Q: I want to get a new turntable, budget $200 to $400. You have made several recommendations in that range. Is there one that you think is the very best?
A: Check out the Music Hall MMF-1.5. (musichallaudio.com) At $399, it is at the top of your price range, but every nickel will be well spent. Sold by audiophile manufacturer Music Hall Audio of Great Neck, N.Y., it is now my sub-$400 favorite.
First of all, it is beautiful, and the advertising images do not do it justice. The plinth (base) is extremely solid and rigid, with a satin cherrywood finish that has lovely color and a lustrous sheen. The black, S-shaped tonearm might resemble budget turntable tonearms, but when you touch it, it quickly becomes obvious that it is manufactured and finished to a very high standard. It is delightful in use, with excellent tactile feel, well-controlled, positive cueing and no looseness or sloppiness whatsoever.
The MMF-1.5 has an aluminum platter instead of the steel platter typically found on budget turntables. A defeatable phono preamp is built in, and the electronic speed control allows you to choose 33, 45 or 78 rpm with the turn of a knob. This circuitry also precisely controls the motor’s operation to reduce vibration and improve rotational accuracy, all leading to better sound. A dust cover, rubber platter mat and removable cable are included, all of excellent quality.
A $75 Music Hall Melody cartridge, made for Music Hall by Audio-Technica, is preinstalled and aligned. It has a very pleasant, agreeable sound. But when I listened to the albums I use for testing, I knew there was more detail resting in the grooves than I was hearing because the Melody’s very basic conical stylus (needle) wasn’t getting it all off the record. My favorite $99 cartridge, the LP Gear the Vessel A3SE, took the performance into a different league, knocking on the door of some much more expensive turntable/cartridge combos.
Nonetheless, I think the best value for most listeners will be to keep the Melody cartridge and simply change the conical stylus. The $29 Carbon Fidelity CFN3600LE stylus is compatible and has a finer-tipped, elliptically shaped needle. I tried the CFN3600LE on the Melody, and the stylus upgrade provided a more precise, nuanced and detailed musical presentation while retaining the stock cartridge’s sweetness.
Overall, the Music Hall MMF-1.5 is a winner, especially at $400. If you would have told me when I was unboxing it that it cost $600, not only would I have believed you, I would have been impressed that they could sell it that low.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.