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United Home Audio SuperDeck

United Home Audio SuperDeck

Although the first mass-produced stereophonic LP—Audio Fidelity Records’ combo of railroad-train sound effects on one side and music by the Dukes of Dixieland on the other—wasn’t officially introduced until December 13, 1957, a select few audiophiles were already enjoying two-channel recordings in their homes via pre-recorded, quarter-inch, reel-to-reel magnetic tapes, played back on commercial tape decks with in-line or stacked heads. Most of the larger record companies had been releasing these prerecorded stereo tapes since 1954 (R2R monophonic tapes since 1949), and for the most part they sounded great. Indeed, when RCA, Columbia, etc. began reissuing many of these same titles on stereo discs in 1958, the audio press was sometimes disappointed by the LP sonics. What had been smooth, continuous, wideband, low-distortion high fidelity on reel-to-reel could be rough, left/right, limited-range lower fidelity on vinyl.

With R2R tapes, sonics were never the problem. The rub was their expense (a mono LP cost about $3.95 in 1954; stereo tapes, on the other hand, ranged from $12.95–$18.95 apiece); their relative fragility; and the steep price of the tape decks needed to play them back (not to mention the additional cost of doubling up on speakers and amps).

There were and are multiple reasons for R2R tape’s sonic superiority. For one thing, a tape is duplicated directly from a copy of a mastertape (or a copy of the edited work parts derived from same) via two synchronized recorders. The process is simple and straightforward. As most of you know, making a vinyl record is a far more lossy procedure, typically involving several generations of metal “fathers and mothers,” stampers, and vinyl pucks that must be engraved and flattened under pressure.

For another, outside of their transport mechanisms tapes recorders have no moving parts. Where a phono cartridge’s stylus wiggles up and down and side to side as it traces the modulations engraved in an LP’s grooves, sending those physical vibrations to magnets or coils (which also move) at the other end of a cantilever, the “heads” on RTR decks are fixed and stationary. They simply scan the magnetic signals pre-recorded on the tapes passing beneath them, converting them into electrical signals (via their built-in head amps) without having to compensate for the mass, inertia, and relative imprecision of moving parts.

For a third, tapes (or at least 15ips tapes) are inherently higher in fidelity than LPs. Not only are they much closer to the source, the greater width of their tracks (vis-à-vis a record’s grooves) also means more information is laid down and preserved in each channel, while the higher speed at which those tracks are scanned makes for smoother, more extended frequency response (particularly in the bass), a more naturally “continuous” (less step-like, more ramp-like) presentation of dynamic gradients, and (with tape’s richer and fuller bottom octaves and slight compression of the top treble) a distortion profile that is closer to that of the human ear—a warmth and sweetness that are very natural and musical.

For audiophiles who could afford them, reel-to-reel tapes were the ne plus ultra of high-fidelity playback right up until the end of the 1960s, when the greater convenience, lower cost, and readier availability of cassette tapes and audiophile-grade cassette players (particularly from Nakamichi) began to crowd them out of the playback market. After the digital bomb went off in 1982, the already waning medium of R2R playback virtually disappeared from the home-audio scene.

It wasn’t until several decades later that R2R began to make a mini-comeback, thanks to Dan Schmalle, Mike Romanowski, and Paul Stubblebine’s Tape Project. Starting in the later 2000s, Schmalle and Co. began demo’ing with R2R tape machines at hi-fi trade shows, playing back quarter-inch 15ips copies of mastertapes that The Tape Project had secured the rights to issue and sell (in limited quantities).

Within a decade, the number of exhibitors using R2R tapes and tape machines to demo with at audio shows had grown substantially. Even mainstream audiophile record companies and record retailers—such as Acoustic Sounds/Analogue Productions, Chasing The Dragon, Fonè, Groove Note, Opus 3, and Yarlung—started to dip their toes in the R2R market, releasing limited numbers of their own and of classic titles on 15ips tape, while various individuals worldwide (many of them once associated with LP mastering houses and pressing facilities) marketed not-quite-legal copies of famous LPs, dubbed from analog mastertapes that had been discarded or warehoused decades before.

If The Tape Project got the R2R ball rolling on the source side, it is United Home Audio’s Greg Beron who got it going on the hardware one. An awful lot of audiophiles, including many of you reading this blog, got your first taste (or first reminder) of how good reel-to-reel playback can sound via one of Greg’s modified Tascam machines, either in a manufacturer’s showroom or at one of Greg’s and MBL guru Jeremy Bryan’s after-hours gatherings at RMAF, AXPONA, Capitol Audio Fest, T.H.E. Show, etc.

As so many of you have heard for yourselves, there is nothing else in high-end audio quite as natural, musical, and beguiling as the playback of a really good tape. Of course, just like vinyl records and digital discs/files, not all tapes are created equal. Still, the best examples can take you as close as you can get to the absolute sound—to the feeling that you are there in the studio or recital hall, listening to real musicians making music in real time.

Naturally, a good deal of what you hear with tape also depends on quality of the deck doing the playback (not to mention, everything else in the reproduction chain). And it is here that United Home Audio has not only the led the way but held its own against all comers. (Take a gander at my interview with Greg Beron, printed below, for fuller details on his UHA decks and how he came to manufacture and market them.)

Over the years I have listened to my share of new and refurbished R2Rs—from giant studio machines like Studers and Ampexes to high-end prosumer models from Otari, Technics, ReVox, etc., to superb portables like the Nagra IV-S. While I can’t tell you that a UHA deck betters all of them in every aspect of tape playback, I can say with certainty that Greg Beron’s highly modified Tascams have more than held their own in overall high fidelity and sonic appeal. I can also tell you that, in the decade I’ve been using them, I have not once had a mechanical problem with a UHA deck, which is not something that my R2R-loving friends can say about their refurbished vintage machines.

UHA’s sonic excellence has held true (with progressive audible improvements) for all the models I’ve heard or used in Greg’s Ultima Series (right up to his latest Ultima4 OPS-DC). But Beron’s new creation, the dual-mono, three-chassis UHA SuperDeck, is a different (and unquestionably superior) critter.

Of course, at $89,998 it ought to be.

What new and better are you getting for almost four times the price of an Ultima4 OPS-DC? Well…just about everything.

As I noted, the SuperDeck is a dual-mono three-chassis tape player, with the transport, power supply, and (for the first time) head amp in their own separate, custom-designed, CNC-milled, internally damped, billet-aluminum enclosures. Each of these three separate sections is built (or re-built) using audiophile-grade through-hole components on military-grade PTFE/ceramic/epoxy circuit boards. The parts themselves are as exceptional as the boards (and very expensive): proprietary custom-wound capacitors with 100% copper end caps and gold leads, built for UHA (and UHA only) by Wilson Audio and made from hyper-pure, oxygen-free copper-foil and highly specified DuPont Teflon; precision-trimmed, low-noise, expertly matched resistors; hand-matched, low-noise transistors; cost-no-object tape playback and record heads, paintaingly selected for lowest distortion and highest fidelity.

The SuperDeck’s new outboard head amp comes with balanced and unbalanced outputs. It is also equipped with a pair of three-position custom-designed VU meters that can be turned off, used without illumination, or lit up, as the owner choses. Each OPS and head amp is also outfitted with a proprietary internal damping system to minimize room-noise transmission into the signal path. Special mechanical feet are available as an upgrade to further reduce noise, as is an optional billet-aluminum UHA SuperDeck rack, which suspends the tape transport in a gel system that allows it to float without making contact with the rack for vibration-free operation. (The rack also accommodates the outboard head amp.)

Functionally, the SuperDeck is as easy and uncomplicated to use as any of Greg’s Ultima offerings. Instead of taking a “Swiss army knife” approach to functionality, Beron limits his decks to the most popular speed and format—15ips with IEC EQ. This allows for a design without a massive amount of switching and added circuitry, which always degrades audio quality, though it does prevent users from listening to vintage 3¼ or 7½ips commercial tapes or dubs of 30ips mastertapes.

So…how does the SuperDeck sound?

In a word, “super.” Put on any recording you’re familiar with, sit back, and be amazed. In my case, I started with Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” from a 15ips dub of Gerry Mulligan Meets Ben Webster [Verve]. This is a great-sounding cut in any medium, particularly on vinyl played back with DS Audio’s new Grand Master cartridge (reviewed by me in TAS 317). But…as uncannily low in noise and tape-like in color, dynamic, and imaging as the Grand Master is (and it is the lowest-noise, most tape-like cartridge I’ve heard), the immediate difference in density of tone color, three-dimensional solidity of imaging (especially through MBL’s omnis), ramp-like dynamic smoothness, and instrumental, musical, and performance detail (such as Webster’s famous breathiness on tenor and the flutter of Mulligan’s reed on barione) was stunning. To borrow a famous analogy from Harry Pearson, listening to tape is like looking at a 3-D slide through a stereoscopic viewer with both eyes open; listening to everything else is, to a greater or (in the case of the DS Audio Grand Master) lesser degree, like looking at that same slide with one eye closed. The SuperDeck is simply more “complete,” to use my own lingo, facilitating that gestalt shift between recorded and real to an extent that raises goosebumps and takes your breath away. Through the (IMO) incomparable MBL 101 X-tremes (driven by MBL’s superb electronics), Webster and Mulligan, and their fabulous rhythm section of Jimmy Rowles on piano, Leroy Vinegar on bass, and Mel Lewis on drums, just seem to be there in the room with you.

Even though there will always (and necessarily) be a slight patina of artifice with recorded music—the characteristic sound of what I think were the U-47 mics used to make this recording, for instance—that prevents the illusion of realism from being perfect, it is still magical to hear great instrumentalists, all of them long gone, seemingly live and play again as in a club or studio, and play for you. With so little coming between you and them, your engagement with and appreciation of what is being performed—and how it is being performed—skyrockets. That really is what the absolute sound is about, isn’t it? Not the appreciation of higher-fidelity sound per se, but of the way that higher-fidelity sound facilitates your appreciation of the music and the music-makers.

After Gerry and Ben, I listened a 15ips dub of The Doors’ L.A. Woman [Elektra]—Jim Morrison’s swansong (if an album that includes “Crawling King Snake” can rightfully be called swan-like). And the tape magic more than held up. Even though this recording may not be quite as sonically flawless as the Mulligan/Webster one, it’s still pretty damn good on most media (especially on Analogue Productions 45rpm vinyl reissue), but…not as good as it is on RTR tape.

The Doors have written about how excited they were to (finally) have a bass player (and what a bass player!—Jerry Scheff from Elvis’ band) at this session. What isn’t as often remarked on is the fact that they also added a rhythm guitar player (Mark Benno) to allow Robby Krieger to concentrate on his lead parts. (And, boy, does this pay dividends on his simply fabulous guitar break in “L.A. Woman,” right after Mr. Mojo finishes rising. I don’t think there is another Doors’ cut where Krieger’s 1954 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty sounds more thrillingly rock ’n’ roll.) The trouble is that, up until several recent remasterings, it was hard to hear the changes in instrumentation and personnel that got The Doors so worked up. Indeed, the initial release on LP was thinnish in bass and lower-midrange timbre, which affected the color and drive that Scheff, in particular, and Benno were adding to the mix. While the 45rpm LP definitely fills in much of this thinness, it doesn’t go as far in the right direction as the 15ips tape, whereon Scheff’s big, rolling bass lines and Benno’s rhythmic time-keeping are as clear, powerful, full-bodied, and easily distinguishable as Morrison’s vocals.

Speaking of which, it is well-known that Morrison recorded his vocals on L.A. Woman in a separate space—a bathroom at the back of the recording studio, as a matter of fact—where the tighter confines added edge, volume, and reverberance to his timbre. While this separation in space and difference in acoustic has always been audible on LP and digital, it has never been as obvious as it is on R2R tape, where his delivery of what is, after all, not so much an R&B song or even a latter-day murder ballad but a 50-line noir novel—filled with brilliant metaphors (“I see your hair is burning…”) and dark, dark, dark ellipses and alliterations (“Motel money murder madness”)—is so fully reproduced (along with the acoustic space Morrison was singing in) that you don’t just hear him; you can almost see him.

The result of the greater sonic completeness of the R2R is a presentation with all the valedictory darkness and power this music was intended to have (intensified, of course, by what would happen in Paris just a few weeks after the recording session ended and before the album was released). If you want to experience L.A. Woman with this full-body, mind-blowing intensity and transport, then you’re just going to have to listen to it on R2R tape—through the SuperDeck.

Ditto for classical music with acoustic instruments, such as the Chasing The Dragon’s excellent ¼” 15ips R2R recording of pianist John Lenehan playing Beethoven’s “Pathétique” and “Moonlight” sonatas [CTDRR013]. In the past, Chasing The Dragon has used vintage tube microphones, often set up in a classic Decca-tree configuration, for its D2D LPs. This brand-new, live-in-the-studio recording certainly sounds Decca-like in its tonal richness, solidity of imaging, and dynamic power. Indeed, it is, if anything, even fuller in timbre (and more 3-D) than Decca’s piano recordings, with overtones (on sostenuto notes) lingering for precisely the right duration, audibly (and beautifully) enriching timbre in just the way it is fleshed out in a good hall. This realistic harmonic “sustain” is not something that you typically hear on LP (much less on digital sources), where the fundamental tends to dominate, as if the pianist were striking a single string and immediately damping its vibrations, thinning down and drying out timbre.

This remarkable difference in “completeness” of tone color makes for an equally remarkable difference in sonic realism. Though the music couldn’t be more different, the sound of Chasing The Dragon’s tape immediately put be in mind of the sound of The Tape Project/Reference Recording’s Nojima Plays Liszt. We’re talking that level of naturalness, which, in piano recordings, is about as high as it gets.

I could go on citing musical magic moments, but the point would be the same. If you want to hear recorded music sound as much like the real thing as recorded music can sound, then you should give the SuperDeck a long listen. Yes, it is expensive—and so are R2R tapes. Yes, other media such as LPs (particularly played back via DS Audio’s Grand Master cart) and digital sources (played back via MSB or Soulution DACs) have their own sets of virtues, and in the case of digital streams offer simply unrivaled convenience. But when it comes to sonic completeness—which, along with neutrality, plays such a key role in turning ersatz into real—R2R stands apart, as does Greg’s latest creation, the SuperDeck. Put simply, it is the best tape machine he’s built (by far) and, given a great tape, the most realistic source component I’ve yet heard.


JV Talks with Greg Beron

When did you first get interested in R2R playback? And in this digital day and age, what in the world made you decide to turn it into a cottage industry?

 Set the way-back machine to high school in the 1970s. There was a group of us who hung out with a friend who had a reel-to-reel deck in his house. We cobbled together a tube amp and speakers and listened to whatever tapes we could buy at the time—a few by Black Sabbath, James Gang, Zeppelin, The Who, the usual rock bands of that era. Although all of us had turntables and stereos at home, we knew that tapes were different sounding—and better. We just gravitated to them, marveling at their sound.

When the Tape Project started making tapes, I was sitting in my retail audio store and got the idea of grabbing a tape deck to audition them on. I bought a beautiful-looking Studer deck. But it turned out to have over $5000 worth of issues and repairs, so I bailed out. (I never did repair it; it’s still just sitting in a storeroom, non-operational!) The next deck I bought was a Tascam BR20 that did work, as it was a much newer deck. I ended up doing a bunch of improvements to the playback electronics and power supply, and also put a nice paint job on it. Then I took it to a Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. The press reaction at that show piqued the interest of audio consumers, and, lo and behold, there were many customers just waiting for a reliable, audiophile-type, reel-to-reel tape deck.


When did you begin building/modifying/selling your own tape machines? And why did you pick the Tascam deck (rather than a model from some other company like Studer or Ampex) as your prototype?

There were four main reasons I went with the Tascam.

First, it was a much newer deck than the 40-to-60-year-old studio decks, and I could still buy parts direct from Tascam.

Second, I realized I had to provide a warranty if I was making a re-manufactured deck for the audiophile consumer. The UHA decks have a two-year parts and labor warranty, which I simply could not provide on very old and very complex tape decks.

Third, the Tascam had all DC motors that were more reliable and speed-stable than the very large AC motors in the studio decks. Plus, you had magnetic fields generated by these large AC motors, which I was not wild about. But, most importantly, I was thinking of making an outboard power supply that would take AC from the wall and convert it to DC, so I could build a deck running on DC power only—motors, playback and recording electronics, all running 100% on DC power.

Fourth, I wanted a tape deck that was somewhat compact, would fit on the average audiophile rack, and would look like part of the system. I thought that was a better idea than a big, heavy outlier crammed in a corner of the listening room. The Tascam also had a very efficient tape transport that had a full logic tape control that just didn’t cause any trouble, even after many years of use.

Your UHA decks have gone through several series of modifications and improvements, culminating in the SuperDeck. Can you (briefly) summarize the general direction that you and your expert staff have been taking with these mods? And, in particular, what the SuperDeck offers that your previous decks didn’t?

The UHA decks have evolved over many years into the top line Ultima4 OPS-DC with an audiophile wish list of features: pure DC operation (no AC at all in the deck); separate toroidal power supplies for the tape-transport, playback, and recording functions (complete separation of functions); fully discrete and pure Class A playback; a fully discrete eq stage; special resistors, capacitors, wiring, Furutech connectors, vibration damping inside the deck, along with the use of mu-metal shielding, and much more.

However, I was still wondering after all these years whether I could pull off something with no stops at all—no compromises, an all-out assault on tape playback. I quickly realized that the next generation UHA deck was either going to be a better version of the Ultima4 or a cost-no-object project, a SuperDeck.

The pieces and parts were the biggest challenge; each one had to be the best available, so suppliers were pushed to make the very best products. The new power supply now includes separate transformers for tape movement as well as right and left toroidal transformers for playback and record, resulting in true dual-mono operation. This increases channel separation for the best listening experience possible. The external power sources include separate right and left, high-current, Class A, three-stage power supplies in the playback preamplifier, offering the best signal-to-noise possible, and superior transient response. We also used the very best resistors and capacitors, and new, very large, fully discrete gain and eq stages. We also chose a new board material that is used throughout. This material uses hyper-pure gold-plated copper plus a ceramic-impregnated dielectric that is about as far from conventional FR4 audio boards as you can get. The ceramic dielectric does not allow high frequencies to propagate to potentially create unwanted channel or interchannel crosstalk or distortion.

I quickly realized all these new specialty pieces and parts were not going to fit inside the tape deck, so all-new billet-aluminum chassis (no sheet metal at all) were CNC-cut specifically to house these larger parts. The inside of the all-aluminum chassis is lined with Richlite a vibration/damping material, and all boards attach to it for vibration control.

The SuperDeck comprises a tape transport, an outboard head amp, and an outboard DC power supply, plus an optional billet-aluminum rack that will suspend the tape transport in a gel system for vibration damping. The rack also has a place for the outboard head amp to slide in under the tape transport, so that it will all sit on the top shelf of an audio rack. You only need one more shelf for the outboard power supply, which means you are using the same amount of rack space as the Ultima4 OPS-DC. Physically, the SuperDeck will fit nicely in any audiophile system.


Though there are considerably more R2R prerecorded tapes available today than there were a decade ago, thanks in no small part (I think) to you and UHA, they are still relatively scarce and pricey. What do you tell your clientele about finding R2Rs? Do you yourself supply dubs of same? Are there specific R2R tape outlets that you recommend? 

On my web site is a list of places where you can buy tapes. The list is always growing, and some of the bigger outfits, like Acoustic Sounds, have now entered the market with great titles. There are also various underground sources where you can buy low-generation dubs of almost anything, and I mean anything. While I don’t offer dubs of tapes, I certainly do guide my customers through the maze of sources to acquire the types of tapes they are interested in. Fact is I have been gifted with so many tapes from so many generous tape suppliers over the years, mainly because I often play their tapes at the audio shows.


With the advent of the SuperDeck, what’s next for you and UHA? Are there further improvements on the horizon? And will you offer them to SuperDeck owners on an ongoing basis?

We really pulled out all the stops on the SuperDeck, and I have written checks like a drunken sailor since 2019 to prove it! Could there be improvements? I think anyone who has followed UHA knows my philosophy on that. If I can find anything better, I will do it. My customers have regularly come back for the latest upgrades over the years and have been happy with the results. I believe that thinking outside the box and offering something better is the audiophile way, and honestly I will never stop looking for better. However, any consumer should know that any UHA deck can be upgraded. You could actually go from the very first Phase1 deck I ever made to a SuperDeck. I actually have a customer doing that right now.


Jonathan Valin

By Jonathan Valin

I’ve been a creative writer for most of life. Throughout the 80s and 90s, I wrote eleven novels and many stories—some of which were nominated for (and won) prizes, one of which was made into a not-very-good movie by Paramount, and all of which are still available hardbound and via download on Amazon. At the same time I taught creative writing at a couple of universities and worked brief stints in Hollywood. It looked as if teaching and writing more novels, stories, reviews, and scripts was going to be my life. Then HP called me up out of the blue, and everything changed. I’ve told this story several times, but it’s worth repeating because the second half of my life hinged on it. I’d been an audiophile since I was in my mid-teens, and did all the things a young audiophile did back then, buying what I could afford (mainly on the used market), hanging with audiophile friends almost exclusively, and poring over J. Gordon Holt’s Stereophile and Harry Pearson’s Absolute Sound. Come the early 90s, I took a year and a half off from writing my next novel and, music lover that I was, researched and wrote a book (now out of print) about my favorite classical records on the RCA label. Somehow Harry found out about that book (The RCA Bible), got my phone number (which was unlisted, so to this day I don’t know how he unearthed it), and called. Since I’d been reading him since I was a kid, I was shocked. “I feel like I’m talking to God,” I told him. “No,” said he, in that deep rumbling voice of his, “God is talking to you.” I laughed, of course. But in a way it worked out to be true, since from almost that moment forward I’ve devoted my life to writing about audio and music—first for Harry at TAS, then for Fi (the magazine I founded alongside Wayne Garcia), and in the new millennium at TAS again, when HP hired me back after Fi folded. It’s been an odd and, for the most part, serendipitous career, in which things have simply come my way, like Harry’s phone call, without me planning for them. For better and worse I’ve just gone with them on instinct and my talent to spin words, which is as close to being musical as I come.

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