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Mobile Fidelity One-Step 45 RPM Series—Are They Worth The Price?
Originally published: April 3, 2021
In 2016 the vinyl community was shocked to see a record, Santana - Abraxas that cost $100. Who would spend that much money on a record? Is that much better. Now the MoFi One-Step albums are $125 each! Are they worth the large price tag?
At this point in time, Mobile Fidelity One-Step audiophile pressings are not new. There have been multiple albums remastered and published. In the lineup so far are Santana - Abraxas, Bill Evans - Sunday at The Village Vanguard, Donald Fagen - The Nightfly, Simon and Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water, Stevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood, Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks, Bill Evans Trio - Portrait in Jazz, Charles Mingus - Mingus Ah Um, Thelonious Monk - Monk's Dream, Yes - Fragile, and available for pre-order, Janis Joplin - Pearl, Blood, Sweat & Tears - Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Carole King - Tapestry. Quite the line-up indeed!
In this article we will discuss the One-Step process, what you get in the box, what SuperVinyl™ is, the sound quality, the economy of the Mofi One-Step line, and our conclusion on what we think of the product.
The One-Step Process
In the article entitled Direct Metal Mastering and Direct-to-Disc—What's The Difference? published here on the Audiophile Archive & Grading Services blog, we described the industry standard for producing vinyl records. Like the infographic in the previous article, Mobile Fidelity supplies each One-Step record with a card that describes the process.
If we start with the bottom of the MoFi graphic, we see the standard process. When we use the word "step" we are describing steps in the plating process. Most records start with a lacquer. In the common method of plating, a negative (Father) is made, then a positive is made from it (Mother) and then stampers are made from the mother. Stampers are the wear-point in the manufacturing process and require multiples to be made. But only so many stampers can be made with one Mother so for high-volume runs, multiple mothers are made from the father. As more mothers and stampers are made, there is a degradation of sound quality.
This is where the beauty of the One-Step process is truly appreciated by audiophiles. MoFi decided to remove two steps from the plating process and create low quantities of the album. This has an impact on the cost of each record which we will talk about later. However, by eliminating the Stamper and the mother, the father becomes the stamper. The drawback is that once the father has reached its limit until wear-out, the run of records is finished and the re-issue of that record in One-Step is over. This adds to the collectability of these records as well which we will be discussing later as well.
Many though were leery as to whether eliminating two of the plating steps would make enough of a difference sonically to justify the high price tag. We will discuss sound quality later in the article, however, at this point in the discussion, the claim is that we are receiving a recording that has less generational loss before it gets to the stamped record.
So far, the argument is compelling. But let’s keep going!
What Is In The Box?
MoFi One-Step pressings are all about luxury and the packaging is no exception. While some have complained about the style of the box, that is certainly just opinion. In my opinion, Mobile Fidelity hit it out of the park with the packaging. The texture of the outer part of the box has a supreme type feeling that gives you confidence that you will not drop it if you're holding it. Inside the box are the two 45RPM records, a record sized card that features the original artwork front and back. Also included is the hype card that defines the One-Step process. Even it is fancy; printed on textured card stock with gold foil.
The only thing I personally would have liked to see if for the artwork to be a sleeve that fits over the two records, or to provide the 45RPM record in the heavy cardstock gatefold that the other 45RPM Mobile Fidelity releases come in. But those feelings are very minor. Now let’s delve into the records themselves.
What is SuperVinyl™?
The hype card that is included describes SuperVinyl™ as "a new proprietary compound developed by NEOTECH and RTI to address two specific areas of improvement: noise floor reduction and enhanced groove definition. The vinyl composition features a new carbonless dye (hold the disc up to the light and see) and produces the world's quietest surfaces. The high-definition formula also allows for the creation of cleaner grooves that are indistinguishable from the original lacquer. Mobile Fidelity's Sound Lab feels SuperVinyl provides the closest approximation of what we hear in the mastering lab."
MoFi's goal to provide us with a premium looking and sounding product is becoming more real to us the more we look into it. Between the remove of the two steps in the plating process and the material used in the vinyl record, we can see that MoFi has gone to great extents to provide customers with a much better sounding product.
But did they?
The Sound Quality of the One-Step Process on SuperVinyl™
As you learned in our article Deep-Clean Your Brand New Vinyl Records—Learn Why, It's Shocking!, even the most expensive records that are brand new out of the wrapper come to us dirty. So, the first step with our MoFi One Step is to give it the AAGS ultrasonic cleaning treatment which is a four-step cleaning process that features a mechanical wash with a degreaser/surfactant solution, a heavy ultrasonic cleaning with a Tergitol based solution, a distilled water rinse, and a heavy ultrasonic rinse cycle, and finally a handsfree blow dry. We also give our stylus a good cleaning each time we run a record on our listening system.
As described, perfectly quiet noise floor, a mastering of the record like never heard before, and so much clarity and detail. Dynamics are plentiful and clean, clean, clean. The instruments are clearly defined and ample. It has that "MoFi" sound, but better.
The Economy of the One-Step Line
Three words: supply and demand. The biggest drawback to the One-Step line is that they can only be produced in small numbers. This isn't on purpose but just the price you pay for the One-Step process. So small that they usually sell out during preorder. Since others want it, the now out of print records sell for at least twice the price they sold for. Since the One Step records have gained popularity, MoFi has been able to push the envelope and stamp out a couple thousand more than they started but that is reaching the limit. The first One Step made, Santana Abaraxas, was limited to only 2500 copies. Now, sealed copies are selling more than $2000. While MoFi hasn't been consistent with how many copies will be produced with current and upcoming titles, they're now releasing them in runs that range from 5000 - 7500 copies. The upcoming Carole King Tapestry album will be the highest produces yet at 10000 copies. Still minuscule when compared to the millions of copies that are being massed produced for standard titles. We will see if this becomes the new norm for MoFi One-Step releases or if this may just be an experiment on their part.
After handling the packaging, learning about the investment put into the One Step process and the SuperVinyl™ material, and listening to the recording, Mobile Fidelity has checked all the boxes in terms of justifying the price. Are MoFi One-Step releases in the budget for everybody? No. But for those that can afford it, they are a no brainer and very much appreciated. Just when we thought that vinyl couldn't sound better, MoFi proved us wrong!
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