When it comes to audiophilia, great sound starts with the source. And of all the audiophile gear out there, it’s the turntable that stands—or spins—alone as an enduring symbol for high fidelity. From the earliest turn-of-the-20th-century Victrolas and vintage portable Crosleys, to the Linn Sondeks of the hobby’s heydey, DJs’ beloved Technics SL-1200s, and today’s Acoustic Signature Invictus behemoth, in its basic design fundamentals the turntable represents high-end audio culture par excellence. I went to see a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performance with my audiophile dad a few weeks ago and asked for a closer look at his cufflinks. They were little chrome turntables with tiny tonearms.
My earliest musical memories mostly came from my father’s hi-fi system. Even as a wide-eyed innocent, I knew that those majestically glowing tubes on the McIntosh had plenty to do with the gorgeous and thrilling sounds coming through the speakers, and this intrigued me. Spinning records was where the magic began.
On my own kiddie record player, which might have been a Fischer-Price something or other, I remember listening to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, along with some Disney soundtracks. When I was ten years old, my father put together a little system of my own for Christmas: a basic Audio-Technica table, a pair of little Infinity bookshelf speakers, and an Advent 300 receiver. In time, my dad taught me how to power up his hi-fi system and let me play back records on it. I handled each step, each flip of a preamp switch, each turn of an amplifier knob, with reverence. But most of all, I took care placing the needle on the record—it was that final moment of precise handling that always made me a little nervous. I’d steady my hand and hold my breath as the tonearm with mounted cartridge made its slow smooth descent, the stylus gently dropping into the groove just before silence gave way to glorious sound.
As any analog lover knows, vinyl records, both vintage and new, are back in high demand today. And with its nearly forty years of history in the record-mastering-and-pressing biz, Mobile Fidelity is certainly a star in the record business. What is new is the company’s decision to produce its own turntables to play those records back on. Since there is no shortage of well-priced offerings from the likes of Rega, Audio-Technica, Pro-Ject, etc., why make and market another one?
It turns out the idea was the brainchild of Music Direct—the parent company that owns Mobile Fidelity and a number of other hi-fi brands—and its Vice President Josh Bizar, for whom developing a turntable had been a longtime goal, as well as a logical extension of the vinyl-focused MoFi brand. (See sidebar interview with Josh.) Since its founding in 1977 (by audiophiles), Mobile Fidelity has been committed to high-fidelity recordings and to improving upon industry standards by pioneering new technologies. As an established and trusted brand, it has a lot to live up to.
Its website states, “Mobile Fidelity believes that mastering systems should be neutral and transparent. The essential idea is to unveil all the detailed musical information on the original recording without adding deterioration, coloration, or other sonic artifacts.” What better way to achieve this—and offer more to one’s customers—than to develop an analog front end that drives home this same approach?
And so a new “hardware” division of the company was born: MoFi Electronics. It was a bold move not only to venture into selling hardware but also to build a manufacturing facility to produce it in the U.S. Since a MoFi-branded turntable needed to be more than just another pretty plinth and platter, Josh Bizar and his team brought in some heavy hitters: John Schaffer, former owner of Wadia and current President of MoFi Electronics, and Allen Perkins, the illustrious turntable and tonearm designer behind the Spiral Groove brand (his $36,000 SG 1.2 turntable, reviewed in Issue 276, was named a TAS Product of the Year in 2017). Like so many inaugural projects this one was a long time coming—it has been nearly two years since the first models were announced—but it was worth the wait.