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
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?