Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab launches, turntables, phono stages and cartridges

10″ tonearm, 1.3″ thick Delrin platter, inverted main bearing, AC Synchronous motor, three-layer plinth. Suggested retail $1,799 USD.

Jonathan Derda, the National Sales and Marketing Manager for MoFi Distribution – the exclusive U.S. distributor of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab music, Avid turntables, Solidsteel audio furniture, Balanced Audio Technology electronics and Wharfedale loudspeakers – took time out from a very hectic CES schedule to speak with me regarding the exciting new products coming in 2016 from Mobile Fidelity. Jonathan is a great guy, and has kept me soaked in Suntory whiskey pretty much every time I spend time with him, so I consider him not only man of exquisite taste, but someone not afraid to let their hair down. Enjoy our talk.

RA: Mofi Electronics is a radical departure in some ways for what Mobile Fidelity is known for, but at the same time I wasn’t completely surprised when you mentioned it to me. It seems like a natural, and organic progression of the company’s pursuit of sonic excellence, and truth to the master tape. 

What was the initial impetus to bring hardware/playback capabilities to Mofi? 

Jon Derda of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab at RMAF 2015.

Derda: MoFi has always been a place for collaboration with engineers and companies in many different fields. The studio has worked with Nelson Pass, Sony, JVC, Ed Meitner – just to name a few. The GAIN2 mastering chain at the studio was developed by Tim DeParavicini and Stan Ricker. All of these people came together to push the envelope of what’s possible in recorded media, to capture every detail from a master tape and put it on the record. MoFi Electronics is a chance to see what a collaboration between MoFi and some of the legends in audio might bear for home playback. 

RA: How long has the new hardware been in development, and what was the design/concept brief for the turntables, what differentiates the two ‘tables?
Derda: These particular products have been in development for approximately 18 months and are still in development now. However that time frame isn’t indicative of the amount of time the engineers we’ve chosen to work with have in their respective fields. Working with very experienced people allows us a shorter that typical development timeline.
The philosophy at the studio is to stay true to what is on the master tape. To be a MoFi branded product the sound has to be transparent, neutral and with wide dynamic range.  Our album releases aren’t so much remasters as they are transfers that extract and maintain the most amount of information possible off of the master tape and then put that information onto an LP or SACD. The playback hardware is designed with that same philosophy. We also want the product to be intuitive to use, durable and cost less than a new car. Way less. And we wanted to build it in the USA which we’re proud to say it is.
The first model is called StudioDeck and is expected to retail for $999. The UltraDeck is the next model up and will retail for $1,799.
They share the same design principles, both use inverted main bearings, AC synchronous motors, 10” tonearms, Delrin platters. All of these things are working together in balance. Going from the StudioDeck to the Ultra you get more mass, more damping, higher spec bearings, very unique isolation feet. You hear even more of what’s in the groove and less bad vibrations.

RA: Is the phono stage tube or solid-state based, and why did you choose either approach to deal with the delicate signals from your new moving-magnet cartridge lineup?

Derda: Working with our other sister company, Balanced Audio Technology, I can tell you that we reject nearly half of the tubes we get for microphonics, for being outside of our spec, for being noisy. Using tubes we’d either have to increase prices or lower our expectations. Tim DeParavacini, who designed our mastering chain, also designed our phono stage and was able to achieve what we all wanted with a solid-state design. That doesn’t eliminate tubes for use in future projects, [tubes] just didn’t make sense for what we were trying to achieve here.

RA: Why no MC? Can we expect an LOMC at some point in the future? 

Derda: MC will be part of the next phase of products. It just made sense, at least to us, to start with MM.

RA: Who did you collaborate with to realize the design, and construction on the ‘tables, and cartridges, and phono stage, and why?
Derda: Allen Perkins from Spiral Groove is guiding the design of the turntables and cartridges. He’s one of the true innovators in the field and a true gentleman.
Tim DeParavicini was a natural fit for the project and is designing the phono stage. The engineers at the studio have a massive amount of respect for Tim and his involvement in our GAIN2 mastering system brings a real understanding of what MoFi is all about. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a fantastic circuit designer.

RA: What other hardware can we expect to see once market response to the new products has been gauged?

Derda: It’s a little soon to say. Our long-term goal is provide the complete playback chain, from the master to your ears. That could be the company tagline…
RA: You spoke briefly of Mofi’s new UltraDisc One-Step (UD1S) record pressing process, and to use your words, you said it “will shake things up. It’s a new benchmark for vinyl.” Can you elaborate on this new pressing process, and what, specifically, it involves that is different from Mofi is doing now?
Derda: UD1S is different than what anyone making records is doing now. To make a record you have to cut a lacquer which then gets coated in metal and that layer is peeled away to create a father. The father is used to create a mother which then in turn creates a stamper which finally creates the record. To visualize this think of getting your hand stamped at a concert and then pressing your freshly stamped hand onto your friends hand and then they do it for another friend and so on. That last stamp has a lot less definition and color. With UD1S we remove two steps from the process and use the first generation convert from the lacquer. You end up hearing a lot more detail and a lot less surface noise.
The scary part, as a business, is that this is a very expensive, time consuming and delicate process and we don’t know how many records we’ll get from a convert. It’s high risk but the sonic payoff made it impossible for us not to do it. Inherently UD1S titles will be very limited numbered releases.

RA: Have you had to change anything in the tried-and-true Gain 2 Ultra Analog System that has been an industry benchmark for mastering from tape for years to accommodate UD1S? Or does the new pressing technique not involve any changes to the Gain 2 mastering chain?

Derda: The GAIN2 system is dialed in. No changes were necessary to the mastering chain.
RA: What new titles have been chosen to highlight this new technology?

Derda: The first title will be Santana Abraxas. There is so much going on in this album… it’s so alive. The percussion of course is amazing and Carlos’ guitar has never sounded more vivid. We are planning more titles but as to what they are, I cannot say. Every release we manage to offer is a small miracle.