Turning the Tables, with Music Hall
There's a new player in town when it comes to high-performance yet affordable turntables, Music Hall. Technically, the brand itself is not all that new, but in Australia it's the kid on the block, and it's impressive.
StereoNET caught up with owner, Roy Hall, at the recent HighEnd Society Show in Munich, Germany, where Music Hall has been very well received.
One needs only spend a few minutes with Roy to understand he's not one for big dollar mark-ups, unneccesary bloat and bling, but truly about delivering the best possible performance and the best possible price. By his own admission, he's not a businessman, but he does take his business, and more importantly, the Music Hall brand seriously.
Music Hall turntables are manufactured in the 60 year old SEV Livotel factory in Litovel, Czech Republic. This manufacturing facility had early beginnings producing gramophones in the 1950s, and has made everything from windscreen wiper motors to telephones over the years. Today though, their production schedule is kept busy manufacturing under contract for not only Music Hall, but also Pro-Ject and E.A.T turntables.
Just about everything is produced in-house, from screws, to platters, springs and plinths.
In fact, production levels are so high, (apparently turntables have made a comeback) that SEV are actually in the process of building a new factory to cope with the demand.
Roy Hall (left) along with SEV Factory Owner, and General Manager
Before Roy took us through the range, he took a moment to explain to us that his range is uncomplicated, and precise. Each model being as refined in design and materials as possible for the price. Keen eyes will note similarities to Pro-Ject turntables no doubt. It's only when you dig a little deeper that the subtle differences become obvious. Differing materials, 4-point bearings specified on the tonearms rather than 2-point, genuine Sorbothane isolation instead of plastic or rubber, and the list goes on.
He's also quick to point out that he's not an inventor, or an engineer. He's a music lover first and foremost, and he looks at and tests turntables from around world. Working with the SEV factory engineers to finalise designs, “I take the cherries from all the best designs”, and puts them together to create a Music Hall turntable. Joining us for our chat with Hall, Gary Tye, General Manager Specialty Audio for the Australian distributor of Music Hall, Convoy International, nods in agreement.
Roy also points out he's even seen some of his ideas employed by other brands after the fact, so he must be doing something right.
You won't find Music Hall in every corner store in Australia. In fact, not every hi-fi store qualifies to carry the Music Hall range. Gary Tye tells us:
Each dealer is vetted and they must have the experience and the complimentary range of amps and speakers worthy of partnering with Music Hall products. The staff must be passionate about analogue and vinyl, and moreover have the experience to present the Music Hall range to buyers with the respect these models deserve.
The current Music Hall range features four select models, each built to exacting specifications so they ensure you hear all the music pressed into your vinyl records with a beguiling naturalness.
Like a proud father, Roy takes us through the range. The entry level mmf-2.2 is a belt-drive, manual model with two-speeds, and uses an electronically controlled DC motor to provide stable speed without a hint of deviation. It's supplied as a complete package and is presented with a high-quality, friction-free 9” tonearm and the Magic 2 moving magnet cartridge. It sells locally for $599 RRP in black, or $649 RRP in striking Red or White finishes.
The all-important platter bearing spins silently on a bearing assembly made from high precision stainless steel and bronze. It’s sturdy and because it’s virtually frictionless, it should last a lifetime. Vibration damping feet, 1.7kg platter, expensive gold plated RCA output connectors, a single adaptor and dustcover are all part of the 2.2’s comprehensive package.
You'd be hard pressed to find better value for an entry level turntable at this price point. StereoNET has just completed its review on this model, stay tuned.
Moving up a rung, you find the mmf-5.1 with its unique dual layer plinth design. The mmf-5.1 is also a manual, belt-driven two-speed model packaged with a one-piece alloy 9.5” tonearm which features a resonance-damping counterweight decoupled from the tonearm. Music Hall delivers this turntable with the pre-mounted and aligned Magic 3 MM cartridge produced for the brand by Ortofon for just $1,299 RRP.
The top-plinth is separated from the lower plinth by six viso-elastic cones and strategically houses the bearing, tone arm and cartridge. The lower plinth carries the compliant noise-isolating feet, motor, switch, wiring and other electrical parts. Hall says “the sound is precise and solid thanks to its intelligent vibration combatting dual plinth”.
In a world of high-end turntables with gold plating, exotic materials and counter-rotating platters, some fetching upwards of $100,000, Roy Hall just laughs. In his world, “high-end” doesn't need to be so expensive or unobtainable for the enthusiast. There are two offerings in the high-end of the Music Hall range.
At $1,799 RRP, the mmf-7.1, like the mmf-5.1 model features a dual-layer plinth design. But it goes one step further in noise decoupling with the motor, switch and wiring completely isolated and decoupled from the plinth and situated on a discrete resonance damping puck. It uses a 2.7kg platter and is delivered with a carbon fibre 9” tonearm. At this level, Music Hall suggests the end-user work with their dealer to choose an appropriate phono cartridge based on the listeners preferences.
And finally the flagship of the brand, the mmf-9.1 comes in at $2,399 RRP. It features a patented triple layer plinth, each seperated by Sorbothane cones that Roy says there is an art to the shape and form of, along with the strategic placement between the layers.
While the motor and switch are isolated and decoupled from the plinth and sit on a dedicated resonance-damping puck, the motor is mounted in the left/front of the plinths to eliminate motor-to-cartridge vibration and stop it interfering with the tonearm as it tracks the record groove.
With a carbon fibre 9” tonearm, moving on four hardened Swiss ABEC 7 spec ballraces, it features adjustable VTA and a damped arm lift, highly flexible top-calibre internal wiring and a resonance damped, decoupled counterweight. Finally, it includes push-button electronic speed control, adjustable feet with anti-scratch cups, gold plated RCA output connectors and a sturdy dustcover.
The select range of just four models making the decision making process easy, spend more, get more. The difference is, without all the bloat, you get a damn lot of value for your money.
Gary Tye told StereoNET:
After visiting the factory that produces these fine turntables in the small town of Litovel in the Czech Republic last week, I have an even higher regard for this fabulous brand. Seeing the tone arms fabricated and machined from raw material with precision craftsmanship and very fine tolerances, it is little wonder the product sounds so good.
Roy Hall is a unique character with strong opinions on everything. I really do mean everything. But one thing is for sure, he is passionate about Music Hall, and even more so about high-performance without having to spend many thousands of dollars for good sound. If you ever get the chance to meet Roy at a show or event, I highly recommend saying g'day, if you like a good laugh.
Music Hall is distributed is available from Specialist Retailers.
See Music Hall at the 2016 Melbourne International HiFi Show, July 1st-3rd, Albert Park, Melbourne, in Room M6.