Hall championed vinyl decades before the current generation of hipsters discovered the glories of the groove, so I have to admit I'm more than a little late to reviewing a Music Hall turntable. This one here in my listening room, the Music Hall mmf-1.5 feels like an auspicious beginning. The handsome plinth base, cast aluminum platter with a thick mat and curved aluminum arm caught my eye.
The real cherry wood veneered base feels luxurious, and the mmf-1.5's removable headshell is a feature you won't find on Pro-Ject Debut Carbon or Rega turntables. I like removable headshells because they come in handy if you want to easily swap cartridges for different occasions. For example, pop on a spare headshell with a cheap cartridge when you're throwing a party, and another headshell with a higher-end cartridge for the times you want to go deep with your music.
The mmf-1.5 is a belt-drive design that plays 33.3, 45 and 78 rpm records. Turntable set up is a snap thanks to the premounted Melody moving-magnet phono cartridge. The turntable has a built-in phono preamp, but if you have a decent phono preamp you can bypass the mmf-1.5's internal one. I listened both ways, with a $129 Schiit Mani phono preamp, and with the mmf-1.5's built-in one, which was decent enough, but the Schiit is a worthwhile upgrade.
Also deserving special mention is the mmf-1.5's tonearm cueing device, it's a smooth operator raising and lowering the 'arm, and the cueing lever feels sturdier than average.
I'm not much of an Elvis Presley fan, but when I found an "Elvis 24 Karat Hits!" LP on the street a few years ago I played it once or twice and filed it away. In the midst of writing this review I by chance played that LP again. This time Elvis spoke to me, his phrasing and power, and his band's rockin' rhythms got my juices flowing. The mmf-1.5 brought me closer to Elvis' music, the production and sound quality, which I never noticed before.
The mmf-1.5 may not have the gutsy bass brawn of a big direct drive turntable like a Pioneer PLX 1000 ($699), but the mmf-1.5 wins on finesse and regularly occurring musical epiphanies that make it hard to stop playing one LP after another.
Tenor saxophonist Ike Quebec's brilliant "Bossa Nova, Soul Samba" LP from 1962 was where the allure of analog sound really kicked in. Quebec's rounded tone and fuller sound were the sort you rarely experience with digital files. I've said it before, but the best way to enjoy digital audio is never listen to a well recorded LP on a decent turntable. Digital may be clearer, but digital inevitably winds up sounding more two-dimensional, and less like real humans playing tunes.
Right after I played the Quebec LP I popped on another favorite jazz LP: Collin Walcott, Don Cherry and Nana Vasconcelos' "Codona 3" from 1982. That LP was sourced from a digital recording, and it was more dynamic than the Quebec LP, but the "Codona 3" LP's sound was rather lean, and the mmf-1.5 easily revealed the differences between the two records. Both sounded great, but the Quebec disc felt more musically, hot-blooded authentic, while "Codona 3" sounded more coolly modern and transparent. On both LPs cymbals and other percussion instruments were rendered with surprising dramatic presence.
This turntable doesn't just play the loud parts well, it digs deep into the music to reveal more about the subtle elements like reverberation and the atmosphere of the session, information that's way down in the grooves. In other words, analog sound isn't just a byproduct of playing a vinyl record, there's more to it than that. The turntable doesn't create the sound hiding in the grooves, it retrieves it, and the better the turntable the more faithfully it reproduces the music.
The Music Hall mmf-1.5 turntable sells for $399, including the phono cartridge, and if you're considering taking the vinyl plunge it's worthy of serious consideration. Very serious consideration.