THE AUDIOPHILE EXPERIENCE OF
MOBILE FIDELITY SOUND LAB
The name Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab is music to the ears
of audiophiles and music purists. For the past 20 years, Mobile have
been supplying hi-fi buffs and music lovers with some of the cleanest,
crispest sounding musical software ever reissued. Starting with their
half-speed mastered vinyl albums in the 70s and later on, their
state-of-the-art audiophile gold CDs, Mobile have captured the imagination
buffs and music collectors worldwide. Every Mobile Fidelity gold CD
provides a wonderful listening experience, and because each Mobile
release is a limited edition, each CD is also a guaranteed collectors
item. Simply put, the Mobile Fidelity catalog of CDs contains some
of the greatest albums of all time. A list of artists whose music
have been given the Mobile Fidelity gold disc treatment reads like
a whos who of rock royalty. Classic titles by Traffic,
Cream, XTC, The Kinks, Robbie Robertson,
John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Ten Years After, Nirvana,
Neil Young, Pink Floyd and Queen are just a few
favorites from the pages of Mobiles catalog. Although it would
be impossible to give enough review space to each gold disc Mobile
has released over the past 10 years, several new titles definitely
deserve some mention here and now. Among the latest round of gold
disc releases on Mobile are Edgar Winters 1971 classic,
entitled Edgar Winters White Trash, the 1976 album from
Blue Oyster Cult entitled Agents Of Fortune, the 1977
soundtrack to the movie Saturday Night Fever (with The BeeGees
and others), the 1968 self-titled album debut from Steppenwolf
(featuring their best known song Born To Be Wild)
and The End Of The Innocence from former Eagles member Don
Henley. Perhaps the most impressive of all the recent Mobile Fidelity
reissues are new gold offerings by progressive rock legends The
Moody Blues and Jethro Tull. Fans owe it to themselves
to hunt down all of The Moody Blues gold CDs on Mobile including To
Our Childrens Childrens Children, Every Good Boy Deserves
Favor and the Moodies 1973 classic Seventh Sojourn. Like
all of their Moody Blues gold discs, Mobiles Seventh Sojourn
sounds fabulous, while the packaging contains a detailed reproduction
of the original album artwork and lyrics. The last of the fabled Classic
7 albums from the Moodies, Mobiles gold disc of Seventh
Sojourn is clearly an essential investment for their many fans.
The latest and perhaps the greatest of all the recent Mobile gold
CDs is Passion Playthe all-time classic from progressive
rock legend Jethro Tull. Released in 1973 on Chrysalis Records,
Mobiles gold CD of Passion Play is truly a historic Tull
item. The CD marks the first time Passion Play has been edited
with 16 individual tracks. The original LP and CD was originally programmed
into 2 separate sidelong tracks. However, thanks to some fancy digital
editing by Mobile and Tull founder Ian Anderson, Tull fans
can now pick and choose among 16 different tracks on Passion Play.
Mobiles superb sounding CD of Passion Play also includes
the first ever reproduction of the entire program guide which came
with the original album. Among the most ambitious albums of the 70s,
Passion Play broke new ground for rock music and stands as
a landmark event for modern progressive music in general. With the
abundance of great gold disc titles in their catalog, 20th Century
Guitar thought it would be appropriate to speak with the founder of
Mobile Fidelity Herb Belkin. We now present part of that illuminating
interview between Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab CEO Herb Belkin and musicologist
was written, produced, recorded, transcribed and edited by Robert
Silverstein of 20th Century Guitar magazine as it was recorded
on Tuesday February 24, 1998.
Mobile Fidelity Recordings CEO Herb Belkin was interviewed
Robert Silverstein on Tuesday February 24, 1998.
RS: In your bio, I see that you have quite a vast background in
the music biz. I read that you signed Grand Funk and The Raspberries
HERB BELKIN: I joined Capitol Records in late 1969, and I went
to work for them on the East Coast. At around that time EMI had recently
acquired the company. At then in early mid 70 they discovered
that Capitol, for the first time in its history was going to
lose money. And so they started this huge shake up. Since I was a
lawyer hired from the West Coast, every time they fired someone theyd
give me his job. So literally Im in the music business maybe
six months, and I became the head of East Coast operations for Capitol
Records. I get to the point where they let everybody go, and Im
sitting in my office on 6th Avenue one day and the phone rings. A
disconnected voice on the other end says to me, Belkin, A&R
is like baseball, you get three strikes and youre out, start
swinging. About 10 days later, a guy by the name of Artie Mogull,
who was the head of A&R for Capitol comes to New York and says
to me, So whatya got for me?. So from that point
on I started crawling at the clubs, talking to people and finding
things, and I signed a couple artists. About a year later, they invited
me out to California and become the head of the A&R department.
In the 60s and 70s the business was so crazy and frenetic,
things like that happened all the time. There were a lot of interesting
bands that came out from that time. It was a circus, the whole business
was a circus in those days.
After leaving Capitol, you soon joined Atlantic Records right?
HB: What happened was, as life would have it in those days, you could
rise quickly and you could fall quickly. I left Capitol and when I
left in 1972 I was courted by Jerry Greenberg and Jerry Wexler at
Atlantic at that time to take over and run the West Coast operation
of Atlantic Records. Which I did for about a year and a half. I developed
a lot of their marketing plans including a whole program, which we
called The British Invasion or The Rockers From
Britain. It started with Led Zeppelin and then Yes, King Crimson,
ELP and Roxy Music. Also about that time we broke Dr. John. It was
very cool. The result of that was about a year after I got there,
they asked me to come back to New York, and become the head of marketing
for Atlantic Records.
RS: In those days Atlantic made some great-sounding vinyl pressings.
HB: In those days it depended on what plant you used. And the problem
with all of these record companies was they didnt apply the
standard throughout all their operations. So, you could get a plant
that made very good quality records and that same record would be
made at another plant somewhere else in the country and it would be
awful. So you couldnt ever know what you were going to get when
you opened up an LP. The standards were just totally different. So,
you could have the same record, and you would have five different
quality levels to your pressing. It was crazy, but true.
RS: How did you eventually go to work at ABC Records?
HB: I had a friend in the business who was was given the job of chairman
of ABC Records. He talked me into helping him bring the company to
mainstream. At the time I was there we had Jimmy Buffett, Steely Dan
and we had some good R&B acts, but we were not strong enough to
carry the day. It was the beginning of the emergence of the giants.
RS: How did you go from ABC Records to join Mobile Fidelity?
I was executive VP at ABC Records and we were not doing very well.
One day two guys, unannounced came to the lobby and asked to see me.
There was Brad Miller and Gary Giorgi. They were the guys who started
Mobile Fidelity. Mobile Fidelity Records was started by Brad Miller
in the 50s. What Brad Miller did is he learned how to do field
recordings, very high tech for its day. He would go out and
record steam engines. And he would go back and make the steam engine
recordings into phonograph records, which he would sell to hobby stores
which sold model train sets. He then used his setup to record some
natural phenomena such as thunderstorms and he created this thing
called Power And Majesty, which is thunderstorms on one side
and steam engines on another. From that he got ambitious and he began
to do sound effects with music. He created an entity called The Mystic
Moods Orchestra. Somewhere in the late 60s, he met this fellow
called Gary Giorgi, who was a D.J. in Washington and who also was
a hi-fi salesman. He was a true audiophile. A few years after they
first met, they came up with an idea to create reference discs so
that high-end audio salesmen could play these discs and demonstrate
to consumers the high end features of audio equipment. They were very
dissatisfied with the quality of phonograph records at that time,
in the early 70s. In 1975 they went to JVC, who had an experimental
cutting lab in Hollywood in 1975. There they met a guy named Stan
Ricker, who was a master mastering engineer. So, now you have Brad
Miller, Gary Giorgi and Stan Ricker all trying to figure out how to
bring out the greatest potential in vinyl phonograph records. Stan
told them that they could get more information on a lacquer by going
back to half-speed mastering, but use the state of the art electronics
today. So, it was Stan's idea to try half-speed mastering and it was
Brad and Garys idea to do a higher quality vinyl, which they
got JVC in Japan to try and do. So when they made their first recordings,
there were three Mystic Moods albums and The Power And The Majesty,
they put them out and they were gobbled up by the hi-fi stores.
So, here we are. Theyve done all of this stuff and now they
dont have any more of their own recordings. So they decided
to come to the music industry to see if anyone would license them
any material. So then they showed up at my office and I cant
tell you why I let them in. But I was the first one to license them
masters. And Stans view was if you were going to do this you
had to use the original two-track stereo master. Not a copy. And with
half-speed mastering you would get a vastly superior performing product.
So I licensed them four titles. A Crusaders title, a Joe Sample title,
a Steely Dan title and a John Klemmer title. A couple months later
they came back with test pressings and we put on the John Klemmer
test pressing and I was astounded. It was that substantially better
than any recording I ever heard to date. I literally became an apostle.
I went out and started telling people about this wondrous stuff. Around
the same time I decided to leave ABC Records and I went into my own
business and part of my business was consulting record labels. And
these guys came to me and asked me if I would take them on as a consulting
client. So from the end of 78 to the end of 79 I ran my
business and they were one of my clients. In 1979 I got them the original
two-track master to Dark Side Of The Moon. They mastered it
and they put it out at the Consumer Electronic Show in 1979 and it
was so spectacular that it turned this whole little audiophile software
business and Mobile Fidelity on its ear. The demand for the
title was so enormous that these guys got frightened and lost and
they basically asked me to come in and run the company for them. I
became president of Mobile Fidelity on January 1, 1980.
RS: You must have had good contacts at EMI, because the next really
big project on Mobile Fidelity was the 1981 Beatles LP box set.
My contacts and also my ability to demonstrate to people because I
was part of a group of people who was known and respected in the industry.
I could show them what I was talking about and they would listen.
So we created contracts at A&M, Capitol, actually every major
company. We were the only people ever to be able to take the original
two-track stereo masters of The Beatles out of Abbey Road studios.
And again it had to do with the people I knew and the trust they placed
in me and the ability for me to convince not only the Capitol people,
but the people at Apple that this was something worthy of doing. And
they were all on board. The 1981 Beatles box turned out to be this
much sought after limited edition set. In order to handle the record
companies crown jewelsthe original two-track stereo masterswe
created these lead-lined containers so that nothing could happen to
them and we would hand carry these things between their libraries
and our facility. And we over a period of time got in all of the original
two-track masters from the Beatles studio albums. We even had them
take pictures of the cans these tapes came in so that people would
know that these were genuinely the masters that The Beatles had stored
at Abbey Road.
RS: Over the years Mobile Fidelity has earned a good reputation for
only using the original two-track masters for all its releases.
HB: Thats exactly right. And thats why we locked on to
that particular format, because its the most pristine form that
its stored in, its been used the least and its as
close to what they did in the studio as your ever going to get. Thats
why we call what we do original master recordings.
RS: Do you think Mobile Fidelity will ever release any Beatles CDs?
HB: I have been in negotiations with EMI and Apple for the last 8
or 9 years. And I think the answer is its always possible, but
there are always supervening issues that have little to do with us.
Theres a very large and complicated relationship that exists
between the remaining Beatles, Apple and EMI and we sit in the wings
waiting for the opportunity. Being a purist, I would want to to back
to the original originals that we used for our LP set. The Beatles
CDs available now are not what we heard on those original quarter
track two-track masters. Id like to go back to those. One day
something will happen, I cant tell you what, because were
constantly having that ongoing discussion.
RS: When Mobile Fidelity first started making CDs, how did you come
to find that gold would be the choice medium for manufacturing them?
In 82, 83 and 84, when CD was just beginning to
take off we were doing aluminum CDs like everyone else, and we were
relying on our mastering to make the difference. Then we discovered
an interesting kind of phenomenon that people called laser rot (oxidation).
It primarily occurred because people hadnt gotten the technology
down to make CDs. We wanted to provide a disc for people that would
be like bulletproof. So, I went to Japan, where the technology really
was resting and I started talking to people. I met a group of unusual
Japanese entrepreneurs from Mitsubishi and Sony who had gotten some
seed money from a large Japanese company and wanted to go into this
business. So they did the research for me and they gave me a kinds
of samples of CDs made out of nickel, copper, bronze, silver and combinations
of bonded discs. After about a year they came to me and they said
that the best material to use for making CD is gold and it will be
very expensive. So I offered him some money to figure out how to do
it. After six months they came back to me and they said we can make
you a disc and its still going to be expensive, but its
not going to be what we said before. I said, lets go for it.
In January 1987 at the Consumer Electronic Show we introduced the
Ultradisc, which was the first gold CD. It was a thirty year old album
by The Modern Jazz Quartet.
RS: How does Mobile Fidelity determine what titles will come out as
HB: Its a company of music fans. We all do it. Two things happen.
We work one or two major label catalogs at a time and then we sit
around, and because everybody at the company is very knowledgeable
and big fans of music we come up with dream lists. And well
say something like, we gotta work Sony this quarter or this
year, so heres the Sony catalog what do you want to do?
And if it isnt in the catalog thats even better, we can
have it exclusively. Although I never want the record companies, who
Im beholden to, think that Im in competition with them.
RS: Isnt there an interesting story about how Mobile Fidelity
came to release a gold disc of Tommy?
In the 60s and 70s artists and record companies really
didnt have a great sense of the value of original master recordings.
Very often, once they made the copy, they would leave the multi-tracks
and the original two-track master at the studio where they made the
recording. In 1978 or later, Olympic studio in London, where The Who
did a great deal of their recording, was sold by the original guy
to another group and when the new group came in they felt they needed
space, so they took all these tapes and threw them in the dumpster.
The first day they did it, the dumpster was hauled away. The second
day a guy who worked there saw this stuff in the dumpster and he called
Pete Townshend. Pete drove rapidly into town, and pulled in behind
this dumpster and filled his car up with these tapes. Thats
how, what there is of original recordings material, multitrack and
two tracks of The Who was saved, but a lot of it was destroyed. It
was just a major loss. Its absolutely true.
RS: And the tape used on the Mobile CD of Tommy was Townshends
own personal tape?
HB: Thats exactly what it was.
RS: After Mobile Fidelitys gold CD, MCA also put out a single
disc version of Tommy.
HB: What happened was they went in and did a remix from the multi-tracks
which was even different from the original Tommy CD that
was out. In that sense, Mobile Fidelity is not a commercial company,
were purists. Were going after-thats the name of
the company-the original master recordings. Weve missed things
and refused to do things because we either could not find the original
masters or somebody wanted us to use a remix.
RS: MCA did their own gold disc of Whos Next.
HB: We couldnt do it. Couldnt find it. Thats
one of the Olympic Studio disasters. MCAs gold CD wasnt
from the original two-track. Its from a copied two-track. For
them using a second or third generation is and has always been acceptable.
For us its not. They had a good tape and thats what they
used. Music companies are in the business of making lots of product
available for lots of people quickly and cheaply. Mobile Fidelity
is the absolute antithesis of that. Our business is dedicated to making
small amounts of product available for small numbers of people slowly
and basically without regard to cost.
RS: You also did a two on one gold CD by The Kinks entitled The
Kinks and Kinda Kinks.
Theres a good example. In our search, we found in Londonfrom
the older recordings, before they went with Arista Recordsthese
two great original masters. We havent been able to find masters
that were subsequently released. Because, again, what was delivered
to the American records companies were production copies. Because
the contractual relationship changed between the Kinks and Pye Records
or rather the successor in interest to Pye, nobody knows where the
masters are. On the other hand there were companies like British Decca
and EMI that had and continue to have meticulous records and storage
and protection for these masters. Ive had engineers whove
worked on one album at Mobile Fidelity off and on for a year to get
it to where they though it was ready to come out. A major cant
RS: Speaking of masterpieces, Mobile Fidelity earned high accolades
for their gold CD set of Jethro Tulls Living In The Past.
HB: First of all, weve done, over the years, many Jethro
Tull CDs. Ian Anderson is a Mobile Fidelity fan. He has his masters.
Hes one of these guys who kept everything. He has always held,
not only the multi-tracks but the original two-tracks. And so over
the years, weve worked with him and hes been a fan of
ours and were a fan of his, so its a very mutual kind of thing.
Ian is a super professional man. This is the consummate professional
in the business. All I can tell you is I have the greatest admiration
and respect for Ian Anderson as a musician, a creative person, as
a technical wizard and as somebody who truly understands the effort
to try and pass the magic of realism along through the recording chain.
RS: The Mobile Fidelity gold discs of Tulls Stand Up and
Thick As A Brick, are now out of print.
HB: When we did that, those were really early on. I would love to
get a shot at those again, but the problem for me is I dont
like to do that and Ive never done that to my consumer. I think
its unfair. Making you buy things over and over again. Were
going to probably have Gain II, and if its as dramatic a breakthrough
as they tell me its going to be, I might say lets do a
few things from the past, because I think well make a major
improvement over what we did before,and time will have passed before.
RS: So you license the masters directly from Ian Anderson?
HB: We license them from the company, but the company doesnt
have the masters and our relationships with most companies are, that
they know were treasure hunters and if they dont have
them they generally let us go find them.
RS: Getting back to Tull, do you think Mobile Fidelity will ever do
gold CDs of the Tull classics Benefit and War Child?
HB: Now that you mention that, I was in London and met with Ian
recently and I brought back Benefit and War Child. I
might actually think about doing a box set of Tull. But, I brought
both of those back, so you hit both of the right buttons.
RS: Another group Mobile Fidelity has had great success with is The
HB: The Moodies music lends itself to what we do because they were
the first band that obviously married serious classical charts with
rock. They were pretty particular also. And early on they were really
big fans of ours and their company, Decca, I had done business with
from the get-go and they actually at one time wanted us to do a Moodies
box set. I may do that yet, Im not sure.
RS: What have been some of the most successful gold CDs on Mobile
HB: Dark Side Of The Moon was the biggest and best we were
ever able to do. That was true by a large quantity. We dont
have that one in the catalog right now. Mobile Fidelity had Dark
Side in its catalog continuously from 1979 till 1996 and
we sold lots of them. We also sold a tremendous number of Meddle.
From an audiophile point of view Muddy Waters was an exceptional
recording for us. Its called Folksinger. Weve also
done very well with U2s Joshua Tree, and Robin Trowers
Bridge Of Sighs.
RS: Which Mobile Fidelity gold discs do you think sound the best?
HB: Thats an interesting question. It depends probably in terms
of what were trying to capture. I would suggest you listen to the
Muddy Waters CD and listen to Billy Holidays Body And Soul
and Dinah Washingtons What A Difference A Day Makes. Thats
my kind of music, close to doo-wop which is what I grew up with. The
best of alland it has to do with what were trying to do here,
which is capture realityis the R.E.M. CD Murmur. Funny
enough, other people say listen to our Bob Marley CD Catch A Fire.
RS: What do you say to audiophile purists who still swear by their
old vinyl LPs and sometimes look down on CD?
Yeah, theyre right. In all honesty Im an analog guy. Until
we fix the sampling rate on CDs and fill in blank spots you loose
the real ambient feel and thats what analog gives you. CD gives
you a much more accurate representation of the note, but it loses
in terms of the note and the ambient environment in which it was played.
I think well fix some of that. In other words we have to double
the sampling rate. Mobile Fidelity is actually working in those areas
right now. And that is when I think youll start to discover
that CD can compete, if you will, with analog. But I dont think
it can as it exists today. The next generation of CD will be a softer,
rounder more natural sounding ambiently appropriate recording medium.
RS: I never want to go back to vinyl.
HB: Our albums dont have that problem. And you must remember
Im one of those people your talkin about. I spent a fortune
four years ago to build a brand new state of the art vinyl plant.
And for three years we made vinyl records, again! The problem for
me was, I discovered, as I describe it that the demand turned out
to be a mile wide and a micron deep. Theres a lot of people
talking about it and not as many willing to put their money up. After
three years I closed the plant.
RS: I still dont want to go back to my turntables again!
HB: No, no you wont have to do that! First of all its
15 years after CD. Youve relearned listening, youve filled
in the blanks on your own. You follow me? So long as people are interested
in experiencing the closest thing to realism you can get in the musical
experience, the final stages of analog reproduction and the next generation
of digital reproduction, not the one were in now, but the next one,
which is DVD and DVD audio (DVDA) will be looked upon as the pinnacles
of accurate reproduction for their periods. I dont think what
were doing now will be looked upon that way at all.
RS: So youre saying, that in regard to CD we still have one
more mountain to climb so to speak?
HB: I think so. Absolutely. The next generation of DVD audio (DVDA)
will be much better. Mobile Fidelity is working on making those improvements.
RS: So, I guess Ive been talking with a real pioneer of the
HB: I dont know. What I know is that we serve a very highly,
critical but very small market, and we never try to pull anything
over on them. And weve always been honest with them. And thats
why weve been in business for 21 years.
Herb, Ill let you go, but first give me your top five desert
HB: Now youre really stretching it! OK... The Beatles- Revolver/Rubber
Soul...Yes- Close To The Edge...Led Zeppelin- Led Zeppelin
II...and Frees self-titled second album- Free. Gotta
Date: Thursday, September 6, 2001
Retired U.S. music industry executive Herb Belkin died Aug. 22 in
Alaska of a heart attack. He was 62. An attorney who joined the music
business in 1969, Belkin worked as A&R GM at Capitol, where he
was involved in the careers of Grand Funk Railroad, the Raspberries,
and others. He later held senior posts at Atlantic and ABC Records.
In 1977, Belkin co-founded audiophile firm Mobile Fidelity; in 1987,
he established Soviet-American classical venture Art & Electronics.