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The Music Hall MMF-9 Turntable

 

Ron Nagle

December 2004

              

Roy Hall, the man behind Music Hall, has an uncanny sense for taking the pulse of audiophiles and applying just the right palliative. For many years, Roy has brought U.S. audiophiles affordable high quality audio components from sources all over the world. At the 2004 CES in Las Vegas, I made sure to stop by his room (AP 2310 to be precise) at the Alexis Park Hotel. I would never think to pass him by because his interests always seem to run parallel to mine. His newest innovation is the MMF-9 Turntable. At $1,529 it is the most expensive of four vinyl-spinning packages he offers. They all come with a tonearm and matching cartridge adjusted and set up at the factory. Assembling the turntable straight out of the box should not be a problem as long as you take the time to carefully read the instructions in the owner’s manual …

After typing that last sentence, it occurred to me that I have taken for granted the familiarity I have with turntables, having owned about five or six of them. Strange to my mind but true, there are probably younger music-loving audiophiles out there who may be purchasing a turntable for the first time! Nevertheless, assembling the MMF-9 should only take just a bit of common sense even for a first time turntable owner. In the end, with careful setup, I believe you will love what you hear.

Deus Ex Machina
Roy Hall has gone to the source for his turntables; the most prolific turntable manufacturer in the world resides in the Czech Republic and goes by the name Pro-ject. This company manufacturers their own line of turntables in addition to serving as an OEM source for other brands. The cost conscious British audio press has extensively covered every product offered by this company. If you compare the Project RPM 9 table with this Music Hall you will quickly see the similarities. Both use a stand-alone, weighted cylindrical 50Hz drive motor isolated from the table’s plinth. Both use a square in cross-section rubber drive-belt looped around the rim of a thick non-resonant acrylic platter. The platter bearing is an identical inverted ceramic ball positioned high enough to approximate the surface of the record.

The Project 9.1 carbon fiber tone arm is the most important shared feature. It is a tapered carbon fiber tube with a fixed aluminum headshell and pivoted twin gimbals supported by needle bearings. It has a height adjustable post with a locking Allen setscrew and the arm tube can be rotated to set vertical azimuth. A small weight provides anti-skate compensation. The similarities ends there. Utilizing Roy Hall’s design concepts, the Music Hall MMF-9 takes a totally different approach to vibration and resonance control. If I had to select the most critical design component, there is no question it would be the suspension. Unlike the Project RPM-9 design’s mass damping, the MMF-9 has a triple layered MDF plinth separated by compliant polymer (Sorbethane?) discs. Harmful vibrations are dissipated as heat energy by these discs and any remaining energy is channeled downward to three adjustable aluminum cone shaped feet. I employed one of the most common isolation tests; placing a stethoscope on the top of the plinth to listen for motor and bearing noise. This is done with the arm cued up and no record on the platter. While listening I heard a small amount of noise break through from the platter bearing. I would have to say isolation was moderately effective. On a scale from 1 to 10 it would be a about 7.5. The Music Hall supplied Ringmat blocks almost all of the noise traveling up to the surface of the record. So this test is an assessment of mechanical construction and not necessarily sound reproduction. Additionally, the rigid carbon fiber arm and the compliant attachment of the counterweight further dampen vibration that is generated in the arm as the cartridge tracks across the record. The supplied cartridge is the Music Hall Maestro a modified version of the Goldring Eroica H. It’s a high-output moving coil with Neodymium magnets and a VITAL shaped stylus that separately would cost $550. The table comes with a Ringmat XLR disk that sits upon the acrylic surface of the platter and supports the record. It is British in origin and made of paper with cork rings glued to it. To me it seemed like this was a very flimsy device unlikely to have any beneficial effect. But after I tried clamping the record down and placing the record directly on the acrylic platter I changed my mind. Other methods just seemed to kill the lively, airy quality. This two-speed turntable (33 and 45-RPM) uses a switchable electronic control box mounted at the left bottom edge of the plinth. And last, but certainly not least, the package includes a meter long cable with RCA plugs at both ends. You can connect this cable or any similar cable to the tone arm interface box mounted at the back of the plinth.

Aural Aspects
Changing the tracking force even a few tenths of a gram, or cartridge alignment even thousandths of an inch, can affect the sound of the whole interrelated system. Since this is a complete set-up-at-the-factory package the task is made a lot easier. After I set up the MMF-9 I carefully rechecked the factory cartridge alignment with the supplied protractor and my own two good eyes. I did find the vertical position of the cartridge relative to the record surface not exactly perpendicular. I had to loosen a small locking screw and grab the head shell and twist the arm about two degrees counter clockwise. This did not effect the sound reproduction noticeably but then I tend to be a perfectionist and I wanted to accurately tell you what you could expect.

Satisfied that everything was setup to spec’s I cued the arm down on Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms [Warner Brothers-25264-1]. I had forgotten the incredible wealth of detail and wide-open panorama of sound that was now spread out before me. On the cut Money For Nothing the sound is very dynamic and every musical element seems to inhabit its own separate space. You can hear it as a progression of distinct pitches. I was able to follow the lines of the bass guitar far more easily. It sounded deep and sonorous. I played the very same recording back on my reference analog system, which is comprised of a SOTA Sapphire 2, Grado Reference arm and Alpha-1 moving coil cartridge. I heard a spacious, detailed, far more polite presentation that lacked the transient speed and dynamic excitement of the MMF-9. It occurred to me that even with the 2.8 MHz sampling rate of the SACD encryption, musical tones still do not decay into silence naturally. In a blink of an eye, all my fond vinyl memories were restored. It delineated the soundstage better than my $1,700 Marantz Universal CD player. It was like a door opening upon a larger stage filled by expansive ambient detail complimented by deep, slightly warm bass. I had over a considerable period moved from Red Book PCM16-bit 44.1Hz sampling to 24/96 up sampling then to DVD and DVD-A and finally SACD and Surround. I had been side tracked far too long listening and writing about all manner of digital equipment. I think the most difficult task for any writer must be to meaningfully convey the differences between what I now hear and the same information in digital form, but this is what I must do.

Catharsis
There exists a fine, almost invisible digital barrier between you and the cognizance of what is real and belonging to the natural sound of living things. It is fundamental to the way your brain processes the sounds in the world around you. We have a marvelous instinct based on a very primitive ability to filter out background noise and sense movement and hear danger approaching in the dark. The barrier I refer to is comprised of digital noise (possibly quantization noise) these digital artifacts exist on a subliminal level but the human brain instinctively senses the difference; these do not fit into our analog world. The human sense of hearing has approximately one thousand times the bandwidth and therefore is far more sensitive than our visual senses; somehow we all seem to just take this for granted. The ability of so-called Golden Eared audiophiles is based largely on a trust in their own innate auditory reflexes and instincts. Leaving behind the psychoacoustic considerations, I believe any one who seeks to find enjoyment in music should find a way to play analog recordings. There is a vast body of music on black discs that will never appear on a digital disc. You can find tens of thousands of recordings at yard sales and flea markets for a dollar or less. Compare that to a CD that cost less than a dollar to make and sells for fifteen times that amount. I could tell you in microscopic detail about dozens of recordings that I have played but I would only be repeating essentially what I have already told you. The description would not change, analog sounds natural, and it sounds more lifelike. There exists a point of diminishing returns and the Music Hall MMF-9 is at that exact point. You would need to spend a lot more money to get any significant improvement in sound quality. Strictly using a performance-to-price ratio this is a very good deal and for the majority of audiophiles the only turntable you will ever need. Thank you Roy!

PS: The Audio Advisor sells the Music Hall MMF-9
For information call 1-800-942-0220 or visit their website at www.audioadvisor.com


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Specifications:
Music Hall MMF-9 Turntable
List price: $1,529.00


Address:
Music Hall
108 Station Road
Great Neck, NY 11023
Tel: 516-487-3663
Fax: 516-773-3891
Web: www.musichallaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music Hall MMF-9 Turntable