HeadAmp’s Stellar GSX Mk2 Balanced Headphone Amplifier
Sub-$500 Closed-Back Headphones: AKG K551, V-MODA M100, Spider Audio Moonlight, Mr. Speakers Mad Dogs, Alpha Design Labs H118, Focal Spirit Pro
Review: Aurender A10 digital music server and DAC
Review: DeVore Fidelity O/96 loudspeakers
Review: Woo Audio WA5LE v2 vacuum tube headphone amplifier
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs just can’t stay still. They’re always looking into how they can improve an aspect of their products, or their users end experience, or curating some of the very best analog, and digital equipment on the planet to distribute in North America.
AXPONA saw the company highlighting their new UltraDisc One-Step (UD1S) record pressing process technology, but Chicago was also a little different from previous MoFi rooms I’ve attended because MoFi Distribution managing director Norbert Schmied was without his partner in Japanese whiskey crimes, because national sales and marketing manager Jonathan Derda couldn’t make it to Chicago on account of welcoming a baby girl into the world with his wife, and son.
Luckily, Schmied has been to a rodeo or two, and was able to acquit himself just fine in Chicago while solo, with another fantastic-sounding set up in place with VK53SE tube linestage pre-amplifier ($14,995 USD), and VK-255SE stereo power amplifier ($8,995 USD) from Balanced Audio Technology, an Avenger Reference turntable ($21,000 USD) from VPI Industries, and Vandersteen Treo loudspeakers ($7,990 USD) being fed a nutritious diet of MoFi Gain2™ vinyl whose grooves were being plowed by a Koetsu Blue Lace Onyx Platinum LOMC cartridge ($14,995).
The system (as usual) sounded full-bodied, balanced, and most of all let the speakers evenly pressurize the space. There was a real sense of air around the music which imbued every album with breadth, and depth not only around, but between instruments too. A neat trick that the BAT gear does that makes me giggle every time I hear it paired with a Koetsu cart.
The real star of this room was the Santana Abraxas UD1-S 2×180 gram LP that Schmeid was spinning every 30 minutes or so. This LP features the UltraDisc One-Step pressing process, whose superior sonics over Mo-Fi’s current crop of pressings Schmied is unapologetic about, does come at a premium cost. Schmied speculated that the limited-run pressings (anywhere from 400 to 700 possibly, depending upon the lacquer) would probably run in the $100 USD range. What I heard at AXPONA of this technology convinced me that this was something very special indeed, and I asked Schmied to explain a little bit more about the process for me…
Norbert Schmied: “The difference in the UltraDisc 1-Step process (to current plating, and pressing processes used throughout the record industry) is that we still cut directly to a lacquer from the master tape, and then that lacquer gets electroplated, which we pull off and call a convert.
“And that’s what we use to press directly on our vinyl. That becomes our stamper, so we remove three processes/layers from traditional stamper duplication (of creating a father, and then a mother, and then a stamper off the mother). The problem with that stamper is, if it gets damaged (which is a natural effect from pressing LPs) the only way we can press more is if we have another lacquer. Because once you’ve got a lacquer and you’ve created it, and electroplated it, it’s done. That’s it, it’s over.
“So right now we’re still testing how many LPs we can reliably get from one stamper, but it means that these UD1-S titles are going to be far more limited than our traditional titles. This is a premium product, and we’re probably still three or four months away from releasing our first title. It will come with a much more robust packaging, that will have potentially more photographs, more images. You’re going to get more than just the LP, you’re going to get added-value extras that were not previously available, and ultimately the desirability of the product is going to go way through the roof, and sonically it sounds quite a bit better because you’re that much closer to the original lacquer.”
I’m hoping that test pressings will be available before the official launch of the UD1-S titles become available, so check back in the coming months for a review.