Australian Hi Fi:
Roy Hall is one of the best-known names in high-end audio, but he’s not a manufacturer, nor is he a designer. He’s the distributor responsible for handling such brands as Creek, Epos, Shanling, and Whest in North America. The one thing all of these companies have in common is that they don’t have a turntable in their line, and not having a turntable to distribute was an anathema to Roy, who started his business ‘way back in 1985 distributing Revolver turntables. Revolver is no more (or ‘sadly gone’, as Roy puts it), but he has made a come-back by fixing his ‘Music Hall’ badge to a range of turntables made for him in Lintovel, in the Czech Republic.
The Music Hall MMF 2.1LE looks stunning, mostly because of its Ferrari Red paint finish. It’s a two-speed (33.33 and 45rpm) belt-drive model that comes pre-fitted with a tonearm and moving-magnet cartridge. Unlike some turntables, which use wooden platters, the platter on my MMF 2.1LE was made from steel. This surprised me only because I was under the understanding (obviously a misunderstanding!) that the platter was cast from aluminium alloy. As you’d expect, the platter assembly is a two-piece design, so only the outer section is steel. The inner section is moulded from ABS. Fixed to the centre of this ABS section is the thrust (machined from stainless steel) that slides smoothly down into a bronze sleeve fixed into the plinth, to form the ‘bearing’.The platter is topped by a thin felt turntable mat. The main body of the MMF 2.1LE is built from sandwiched layers of MDF to a thickness of 32mm. This body, or plinth, sits on four non-adjustable feet of rather peculiar construction. The ‘foot’ is a circular plastic moulding (not unlike the plastic top on a milk bottle) at the bottom of which is glued a small circle of felt. This plastic moulding is then attached to the plinth using a section of highly flexible rubber. In Australia, Audio Marketing supplies the MMF 2.1LE with a Music Hall ‘Tracker’ moving-magnet cartridge fitted with a replaceable elliptical stylus. This comes pre-installed in the straight tonearm, whose headshell is fixed permanently to its end. The tonearm is a basic but very serviceable statically-balanced design, with a string-and-weight bias system (a.k.a. anti-skate!) and a damped arm lifter. This lifter is quite unusual because instead of the ‘rest ledge’ being attached to the lifting mechanism in the usual manner, it’s instead attached to the bottom of the tonearm tube. This is peculiar not only because it is unusual, but also because it unnecessarily increases the mass of the tonearm. It would also make the tonearm more difficult to manufacture, which you’d imagine would be a good reason for not doing it.
Finally, it’s also not overly practical, because I found that if you accidentally knock the tonearm while the lifter is raised, the tonearm can swing beyond the rest to land on the LP’s label. (Unlikely, but possible!) As you’d expect of a budget tonearm, the tonearm height is non-adjustable. So, though this tonearm height is perfect for the Music Hall ‘Tracker’ cartridge that’s fitted to it, resulting in an ideal VTA (vertical tracking angle), you need to note that it’s so low that it can’t properly accommodate a very deep-bodied cartridge like a Stanton 681EEE and will prevent the use of a thick turntable mat. The platter is driven via a flat belt (branded Pro-Ject, see inset box ‘A Rose…) by an asynchronous a.c. motor with a two-step aluminium pulley fixed directly to its drive shaft. The motor is isolated from the plinth by reason of it being suspended at four points by a continuous rubber belt. As such, speed switching is completely manual (by means of physically lifting the belt from one step of the drive pulley to the other) and requires first removing the platter. A small switch at the front left of the plinth switches the motor on and off. A clear plastic turntable cover is provided, which you attach to the two hinges at the rear of the turntable by sliding it over two ‘L’-shaped posts. The bent section of these posts sits in a friction-fit plastic elbow. You adjust the friction by tightening or loosening two screws on each elbow. If you tighten the screws sufficiently you can get the cover to stay open at almost any angle, but it’s then quite difficult to open and close. Loosening the screws off makes it easy to raise and lower the cover, but it then won’t stay in the ‘opened’ position except when positioned fully ‘open.’ The Music Hall MMF 2.1’s low-voltage motor requires 16-volts a.c. which is supplied by a wall-mounted plug-pack. Our advance sample had a plug-pack designed for use in Europe plus an adaptor so it would fit into Australian 240V sockets. They worked perfectly, but made a rather bulky and ungainly duo.
One of the first things I do before I even start listening to a turntable is align the cartridge, because in all the years I have been reviewing turntables, I’ve never found a single one that has been correctly aligned, so I pulled out my trusty Denneson Soundtracktor alignment protractor only to discover the Tracker cartridge was already perfectly and beautifully aligned in the arm. I was amazed!
My next check was for speed accuracy, using a Denon test recording. At 33.33 rpm the Music Hall MMF 2.1 played back a 3,000Hz tone as 3,015Hz, indicating the platter was rotating 0.5% too fast. This is an insignificant difference, as the increase in pitch that would result would be about 1/20th of a semitone. To give you an idea, high G has a frequency of 3,136Hz and the semitone above (G-Sharp) has a frequency of 3,322Hz—a difference of 186Hz. The slightly increased platter speed would also have an insignificant effect on the music’s tempo: a standard three-minute track would play back in 2 minutes 59.1 seconds. The speed/tempo error was a little less at 45rpm, with the Music Hall playing back 3,013Hz for a recorded frequency of 3,000Hz. Cueing was effortless, with the cueing lever dropping the stylus perfectly in the lead-in track at the exact point in the groove where I’d positioned it. The damper is set up for a three-second descent, so this time, in combination with the lead-in groove, will give you plenty of time to get into your chair before the first notes leave your loudspeakers. The first few notes to leave my speakers showed that I’d accidentally set the tracking force too low (I’d set it at one gram, out of habit). In the course of increasing this to the 1.7 grams recommended for the Tracker I had time to muse that the tracking force gauge I was using (Shure’s SFG-2, which is still my favourite) to do this sells for $55, or almost one-twelfth the cost of the entire Music Hall turntable! (Music Hall actually includes a very good Pro-Ject stylus gauge with the MMF2.ILE.) I set the stringand-weight bias by ear, using a Shure ERA IV test record, but it ended up being the same as the recommended setting in Music Hall’s Owners’ Manual, so you needn’t shell out for the LP!
Music Hall’s MMF 2.1 performed beautifully with dozen or so LPs I played, making easy work of tracking and reproducing the music on jazz LPs and others with recordings of small groups, but also managed large-scale orchestral works well, handling the more complex groove walls with ease, even when there were crescendos in the inner grooves, close to the label. Stereo separation was excellent and there was no wavering of the stereo image. I was particularly impressed with the MMF’s delivery of Dark Side of the Moon. It clearly sounded better than the version I have on CD… though not as good as it does on SACD. There was no hint of wow or flutter even when playing slow piano works (Newport Test Labs subsequently measured wow and flutter at 0.09% CCIR unweighted) nor could I hear any unwanted bearing rumble in the background.
This is a really great-looking turntable— easily the best-looking budget turntable I have ever seen—and the first I’ve ever reviewed that has been perfectly set-up straight out of the box, so there’s no need to buy an expensive alignment protractor (and the cheap ones are useless). Sound quality is excellent, with Music Hall’s ‘Tracker’ delivering an extended frequency response with particularly good bass and unfettered dynamics. Indeed an impressive package!”