Review: Music Hall MMF5 Turntable

Category: Analog

This review/listening report is for the Music Hall MMF5 turntable. I bought this TT brand new in January 2002 at Hollywood Sound, FL from Larry who owns & runs the place. This TT replaces my older German Dual CS506 Direct-drive unit. The Dual brought back vinyl into my life that I had forgotten about for over 10 years! I listened to many LPs when I was growing up but fell into the rut of buying CDs like the rest of the world. I like my CDs very much esp. those redbook versions that are well recorded. However, the magic of vinyl is something else & hard to give up for me even if it is fastidious or idiosyncratic in that I have to thoroughly clean the vinyl before partaking in its beautiful sound. These days I’m even more awed by vinyl with the availability of such high quality stylii that have the ability to track the grooves with seemingly infinite precision & I think that my LP collection is only going to grow over time rather than shrink as most would expect it to. So, over several months of this year I have played many, many records after which I’m writing my review. Fortunately the MMF5 is much written about in the press & amongst us consumers. Thus, I will only concentrate only on the modifications made on my MMF5 & on the sound.

Listening Room Details:

My audio room is located in my converted attic area & is quite asymmetrical in shape - the listening portion is 17’X19’ with a 9’ ceiling. There is also a knook which is 11’X6’ with an 8’ ceiling. So, speaker placement is quite important otherwise the left speaker might not have an interacting side wall whereas the right speaker will. I have experimented with speaker placement per the Cardas website but I found that the math did not work out for my room owing to the knook. I adapted his calculations for a modified speaker placement wherein the distance to the rear wall is less than the distance to the side wall but found that this did not work for me - soundstage was constricted tightly between the 2 speakers compared to my present position wherein they are separated 7.5’ center-center & 62” from the rear wall. I must also add that the vertical wall is really vertical for about 6’ & then it slopes towards the ceiling.

MMF5 Modifications:

I have to give credit to Larry of Hollywood Sound for these minor modifications. Larry is a great guy & a blessing to have since he is one of the few people left who understands the art of TTs, cartridges, tonearms & vinyl. Dealing with him is also a pleasure – easy going & quite obliging to have you 100% satisfied. I did not like the fact that the MMF5 came with captive RCA interconnects & the (flimsy) ground wire so I had them completely removed. In place I have the tonearm wires directly connected to custom (Vampire) RCA jacks & also have a female banana plug connector for the ground wire. This allows me to use custom interconnect (as mentioned above in “Equipment Details”). I have previously used the DH Labs BL1 Series II interconnect before switching to the Groneberg. Personally, I feel that the ability to use custom interconnect has made all the difference in my system & has taken a budget TT to a higher level of performance. Another minor modification I made was to replace the felt mat with an equally thick (3mm) cork mat. I bought a large sheet at OfficeDepot & cut it to size – the cork mat is about 1cm smaller in diameter than the glass platter itself. I listened to LPs with the felt mat for a few months before changing it. Fortunately for me I never gave the felt mat enough time to get statically charged (as I have read many time on Audioasylum) & I can quite confidently say that the sound between the felt mat & the cork mat is not very different. I don’t think that I gained anything but most importantly for me I feel that I didn’t degrade the sound quality. Cork is much more durable & I plan to stick with it over the long run. The cartridge I’m using is the stock (very low rider!) Goldring 1012GX.

MMF5 Sound:

I have played many, many LPs ***some*** of which are mentioned below in total random order:
Stevie Ray Vaughan “Couldn’t Stand The Weather”
U2 & BB King
Al Stewart “Live”
Alan Parsons Project “I Robot”, “Ammonia Avenue”, “Turn of a Friendly Card”
Steely Dan “Aja”, “Can’t Buy a Thrill”
Fleetwood Mac “Rumors”, “Mirage”
Charlie Byrd “Byrdland”
Neil Diamond “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”
Grover Washington “Live at the Bijou Café”
Foreigner “Greatest Hits”, “4”
Billy Joel “Greatest Hits”
Eagles “Hotel California”, “Greatest Hits”, “The Long Run”
ABBA “Greatest Hits”, “Super Trooper”, Voulez Vous”
Chess Records Blues Sampler
Bob Marley “Uprising”
Bryan Adams “Reckless”, “Cuts Like a Knife”
Dire Straits – all their albums since this is one of favourite rock groups
George McCrae “Rock Your Baby”
Frank Sinatra “Greatest Hits”
Supertramp “Breakfast in America”, “Even in the Quietest Moments”, “Crime of the Century”
Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Wish You were Here”
Lionel Richie “Dancing on the Ceiling”
Beethoven 5th Symphony
Tschaikovsky 1812 Overture
Ravel’s Bolero
David Oistrakh Plays Mozart (Russian pressing)

As you can tell the music sampling has been over a very wide range pushing the TT over its entire stated dynamic range. For the 1st 6 months records were hand cleaned but lately they are cleaned using a VPI vacuum cleaner. Using a vacuum cleaner is soooo much better but still not a panacea (maybe because many of my records are the garage sale variety?). In some ways having modern technology create today’s stylii is a double-edged sword – the Goldring 1012GX tracks the grooves much deeper & better than my older Audio Technica AT96E but it also dredges up the dirt more & despite 2-3 vacuum cleanings before playing I cannot get the record squeaky (no pun intended!!) clean. Also, during the 1st 6 months I played the TT thru the CAT SL1 – HK integrated power amp section combination. Off lately, the RG4 is the power amp section.

Right out of the box (as Larry promised me) the TT sounded great. The 1st thing I noticed was that the hum of the AC motor driving the spindle was gone, gone, gone! I immediately realized why people like belt-drive TTs so much. Thus, the spaces between tracks were blacker/quieter than ever before (now, I DO own some records that are fairly clean for me to judge this!). The high frequencies were immediate but not fatiguing to my ear. This could have been a combination of a new TT, using BL1 Series II interconnects & B&W DM604S2 speakers. Anyway, what I liked about this top-end was that I was involved in the music – it said “drop whatever you are doing & listen to me”. This appeals to me because I feel that it is a live session. Playing the MMF5 thru the CAT SL1 offered me a whole new world of bass – plenty, tight, focused, fast & in full control of my speakers. Vocals came thru with much more precision & fullness than with my previous Dual – it seemed that the artist now removed a veil covering their mouth. The midrange had now transformed itself into something much more articulate, more dynamic and with the correct timbre. I felt that there was a certain “sparkle” in the sound (that I had been missing so badly in my Dual) that once again reminded me just why vinyl is so irresistible. I have some of the Supertramp tracks in both vinyl & redbook CD formats. When I compared the vinyl version to the CD version, I felt that the vinyl sounded more correct, more life-like to my ears than the CD version. This was pleasing to hear & it seemed to dispel people’s misgivings that a TT’s resolution cannot be better than that of a CD. I cannot tell you how many times I have felt that the MMF5 clearly outdoes my CDP.

When I changed the power amp section to the RG4 & changed the interconnects to the Groneberg, the sound quality went up a few more notches (as Emril would say). The power output & current drive capability has doubled or tripled which has brought much greater transparency to the overall sound. This was highlighted in the “Tin Pan Alley” track – previously the “thwack” of the drum stick on the drum rim (present during the entire track) was there but never really caught my attention but now I can’t miss it! I can hear a wooden stick hit a wooden rim & clearly produce a wooden “thwack”. Piano notes from the Supertramp track “From Now On” hang in the air & fade as they would in real life. Rick Davies’ voice in the track “Downstream” is life-like & it fills up my listening room as though he was right in front of me. The track “Anthem” from Jonathan Livingston Seagull is almost haunting – Neil Diamond’s rich, baritone voice comes thru in such living colour when he says “transcend”, “purify”, “glorious” & the accompanying young boys choir is resplendent in sound – I can hear their high pitched voices touch the tall ceilings of a large vaulted cathedral. The sound is holographic: it’s a wall of sound top to bottom & left to right. Nothing short of delightful.

In conclusion, I’m a delighted owner of the MMF5 TT. My experience with it has all been good despite the very low rider 1012GX cartridge being heart-palpitatingly close to the vinyl surface (it has not touched the vinyl even once till today). The MMF5 is a superb budget TT for getting at the musical goods & is certainly No. 1 in its class. For the sake of comparison my older Dual cost a whole $300 in 1981 but with just $200 more today I can get the MMF5 which a quantum leap in performance & build quality, even as a stock unit. The MMF5 offers fine levels of quietness & details; a slightly bright high frequency/treble (might appeal to many out there), which is not fatiguing atleast to my ears; rich & honest midranges & a superb warm & deep bass. This TT is simply a great way to re-experience vinyl. Some further tweaks are available such as replacing the 1012GX stylus with the 1042GX & isolating the TT using a sandbox. I had a friend build me a sandbox (like the one found on TNT Audio called the Sand Blaster) & plan to install it very soon. I shall report my findings in an update later.

Associated gear
Equipment Details:

· Music Hall MMF5 TT with the stock Goldring 1012GX MM cartridge.
· Harmon/Kardon HD7525 CDP - this is my trusty-rusty CDP which has an 18-bit built-in DAC, analog & digital outputs (of which I’m using the analog L&R outputs) & a captive power cord. I have DH (large) Cones under the CDP chassis. Even though the unit is 7 yrs old, I feel that it has great sound. So far I have not been tempted to upgrade it.
· CAT SL1 Signature Mk III tube preamplifier with Sovtek 6922 & Electro Harmonix 12AX7 tubes. Since the manuf. insisted that the design is optimized for Sovtek 6922 tubes, I have tried to stick to them. No further isolation for the CAT per manuf. recommendations + I’m using the stock power cord.
· Symphonic Line RG4 Mk III mono-block power amplifiers, which are the subject of this review. More details on the amps follow.
· B&W DM 604S2 3-way, 4-driver floor standing speakers in black ash, which was the only colour available when I bought them (much to my wife’s dismay!). Speakers are on 3 brass spikes each.
· Interconnects & cables used: 1m Groneberg TS Premium between TT & pre, pre & power. Tara Labs RSC Master Gen II between CDP & pre. Tara Labs Prism biwire speaker cables. In my opinion, the B&Ws are known to be on the bright side so I have tried to limit the brightness by avoiding silver speaker cables. ESP Essence power cords, for the power amps, connected to the Juice Bar & a Silver Audio Power Burst connecting the PS Audio Juice Bar to the wall outlet.
· Lovan Soverign 2+2 audio rack.
· 1 Richard Gray Power Co. 400S into which the CDP & TT are plugged & 1 PS Audio Juice Bar into which the pre & power are plugged. Note that the Juice Bar does not have any filtering of any sort – just like I want it.
· VPI HW 16.5 vacuum record cleaner. VPI, LAST & other cleaning fluids.

Similar products
* Dual CS 506 Direct-Drive TT
* Technics Full Automatic, Linear tracking from the early 1980s
Just wanted to post a quick update on the sound of the MMF5 when placed on top of my DIY sand box: The MMF5 has now sat on the sandbox for nearly 1 month (since 10/06 to be precise) & I have listened to a quite a few LPs. It seems that the sound has not been degraded (some AudioAsylum inmates suggested it might). On the contrary, I think that the mids & highs might be a smidgen improved. The bass remains tight as it was before. Ever since I put the TT on the sandbox, I feel that it has become a bit more unforgiving - if the LP is not recorded well & has some sibilance, I can hear it now. I don't remember this when the TT was sitting just on the rack shelf. Many of my LPs are standard vinyl from the major recording labels (Capitol, WB, Asylum, EMI, Polydor, etc) & not all of them are recorded with utmost care. Perhaps the best standard vinyl recordings are my classical music ones from Deutsche Grammaphone & all these sound very good.
The stylus tracks too well sometimes, I feel, & bares my inability to get the record clean enough even w/ my VPI 16.5 machine! Oh, it's tough being an audiophile!!&@*!
Another small modification I made is that I have detached the dust cover from the hinges. When I play LPs I now completely remove the dust cover (& place it in another corner of the room). This helps me balance the bubble in the provided bubble-level (BTW, my Home Depot bought bubble level also says that the TT is level when the in-built bubble level does). Can't say definitively that it improved the sound but can tell you that it certainly *didn't* degrade it!
My sound room is far away from my garage door motor & from any kitchen appliances. Perhaps this is the reason that I don't hear the degradation in sound that was suggested??

In my opinion, so far, so good - I'm enjoying the sound from the TT as before. I will keep an ear out for subtle changes, if any. Probably do an A/B test with the TT on the rack versus on the sandbox when I get 3-4 hrs at a stretch. It's easy to get lazy on this since the sandbox weighs 50lbs just by itself!
Nice & thorough review, Bombay!
As to the sand box, I had trouble leveling my (heavier 3point) TT, so my experience was messy at best; I got excellent results using a simple Neuance under it.

BTW, I also found that an a/market chord mated well with the Cat (ultimate) and also some vibration control under the p. supply helped. True, Mr Stevens disagrees with these unorthodox applications!
What a great review! I am about to purchase an MMF-5 and actually did not realize that it came with factory captive interconnects. I think I will absolutely go the same route as you did by modifying the table. Good Listening!

I am trying to decide wether to go with the mmf5 or the 2.1.
The mmf5 retails around 800 or so where i am at, but there are several dealers that can offer me a demo model. The 2.1 is 300 dollars cheaper. I love vinyl, but i am not a fanatic(no offense to anyone who is, but i have a bigger cd collection than vinyl) i have around 500 or so records. Anyways my question is is the sound that much better from the 2.1 to the 5? I just would like peoples opinions on the cost per value aspect? Not wells it costs more so therefore is better....i hate that argument, well unless it's true...and dramatically so.
Thanks and that one lone female out there..

Just stumbled upon your post today!!
Unfortunately, in analog/vinyl, it is very true to say that the more you spend on your rig, the better the sound & pleasure gets! I regret having bought just the MMF-5 'cuz I really, really should have bought the MMF-7! My dealer told me so & I did not believe him but in the end he was correct. I ended up selling the MMF-5 after just 11 months & got a much more expensive rig (don't regret it one bit!) but I'm quite sure that the better sonics of the MMF-7 would have stalled me much longer. At that time I had fewer than 100 LPs! Today, I still have fewer LPs than you!!
In the MMF line, I am quite confident to say that the best value-for-money is the MMF-7.
The MMF line 'tables are not upgrade-able i.e. you cannot easily change the tonearm or get a better platter or upgrade the plinth, etc. What you get is what you'll have until you change it.
If you get the MMF-5, the cart. will be the Goldring 1000 series. These stylus of these cartridges can be upgraded easily whenever you like. The MMF-5 comes w/ the 1012GX, which is good. However, when you are ready for better sonics, you can upgrade the cart. to the 1042, which is much better, IMO (from personal experience as I own a G1042). The MMF 2.1 comes w/ a lower grade Goldring cart. where the stylus is not upgrade-able - you'll have to buy a new cart altogether.
Depends on what you want. Personally, if you want to keep the 'table long-term, spend a little more than your budget, get something above your present requirements. The 'table will be w/ you as your interests in vinyl grow. If you buy something that you exactly need today, you risk out-growing it too soon & you'll be back in the market to buy another 'table. This route is more expensive in the long run.
Just MHO, of course.
I'm just curious, does anyone have any problems with the 1012GX cart 'bottoming out" so to speak on warped LPs? I only ask because I just bought an MMF-5, am waiting for it to arrive later this week, and have a few really good LPs that unfortunately are warped.

I just want to know if the "low rider" 1012 cart is going to be a problem.

Thanks in advance,
No problems here with the cartridge, even with some minor variations in the older records. I think that the MMF-5 is a great value I have not regretted it. I have no desire to look seriously at TT upgrades and I have heard analog systems with cartridges that cost 10X the price of the whole MMF-5 set up. I should add that it is now the focus of my music collecting. I always look for vinyl first if I can get it. It is a pity that getting it isn't so easy.
No problems while I owned the MMF-5. The cantilever is springy but not very. The static compliance is 16um/mN, which puts it at a medium compliance. I have some warped records that I played on this TT but the 1012GX never "bottomed" out. The whole assembly just rode up & down with the warp.
Besides the MC that I use now, I also own the G1042, which I'll say, w/o any shade of doubt, is much better. Same sonic signature as the 1012GX but more of every aspect. SO, if you are planning to keep the MMF-5 for a long time, do consider getting a cart. upgrade to the 1042GX. You won't regret it!
I started out with an MMF-5 and it's a good entry level table. I think it retails for 660$ now. I never heard anyone charging 800$ The MMF -5 has very limited upgradability. This is a table for wetting your analog whistle. If you fall in love with analog you'll quickly outgrow this table and want to step up. I retired my MMF-5 after hearing what other turntables could do. Read the turntable threads on audiogon. They are very informative. If you get the MMF-5 my advice to you is don't listen to any higher end stuff. You'll remain happy that way.
Instead of upgrading to the G1042, how about going with the Dynavector 10X5? That one seems to getting some great reviews.
May I ask a dumb newby question? Is replacing the MMF-5 cables with better quality jacks something a regular person (ie not especially skilled at soldering) should or could do?

The Dynavector 10X5 is also a very good cartridge from what I have read (no personal experience tho). I do not know if the Dynavector can be aligned using just the 2 screws provided for the fixed holes on the MMF-5 headshell. The alignment for the Goldring & Dynavector cartridges might be entirely or slightly diff.
I realize that for a given tonearm the overhang is fixed & every cartridge should mount @ the same point. However, the Dyna & Goldring might have diff. cantilever lengths, diff heights, etc. that just might need some adjustment & you will not be able to do so as there are simply 2 holes (& not a slot like the usual headshell).
There is a very high probability that the Dyna will be an exact swap in the mounting point is the same & you don't need to touch anything else. I've haven't done this myself tho.
2ndly, it wasn't clear that you were willing to try out a MC sound so I just stuck to recommending another higher quality MM. Upgrading the removable stylus is cheaper than getting a new cartridge.
Hmm.... Just what exactly would upgrading the stylus do for the sound? (1042 stylus in 1012 cart?) Isn't the innards of the 1042 improved from the 1012?

Sorry for all the questions. I'm just trying to find a solution to the shrilliness I keep getting with my stock 1012 cart.

Contrary to what most people think (including myself @ 1 time), the Goldring 1012 & 1042 guts are THE same! This is so stated on the Origin Live website (I think) but not on the Goldring website for some reason! In fact, all the 1000 series cartridge guts are the same, it's just the quality of the stylus that sets them apart.
The Goldring website is:

Once on the home page, click "products" in the upper left. Then click "Moving Magnet cartridges". You can also download the PDF of the cartridge specs. Notice that, in this PDF, the 1000 series cartridges are spec'd in just 1 column! You can see the various stylii being used in the vsrious 1000 series models.

The 1042 uses the best stylus that Goldring has & this makes it a much better groove tracker.

"shrillness" from your stock 1012GX?? I cannot remember getting any shrillness!!
I know that the Goldring cartridges are more dependent on VTA than one would like. Is your VTA set correctly?? The tonearm should be set exactly parallel to the record surface (this is neutral VTA). I had mine set this way with excellent results. I searched the AudioAsylum archives & found that some people like a slightly postive VTA i.e. the pivot point is 1-2mm higher than the headshell. In general, this will emphasize the high freq. & de-emphasize the bass. OTOH, if the pivot point is 1-2mm lower than the headshell (this is negative VTA), it will emphasize the bass & de-emphasize the high freq.

It is entirely possible that you have positive VTA, which is giving you a shrillness? The Goldring cartridges are VTA sensitive.
Well, I already adjusted the VTA once already. To be honest with you, it didn't seem to do much in the way of changing the sound at all. Maybe I just readjusted it right back to where it was. I'll have to fool with it some more tonight if I get a chance.

As for the stylus, what happens to the [b]sound[/b] if I replace the current 1012 stylus with that from the 1022 or 1042?

OK, I suggest that you play carefully with the VTA. Before commencing, mark the position of the present VTA so that you can always return to the start point w/o guessing. Do the VTA adjustment as carefully as possible: using shims at the point where the arm is bolted to the plinth or using a laser level or a pair of vernier calipers, etc. Any technique of your choice that allows you to accurately record how much up or down you shifted the VTA. (BTW, it's a royal PITA with the MMF-5! This is perhaps the only thing I hated about the 'table).

What happens to the sound if you change stylii? Assuming that you have the correct VTA before & after the stylus change, the better quality stylus of the 1042 will track deeper & truer in the groove vs. the stock 1012. You end up with a more refined sound, less grainy midrange & a sound truer to true (if this makes any sense).
Bombaywalla, thanks for all the advice! I really do appreciate it.

Now, what I have done is just say the heck with that Goldring cart all together and installed my very well trusted and hand-built Signet TK7E cart. It has never let me down, and is now producing some of the very best sounding music I have ever heard come from an LP!

From the sound of it, the MMF-5 and TK7E are a perfect match. I have tried pop, rock, classical, jazz, blues just to name a few, and everything is right-on. From pipe organ to orchestral, to sythns, to drums, to vocals (both male and female), to brass, from studio to live recordings, everything is just the way it should be.

I used to use this cart on a Technics SL-1700 Mk II TT which sounded great. However, now with the Music Hall TT, this Signet cart sounds excellent. It's definitely the best it has ever performed.

This Goldring 1012GX cart just got its doors blown off by a 24 year old Signet TK7E cart, and there's no turning back!

If anybody is interensted in this Goldring 1012GX cart, make me an offer. Please keep in mind that it only has about 40 hours of use on it.

Glad to read that you finally found your nirvana! It's these moments when everything gels together that we live for. Enjoy the music.

BTW, one of the reasons that you might have been getting "shrillness" from the 1012GX is that it is NOT broken in! Duh of me for not asking right off the bat! The Goldrings (& most other cartridges) need atleast 75 hrs before things begin to sound like music.
Also, the Signet seems like a MC whereas the 1012GX is a MM. A well made MC will blow the socks off most MM.
Actually, the Signet is a MM, just like the 1012. But I went ahead and bought a Shure M97xE to replace the Signet. It is getting old and I think the right channel in it is going.

I've been using this Shure since last night, and it sounds better than even the Signet cart!

Plus, I also switched speakers. Now I'm using a pair of Triangle Zephyr's, which are true audiophile loudspeakers, unlike the Klipsch, which are more like PA speakers.

Anyway, I'm really happy with my current setup, and plan on just breaking in this new cart of mine, sitting back and enjoying the music!
Interesting reviews all. A few quick comments from this MM5 user. The interconnects are a problem. I had a bad solder joint at the plug-in side and, not having a soldering kit, tried to make a cheap repair and it did not work. The problem was evident by a distinct hummmmmmm heard when I turned the volume way up. Thought it was the chintzy ground cable. The bad interconnect end also would not go completely into my preamp input, suggesting a cable connector problem, so I ended up getting two new very short RCA cables and a gender switch and connected to the old cables. Although I am not one to recommend this, it did work, the new cable ends fit now fit nicely in my old Yamaha preamp and there is absolutely no hum anymore.

I originally went with the 1012 cartridge that came with the unit but has since switched to the Shure V5. I find it actually works quite well and you cannot beat the tracking.

One other annoyance is the anti skate. With only (3) setting variations, I wonder about the accuracy and how well it works. I notice that using the middle setting (the Shure has a max force recommendation of 1.25g, which is my setting) has excellent tracking quality towards the end of the record when the force to the middle is strongest, but the beginning of the record seems less dynamic.

My original unit was a problem and had to go back. I think that a few sufferred from bad build quality, but the one I now have works beautifully.


Speakers - Paradigm Studio 80
Amp - Adcom GFA 545 II
Preamp - Yamaha C60
Cassette - Nak 480 (old but still quite good)
Tuner - Yamaha T80
I own the MMF5.1 and could not be happier. I have heard other decks that are supposed to be big upgrades, and I simply don't get it. I am sure you can spend a lot of money on better a TT, but I would not be confident of better results. I have had no issues with the stock connections or ground cable as some have mentioned.

I think the MMF is a fine deck.