Week 50, 2018: Turntables with pre-mounted LP Gear The Vessel A3SE cartridge

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 50, 2018

Q. I would like to buy a new turntable that includes the highly recommended LP Gear The Vessel A3SE cartridge. It seems like all the turntables I am considering include some sort of Audio-Technica cartridge or an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. Am I forced to buy the A3SE cartridge separately and mount it myself? I don’t know how to mount and align a cartridge and I have heard it is difficult. I would like to stay at $750 or less for everything.

-J.T., Atlantic City, NJ

A. I’d love to see The Vessel A3SE come pre-mounted on more turntables. Hopefully sometime soon we will see some turntable manufacturers include this cartridge as standard equipment, but until then you have to go directly to LP Gear for a turntable with a pre-mounted A3SE. They have several models available and I suggest you check out these two in particular.

The first is the direct drive Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB “improved by LP Gear.” This $349 turntable includes The Vessel A3SE pre-mounted on a better headshell (the headshell is the mount that connects the cartridge to the tonearm) and an upgraded platter mat for better isolation from vibration. The AT-LP120-USB has a built-in phono preamp and a USB connection for use with a computer.

For those of you who already own an AT-LP120-USB, you can get The Vessel A3SE pre-mounted on the better headshell for $148. It’s a simple plug-in upgrade that will dramatically improve the sound over the stock cartridge.

Given your budget I strongly suggest you step up to the belt drive Music Hall MMF-1.5 turntable. LP Gear now has the MMF-1.5 with the headshell upgrade and pre-mounted The Vessel A3SE for only $499. It is called the “Deck the Music Hall MMF-1.5 Ultimate Package” Christmas Special, expiring Dec. 31st.

Though it sells for $399 without the LP Gear upgrades, nothing about the Music Hall MMF-1.5 tells you it is a budget turntable. The lustrous cherrywood base looks and feels expensive, pictures simply not doing it justice. The high-quality, beautifully finished tonearm has smooth cuing and a dial for anti-skate settings. Assembly and setup is simple and easy.

The MMF-1.5 includes a precise electronic speed control with a 78 RPM setting. To get this kind of control with competing belt-drive turntables you usually have to buy a separate accessory that costs at least $100, and even then you do not get 78 RPM capability. A built-in phono preamp allows you to use it with any receiver or powered speakers, and it can be bypassed if you have your own phono preamp or a phono input on your receiver or amplifier. It does not have a USB connection but you can get one by adding the NAD PP4 USB Phono Preamp for $199. This will provide even better sound quality while staying within your budget.

You could buy a more expensive turntable than the Music Hall MMF-1.5, add the A3SE and still be under $750, but as I considered all the possible combinations I came to realize the extra $250 would not change my recommendation. When I originally reviewed the MMF-1.5 I said, “You won’t find a better sounding, better looking or better feeling turntable for $399, not even close. It is easy to imagine it selling for $1,000 if it had a more exotic nameplate.” The great sound, beautiful appearance, class-leading tonearm, and comprehensive feature set make it an exceptional value that will provide pride of ownership as well as musical satisfaction. See both the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB and Music Hall MMF-1.5 upgraded turntables at lpgear.com.

Questions? donlindich@gmail.com