Music Hall is one of the leading U.S. importers of affordable high-end audio components, including MMF turntables manufactured in the Czech Republic. The Music Hall MMF-5 ($630) stands in the middle of the company's six-model turntable lineup. The handsome piano-black finish and low-key styling hint at its high-end pedigree. Look closer, and you'll see the platter is a 6-pound solid-glass disc covered with a soft felt mat and fitted with a metal clamp that secures the LP to help suppress warped record surfaces. A high-quality molded-plastic dust cover adds the finishing touch to the design. The full-size turntable measures 18.25 inches wide, 13.25 inches deep, and 5.5 inches high with its dustcover in place; the whole unit weighs 24 pounds.
The Music Hall MMF-5's two-layer base uses six rubber springs to separate the bottom and top platforms, minimizing the transmission of motor and room vibration from the turntable to the LP. The top base has a built-in bubble level, making it easy to adjust the MMF-5 so that it lies flat for optimal sound. The low-resonance glass platter sits on a Teflon-coated ball bearing for minimal-noise operation. The metal clamp produces a deeper bass and helps subdue the clicks, pops, and other noises associated with vinyl playback.
Setting up the MMF-5 is a little more involved than it is with the and the turntables. It's not all that complicated, but if you're new to turntables, we recommend studying the comprehensive owner's manual before starting. If you run into snags, Music Hall has an excellent customer-support staff. The MMF-5 comes premounted with a Goldring 1012GX phono cartridge ($225). It sounds awfully good, but higher-end cartridges can upgrade the sound even further. Like the GR1.2, the MMF-5 must be used with a receiver that has a Phono input; if yours isn't so equipped, you'll need to buy a separate phono preamp. Also, changing the MMF-5's speed from 33.3rpm to 45rpm is a bit of a hassle--you'll have to remove the platter and move the belt to a different section of the pulley. (Of course, with decidedly high-end and old-school products such as this, that's considered more an endearing quirk than an annoyance.)
We switched between the LP and the CD of Yo La Tengo's Electr-O-Pura, listening to the former on the Music Hall MMF-5 and the latter on our Pioneer DV-45A Elite DVD-Audio/SACD player. The LP sounded much more lively. Compared with the CD's flat, scrunched-down sound, the LP's was bigger and more realistic. Our Cuban and Latin LPs' percussion had more texture and palpability--we could feel the musicians' hands beating their drums.
The only downsides to listening to records are the relative dearth of vinyl and the inevitable letdown when you have to go back to compressed digital music. The Music Hall MMF-5 may cost more than the and much more than the entry-level , but it provides a much clearer sound than those two turntables and amazingly better quality than the best CD players.