Q: I recently bought Emotiva’s T-Zero speakers and the TA-100 receiver. Now I want to get a turntable and upgrade my CD player, which is a Technics SL-PG100 from the 1990s. I have $1,000 total to spend and figured I would spend $500 on the turntable and $500 on the CD player. I planned on getting the Music Hall MMF-1.5 “Vessel Special” for $499 from LP Gear. Is there anything else that might be better for around $500, and what would you recommend for the CD player?
A: My recommendation is going to be a bit different than you might expect, but it will definitely get the most out of your $1,000.
I’ve tested a lot of turntables selling for $500 or less, and there still is nothing that I prefer over the Vessel Special. The combination of the finely crafted MMF-1.5 turntable, its precision arm and the Vessel A3SE cartridge makes beautiful music and looks great, too. The tactile qualities are a cut above what you typically find for $500, which adds to the pride and pleasure of ownership.
That said, there is a better way to spend your $1,000. Let me spell out why before providing my recommendations.
With vinyl playback components like turntables, cartridges and phono preamps, the audible differences from one model to the next can be quite large. Conversely, the differences among CD players tend to be small, and even some old players from the 1980s can still sound quite nice. I have a Nakamichi OMS-1A from 1987 that I would not hesitate to use in my very best system. (It was a great thrift shop find for under $20.)
As for your Technics CD player, if you compare it to modern CD players you will find the SL-PG100 has a larger, more detailed display, more front-panel buttons and extra playback features. That is because manufacturers simply don’t devote the amount of resources to the format that they used to. Given this, I would invest more of the $1,000 into your turntable system and less on a CD player, or even just continue using your Technics.
As nice as the Music Hall MMF-1.5 is, for $100 more, the Music Hall Classic is even nicer. I suggest you visit musichallaudio.com to check out both of them. Online images cannot do justice to the Classic’s looks and solid quality. I cannot overstate this, and you will find that out for yourself when you use it.
Because you have a budget of $1,000, also check out LP Gear’s “Music Hall Classic Fantastic” version upgraded with a premounted Vessel A3SE cartridge for $698. This is the one I recommend you buy. See it at lpgear.com.
This leaves about $300 for the CD player. I’d recommend you leave that money in the bank and keep using the Technics until you can make a big upgrade, like Emotiva’s $599 ERC-4, which also serves as a digital-to-analog converter. If you want to buy now, a $349 Cambridge Audio AXC35 would be a good choice. Visit cambridgeaudio.com for more info.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.