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Audiophile label sued over misleading statements regarding its mastering process

By | Published on Monday 22 August 2022


A lawsuit has been filed following recent revelations that Chicago-based Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab – a label which specialises in pressing up high quality reissues of records for the good old audiophile community – has not been entirely honest about its mastering processes.

Those revelations originally came via a YouTube video posted last month by Mike Esposito from 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 analogue recordings. Which might not sound like that big a deal. Unless you’re an audiophile.

In the words of the lawsuit filed in relation to these revelations: “Defendant advertised the records as being purely analogue recordings – ie directly from the master recording or original analogue tapes – without any sort of digital mastering process. Defendant also charged a price premium for the records based on the same”.

And while that used to be true, the lawsuit adds, “since 2011, defendant has been using digital mastering or digital files – specifically, Direct Stream Digital technology – in its production chain. Worse still, defendant continued to misrepresent to consumers that it did not use digital mastering, or otherwise failed to disclose the use of digital mastering, while still charging the same price premium for the records as if they were entirely analogue recordings”.

And why does this matter? Well, the lawsuit explains, “analogue records are coveted not only for their superior sound quality, but also for their collectability. Original recording tapes age, so only a limited number of analogue recordings can be produced. Further, because analogue tapes are those used to record songs in the studio, a record cut from original analogue tapes is as close to the studio recording as one can get”.

“Digital recordings, by contrast”, it goes on, “do not carry as much value because they can be reproduced infinitely; once a digital recording is made, it can be copied as many times as a person desires. Thus, when defendant began using a digital mastering process in its records as opposed to purely analogue, it inherently produced less valuable records”. And yet, it allegedly continued to charge the higher price an analogue record could demand.

The lawsuit has been filed Adam Stiles, who has bought various MoFi releases over the years, though he is seeking class action status for his litigation so to benefit anyone else who has bought a vinyl record sold by the label where digital technology was used in the mastering process but not declared.

“Had defendant not misrepresented that the records were purely analogue recordings or otherwise disclosed that the records included digital mastering in their production chain”, the lawsuit states, “plaintiff and putative class members would not have purchased the records or would have paid less for the records than they did”.

Before things went legal, MoFi President Jim Davis responded to the controversy that was unfolding within the audiophile community in relation to his company’s mastering processes.

“We at Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab are aware of customer complaints regarding use of digital technology in our mastering chain”, he wrote in a statement. “We apologise for using vague language, allowing false narratives to propagate, and for taking for granted the goodwill and trust our customers place in the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab brand”.

“We recognise our conduct has resulted in both anger and confusion in the marketplace”, he went on. “Moving forward, we are adopting a policy of 100% transparency regarding the provenance of our audio products. We are immediately working on updating our websites, future printed materials, and packaging – as well as providing our sales and customer service representatives with these details”.

Davis then gave an interview to The Absolute Sound and confirmed that MoFi started using direct stream digital – or DSD – technology in 2011, initially on a pressing of Tony Bennett’s ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’. He added: “Over time, we mastered progressively more titles using the DSD archival capture step. Sourcing-information for all MoFi vinyl titles is being added to the MoFi website daily, and a complete discography will be posted on the site”.

So there you go. It remains to be seen to what extent the controversy around MoFi’s past misleading statements about its mastering processes has on sales of the company’s releases moving forward. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how Stiles’ class action lawsuit progresses. Among other things, he is suing for breach of express and implied warranty, unjust enrichment and fraud.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast.