By Don Lindich
Week 45, 2019
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.
Start with a $599 Music Hall Classic, add a $100 Cambridge Audio AM5 integrated amplifier and a pair of $315 Q Acoustics 3020i speakers and you have a $1,000 hi-fi system with great sound and style. See the Music Hall Classic turntable at musichallaudio.com, the AM5 amplifier at cambridgeaudio.com and the 3020i speakers at qacoustics.com.