Music Hall Classic Brings Back the All-in-One, no phono pre needed Turntable.
Now at True Audiophile
Customers who have better ears than bigger bucks have longed for an all-in one turntable. No phono preamp needed. Music Hall delivers to all those audiophiles-- TA
Affortable Audiophile Gold - Affordable Audiophile
Great Sound and Style for Way Under $1,000
Q. I am an old codger and want to get a turntable to play vinyl again. I like the Technics SL-1500C, but it is over my budget by a lot. I want something good, but for under $1,000. I need the auto off feature because I am afraid of forgetting when the record is over and having it spin for hours and hours, ruining my needle.
-J.M., Atlantic City, NJ
A. I am a big fan of all the Technics turntables, including the $1,199 SL-1500C, which will be in the column soon. If it is out of your price range, I do have a magnificent alternative.
Last year I wrote about the $399 Music Hall MMF-1.5, praising the turntable’s excellent sound, fine finish, luxurious tonearm feel and comprehensive feature set. The affordable MMF-1.5 and its “Vessel Special” variant from LP Gear quickly became my most recommended turntables, and readers purchasing them quickly became fans as well. As much as I love the MMF-1.5, I recently tested an affordable turntable that impresses me even more. It also comes from Music Hall, and they have outdone themselves with the new Music Hall Classic.
The Classic takes you back to the days when the finest turntables had big wood bases and stout, silver tonearms. Like the MMF-1.5, photographs do not do it justice. The semi-gloss wood finish is flawless, and the stylish satin silver tonearm with matching platter provides perfect contrast. Soft-touch buttons light up red and blue to set 33 or 45 RPM, and the electronic speed control regulates the belt-drive motor for precise speed and optimum sound quality. At the end of the record the Classic automatically lifts the arm and turns off the power. It all looks and feels much more expensive than it is.
The included Music Hall Spirit cartridge is pre-mounted and perfectly aligned, and setup is extremely easy. I was told by Music Hall VP Leland Leard that the Spirit is based on the Audio-Technica AT-95E but has minor, proprietary modifications. Leland went on to say that the real work went into the Classic’s phono preamp, which was designed to make the Spirit sound its very best. Whatever they did worked, because the sound is excellent, with especially clear and detailed treble. I experimented and thought it sounded best with 1.5g of tracking force, not the 2g recommended in the manual. Given the stock Classic’s performance I can’t help but wonder how it would sound with a cartridge upgrade, but it is good enough out of the box that you can just buy it and enjoy it.
I have not mentioned the price yet because there is a story behind that as well. When I unboxed and set up the Classic I could not stop marveling at what a great turntable it is for only $799, and thought of how readers are going to love it. After I played a few records I remembered a recent Music Hall press release with a $699 price quoted somewhere. I searched my inbox and found the press release with the $699 price, but for the Music Hall MMF-3.3 turntable. Digging a little deeper I found the correct press release, with a $599 price for the Classic. Wow.
SoundStage - All in all mighty satisfying
Music Hall Audio Classic Turntable and Spirit Cartridge
Written by Thom Moon
As I looked at Music Hall Audio’s Classic turntable, there came to mind an old auto-racing adage: “If it looks right, it is right.” To this grizzled audio vet, the Classic looks right. But would it work right?
Music Hall Audio has a long-established reputation for the distribution and, more recently, manufacture of fine audio equipment. The company was founded in 1985 when Scots ex-pat Roy Hall ceased the Stateside manufacture, under license, of Linn speakers. At a time when the Compact Disc was all the rage, Hall had picked up distribution rights for the UK’s Revolver turntable, one of the premier budget decks of the 1980s. He then acquired distribution rights for Creek Electronics, and Music Hall grew from there. Now, 35 years later, President for Life Hall still runs the show and has, from what I read in the audio press, a well-deserved reputation as a character whose mission is to offer great audio gear.
Most Music Hall turntables are made in the Czech Republic, by Pro-Ject Audio Systems, to Music Hall’s specs, but the new Classic ($599 USD) is manufactured in China. Roy Hall explained: “We have been doing business with this company for many years (Our USB-1 [turntable] is made there). They started to come out with designs that were different from the ones offered by Pro-Ject. They also hit price points that were hard to beat. Our long-term relationship with them meant that we were first in line to help develop and bring these ’tables to market.”
The Classic seems to be very well constructed and well named — in appearance, it reminds me of the Swiss-made Thorens and Lenco turntables of the 1960s and ’70s.
The Classic’s plinth is finished in glossy walnut, while the top of the deck and much of the arm is done in satin aluminum. The dustcover is hinged, as it was for most turntables in the days of yore. And the cast-aluminum platter’s felt mat is very Golden Age of Stereo.
From the top, the layout is simplicity itself. In the front-left corner of the deck are the speed buttons: one each for 33⅓ and 45rpm. On the rear panel, from left to right, are: a Phono/Line switch for selecting between the built-in phono stage and line-level output; the Right and Left Audio Out jacks (RCA); a ground post; an On/Off switch for the Auto Stop feature; a Power On/Off switch; and an input jack for DC power from the wall-wart transformer.
I found Auto Stop useful. When it’s activated, the Classic’s platter doesn’t start spinning until the tonearm is lifted off the armrest. At the end of the record side, the arm and stylus is then lifted away from the playing surface and the platter stops. I’m a great fan of auto-stop turntables — it’s a great way to prevent undue wear of the record’s lead-out groove.
With a few of my LPs, Auto Stop took a few extra seconds to kick in. In automatic and semiautomatic turntables of the late 1970s through the ’80s, such as my Dual CS5000, auto-stop/auto-return was triggered by a cam — this usually worked well. However, the Music Hall Classic’s Auto Stop is triggered electronically. “The auto lift works by sensing ‘quiet’ in the groove, thus sensing the end of the record,” Roy Hall told me. “Some lead-out grooves are ‘noisier’ than others, which makes for a longer lift time.”
The unipivot tonearm has a specified effective length of 221.5mm (8.72”) and offers all the standard features of a modern turntable: a gauge ring for setting the vertical tracking force (VTF), an effective tonearm lift, an antiskating control that corresponds to the tracking force set, and a removable headshell to ease the installation and swapping out of cartridges. The cueing lever is one of the better I’ve worked with: it lifts and lowers the arm slowly and, wonder of wonders, is more accurate than the cueing systems found on many other ’tables.
Other specifications: ±0.3% speed tolerance (measured with a 3kHz test tone), typical wow and flutter of less than 0.12% (at 3kHz), and a signal/noise ratio of, typically, more than 65dB. These are all competitive with other turntables in this price category.
The included Music Hall Spirit moving-magnet cartridge is built by Audio-Technica to Music Hall’s specs — it’s a variant of A-T’s AT95 series, possibly the most popular cartridges around these days. The low mass of the Spirit’s cantilever certainly helps transient performance, allowing it to respond more quickly to sharp, high-level sounds. The cross-section of the replaceable elliptical stylus measures 0.4 x 0.7 mil — a good all-around configuration. The Spirit generates a medium-level output of 3.5mV, ±2dB (1kHz at 5cm/sec), which should be enough for most phono preamps, integrated amplifiers, and receivers. The recommended VTF is 2.0gm, ±0.5gm.
Of particular note is the Classic’s built-in phono stage. Roy Hall: “We worked long and hard on the built-in phono section to make sure the gain and clarity was correct for the Spirit cartridge as well as other MM cartridges. We are really pleased with the results.”
I heard only very subtle and, ultimately, insignificant differences between the sound of the Classic through my Simaudio Moon 110LP v2 phono stage ($399) and through the Classic’s own. The Simaudio was marginally smoother through the highs, but that was it. And the Classic’s phono stage beat that of my Linn Majik-1P preamp, though not by much. In short, the Classic’s phono stage held up against some strong competition.
The Music Hall Classic comes very well packaged, and kudos to Music Hall for providing excellent, clearly written setup instructions. Between the text and the diagrams, anyone with a modicum of patience should be able to set up this turntable in half an hour or less. In fact, of the turntables I’ve set up for review, the Classic is among the easiest. The instructions cover setup in more detail than I give here, but the following should give you a good idea.
Following unpacking, the first step is to lower the platter over the center spindle. The drive belt is already mounted on the platter — all you need do is position one of the large windows on the platter directly over the pulley, and place the belt over the pulley.
To install the headshell/cartridge on the tonearm, turn the lock nut to screw on and firmly affix headshell to arm. If you’re using the supplied Music Hall Spirit cartridge, all you need to do is move the front of the counterweight up to the crosshatch and the arm is set up. Couldn’t be much simpler.
If you’ve installed your own cartridge, the process is not much more difficult. The tonearm’s counterweight has an adjustable ring calibrated in grams, with which you set the VTF. Remove the stylus protector from the headshell, and adjust the counterweight until the arm is balanced, and floats horizontal to the top of the platter. Then, while holding the VTF ring and counterweight together, turn both to “2,” to set the VTF to 2gm. Set the antiskating control to “2.” Connect the dustcover’s hinges to the plinth, plug the power wart into the wall and the phono cable into your preamp, and you’re ready to play records.
There’s a story about how “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” from Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, came to sound the way it does (LP, Columbia PC 33540). In 1975, when Simon and producer-engineer Phil Ramone were recording the album in New York’s A&R Studios, they’d tried a number of approaches to the song but hadn’t found one they liked. They broke for lunch, and when they returned, still unsure how to proceed, drummer Steve Gadd was warming up with some drum exercises. Simon and Ramone heard one of these patterns, looked at each other, and said, “That’s it!” They told Gadd to keep doing what he was doing, Simon picked up his guitar, and started singing “50 Ways.” When the rest of the crew came back from lunch, they cut the song to Gadd’s distinctive rhythm. Overall, the recording is a tour de force, with Simon’s wispy voice not greatly out front of the stellar backing band and singers.
Playing “50 Ways” on the Music Hall, I noticed the solidity of the bass line. It wasn’t overpowering or boomy, but it had a heft I haven’t heard with many other turntables. There was some sibilance on some of Simon’s words, but perhaps the cartridge wasn’t quite broken in when I started listening. The delicate hand cymbals came through crisply, and the drum line, of course, makes the song. The Classic did a fine job of reproducing the audioband, from the bass through the highs, and inspired me to play other cuts on this album, all with similar results.
I’ve often mentioned how much I enjoy “The Ballad of Billy the Kid,” from Billy Joel’s Piano Man (LP, Columbia PC 32544). On the Music Hall Classic, the rather manic drum part sounded as intense and percussive as called for, with no slop and lots of body. The Classic and Spirit didn’t seem to dig as deep in the bass as do some turntable-cartridge combos, but solidity of the bass was there when needed. The string arrangement sounded as it must have been as intended to sound by all involved: of a piece, not individual instruments. Joel’s acoustic piano wasn’t quite as prominent as I’ve heard from some other cartridge-turntable combos, but that meant it didn’t overpower Joel’s voice, as sometimes happens. Joel’s saloon-piano figure in the final verse came across exactly as it should, and the intro still sounds like something Aaron Copland might have composed. All in all, mighty satisfying.
The recent death of singer-songwriter Bill Withers inspired me to pull out one of his best performances: “Just the Two of Us,” from Grover Washington Jr.’s Winelight (LP, Elektra 6E-305). From the get-go, there was no lack of bass punch. The aural images of the instruments in the break — acoustic guitar, synthesizer, electric bass, steel and synth drums, and, of course, Washington’s evocative sax (there’s a lot going on) — sounded nigh on perfect. And so, especially, did the pacing: every note from every instrument combined to create a beautifully coherent ensemble performance. And I heard almost no groove noise from this or any other cut I played, even on less-than-perfect LPs.
“Four Brothers,” from a half-speed mastering of the Manhattan Transfer’s Live (LP, Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-022), offers a good sense of the size of the venues the vocal quartet played on the 1978 UK tour from which this album was excerpted, including London’s Hammersmith Odeon, which seats 3487. The Man Tran Band is tight, with an exceptional trumpet player with a sharp, almost percussive sound. One thing I hadn’t noticed before but did with the Classic was that the backing vocals had a real sense of physical separation from the band and superb blend among themselves. The bass was initially deceptive — midbass notes were well controlled but not quite overdamped. On other cuts from this album I’d got the impression that the bass dissipated before going all that deep, but on “Four Brothers” it just kept digging deeper and deeper. In all, the Classic offered truly nuanced reproduction of low frequencies.
My main comparison recording was “Nunca Mais,” from guitarist Emily Remler’s Transitions (LP, Concord Jazz CJ-236). Remler was joined on this 1983 album by trumpeter John D’earth, double bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Bob Moses. “Nunca Mais” features driving rhythms, Remler’s exquisite guitaristry, and hot playing by D’earth. I first played the track several times on the Classic and concluded that it couldn’t sound much better. The trumpet licks came through with force and clarity. The bass solo, with incredibly quick fingerings, came across as very precise. A very satisfying performance by the Classic.
My combo of Sumiko Oyster Moonstone cartridge and Dual CS5000 turntable had a slightly brighter sound overall, especially the trumpet, as well as a bit more bass heft and possibly a hint more punch overall — not worse, not better, merely different. Both turntable combos performed superbly; I could enjoy either over the long term.
I listened to a lot more LPs on the Classic than I’ve mentioned above, but the ones named told its story: This turntable has a well-balanced sound. I thoroughly enjoyed having the Classic in my system — the end of the listening period for this review came all too soon.
Roy Hall pretty well summed up the Classic’s appeal when he told me, “Due to a shortage of high-end turntables in our line-up at Christmas time, I sold my personal [Music Hall] 11.1 and used a demo Classic to fill the hole. That’s over three months ago and I still enjoy listening to it every day.”
You, too, might enjoy it. At $599 and as plug’n’play as a ’table can be, the Classic is a must-audition. It’s a delight to use, and its included Music Hall Spirit cartridge extracts maximum information from the groove. And if your suite of electronics lacks a phono stage, no worries — the Classic’s will do the trick. All in all, the Classic has the makings of . . . a classic.
Inspired by turntables of the past, built with the best of today’s technology. the Music Hall Classic Turntable features a built-in phono preamp & phono cartridge, semi-automatic operation (auto-lift and power off), and a dark walnut wood veneer finish.
A 2-speed belt driven turntable that comes complete with a tonearm, mounted music hall spirit cartridge, and built-in phono amp. The included music hall spirit cartridge has been precision aligned.
Music Hall Classic turntable spirit cartridge
Built-in Phono Preamplifier
Only available in the USA
Classic Feature list
- semi-automatic (auto lift & shut off)
- factory mounted music hall spirit cartridge included (a $100 value)
- aluminum platter with felt mat
- removable head shell
- adjustable vibration damping feet
- dark walnut wood veneer finish
- touch sensitive electronic speed control 33/45 rpm
- built-in bypassable phono amp
- unique uni-pivot tonearm design
- accurate line for perfect counterweight position
- dust cover
- worldwide compatibility
|power supply||DC12V，2.0A |
universal power supply
|dimensions||17.1(W) x 14.5(D) x 6.2(H) in. |
435(W) x 367(D) x 157(H) mm
|weight||15.2lbs. | 6.9Kg|
|driving method||belt drive|
|turntable platter||305mm dia. aluminum die-cast|
|speeds||33 1/3 and 45 rpm|
|wow and flutter||typical: less than 0.12% WTD at 3KHz RMS(CD-4005) |
limit: Less than 0.15% WTD at 3KHz RMS(CD-4005)
|S/N ratio||Typical: More than 65dB (DIN-B) (SS-4242)||Limit: More than 62dB (DIN-B) (SS-4242)|
|speed tolerance||3000Hz +/-3%(CD-4005)|
Spirit Cartridge Specs
frequency response 20Hz – 20kHz ± 3dB channel balance 2.5dB @ 1kHz channel separation >20dB @ 1kHz output 3.5mV ± 2dB, 1kHz @ 5cm/sec vertical tracking angle 20 degrees stylus shape elliptical 0.4 x 0.7 mil stylus type replaceable cantilever alloy tube load impedance 47,000 Ohm stylus construction bonded round shank cartridge weight 5.7g fixing center 0.5” (12.7mm) playing weight 1.5 – 2.5g (2.0g nom.)
- gorgeous high gloss piano black lacquer finish
- special vibration damping adjustable feet
- top tier 8.6” carbon fiber tonearm with aluminum headshell
- low noise fully manual belt-drive design
- separately isolated DC synchronous motor for superior speed stability
- two-speed stepped motor pulley for 33 1⁄3 and 45 rpm
- music hall Spirit moving-magnet cartridge with replaceable elliptical stylus ($100 value)
- the cartridge supplied is properly aligned and mounted
- high precision stainless steel and bronze bearing assembly for quiet, fluid operation
- high quality gold RCA connectors with detachable phono cable
- full-size alloy platter and felt mat
- excellent instruction manual
- quick and easy to assemble
- dust cover and 45 rpm adaptor