Q. I want to get a new turntable, budget $200-$400. You have several recommendations in that range, which do you think is the very best?
-- B.J., Minneapolis
A. Check out the Music Hall MMF-1.5. 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 and how I would spend my own money.
First of all, the MMF-1.5 is simply 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 that makes you want to keep staring at it. Likewise, the black, S-shaped tonearm might superficially resemble other budget turntable tonearms, but when you see and touch it in person 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 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 pre-installed and aligned. I found the Melody aptly named as it can carry a tune well and has a very pleasant, agreeable sound. When I listened to the albums I use for testing I knew there was more detail resting in the grooves than I was hearing, and the Melody's very basic conical stylus (needle) wasn't getting it all off the record. I tried the $329 Audio-Technica VM740ML and was surprised to find this excellent cartridge, while more detailed, did not sound as good as the Melody did on the MMF-1.5 so I switched it out. My favorite $99 cartridge, the LP Gear The Vessel A3SE, proved to be a much better match and took the performance into a different league, knocking on the door of some much more expensive turntable/cartridge combos. Still, 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 provides a more precise, nuanced and detailed musical presentation while retaining the stock cartridge's sweetness.
Overall, the Music Hall MMF-1.5 is a big winner and I was delighted to find and share it with you. Besides the musical satisfaction the turntable is sure to provide, I imagine it will also instill a lot of pride of ownership as the looks and performance really stand out compared to anything else under $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 they could sell it for that given the pricing of the competition.
If you would like to learn more about the MMF-1.5, I have additional review notes and many photographs on my soundadvicevinyl.com website. musichallaudio.com
(Contact Don Lindich at www.soundadvicenews.com and use the "submit question" link on that site.)
(c)2018 Don Lindich
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