Right from the start I was struck by the sense of presence and immediacy in the MoFi’s playback. Indeed Allen’s applied principles and prioritization of speed stability, thanks in part to the AC synchronous motor, delivered the much-sought-after image depth and breadth—substance, if you will. After I let the motor run for hours over a few days of break-in, the sound got better and better. Image definition, detail, and stability improved, along with ever-increasing amounts of smoothness and ease. Overall musicality was another positive constant. I was astonished at how quiet backgrounds were, especially on good recordings. Surely the little StudioPhono deserves partial credit here.
On Joni Mitchell’s Blue, the harmonics, particularly on the dulcimer on “All I Want,” rang true. The emotional expression behind her singing shined though with plenty of breath and energy in a lively and lovely presentation. Decays on piano chords took their time fading against a quiet backdrop. Nor did the MoFi shy away from the jump-swing style piano boogie of “Saturday Night Fish Fry” from Jon Hendricks’ Fast Livin’ Blues [ORG]. The rapid-fire upright bass plucking was delivered with substantial impact and snappy control. The midrange, notably on brass and vocals, took a front seat. All instruments were rendered with bloom and dimensionality.
Madeliene Peyroux’s “Don’t Wait Too Long” from Careless Love [Mobile Fidelity] was solidly imaged and slightly forward. Her and the musicians’ placement within the soundstage seemed pretty spot-on. Once again, body and bloom were registered galore, from subtle snare brushstrokes to double-bass plucks. Turning to something more raucous, I played the MoFi LP reissue of the Pixies’ Doolittle. The UltraDeck+ and StudioPhono combo handled the hard-hitting percussion, and both the grungy lead and rhythm guitar licks admirably. The wild layers were all there yet effortlessly controlled. On “Monkey Gone to Heaven” the low-key cello strings emerged with lifelike presence rather than fading into the background.
For some time now I’ve been enjoying the Acoustic Signature Challenger Mk. 3 turntable as my analog reference. With its upgraded TA-2000 tonearm and the superb Air Tight PC-7 mc cartridge this front-end setup tallies into the $5k–$6k range. Knowing full well that the MoFi UltraDeck+ wasn’t in the same price category, I’ll admit I had some slight reservations—as well as a strong curiosity—about taking the MoFi UltraDeck for a spin. Immediately, however, I was delighted…relieved? (Surprised isn’t the right word; I trusted that MoFi wouldn’t put out something that wasn’t ready for prime time.) As this hobby goes, the comparative differences from my reference setup could mainly be heard in the subtleties—in degrees of resolution. There was a slight softening of edges and a slight veiling or damping on some recordings. Soundstaging might not have had the same cavernous depths, but there was still a strong, stable sense of image placement. There was also a pleasant politeness to the proceedings—though this might also have been due in part to some inherent mc vs. mm cart differences. In other words, nothing about the Mo-Fi offended or stuck out; all elements seem well balanced. Imaging, musicality, pitch stability, and presence emerged as strong themes throughout my listening.
Distinguishing itself as a cut (and then some) above the entry-level, the MoFi Electronics UltraDeck+ and StudioPhono system does its makers proud. It’s bound to please a broad range of music lovers, who may or may not (yet) consider themselves audiophiles. Bottom line: The UltraDeck is a smartly conceived and finely honed design that’s already earning its place as an instant classic.
Specs & Pricing
Motor: 300 RPM AC synchronous
Dimensions: 19.69" x 6" x 14.25"
Weight: 23.1 lbs.
Price: UltraDeck $1799; UltraDeck+ (includes UltraTracker cartridge) $1999
Type: Straight aluminum, gimbaled bearing
Type: Solid-state with external power supply
Gain: Selectable for mm or mc 40dB–66dB
Cartridge loading: Adjustable 75 ohms–47k ohms
Load impedance: mm, 47k ohms; mc, 75 ohms–47k ohms
Dimensions: 3 7/8" x 1 1/4" x 7 1/8"
Weight: 1 lb. 2 oz.
715 W. Ellsworth Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Questions for Josh Bizar, Vice President of Music Direct
Where and how did this turntable project all begin?
When I came to work for Jim Davis and Music Direct in 1999, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) had just been shuttered, and we were closing out the remaining stock we had purchased. Jim believed very strongly in the legacy of the brand and worked very hard to acquire the company and rebuild the label. Every day, I was speaking to MFSL customers and helping them fill in the holes in their collections with the remaining stock. So many of them were asking questions about what turntables, cartridges, and other gear I recommended to best reproduce their music. That was when both Jim and I first decided to provide these loyal music lovers and collectors with a Mobile Fidelity-branded hardware solution. Having Mobile Fidelity fans playing back their recordings on Mobile Fidelity equipment seemed like a logical progression.
It took us an additional decade to grow to a size where we had the time and resources to really develop these ideas into a viable business. And during those years at Music Direct, I was fortunate to work with some of the industry’s best hi-fi designers and engineers. It was so exciting to get such positive responses from everyone with whom I discussed the opportunity.
What were the initial design goals? How did these evolve over time?
Our first goal was to build products that would be true to the brand. We knew we wanted to begin with the analog front end because of the great vinyl our engineers keep putting out into the marketplace. I really wanted these products to offer tremendous value at real-world prices. This project was born out of a desire to satisfy music lovers and fans of the label. The next step involved discussing materials, design sensibility, and how and where to get the products built. It became a painstaking process of listening, testing, and more listening to make sure the quality was where it needed to be.
How did you approach Allen Perkins? What made you want to work with him in particular?
Allen Perkins was an integral part of the analog designs. When I first came into this industry, Allen was so helpful, teaching me things I never understood about turntables and cartridges. He became a fast friend, and was the perfect designer to help us with ’tables and cartridges. We also work closely with Tim de Paravicini of E.A.R. He has designed all the electronics in Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s analog cutting system. He’s also responsible for most of the advances that have been made in our mastering studio in Sebastopol, California. It made perfect sense to involve him in the electronics designs.
One of the greatest aspects of the process is involving these incredible audio engineers and putting them front and center. We are so proud to have them on board, so why would we want to keep them hidden? Even something as simple looking as the feet on our new turntables were an extremely complex project undertaken by Mike Latvis of HRS. The feet have a dramatic impact on the sound of the ’table by way of their brilliant vibration-control engineering. I look forward to sharing more about our talented partners on upcoming projects we have in the works.
Why build it in the U.S.? Why Ann Arbor?
We knew from the beginning that is was really important to build these products in the U.S. Mobile Fidelity is the most prestigious American audiophile record label, and we wanted to continue that legacy. I had also built a tremendous friendship with former Wadia owner, John Schaffer, over the years. When the opportunity arose to have him run the electronics company, everything started to fall into place. What John has accomplished in the factory and assembly facility in Ann Arbor, where he ran Wadia and still lives, is truly amazing.
What were your first audio and/or music memories? What was your first turntable and system?
I grew up around music and spent much of my early years listening to records with my extended family. I had a cool little console with a turntable and speakers that were covered in denim in my bedroom. I think it was from Sears. I wish I still had it. But my first memory of really having a transformative listening experience was at 13 years old when my uncle Rickey brought home the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Beatles box set. I sat on the floor of his living room, right in the sweet spot, thinking that John, Paul, George, and Ringo were playing just for me. It blows my mind that I now get to work with the team who put that set together—and be a part of all the great releases currently produced by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab.