Build a backyard drive-in theater, Music Hall Mini Plus Phono Preamp (Week 43, 2019)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 43, 2019

Q. The Nebula Capsule Max 720p projector you reviewed recently seems like a great portable projector, but I am looking for a 1080p home theater projector. Can I get good quality for $500 or so?

-P.K., South Bend, IN

A. You definitely can, and I recently experienced how very good it can be.

Last summer my friend Lance and I created a backyard drive-in theater for his son Alex’s graduation party. We even had a “concession stand’ on his porch with movie-theater-style food for the guests.

We started with a Visual Apex 120HD 120-inch indoor-outdoor screen. It is $189 and includes a sturdy stand and carrying bag. Setup takes a bit of finger strength to snap the screen taut on the frame, but once you do you are rewarded with a flat projection surface that yields a bright, sharp image.

Optoma’s HD143X is my top $500 projector recommendation, and an HD143X was purchased for the occasion for $431. The phenomenal Panasonic UB820 UltraHD Blu-ray player played the movie from 1080p Blu-ray Discs. An HDMI cable went to the projector for the picture. For sound, the player’s audio outputs were connected to a receiver that drove tower speakers placed on either side of the screen.

Though the 120-inch image was “just” 1080p, the color and sharpness from this $620 projector/screen combination was spectacular, especially as the evening went on and it got darker. The guests raved all night about how beautiful the picture looked, even from far away. The evening concluded with Alex and his friends playing Nintendo games on the 120-inch projected image and again the sharpness, depth and color looked stunning. I wish I could take everyone reading this back in time to see it for themselves. Hopefully a few readers will try this backyard theater for themselves after they read this. It’s great fun!

If you want to take the picture quality to an even higher level, I strongly recommend the $579 Optoma HD27HDR. It is a 1080p projector that processes and displays high dynamic range (HDR) information from 4K sources. The improvement from HDR is more noticeable than the improvement from going from 1080p to 4K, so the HD27HDR provides you the best of all worlds with a super-sharp 1080p picture, HDR for a deeper, more nuanced image with better color, and an affordable price (true 4K projectors are extremely expensive.) I will have a more thorough review of the HD27HDR in an upcoming column.

Q. I purchased the Vessel A3SE cartridge (the pre-mounted version) to use on my Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable. I love it, but have to turn up the receiver volume more than before. Is this normal?

-B.P., Sewickley, PA

A. It is normal. Electrical output between different models of cartridges varies widely, and the output of the Vessel cartridges is on the lower end of the range for cartridges of its type. You just turn up the volume a bit to compensate, and it is of no real consequence.

If you still want to get the output from your turntable back to what it was before, check out the $149 Music Hall Mini Plus phono preamp. Made in the USA, the Mini Plus sounds noticeably better than the turntable’s built-in preamp and has an adjustable volume control to increase the volume before the signal goes to the amplifier. It also has adjustable capacitance to match the cartridge’s electrical characteristics to the phono preamp, which is practically unheard of at the price point. It all makes the Music Hall Mini Plus the best phono preamp you can buy for under $150, and a natural upgrade for Vessel owners.