launch" that will eventually include many jazz and pop titles in the SACD format, as well as "the possible revival of half-speed mastering and heavy vinyl records for the discerning audiophile," Wood revealed in a telephone interview January 5.

MoFi's original mastering engineer, Stan Ricker, has come on board for the vinyl revival, and electronics designer Tim de Paravicini will create new cutter-head electronics for the project. Both will attend this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and will be available for discussion, according to Wood, who revealed that he has spent a substantial portion of the past year acquiring the needed equipment to produce high-quality LPs—most of which was sold off after MoFi went out of business back in 1999. The mastering lathes that MoFi used in its heyday were specially-made Neumann devices with extremely accurate low-speed motors, only 75 of which were ever built. Most are jealously guarded and not available at any price, Wood explained.

Founded in 1977 by Ricker, recording engineer Brad Miller, and DJ-turned-audiophile fanatic Gary Georgi, Mobile Fidelity may have been more responsible than any other company for bringing new audiophiles into the hobby. (Ricker is the only surviving member of MoFi's original team.) Other specialty labels, such as Sheffield Lab and Reference Recordings, share some of the credit, but MoFi did more to awaken music lovers to great sound because it reached a wider audience. Its high-quality pressings of acts like Pink Floyd were first distributed through audiophile dealers, then later through mass-market outlets such as Tower Records, where they were discovered by many listeners who were not previously aware that recorded music could sound so good.

Music Direct's Jim Davis acquired the Mobile Fidelity brand and intellectual property last year. Wood described Davis as "a real audiophile and music lover" who intends to restore MoFi's previous glory. The company's SACD releases and vinyl revival will continue its tradition of "an ongoing commitment to continually enhancing and updating our proprietary mastering technology to ensure that our product consistently exceeds industry standards," Wood stated. The MoFi website is being updated. More news will be found there once the process is further along.