hi fi: 

“It’s a great time to be a vinyl-loving audiophile in Australia, because the Music Hall mmf-9.1 turntable we can buy here is different from the one that is available most everywhere else in the world, because it uses a motor identical to that on the more expensive mmf-9.3. According to Music Hall, this came about because this particular motor conformed to Australia’s strict electrical code and means that all the 9.1s on sale in Australia are, according to Roy Hall, of Music Hall: ‘essentially 9.3s.’

THE EQUIPMENT

On unpacking the turntable, I was pleased to find that the mmf-9.1 comes supplied with a very high-quality Perspex turntable cover, as well as with a friction hinge that means you have options other than ‘fully open’ and ‘closed.’ While there is some debate between audiophiles as to whether turntables sound better with or without the lid, there’s absolutely no debate that if you play an LP on a turntable that doesn’t have a lid, it’s going to get dustier than if you play it on a turntable with the lid closed. So, unless you also own a record-cleaning machine, playing your LPs on a turntable with the lid closed will mean fewer intrusive ‘clicks and pops’ to affect your listening experience. And lest you think that including a cover is no big deal, I’d suggest you check the prices other manufacturers are asking for their ‘optional’ dust covers. I was amazed to discover that I could buy a fully-kitted Music Hall mmf-2.3 for about the same money one manufacturer is charging for a dust cover alone. (As a more sensible price guide, most after-market lids—which don’t usually come with hinges—retail for around $200.) Further unpacking revealed yet another cost-saving for the purchaser of a Music Hall turntable, because Roy Hall includes a very nice set of high-quality phono interconnects (with separate ground wire) so you can connect the mmf-9.1 to your phono preamplifi er, without having to cough up for a pair. This represents a cost-saving of anything from a few dollars if you’re not cable-conscious to as much as you’d pay for a holiday cruise around the world if you are. (But again, a more sensible price guide is that most hi-fi dealers say the ‘sweet spot’ for after-market turntable interconnects is around $300.)

But wait, there’s more, as the Demtel man once used to say. Further unpacking revealed that the mmf-9.1 comes with a circular spirit level built in, so you don’t have to buy one in order to perform the essential task of levelling the turntable. (Cost saving? Anything from $20 if you’re happy with a very ordinary bubble-style circular level to around $500 if you insist on the accuracy of a digital levelling device, but around $50 would be all you’d need to pay for a very nice bubble level bearing the famous Ortofon brand.) As you can see from the photograph, the Music Hall mmf-9.1 has a triple-layer plinth—one more layer than the lower-cost mmf 7.3. Each layer is separated from the other by vibration-absorbers made from sorbothane, so if you experience any vibration issues, it’s probably because you forgot to remove the three screws that lock the layers together during transportation. To do this, you will require a Philips-head screwdriver, which is not supplied. (Cost? Exactly $1.90 from any Bunnings hardware store.) The Music Hall mmf-9.1 comes with ProJect’s very nice 230mm (9-inch) carbon-fi bre tonearm. It’s hardly surprising that the tonearm should hail from Pro-Ject, because the Music Hall mmf-9.1 (in common with all Music Hall turntables) is manufactured by Pro-Ject in its factory in the city of Litovel in the Czech Republic. (In addition to manufacturing Pro-Ject and Music Hall turntables, the same factory also builds turntables for E.A.T.) Despite being manufactured by Pro-Ject, Roy Hall insists the design of his Music Hall turntables owes more to British manufacturer Revolver, for which he was once the US distributor (and also to Pink Triangle) than it does to Pro-Ject. In fact, Hall told James L. Darby (StereoMojo) that all the design features on the mmf-9.1 had been ‘stolen’ from other turntable manufacturers. As for why Hall has the turntables built by a company that is essentially a competitor, one reason is that Pro-Ject’s owner, Heinz Lichtenegger, is a personal friend. The other reason, which is rather long-winded, and not particularly relevant to this review, you can read all about in an interview I conducted with Roy Hall, which you can find at www.tinyurl.com/ roy-hall-interview On the turntable I received for review, Convoy had fitted the Pro-Ject arm with an Australian-designed cartridge, the Garrott Bros Optim FGS, which uses the ‘dynamic coil’ principle pioneered by the late John and Brian Garrott, has a Fritz Geiger Signature diamond stylus, and retails in Australia for $1,000, but in Australia the turntable is sold without a cartridge.

IN USE AND LISTENING SESSIONS

Should it be required, you’ll find the Music Hall mmf-9.1 is very easy to assemble, both because of its design and the fact that it comes with an extremely detailed instruction manual. Overly-detailed, in fact, because if you are at all handy, the mmf-9.1 is so simple to assemble that you won’t need to open it. You first have to attach the three metal-cone feet and, if you’re worried about scratching your furniture, place underneath them the three small flat discs supplied specifically for the purpose of protection. Then you lower the 25mm thick acrylic platter down over the spindle (it’s an inverted ceramic main bearing), after first having removed the two protective plastic sleeves that prevent damage and lubricant from leaking out during transportation. At this point you can decide whether or not to fit the turntable cover hinges, bearing in mind that if you decide not to use the cover when listening to music, it’s very easy to remove the cover from the hinges, making it easy to prevent dust from gathering on the turntable plinth—and in the platter-mat—when you’re not using the turntable. It would also provide some degree of protection for the cartridge itself, should you share a house with small children, though in this case I’d also recommend that whenever the turntable is not being used you fit a protective stylus guard to whatever cartridge you end up fitting. The unusual location of the motor owes to Roy Hall’s theory (actually, not his theory at all, instead one he happily attributes to Pink Triangle) that if a motor is located at the back left of a turntable, any vibration it transmits to the stylus arrives as a ‘sideways’ force that would affect tracking, whereas any vibration from a motor located at the front left of a turntable would arrive at the stylus ‘head-on’, along the line of the cantilever, and would not affect tracking. This particular location also has the advantage that it moves the motor further away from the tonearm mount, so vibration is less likely to be transmitted via this route, as well as the very obvious advantage that it makes it possible to have a completely separate motor/ pulley pod, yet still be able to use a standard turntable lid/hinge arrangement. The obvious disadvantage is that the motor is closer to the cartridge than if it were in the more ‘usual’ position, which means that if the drive motor had any magnetic field leakage, it could potentially interfere with the operation of the phono cartridge. I checked for the presence of any stray magnetism using a sensitive compass and could not detect any magnetic field variations at all, even directly alongside the motor pod. As for the drive motor itself, it’s a d.c. type with electronic switching between 33.33 rpm, 45 rpm and standby. Switching is done with a single pushbutton on the top of the motor pod. A quick press of the button starts play or changes speed, while a longer press switches the motor to standby. Whenever you change speed, a brilliantly-bright blue LED on the top of the motor pod flashes until the speed stabilises (which takes, on average, around five seconds when changing speed, and around nine seconds to come up to speed from stationary) after which it glows steadily. The LED glows green whenever the motor is switched to standby. The 15-volts of d.c. required to power the motor comes from a wall-mount switch-mode plug-pack. The receptacle on the motor pod for the d.c. plug is positioned in such a way that Music Hall has had to make a large cut-out in the three turntable layers so that you can keep it (and the cable to the power supply) out of sight. I think it would have been far better to make the plug entry underneath the motor pod, where it would have been completely hidden by the motor pod’s vibration damping base, but perhaps this would have been too costly. (And, just in case I haven’t made it completely clear, the motor pod is completely decoupled from the turntable: the only link between it and the turntable is the rubber drive belt.) Pro-Ject’s carbon-fibre arm is used on a great many turntables, though it’s important to note the one on the Music Hall mmf-9.1 is the longer, 230mm version, because the longer the arm, the lower the tracing error, which is the rationale behind the 305mm arm, one that’s so long that it can’t be fitted to most turntables. Being a single-piece arm, as noted previously, the only way to swap a phono cartridge is by physically removing it and replacing it with another, which of course requires a complete cartridge re-alignment every time, making it impractical to use different phono cartridges for different purposes, as is possible when using a tonearm with a removable head-shell. (Though if you have a moving-magnet cartridge with a removable stylus it is possible to switch styluses in and out, using a better-quality stylus for LPs that are in good condition, and a lesser-quality stylus (or one with a different tip profile) when playing LPs that are in poor condition.

IN USE AND LISTENING SESSIONS

The Music Hall mmf-9.1 is certainly a ‘nofuss’ turntable to set-up if you’re at all familiar with turntable set-up, and if you’re not, it comes with superb set-up instructions, so you’ll have no problems at all, even if you’ve never done it before. Cartridge alignment is always an issue with every turntable, of course, but as mentioned, Music Hall includes a two-point protractor that will do the job. Despite this, I would always recommend using an alignment tool rather than an alignment card, for increased accuracy. Turntable Basics makes a good one that’s cheap and does a great job (but make sure you order the version for 12-inch LPs), but you can go ‘luxury’ with either the ‘Align-It’ device from Pro-Ject or the Dr Feickert Alignment Protractor. The most accurate cartridge alignment device of all is the SmartTractor, from Acoustical Systems, but in Australia, because it retails for $675, I believe it’s a device that should be owned by dealers selling turntables to ensure precision cartridge alignment for their customers, rather than end-users. As is my custom, I listen carefully for any wow and flutter before any extended review of a turntable, because hearing any would, of course, be a deal-breaker. My standard test discs for wow and flutter are Liszt’s Légende No 1 St François d’Assise, Satie’s Gymnopédies, Chopin’s Nocturne Op.27 No.1, and John Field’s Nocturne No.10 in E minor. The beauty these (particularly the Fields) is that they’re a delight to listen to, so I’m actually enjoying the music while at the same time ‘testing’ for wow and flutter. Indeed it could be said that if I enjoy the music, there’s obviously no wow or flutter, and that was certainly the case when listening to the Music Hall mmf-9.1… albeit one fitted with the motor used in the mmf-9.3. Speed accuracy was perfect, so after tuning my guitar with a chromatic tuner I was able to get to play along with Bob Dylan with my guitar’s pitch perfectly in tune with those of my hero. Dylan recorded on Columbia and I noticed that on some older albums (which have largish, 7.19mm diameter, centre-holes) the Music Hall’s spindle was not a press-fit. It seems Music Hall is using the same spindle diameter specification as Linn (7.095mm ±0.01mm), because I measured that of the mmf 9.1 at 7.11mm. (And, just in case you were wondering, there is no standard hole size for LPs. Different turntable manufacturers use different sizes, as do different LP producers.) Although I tried hard, I never once heard any low-frequency noise (a.k.a. ‘rumble’) coming from the Music Hall mmf-9.1, either through the air or via my speakers. The drive motor was totally silent—no mains or other hum audible at all, and I could not hear any bearing noise either. Listening to ‘Nashville Skyline’ (infamous for the execrable duet with Johnny Cash on Girl From the North Country Fair, which I can never listen to without wincing) but which is still one of my very favourite Dylan albums because he seems to be having so much fun ‘larking about’ in a genre he’d not before attempted, was a revelation. Via the Music Hall/Garrott Bros combo, the sound quality was visceral, such that lines such as ‘Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed’ sounded as fresh and new as the day he first sang them. The same was equally true of the lyric to the track Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You. Listening to the way this sound was reproduced in my living room instantly transported me back to my teenage years, sitting on a bean-bag with my girlfriend, trying to impress her with my guitar-playing ability and my singing, playing this exact same song. (We broke up, but I didn’t attribute this to either my guitar- playing skills or my vocal ability.) For a complete change of pace, I fired up my black vinyl 45rpm ‘single’ version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ (available exclusively in Australia), and the Music Hall mmf-9.1 had me gripped from the start, with the sound of the creaking door so realistic I almost looked around, and then the footsteps, the wind, the crash of thunder… yep, despite my familiarity with the music the Music Hall delivered that instant chill up my spine, plus the delicious sense of anticipating the great bass line and syncopated percussion that would soon chime in. This meant I had to spin the full LP-length album (the black vinyl version, I’m reserving my 25th anniversary edition picture version for re-sale) just to hear Beat It (because it always follows automatically on my CD version, I’m so used to hearing it follow Thriller that I feel lost when it doesn’t). Again, the Music Hall mmf 9.1 delivered the goods: the great ‘funk’ sound that stems from the exquisite timing of the delivery, but also the lead guitar break is exceptionally inventive, and so well-played that I really can’t see why it’s not mentioned more on guitar sites. So good was the Music Hall that I just had to go on to hear Billy Jean, then Human Nature, then P.Y.T. which meant I then had run the last track (The Lady in My Life) out… and then start on Side A again so I could once more work up the excitement for the close-out Thriller, which meant that… umm… did I say that the sound of the mmf9.1 is totally addictive?

CONCLUSION

Musical Hall’s mmf-9.1 offers an amazingly high level of performance at an amazingly low price. Indeed I think it’s the first time I’ve seen such a seriously good turntable that has not had an equally serious price tag attached to it. My advice? Grab one while you can! Chris Croft”

Click here to view the magazine article.