The UltraDeck is easy to use: the peg on the headshell isn’t big but has a rubbery feel that makes it easy to pick up and it’s easy to change records without stopping the motor. Our sample was supplied with a ‘Super Heavyweight’ MoFi record puck. This is a three-inch aluminium weight with a soft base and no inconvenient thread to do up. It weighs 367g which doesn’t sound ‘super heavy’, but I’m informed that MoFi has borrowed from boxing terminology to convey its ‘knockout’ effect. MoFi is also keen to point out that 367g is calibrated for best results across a range of turntables. The HRS (Harmonic Resolution Systems) design uses proprietary tech inside and on the contact surface to help eliminate more noise and distortion than a standard weight, so I’m told. As in Tai Chi, it isn’t the weight per se, it’s how you use it, and it seems to work!
I mentioned earlier that the counterweight setting point needs a little time to get right. This was apparent when playing the first few records on the UltraDeck, all of which sounded surprisingly bright and forward. Reducing the downforce to the 2g midpoint transformed the balance to something more neutral. I actually wondered if the cartridge was overloading the Trilogy 907 phono stage but it’s specified at a fairly conventional 3mV so it shouldn’t do this. MMs do have a lot more energy compared to MCs (even with the extra gain from a phono stage), so if you’re after immediate impact, MM designs nearly always oblige. Correspondingly the sound of this deck and cartridge is muscular and substantial; a little dark through the lower mid perhaps but reassuringly solid and calm, which makes for relaxed listening even at higher levels. It also makes for good three dimensionality because the bass is firmly planted, lending higher notes greater structure and presence.
Adding the Super Heavyweight puck increases the 3D effect and improves tonal depth, especially through the midrange. Timing likewise jumps up a step or two. The UltraDeck+M is still a smooth-sounding assembly, but the puck adds extra grip, if you’ll excuse the pun.
I played an old favourite in The The’s Soul Mining [Some Bizarre/Epic] and loved the instrumental layering: the presence of an accordion being the most obvious discovery. Patricia Barber’s ‘Company’ [Modern Cool, Premonition] has slightly OTT bass and that comes through here, but so does a sound that totally escapes the speakers, bringing unusual definition to the voice and its surrounding ambience. There’s great depth to the instruments on the excellent Alive in the East by Binker and Moses [Gearbox] but this time I fancied it lacked the atmosphere I’d heard using a good MC. To check this I installed a Dynavector DV-20X2L which is about the same price as the Mastertracker (£799 when bought separately) and paired it with a Tom Evans Microgroove phono stage. This told a different story and much more to my liking (I must declare a preference for MC). Better treble definition gave the sound snap and immediacy. Steely Dan’s ‘Bodhisattva’ [Countdown to Ecstasy, ABC] gained pace with Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter’s guitar having more vitality. For me, the MC install improved separation, detail resolution and timing, making the music more engaging. A replay of Patricia Barber’s ‘Company’ now had power and dynamics with considerably greater fleetness of foot.
And here’s the rub. Wherever you sit on the MC/MM divide, the real star has to be the UltraDeck itself. It tells you why Barber’s Company is such a great recording. I spun MoFi’s One Step 45rpm pressing of Blood on the Tracks (Bob Dylan, as if you didn’t know) on the UltraDeck to expose so much more bass detail than is possible from regular audiophile cuts, and greater fidelity in the vocal on ‘Idiot Wind’. I played two further pressings of this album for comparison and each sounded different. The MoFi turntable had no difficulty in differentiating them.