CES 2016 • TABlog

by Marc Mickelson | January 14, 2016

eenager Brad Miller founded Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs in the late 1950s, initially releasing an LP of steam-engine sounds that he recorded himself and later albums from his own Mystic Moods Orchestra. The MoFi we know today didn't materialize until the 1980s, when the label began using the novel new approach of half-speed mastering from the actual master tapes, with the goal of creating records that sound better than original pressings.

Half-speed mastering has remained at the heart of the label's method, but during CES, MoFi mastering engineer Shawn Britton explained a new advancement in the way records are pressed that may become just as central as half-speed mastering to MoFi's mission: One-Step. Britton first explained the traditional pressing process: lacquer to mother and father, to positives, then to stampers. With One-Step, the stampers are created directly from the lacquers, eliminating two processes and two sets of metal parts. The chief advantage of this is obvious: the stampers are much closer to the original source. The disadvantage is that because stampers wear out, not to mention they can have defects or become damaged, the pressing run is extremely limited in number.

After the explanation of the process came the proof of its efficacy: playing a 45rpm test pressing of Santana's Abraxas. The overall immediacy, retrieval of fine detail and grip into the bass were impressive -- and convincing of One-Step's potential.

One-Step LPs require more care and labor, so they will be more expensive than standard MoFi reissues. Right now, the plan is that they will be packaged in a way that's similar to Mobile Fidelity's decades-old UHQRs: in deluxe boxes, not typical sleeves. Those single records cost $50 in the 1980s, so it's clear that the pair of 45rpm One-Step pressings, each a limited edition, will cost more than that today.

After Mobile Fidelity began using half-speed mastering, other reissue labels adopted the process. I will be surprised if the same doesn't happen with One-Step. Its advantages are easy to understand and just as easy to hear.

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