Review: Music Hall MMF-2.1 Turntable
When a company puts out a product that sounds as great as the MMF-2.1, and at a price that’s so affordable, it hurts a music lover to bad-mouth it. But unfortunately, my experience with this low-budget wonder was mostly bad.
The MMF-2.1 arrived double-boxed from the good folks at Music Direct in Chicago. It arrived cosmetically perfect, with a sturdy dust cover and generally impressive looks. The flimsy tonearm and industrial-looking power switch were the only two dead giveaways to its $269 price tag ($299 is the retail).
Setup was easy, but the instructions were of no help. If this were my first turntable, I would have been on the phone to Music Direct every five minutes. (Not that they would’ve minded; they’ve always been more than happy to answer questions before and after the purchase in my experience.) Though the instructions were incomplete, the manufacturer was kind enough to include a cardboard cartridge alignment tool—handy if you want to change cartridges.
You may want to do just that. The supplied Goldring Elan is similar in sound quality to the Grado Green I once owned. Though this table/cartridge combo easily beats out any CD player I’ve heard for less than $300, it sounded a bit distant and icy. So I sold the cartridge and installed an Audio-Technica 440ML which retails for $199, but sells for around $100.
The Audio-Technica was much smoother. The veil that the Goldring placed over the music disappeared, and after break-in, the whole system sounded very pleasant—on par with my old Dual CS-505, and better than my overpriced $650 Denon DP-47F.
All was nice, except for one thing: the SCREECHING.
My particular Music Hall MMF-2.1 came with a manufacturing defect of some kind that caused a loud, miserable screeching noise from the speakers anytime it was even slightly jarred. Sometimes, it would also transmit a loud banging noise. And sometimes, this would happen without any warning. Scary, especially since this could easily damage speakers at a high volume.
I noticed a loose cartridge wire clip, so I replaced them all with premium Cardas clips. No luck. I switched cartridges. No luck. I switched cartridges again. No luck. I checked the interconnect, and it seemed fine. I also tried switching amps and swapping phono stages, but still no solution.
I did notice that, for some reason, brushing the headshell wires to the cartridge really got the noise going. And it would keep going for hours until you thumped on the tonearm just right.
I e-mailed my concern to the U.S. importer, but I never received a response. I tried everything Music Direct suggested, to no avail. I hated to give this table up, because when it worked, it was a winner. But after listening for about 60 hours, I called Music Direct and they cheerfully agreed to let me trade up to a Rega P2 even though it had been several months since my purchase.
Compared with the Rega P2, the Music Hall’s plinth is of comparable quality. The dustcover of the MMF-2.1 is actually better than the Rega’s, because it has thick metal hinges that won’t wear out like the Rega’s bendy-plastic things.
The MMF-2.1’s tonearm is just awful. The counterweight hangs loosely from the arm, and sheds rubber as it is twisted onto the threads. The fiddly counterweight is a pain in the butt to thread through the wire hanger, and the instructions never say which of the detents corresponds to what tracking weight.
However, for $269, this is probably a steal. Don’t expect this table to grow with you—the tonearm will only extract only so much performance from a cartridge. I tried to test the limits, but my Audio-Technica OC7 low output MC was too heavy for the tonearm; it wouldn’t balance. Don’t expect to turn the MMF-2.1 into a giant killer with a new mat, some damping material on the arm and a better cartridge.
If you’re just dipping your toes into analog, or have a small collection you’d like to resurrect on rare occasion, this is a great table. It’s basically plug and play. However, for someone with a larger collection who listens frequently, spring for the Rega P2 or a similar unit.
My experience was negative, and I’m a little cheesed, but if you buy from a friendly and reputable retailer who takes returns then the Music Hall MMF-2.1 might just be worth a try. The sound is right and the price is amazing.
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