REVIEW: MOBILE FIDELITY ULTRADECK TURNTABLE
MoFi’s new Ultradeck turntable got Peter Familari dreaming recently. Dreaming it was 1961 again and the record labels were pressing new vinyl albums by the millions, and millions of turntables continued to turn.
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MoFi’s new Ultradeck turntable got me dreaming recently.
Dreaming it was 1961 again and the record labels were pressing new vinyl albums by the millions, and millions of turntables continued to turn.
Dreaming of a time, when a slightly acrid fragrance wafting in a living room was simply coming from a quartet of new Mullard EL34 valves in a spanking new Radford STA25 valve amplifier as it warmed up.
And a time, when the sounds of low visibility pop groups called The Beach Boys, The Beatles and The Strangers on AM radio, were beginning to ignite a cultural revolution in the young and the restless.
So in 2017, the arrival of the UltraDeck is something of a more contemporary audiophile dream.
One in which an audio company steeped in pressing vinyl and manufacturing CDs and SACDs, turns its experienced corporate headlights on turntables, phono stages and audio accessories as well.
In a past life, that company was simply called Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. An outfit whose mastering and recording production values set new industry benchmarks in vinyl and digital formats.
These days, now under new ownership and with an reinvigorated mission, it’s called MoFi. You gotta love the Motown allusion and marvel at the simplicity and funk of the new moniker. Technically, there’s two distinct divisions, one for software, and the other for the new range of electronics.
As well as continuing to issue first-rate reissues of classic albums on vinyl culled from front rank artists the calibre of Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Janis Joplin and James Taylor on Vinyl, CD and SACD, MoFi now ranges two turntables.
The entry-level model is called the StudioDeck ($1599 RRP), while the UltraDeck ($2799 RRP without cartridge) serves as MoFi’s flagship vinyl spinner. Both are belt driven, and both eschew a sprung suspended plinth or sub-chassis.
The pair was unveiled at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show last year. Mofi spent another twelve months refining the designs before it was satisfied they were ready for the marketplace.
The turntables were designed by Allen Perkins and Mike Latvis, Harmonic Resolution Systems’ vibration control guru. Perkins is known for his work with Sota, RPM and SpiralGroove.
The two solid-state phono stages are called the StudioPhono ($499 RRP) and the UltraPhono ($799 RRP). MoFi Tim De Paravcini (EAR) assisted with their circuitry that is said to have the wide bandwidth transparency demanded by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s mastering engineers.
The cartridges comprise the MasterTracker ($1099 RRP), UltraTracker ($799 RRP) and the StudioTracker ($299 RRP). A sucker for just about any cartridge, I couldn’t wait to hear the UltraDeck prefitted with the UltraTracker cartridge that is priced as a $3099 RRP package, saving $450.
MoFi makes a link between these cartridges and its vinyl and lathe cutting expertise as it’s entitled to do, saying the cartridges have a:
V-Twin dual-magnet generator that mirrors the layout of the cutting head that originally made a record’s grooves.
What I can confirm is the UltraDeck fitted with the UltraTracker cartridge and 10-inch Ultra tonearm exhibited an uncannily low surface noise quality playing back a bundle of vinyl, some new, some very old and worn but not worn out.
So low, it qualifies as something of a benchmark in turntable, tonearm and cartridge design.
Clearly, the UltraDeck and its cheaper sibling, the StudioDeck have been conceived as total vinyl playback systems with the turntables, tonearms and cartridges creating a synergistic loop that in the case of the UltraDeck, yields very little surface noise.
During the review, music emerged from a black velvety background with abundant detail, superior soundstage and imaging, and commendable transparency.
Album after album, the UltraDeck was a sheer delight to enjoy and savour and it has to be said, gave me very little reason to harbour a wish for something better so complete and accomplished was its performance.
While it’s always difficult to assign a component’s many technical features to a part in its overall performance, it’s foolish to even commence trying with the UltraDeck.
This is a vinyl spinner conceived by its designers to comprise nothing less than a complete synergistic record playing platform, and one that is audibly so much more than the sum of its parts.
But to satiate the “exact’’ members of the audiophile fraternity who revel in an Empiricist approach to audio, what follows with apologies to Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes is an interpretation of some of this model’s major technical features.
Features and Functions
As much as we can believe any audio brand’s hyperbole, MoFi’s desire to give music lovers the buzz of hearing an Original Master Recording at home, has to be respected.
So, given the company’s revered history it’s no surprise the UltraDeck, tonearm and cartridge were designed with each other in mind. The 10-inch aluminium tonearm is a custom designed model made in the USA, as is the turntable.
The Ultra tonearm uses Cardas wiring internally and throughout its lead. It also carries high-quality bearings that exhibited no friction in the vertical or horizontal plane.
The UltraDeck’s platter weighing 6.8lbs is made from 1.3” Delrin, a material with a high crystalline structure chosen for its impedance match to vinyl records. The platter is highly inert and easily passed the platter tap test while the system’s volume level was turned up a few notches.
A substantially sized round belt drives the outside circumference of this platter driven by the very large, stepped Delrin motor pulley. Speed change between 33 1/3 RPM and 45 RPM simply requires the belt to be moved to the second step on the pulley.
This motor is an isolated AC synchronous model that was pitch perfect and timed beautifully throughout the review. Motor noise transmission to the platter or via the sub chassis was zilch thanks to the exotic dampening materials used to decouple the motor from the rest of the turntable.
Harmonic Resolution Systems designed the UltraDeck’s sophisticated anti-vibration isolation feet and these are really effective especially when the UltraDeck was moved from a wall mounted shelf to an equipment rack for the purposes of the review.
Specifications provided by MoFi show wow and flutter of 0.17-0.025 per cent and a signal to noise ratio of 74dB. The UltraDeck’s power supply will handle 120V 60Hz, 220-230V 50Hz and 100V 50Hz.
The UltraDeck weighs 23.1lbs and is 19.69” wide, 6” high and 14.25” deep. Build quality is admirable and so is the styling that is minimalist, fresh and attractive.
Handmade in Japan, the UltraTracker moving magnet cartridge has a V-twin dual-magnet generator said to mirror the layout of the cutting head used to make a record’s groove. It uses two low mass, powerful magnets positioned in a V formation parallel with the record groove.
The UltraTracker’s body is said to be well dampened and made from billet aluminium. The stylus is a nude elliptical. Overall weight is 9.7 grams. The UltraTracker’s output voltage is high at 3.5mV. Tracking force range is 1.8-2.2 grams but 1.8 grams was applied for the review. Capacitance measures 100pF, impedance is 47kOhms and the frequency response is 20-25,000Hz.
Moving and Grooving
No matter how pedigree the equipment, nothing equals the emotional experience of hearing Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones or Beach Boys played on a portable valve gramophone on the floor of my teenage bedroom.
A lifetime removed from the review system comprising Wilson Audio Sasha and mid 90’s Rogers LS35/A speakers, driven by an Elektra valve preamplifier and transistor amplifier and wired with Inakustik cabling throughout.
To some extent, I’ve pursued this musical ghost down the blind alley ways of my equipment search throughout the intervening decades. But strange to relay playing Dylan’s She Belongs To Me on the UltraDeck and all the tracks that followed, brought back memories of that youthful experience.
The elements of this track are fairly basic comprising bass, guitar, harmonica and Dylan’s nasally challenged vocals. All are carried by the unrelenting beat of the bass, the instrument that keeps the song’s elements together.
The detail and transparency reproduced by the UltraDeck was deeply satisfying. This detail was laid out across a soundstage so wide and deep it extended well behind my speakers. And it had plenty of height as well.
The UltraDeck’s sonic envelope is slightly truncated at the uppermost and lowest frequencies. It also trades outright attack for tonal rightness and a lack of distortion including surface noise, that’s almost spooky.
As the ears adjust to this lack of noise, a deep sense of ease settles in as the UltraDeck’s perfect pitch and foot-tapping sense of timing takes over.
The sound is so-o-o-o enjoyable I found myself playing whole album sides rather than the tracks I’d earmarked as review tools. After a half dozen album sides, the penny dropped: the emotional link I’d made between my adolescent gramophone and the UltraDeck was the feeling of low anxiety both induced in the listening experience.
There was no stress hearing my gramophone by virtue of my audiophile virginity. I didn’t know any better at the time. And frankly wouldn’t have given a toss for imaging, sound staging and timing, audiophile qualities I now demand from my equipment.
I simply involved myself in the music and became totally absorbed. The UltraDeck engenders something of the kind. In a nutshell, some components have a sonic rightness that defies analysis in audiophile terms, so should just be enjoyed for what it is. The UltraDeck’s reproduction has many strands, not all of them good. But damn, it just sounds like it ought to be playing a vinyl LP.
Moving on to the Beach Boys' God Only Knows, a song described as perfect by George Harrison and Sinatra, this sense of rightness grew as keyboards, vocals, and infectious guitar were arrayed in my room with performers and instruments achieving life-like status.
Individual strands of the music were crystal clear, but the track never lost its harmonious cohesiveness. The listening experience is one where the ears can head for subtle, individual notes and riffs while still hearing the whole of the presentation. And yes, again I was compelled to enjoy the whole side of this album.
To keep things lighter, I played The Beatles' Norwegian Wood before I let the stylus linger on all the tracks that followed. The constant beat of the guitars, the delirious vocals and the track’s good if bemused message left me upbeat.
The UltraDeck reached deep into the track’s production values revealing a good deal of macro and some micro dynamics. A micro dynamic king, the UltraDeck is not. And neither are most turntables that come to my listening room.
I don’t do jazz because I don’t get it. But the UltraDeck’s lucidity and tonal addictiveness made me want to go and buy a copy of Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain. Almost.
I reached instead for my copy of Tom Rush’s The Circle Game and lowered the UltraTracker’s stylus on No Regrets, the final song on the album. The hero instruments on this track are Rush’s guitar and percussion. The latter providing a canvas for the guitars deceptively simple chords and individual notes.
While these command the centre of the soundstage, guitars to the right and a clarinet enter and exit on cue flawlessly if your vinyl spinner’s pitch and timing are spot on.
Both provide not a second of concern via the UltraDeck. The only departure you’ll hear on this deck will come from an album pressed off centre. I have several and these behave like a swaying drunk who’s on the deck of a boat during a swell.
I used the UltraDeck long after I stopped taking review notes. Record after record was played on its Delrin platter totally for enjoyment, not enlightenment.
I suspect fortunate buyers astute to this model’s sonic prowess will do the same and I can’t fathom a better reason to own an UltraDeck.
For more information visit the Mobile Fidelity brand page.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.