REVIEW: MUSIC HALL MMF 2.2 TURNTABLE
Anyone familiar with Stereophile magazine may have already heard the name Roy Hall. He has, after all submitted many review products to them over the years through his Hi-Fi distribution company, Music Hall, which Roy founded back in 1985.
Music Hall are primarily focused on two channel audio, which the subject of this review, the MMF 2.2 coincides with perfectly. Music Hall are also the US distributer for brands such as Creek Audio, Epos Acoustics, E.A.T. Tubes and Goldring Cartridges.
Thanks to a new agreement, Music Hall products are now distributed in Australia through Convoy and available from Specialist Retailers.
After taking a good look at the MMF 2.2, I spoke with Convoy's Brand Manager, Michael Thornton-Smith, with a couple of queries:
The similarities between the Music Hall MMF 2.2 and some of the similarly priced Pro-Ject turntables are quite obvious when you look at them side by side. What would you say sets the MMF 2.2 apart and why should a customer buy one of these over say a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon or Rega RP1?
We have used the Debut Carbon and Rega RP1 as references at this level of the turntable market. Certainly there are similarities, especially to the Pro-Ject model, so I’ll concentrate on this turntable. Music Hall and Pro-Ject turntables are produced in the same factory in the Czech Republic, the result of a close relationship between Roy Hall of Music Hall, and Heinz Lichtenegger of Pro-Ject.
To make each product valuable, unique but still affordable, Roy selects the key components from premium industry suppliers (including from the Pro-Ject “parts bin”), and combines them using his design principles. He only uses superior parts and proven technology. “I am picking the cherries” is what Roy tends to say, when asked about the secret of his success.
Being less marketing-driven or perhaps less resourceful as Pro-Ject, it would be safe to assume that Roy must push the product itself further. "Elegant design and high product quality are paramount, as is the simplicity of function and operation. Roy’s designs are different, particularly as you go up the range".
In this case, there are two key differences between the Music Hall mmf-2.2 and Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
- The 4-point bearing on the aluminium tonearm on the Music Hall is superior to the 2-point bearing on the carbon fibre arm of the Pro-Ject. It offers more precise tracking, and better control of the cartridge.
- The feet at the base of the plinth offer better isolation from vibration and resonance, resulting in cleaner sound with lower interference.
You can read some more of the interesting background of Roy Hall and his brand here in this article.
The MMF 2.2 features a single piece alloy tonearm (by Pro-Ject), a suspended isolated asynchronous motor, vibration damping feet, a specially made Music Hall Magic 2 cartridge (by Ortofon), a weighty alloy platter, felt mat and dust cover. It's available in three colour options, Black ($599 RRP), White or Red ($649 RRP). The price includes the Magic 2 phono cartridge.
Anyone experienced with Pro-Ject's entry range of turntables will have an instant familiarity with the MMF 2.2. After all, they are manufactured in the same factory. Unpacking the MMF 2.2 was a straightforward affair with one word of caution; one of the three feet doesn't come pre fitted and is packaged separately inside.
Setup was simple, the tonearm was a breeze to balance and the Music Hall Magic 2 cartridge came factory fitted and aligned.
I connected the turntable to a Pro-Ject Tube Box DS preamp (with the stock hard wired interconnects) and onto a NAD M2 amplifier using my WireWorld Eclipse 7 RCA interconnects.
The first thing that struck me with the Music Hall MMF 2.2 was how utterly listenable it was. Playing an old copy of James Taylor's 'Hello Old Friend' I was taken back by the overall dynamic nature of what I was hearing. Imaging was solid and the sound was very musical.
Compared to my usual reference, the Marantz TT-15s1, there was a narrower soundstage, less depth and more obvious background noise, but considering the MMF 2.2 retails for one fifth the price, it really screams 'bargain'!
The Civil Wars debut LP 'Barton Hollow' was next up. One of the best short lived acts I've come across, The Civil Wars were a seamless blend of Americana and Folk and wrote some stunning music in their short time together.
The opening track '20 Years' had decent weight, not quite as much separation as I was used to, but still enough to keep me interested in what was unfolding in front of me. Being critical, I'd say the acoustic guitar sounded a touch rounded off, with just a hint less sparkle and less air than through the TT-15s1, but not enough for me to be put off by it.
The Music Hall MMF 2.2 delivered a stand up performance.
Title track 'Barton Hollow' sounded great, big and full of huge dynamics. The harmonies between John Paul White and Joy Williams were in perfect sync and had a wonderful body to them, particularly with White's lower register. 'Girl with the red balloon' really caught my attention too, just a really tight tonal balance, a joy to listen to.
In fact, the more I listened to the MMF 2.2, the more I found myself just sitting back and enjoying the music. It stopped being about detail retrieval or sheer transparency and just became fun!
Up next I decided to spin The National's 'Trouble Will Find Me'. The National have a fond place in my heart, having discovered them quite a few years ago. What hooked me was Matt Berninger's baritone lead vocal whose warm, full bodied sound was demonstrated in the track 'Demons'.
The background noise again, while having a touch more presence than I was used to via my Marantz was still very low. There was enough detail retrieval that I could pick apart the vocal harmonies in 'Don't Swallow the Cap', leading me to believe that Magic 2 was a decent little starter cartridge!
'Fireproof' is probably my favourite track from this album, and while it sounded good, I craved a touch more bottom end than I was given, as demonstrated through the chorus.
Review System 2.0
At this point I decided to try something a little different, firstly I moved the MMF 2.2 into my secondary system (which is probably a touch more price appropriate) consisting of a pair of ELAC BS 403 standmount speakers and a Vincent SV-237 hybrid integrated amplifier.
This system, unlike my main one, is setup for near-field listening and thus offers a more immediate and intimate experience. I also decided to tweak the capacitance settings on my Tube Box DS. The Music Hall Magic 2 recommends between 200 - 600pf. I set the Tube Box to the maximum of 320. I sat down and began listening once again.
Damien Rice had a huge break between outings so when I discovered his latest release 'My Favourite Faded Fantasy' was on its way, I jumped on the preorder list.
The title track is a slow burner, but when it peaks, it does so with intensity, and through the MMF 2.2, that is exactly what I got.
I felt as though the higher capacitance settings on the pre were also of some benefit.
'It Takes a lot to Know a Man' unveiled its drama convincingly and delivered a grand scale through the compact ELAC monitors. The piano/string section towards the end of the track had a lovely intimacy to it, a sense of 'being there'.
Despite the name, 'The Greatest Bastard' is a stunning ballad and its reproduction through the Music Hall was nothing short of outstanding. I found that the MMF 2.2 was a real grower, the more I listened, the more it took me on its journey and the more I was on the journey, the more I wanted to keep going.
Snare sounds can be tough to replicate, yet listening to 'Don't Want to Change You' you wouldn't think so, the MMF 2.2 delivering the kind of real world 'snap' I had come to expect.
So far, so good, but what was with all the hi-fi friendly music?
After a while I began longing for something a little more heavy-hitting, so I pulled out my copy of The Bronx' 'IV' LP. High octane punk rock and exactly what was needed to liven things up again.
My favourite track from this release is 'Style Over Everything', the third track from Side A. This track has a lot going on, riff grinding along on the right, lead lick on the left as well as some high energy vocals and dirty sounding drums but the MMF 2.2 didn't struggle to convey or separate the layers of the recording, granting each piece it's own place in the mix.
Pulling out an old copy of Nat King Cole's 'Unforgettable' LP showed just how competent the MMF 2.2 actually was. The copy I have, my father purchased back in 1983 and it has a whopping ten tracks on each side, so picture all that crammed on a single disc.
The body of Cole's vocal however through 'Nature Boy' certainly was not lost and besides some hiss and crackle, it had all the characteristics I would've expected from a much better deck.
'Pretend', while being the last track on Side A was another that stood out for its sonic purity, a beautiful recording demonstrated as such once again through the Music Hall.
Of course 'Unforgettable' was a highlight. There have been many re-recordings of this throughout Cole's life, but this version is by far and away my favourite.
Summarising, the Music Hall just sounded right, from the strings, to Cole's baritone vocal, it was just as enjoyable as the first time I'd heard it. In fact, track to track, side to side and disc to disc, the MMF 2.2 played everything I threw at it with confidence and wasn't daunted by the fact it was a 'budget' deck.
It is hard to say that there was anything really wrong with the Music Hall MMF 2.2. Comparatively speaking, next to others in its price range it performs just as admirably, if not better. It doesn't really lack any of their features either.
Next to better turntables, it loses some ground in regards to ultimate detail retrieval and background noise, but that is to be expected. As Michael had mentioned earlier, Music Hall don't have a huge marketing focus, which in a lot of ways I think is the brand's greatest weakness as the name doesn't carry the same weight in this price bracket as others such as Rega and Pro-Ject.
Once you take a look at it however, you'll quickly realise that the Music Hall is just as nicely (if not nicer) finished and features many of the same quality parts (and in some cases better) of its Pro-Ject sibling.
It really is a great time to be a fan of audio. There are loads of bargains to be had and with many manufacturers fast realising that the 'entry level' is what keeps the gravy on their table, we are being gifted with more and more great quality, affordable hi-fi than ever before.
The Music Hall MMF 2.2 is another shining example of that. It delivers great performance, looks better than most budget decks and is just plain fun to listen to. Marry it up with a halfway decent phono stage and I could see it delivering many happy years of enjoyment.
For more information visit the Music Hall brand page.
Pro-Ject Tube Box DS Phono Stage
NAD M2 Integrated Amp
PSB Synchrony One Speakers
Vincent SV-237 Integrated Amp
ELAC BS 403 Speakers
Chord Company Odyssey 2 Speaker Cable
Wireworld Solstice 7 Speaker Cable
Wireworld Eclipse 7 RCA Interconnect Cable
Pro-Ject Record Puck
Lover of Hi-Fi, Music and Recording Engineering. I particularly like the affordable and value-packed products; finding that diamond in the rough.
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