By Don Lindich
Week 1, 2017
Q. I am ordering the $299 Musical Fidelity Roundtable turntable listed on your website. Should I upgrade the cartridge and if so, which one?
-B.G., Bethel Park, PA
A. Some background information for print-only Sound Advice readers: I do a lot of research for my writing and sometimes I find fantastic deals on high-quality equipment. I post these deals on my website so visitors can take advantage of them. B.G. is asking about the Musical Fidelity Roundtable turntable, which is one of the best bargains I have found in a long time.
Musical Fidelity is a well-respected British high-end audio manufacturer. The Roundtable is built for them by Pro-ject, the world’s top producer of premium turntables. Available in either red or black, the Roundtable lists for $1,000 with cartridge, but Music Direct (musicdirect.com) has the package on sale $299, a savings of $701. Some user reviews suggest that the list price is perhaps a bit inflated and the Roundtable seems more akin to a $700 turntable than a $1,000 turntable. Even so, a $700 turntable for $299 is still an outstanding deal and Pro-ject makes a quality product. If you wanted a turntable for Christmas and did not get one, count your blessings and buy the Roundtable. Visit http://tinyurl.com/mfrdeal to learn more.
B.G. asked about upgrades because the included Audio-Technica AT95E cartridge is a budget cartridge, though a very good one. You have to be careful when upgrading cartridges on inexpensive turntables because the turntable itself may not be a precise enough instrument to get all of the performance out of the cartridge and in some cases, it won’t work at all. For example, you could put very expensive high performance tires on an economy car, but the car will never match the performance potential of the tires and if the sizing is wrong it could even be dangerous. Likewise, inexpensive turntables often have lightweight tonearms and steel platters that are not a good match for high-end cartridges.
The inverse is also true. Even if you put cheap tires on a Corvette, it would still go quite fast though it would quickly hit its limits. This is what is happening with the Roundtable. The turntable is much better than the budget cartridge, but it will extract every last bit of performance from it and sound excellent in the process.
The Roundtable is certainly worthy of a cartridge upgrade and the low price provides a great opportunity to build a fantastic package. After I received your question I called Music Direct and they said if you buy both a turntable and cartridge from them they will mount the cartridge for free. Cartridges must be properly mounted for top performance (especially expensive cartridges) and it is a difficult, tedious task involving a fragile product, tiny screws and tiny wires. The benefit of professional mounting cannot be overstated.
I can’t think of a better match to the Roundtable than Grado’s spectacular Reference Platinum 2. This $350 wood-bodied cartridge brings out the essence of music with rich sound, tremendous detail throughout the range and extremely deep and well-defined bass. Combined with the Roundtable it makes for an unbeatable $649 combination. gradolabs.com
Even those who stick with the supplied cartridge are going to be very happy and will have a good platform for upgrading in the future. Please note that like other high-end turntables, the Roundtable does not have a built-in phono preamp. It must be used with a receiver or amplifier with a phono input, or with an external phono preamp.