MoFi Ultradisc One-Step Vinyl Records

The closest you can come to listening to a master recording

Under somewhat dubious circumstances, this writer recently bought what appeared to be an Emporio Armani suede-leather jacket. Unsurprisingly, given its cut-rate price, it turned out to be a knockoff.

Discovering it to be fake was a less than triumphant moment, but the jacket has been an unlikely success. Not only is it unusually warm and comfortable, but a succession of people, including a receptionist and a waitress at Soho House, have, unprompted, admired it.

When revealed to be a rip-off and not made of real leather, it was received with even more enthusiasm. “Vegan leather is so cool,” said your columnist’s 21-year-old stepdaughter.

If we have been conned but are perfectly happy about the con, have we still been conned? This question became relevant again days later, when an audiophile friend asked Air Mail to come and listen to what he said was something extraordinary.

He had managed to buy a $125 vinyl record from the MoFi label, which claims to produce exceptionally high-quality, limited-edition recordings sourced directly from the artists’ original master tapes. We were listening to Folk Singer, a Muddy Waters album recorded in New York in 1963 and offered within MoFi’s top-level, Ultradisc One-Step range—that’s One-Step, as in one step removed from the master.

The audio quality was nothing short of sensational. It was the closest thing imaginable to being at a live performance. After closing your eyes, you were there in the studio. Waters’s voice came growling from a distinct point between the two speakers, and the instruments were uncannily spaced apart from one another.

We listened to the same album on a top-quality streaming service, and it sounded like mush by comparison. No wonder many of MoFi’s small range of recordings sell on eBay for multiples of their already high original prices.

Some online research, however, later revealed that MoFi, the name of a company based in Chicago and Sebastopol, California—Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab—is living under a cloud, at least as far as audiophiles are concerned.

A Washington Post investigation last year proved that the company had technically been cheating by saying their records are cut directly from analog tapes without the music ever being digitized. In fact, they use the highest quality of digital—the rare Direct Stream Digital format—as a bridge between old, fragile studio master tapes and top-quality vinyl pressings.

This sleight of hand, to which the company has since owned up, has split audio connoisseurs between those who say MoFi recordings are still exceptional, and that the digital element in the production doesn’t detract from the sound, and those who insist they’ve been conned. One purist in North Carolina has even filed a class-action suit against the company, which, if successful, could sink it, given MoFi’s high margins and small, finite audience.

Con or not, if you love audio and have decent equipment, we recommend buying MoFi records, in case they become rarer than they already are.

The Jackery 1500 Pro Portable Power Station with SolarSaga 200W Panels

The Jackery 1500 Pro Portable Power Station with SolarSaga 200W Panels, $2,099.

If the grid goes down, you won’t need to call your prepper friend for help

The buzz around portable solar-powered power stations, such as the Geneverse range we featured last August, seems to be growing month by month, be it because of fear of power outages or more people wanting to take their electronic gadgetry on trips into the wild.

Another California company, Jackery, has actually been in this once niche market a little longer than Geneverse, and is carving out a reputation as the Apple of home generators.

Jackery’s power stations are exceptionally simple to use and have the industrial design edge on Geneverse, with spiffy matching orange connecting cables. The company won four innovation awards at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (C.E.S.), with products including a solar-powered tent and a portable wind-powered turbine.

While waiting keenly for those products to make it to market, we have been trying Jackery’s 1500 Pro Portable Power Station, which also debuted at C.E.S., and loving its rugged engineering and handsome looks.

Its solar panels are in fact an optional add-on rather than the essence of the machine. Simply charging your Jackery from a household outlet and storing it away as a hefty, but easily portable, power block makes it an excellent addition to any household.

Whether charged using Jackery’s own beautifully made solar panels or an outlet, the 1500 Pro, the smaller of the two new models, is sufficient to keep a laptop up and running for days, charge a phone dozens of times, or even to power an appliance, such as a chain saw or power drill, in a remote spot.

The H2O Tri Pro Multi-Sport Headphones

The H2O Tri Pro Multi-Sport headphones, $159.99.

Headphones that prove it’s better late than never

The challenge of making swimming less boring with music, audiobooks, and other listenable material has exercised a couple of generations of gadgeteers.

Bone-conduction headphones are generally used to get music through the user’s skull while leaving the ears open to hear additional inputs—approaching powerboats, for example. But getting music to a headset for swimmers is less easy.

That is, it was until H20 Audio, a San Diego company started by a Finnish surfer and triathlete, and former Nokia employee, took an older concept that your columnist remembers from 20-plus years ago and turned it into a range of products up to 2023 standards.

The turn-of-the-century idea was to connect bone-conducting headphones to a waterproof MP3 player. But the need to wire the player to the headphones—this was pre-Bluetooth—and the puny capacity of memory chips of the time made it a poor-quality, gimmicky product that never caught on.

H20, however, has built an eight-gigabyte player, sufficient for lengthy playlists or entire audiobooks, with a decent-quality headset, and combined the player with an excellent app, which enables you to load music wirelessly from any phone music app.

This means you could be listening to your favorite playlists or Dickens audiobooks even while scuba-diving. We tried H20’s Tri Pro Multi-Sport and can confirm that it’s also suitable for running, biking, snowboarding, and, as the name suggests, most other sports.

The Apple Music Classical App

The Apple Music Classical app, included in Apple Music, $99 a year.

Because the Deutsche Grammophon logo can’t be your only guidepost …

Several years ago, a Dutch management consultant and classical-music fan, Thomas Steffens, realized that existing music-streaming services were inadequate for classical music. With its infinite varieties of composers, performers, and versions, classical is too messy and complicated to be catalogued like pop.

So Steffens did what anyone in his position would do and hired 10 conservatory students in Amsterdam to catalogue every existing classical recording available in digital form. Having done that, he took on a team of music experts to organize the 200-300 new recordings discovered every week into a fully fledged streaming app, Primephonic, which launched in 2014.

Primephonic was superb and expensive, with supremely elegant functionality and top-quality audio files organized quite skillfully for the complexity of classical music. Whether you knew the genre well or your classical knowledge was sketchy and you were keen on being guided by recommendations, Primephonic was quite wonderful. Your columnist loved it.

Just before the pandemic, as a richly deserved reward for his obsessive years of time and money spent on Primephonic, Steffens received the call all innovators yearn for: it was from Apple. Soon afterward, they bought Primephonic—price undisclosed—and they’ve just launched Apple Music Classical as a no-extra-charge part of the Apple Music package.

The new app, which is separate from the main Apple Music app, is even more user-friendly and breathtaking than Primephonic was. You can spend countless hours exploring it, and the quality of the streams is terrific.

Have a sudden urge to hear bassoon music? Touch the Bassoon button and you are suddenly into all the great bassoon hits, from Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto in C Major (4 different recordings) to Saint-Saëns Bassoon Sonata in G Major (53 different recordings).

We officially love Apple Music Classical.

Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology