Introduction - what is the MoFi Studiodeck?
The Mobile Fidelity Studiodeck is an unsuspended, belt driven turntable available with and without a cartridge. In this regard, it has the same fundamental specifications as competitors at the price but, as we shall cover, behind the basic statements is a turntable that has some significant differences to some of the more established rivals at the price.
The origin point is an unusual one too. As a hardware provider, Mobile Fidelity is a relative newcomer to the scene but, as a name in the world of vinyl, they are most certainly not. Since 1977, they have been involved in the business of high quality pressings (and more recently, a smattering of digital too). These pressings are highly sought after. A decent copy of their 1979 pressing of dadrock benchmark Dark Side of the Moon is barely less expensive than a 1973 Harvest first pressing and this can be seen repeated across the bulk of their output. If the attitude toward hardware is the same, this could be quite something.
Of course, potential greatness and actual greatness are not the same thing. Can the Studiodeck take a fine name and some interesting engineering and turn it into something that has you wanting to ignore the established order and plump for this hefty American instead? Time to cue up some tunes and find out what’s what.
Design and specification
Key to the design ethos is a feature that you have to go all the way back to the early days of the vinyl test program here where I looked at the VPI Prime to see another example of. Every other turntable save for that one has had a tonearm with an effective length of nine inches (or, in the case of some Pro-Ject models 8.6 inches) between the pivot and stylus. The Studiodeck ignores this and instead uses a ten inch arm. Why is this? The argument goes that increasing the length of the arm reduces the tracking error as the cartridge navigates the groove of the record. This has to be offset against the increased mass of the arm and the need to keep it rigid which means that, while 12 inch arms exist, they tend to be on the expensive side. MoFi argues that 10 inches is the sweet spot.
The arm itself is an aluminium tube with fixed head shell. It offers adjustment for tracking force, anti skate, vertical alignment and azimuth which means it has the scope to be ‘dialled in’ to work with a wide selection of cartridges. Furthermore, this on paper ability is bolstered by a spacious head shell and large counterweight with a wide movement range. It should be possible to balance all but the most outlandish cart designs on this arm without struggling.
The plinth that this is mounted to is a multiple material design with a combination of aluminium plate and MDF that are used together to reduce resonance and ensure respectable mass. MoFi says that the substances used together possess constrained layer damping (as seen in some speaker cabinets) and is extremely inert. A steel and Teflon inverted bearing is mounted centrally onto which a ¾ inch (this is a American design remember; metric is for wimps) Delrin platter is mounted. Delrin is a trade name for Polyoxymethylene (POM for short) and it possess similar resonance properties to acrylic with higher density and rigidity.
The motor is a 300rpm design with two pulleys so you can switch between 33 and 45 rpm by moving the belt. The belt acts on the outer edge of the platter, something that frequently has me die a little inside when I need to fit such a thing. Here, the combination of a well finished groove in the platter edge and easy to reach motor pulleys ensure that it takes seconds and it stays put when you fit it too. The motor is an AC unit and takes an IEC mains feed directly into the back of the plinth which means no messing about with wall warts and the like.
The last element of the design that is worth spending a little bit of time on is the feet. For starters, there are four of them. This is less common than you might think because three feet are both cheaper (on account of needing only 75% as many) and hide a multitude of sins because, regardless of any twist or manufacturing error, three feet will stay in contact with the ground where four will not. The feet themselves have been developed in co-operation with Harmonic Resolution Systems who make a selection of aftermarket feet. For reasons we’ll cover in a moment, the Studiodeck would be fairly challenging to wall mount so these feet are rather good news. They render the playing surface impressively inert and can be adjusted to level the deck too.
For £1,199, the Studiodeck is supplied without a cartridge but an extra £200 sees it come fitted with MoFi’s own Studio Tracker cartridge. This is a moving magnet design with elliptical stylus and healthy 3.5mV output and it has the notional advantage of having presumably been designed with the Studiodeck in mind. There are some aspects of the Studio Tracker that are less ideal though. For starters, it costs £200 on its own meaning there’s no saving to be had ordering it with your Studiodeck. It also isn’t the most enticingly specified device for £200 either. Nude elliptical styli are available for similar money and, for reasons that are unspecified, the MoFi carts do not have replaceable styli which means that they need to be removed when the stylus is worn out (where a trade in is offered against a replacement.
The review sample was also supplied with the company’s ‘Super Heavyweight’ record weight that sits atop the record when playing and costs £155 (actually, it was supplied with two but I imagine that was an oversight). I am not always completely convinced by weights (as opposed to screw clamps that I do feel are worthwhile) but the Studiodeck has very clearly been designed to use it and it has been beneficial in use while here.
The Studiodeck’s aesthetic has grown on me while it has been here but there are some aspects of its design that need to be taken into account. The use of a ten inch arm on a deck with a full plinth means that the Studiodeck has one of the largest footprints of any turntables tested for AVForums and means that using a wall shelf might be tricky with some shelf designs. It’s also a fairly austere looking thing with black overlaid with some more black (the black tinted lid in particular is not really my kung fu). It’s not all bad though. The build is superb for the money and the Studiodeck is a very confidence inspiring thing to put together and use. The build quality is excellent too. This looks and feels like a very decent amount of turntable for the money and it is one that has its own definite character as well.
The build is superb for the money and the Studiodeck is a very confidence inspiring thing to put together and use
How was the Studiodeck tested?
The Studiodeck turned up with the Studio Tracker cartridge fitted and some listening was undertaken with this. It was then removed and an Audio Technica OC9 EXN moving coil cartridge secured by Vertere cartridge screws was used instead. In both cases, the MoFi was run into a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage and Chord Electronics CPM2800 MkII integrated amp both being powered from an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas mains conditioner (the Studiodeck took its feed from an Evo3 Aquarius). The speaker used in all cases was the Kudos Titan 505. The test material was vinyl.
I don’t wish to sound like some sort of deranged turntable whisperer (however much I may already be perceived to be one) but to understand what the Studiodeck does, you do need to have an appreciation of what MoFi recordings have been about since they hit the market. MoFi does not seek to alter the recording that they are giving ‘the treatment’ to. Instead, it is a case of going back to the master recording and seeking to get as much of that master into the home media in question. For MoFi, quality is accuracy. In essence, the Studiodeck is the manifestation of the same thinking in playback hardware.
Why does this matter? Well, the Studiodeck is £150 more than the Rega Planar 6 when the latter is also purchased without a cartridge. The Rega is capable of excellent tonal realism and will faithfully reproduce what’s in the groove of the record but… there’s a little more to it too. The Rega imparts, however subtly, a little spark of get up and go into what it plays. It feeds back into the thorny notion of ‘timing’ and the whole family of companies who have a developed a reputation for delivering it.
Listen to the Studiodeck with the Studio Tracker attached and it doesn’t feel as energetic. The ‘eighties slick’ pressing of Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life opens with Higher Love (which, however much you might revile it for that eighties gloss, is an absolute monster of a tune) and the Studiodeck can feel momentarily sterile. What you are actually getting though is the record as presented. As I live with both a Planar 10 and a GyroDec here, both of which add this fractional impetus, it can feel a little odd to lose it but the MoFi is simply giving you what’s there.
There’s a caveat to this too. Remove the Studio Tracker and fitting the Audio Technica OC9 EXN (which is £100 more than the Studio Tracker but gives you a nude elliptical stylus and the notional technical advantages of moving coil operation too) and the same track gains a certain fluidity it didn’t have before. It’s still not as effortlessly dynamic as some rivals at the price but some of the energy is back. As ever, a ‘turntable’ is the sum of the performance of the deck, the arm and the cartridge and while two of three of those variables are fixed here, the third isn’t and performance can be tweaked to suit.
More importantly though, the Studiodeck has talents that extend beyond neutrality. To appreciate them it is necessary to step away (however reluctantly) from slick eighties pop and consider the Buena Vista Social Club. Playing this on the Studiodeck starts to reveal some of the more standout talents of the MoFi and why it is engineered the way it is. This exceptional recording has a depth and three dimensionality that is a true testament to the art of production and mastering and the Studiodeck is effortlessly able to relay it to the equipment it is connected to. All the work that has gone into that inert plinth, resonant controlled platter, longer arm and clever feet are cumulative and they translate into a turntable that gives the feeling of ‘being there’ in a way that the more propulsive rivals don’t make as obvious. If ‘there’ is a genuinely tangible space, the MoFi will work hard to create it.
Of course, having a magnificent pressing helps (and I am sure that MoFi would be only too happy for you to feed it a diet of their efforts) but the Studiodeck is not a one trick pony. This effortless ability to unpick the material being played and deliver it as intended is something that is no less apparent with the rather more rough and ready presentation of R.L Burnside’s Too Bad Jim. The ethos of the Studiodeck is rather more in keeping with the third turntable that lives here; the AVID Ingenium. It makes strenuous efforts to not be the story itself (although the AVID can have both arms and cartridges changed which gives rather more scope to alter the presentation).
The critical thing for me is that after a few hours with the MoFi, it begins to sound very right. It gives a strong helping of genuinely audiophile qualities (and I mean that in a positive way) to the way it makes music but does so in sufficiently even handed a way as to ensure that bits of your record collection don’t find themselves off limits. I suspect that in a system comprised entirely of very matter of fact equipment, it could wind up being a little too matter of fact but that is both a subjective opinion and one that could equally be somebody else’s ‘entirely correct.’ It’s also worth pointing out that, as the arm is very flexible as regards cartridge choice, it really isn’t going to be hard to tweak the last elements of the presentation to suit in the manner of the Audio Technica adding just a little more pep.
For MoFi, quality is accuracy. In essence, the Studiodeck is the manifestation of the same thinking in playback hardware
- Impressively neutral and uncoloured performance
- Hugely flexible in cartridge terms
- Well made and easy to use
- Rather big
- Looks a little austere
- Perhaps not the most exciting sounding device going
MoFi Studiodeck Turntable Review
Spending time with the Studiodeck has been enjoyable and illuminating. This is another physical manifestation of the argument as to whether your home Hi-Fi should be a device that seeks wherever possible to follow the notional ideal of the studio master or have elements of character in its own right. I’ve gone on record in the past (and still generally believe) that, in the absence of the ‘Rec2020 of stereo’, it is not unreasonable or undesirable to have home equipment that, however subtly, exerts a fractional influence over the presentation as a whole. I am very much aware though that plenty of people reading this will disagree entirely.
What you have here then is one of the most affordable examples of ‘what’s on the recording and little else’ transparency in the analogue domain (a domain where doing so is quite a bit more costly than the digital one). If you have a desire to get at the information in the groove without embellishment (or even, if you have a tonal balance in your system you are entirely happy with and no desire to unsettle it), the Studiodeck has some considerable charms. This isn’t a turntable that wins hearts as effortlessly as some rivals but it is one that does exactly as its maker intended and for that reason the Studiodeck earns our enthusiastic Recommendation.
Our Review Ethos
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