Review: Music Hall MMF-1.3 turntable
4.3Overall Score

Price (RRP): $499

Want to get back into vinyl? Or start for the first time? There are a number of quite significant challenges in doing that, and your choice of turntable can help you overcome some of them. It’s with this that the Music Hall MMF-1.3 turntable excels.

Features

The first challenge is equipment: you need more than just a turntable. A standard high fidelity turntable won’t work with most audio equipment made in the last couple of decades. Their output levels are exceptionally low, and furthermore the signal needs massive amounts of correction to sound right – the so-called RIAA equalisation. Thirty years ago respectable audio gear routinely had “phono” inputs that catered for this, but after the CD gained dominance, these were dropped.

Nowadays with the re-popularising of vinyl, some gear includes a phono pre-amp. But if your system doesn’t, the Music Hall MMF-1.3 can help because it has two output modes, from which you select using a switch on the back. The “Phono” mode is for those special inputs while the “Line” mode runs the signal through a built-in phono preamplifier and so can be used with any audio system with a regular analogue input, including active loudspeakers.

Which raises the question: what’s the point of retaining the phono mode? In the world of audio gear, perhaps the most critical amplifier component is the phono pre-amp. Enthusiasts can be very particular about them and may have preferred models. So having the phono level output provides for all kinds of listeners.

The turntable has a solid, weighty plinth (that’s the body) on four soft feet. A perspex lid keeps out the dust (and reduces any acoustic feedback). The aluminium platter is belt driven.

The tone arm has a removable headshell for the cartridge. The cartridge is pre-attached to the headshell, so there’s no need for things like alignment protractors. Tracking weight is set using a conventional counter weight and there’s a dial-it-in anti-skating mechanism. The arm is fully manual, of course, as any additional mechanisms could interfere with its free movement. That means, for those unfamiliar with these things, that you have to raise the arm when the record finishes playing. The arm lift is damped and lowers the arm at a good speed, gently, but not so slowly as to make one impatient.

The recommended tracking force for the included Audio Technica AT3600L cartridge is a rather high three grams. I come from the days when the preference was for one gram, or even less for certain very expensive cartridge models. These days two grams is closer to the norm. You’d expect a cartridge with a fifty per cent higher tracking force to impose more wear on the grooves.

But if you’re building a collection from second hand records, this high tracking can be a boon, providing greater stability with old and worn records. If you’re planning on building a collection of new and pristine recordings, then I’d suggest considering replacing the supplied cartridge with a higher quality one.

(Note: never use a lower stylus pressure/tracking force than specified for the cartridge and stylus. That’s more likely to increase rather than reduce wear because it will leave the stylus rattling around uncertainly in the groove, particularly in high modulation sections of the track.)

One highly unusual feature is the inclusion of a 78rpm speed (in addition to the 33 1/3 speed for LPs, and 45rpm for singles). That’s what was used for several decades back in olden days (where the material was more likely to be shellac rather than vinyl). You can see those records in antique shops. They’re usually ten inches in diameter instead of twelve, and are thicker and less flexible, and have a maximum playing time of three minutes per side. (And now you know how the tradition of the three minute pop song was established.)

Plus their labels are yellowed by time. The last 78 made in the US was released 58 years ago, and world wide production had completely ceased by 47 years ago. Unlike vinyl, 78s never made a comeback.

There are thousands of hours of treasures on those old records but the 78 speed available on this turntable is alone not enough to play 78s. You also need the appropriate stylus. When the 33 1/3 rpm records were introduced, they also introduced something called “microgroove”. As the name suggests, the grooves holding the music were much thinner than those which had been used in the old format. A typical modern elliptical cartridge has a stylus some 18 micrometres wide. Something closer to 65 is needed for 78s.

The use of a removable head on this turntable to hold the cartridge raised the intriguing possibility of playing actual 78rpm records. The manufacturer tells me that replacement headshells are not  yet available due to supply constraints, but when they are you could purchase one and switch simply to a 78rpm cartridge (something like the Ortofon 2M 78 – 115 Euro) when you want to play 78s.