The rubber meets the road for MoFi Electronics less than 50 miles from Detroit in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Mobile Fidelity’s new UltraDeck and StudioDeck turntables are made. Why there? In part because this is where Wadia’s production facilities were located, and where John Schaffer still lives and works, surrounded by his own network of people. John likes to be hands-on with the assembly operations, so it made sense to establish the new factory where he was located.
Allen Perkins came on board as an expert collaborator for the project early on, and the timing was really good for him. “I was coming to a point where I wanted to get lower-priced products out there, but I didn’t have any that fit my company [Spiral Groove],” he said. “So this was a great opportunity for me to say that my design principles can work at all price points.” (See sidebar interview for more.)
There are two tiers of turntables and phonostages (plus three cartridges) currently available through MoFi Electronics; each product bears either the “Ultra” or “Studio” prefix in its name: the UltraDeck and the StudioDeck tables ($1799 and $1199, respectively), and the UltraPhono and StudioPhono phonostages ($499 and $249). There’s also a “+” upgrade option for each turntable—an additional $200 for UltraDeck+ or $150 for StudioDeck+—that includes an UltraTracker or StudioTracker mm cartridge preinstalled at the factory. An optional 13-ounce MoFi Super Heavyweight record weight ($199) completes the lineup. Under review here is the UltraDeck+ ($1999) and StudioPhono ($249) combination. Though this review emphasizes the UltraDeck table, a few words on the phonostages are in order: Adjustable loading and selectable gain are offered for mm and mc cartridges. Both phonostages come with an external power supply, so their rectangular form factor stays clean and compact; only a small yellow light and two small square buttons for subsonic filter and mono options —very pro-audio in look—are on the front beneath a tasteful logo up top. (The UltraPhono model also contains a Class A headphone amp and a dial for a 31-step volume control, plus an additional 6dB better signal-to-noise ratio.)
The two MoFi turntable models have some key attributes in common: Both are belt-driven, feature isolated AC synchronous motors and constrained-layer-damped chassis (the UltraDeck has three aluminum plates bonded to its MDF plinth, the StudioDeck has just one), and offer 33 1/3 and 45rpm speed options (changed manually by moving the belt’s position on the Delrin pulley). Although both come with Delrin platters, the UltraDeck’s is 1.3" thick and weighs almost twice as much as the StudioDeck’s (6.8 lbs. versus 3.8 lbs. and ¾" thick). Allen explained that Delrin is materially close to vinyl, so it’s a good mechanical impedance match. He also chose it because it tends to be quiet, and it machines very easily, which helps keep costs down while offering solid performance as a single-material platter. The UltraDeck’s tonearm contains upgraded Cardas Audio wiring from the headshell through the gold-plated RCA connectors. The 10" aluminum arms on both models use high-quality ball bearings in a gimbaled design for lower friction and quiet operation.
Those music lovers who might be nervous about turntable and cartridge setup, fear not. MoFi has you covered. The turntables come with simple instructions for assembly, which really only involves attaching the platter, belt, tonearm counterweight, and anti-skate weight. My UltraDeck+ review sample arrived with the Japanese-made UltraTracker cartridge pre-installed at the factory; with this “+” option MoFi wanted to make life easier for the end user (and eliminate set-up anxiety as a potential barrier to upgrading to a better turntable). A downloadable user guide provides step-by-step instructions and clear illustrations for assembly. Josh Bizar and Jonathan Derda (of MoFi Distribution) were on-hand for my initial setup, but the whole process only took a matter of minutes.
As befits any well-made ’table, the MoFi decks allow adjustments to tracking force, VTA, azimuth, and anti-skate. This should please tweakier audiophiles (although I adjusted just the first two). In addition to the parts mentioned above, the turntable also conveniently comes with a couple of hex wrenches, a stylus brush, RCA interconnects, and a detachable dustcover in a storm-cloud grey tint. One item you might want on-hand is a bubble level (or an app for that). (Some other ’tables in this category have levels embedded in the plinth.) The feet, which were conceived and designed by Mike Latvis of high-end equipment-rack-and-accessories-maker HRS (Harmonic Resolution Systems), are easily adjustable. Another nice feature: The MoFi turntables are equipped with an IEC connector so you can use the included power cord or one of your own choice. All told, even an analog novice should have what he or she needs to get up and running…or spinning.
Aesthetically the UltraDeck is not a flashy design, nor was it meant to be. It strikes the perfect balance between being no-nonsense and straightforward yet stylish, with thoughtful details that reflect the MoFi brand’s purpose and ideals. Conceived in close collaboration with Allen Perkins on the technical and materials side, and with MoFi designer Jim Baker on the industrial side, these customized tables embody what Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab is known for: faithfully reproduced music for listeners at home. A distinctive studio-inspired detail is a small, square, yellow-lit power button—a nod to the look and feel of the control buttons on a tape deck, like the souped-up Studer in Mobile Fidelity’s Sebastapol, California, mastering facility. A similar yellow light and square pushbuttons are also found on the MoFi phonostages. This (literal) touchpoint carries over the brand’s philosophy both visually and ergonomically.