Q: I want to get a turntable to play vinyl again. I like the Technics SL-1500C, but it is over my budget by a lot. I want something good, but for under $1,000. I need the auto off feature because I am afraid of forgetting when the record is over and having it spin for hours and hours, ruining my needle.
A: I am a big fan of all the Technics turntables, but I understand if the $1,199 SL-1500C is out of your price range. However, I do have a magnificent alternative.
Last year I wrote about the $399 Music Hall MMF-1.5, praising the turntable's excellent sound, fine finish, luxurious tonearm feel and comprehensive feature set. The MMF-1.5 and its "Vessel Special" variant from LP Gear quickly became my most-recommended turntable, and readers purchasing them became fans, as well.
As much as I love the MMF-1.5, I recently tested an affordable turntable that impresses me even more. It also comes from Music Hall, and they have outdone themselves with the new Music Hall Classic (musichallaudio.com).
The Classic takes us back to the days when the finest turntables had big wood bases and stout, silver tonearms. It looks and feels much more expensive than it is. The semi-gloss wood finish is flawless, and the stylish satin silver tonearm with matching platter provides perfect contrast. Soft-touch buttons light up red and blue to set 33 or 45 RPM, and the electronic speed control regulates the belt-drive motor for precise speed and optimum sound quality. At the end of the record, the Classic automatically lifts the arm and turns off the power.
The included Music Hall Spirit cartridge is pre-mounted and perfectly aligned, and setup is extremely easy. I was told that the Spirit is based on the Audio-Technica AT-95E but has modifications in the phono preamp. Whatever they did worked, because the sound is excellent, with especially clear and detailed treble. I experimented and thought it sounded best with 1.5 g of tracking force, not the 2 g recommended in the manual. Given the stock Classic's performance I can't help but wonder how it would sound with a cartridge upgrade, but it is good enough out of the box that you can just buy it and enjoy it.
I have not mentioned the price yet because there is a story behind that, as well. When I unboxed and set up the Classic, I could not stop marveling at what a great turntable it is for only $799. Then I got an e-mail from the company announcing a sale at $599.
Start with a $599 Music Hall Classic, add a $100 Cambridge Audio AM5 integrated amplifier (cambridgeaudio.com) and a pair of $315 Q Acoustics 3020i speakers (qacoustics.com) and you have a $1,000 hi-fi system with great sound and style.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.