Turntable / cartridge (and isolation) to match my pre-amp, speakers and room

Hi all,

I am just getting back into listening to records after more than a decade of iPod / headphone and iTunes / computer speakers. I have some insurmountable constraints with regard to my "listening room". The speakers have to be actually sitting in the bookcase shelves. The components have to sit on top of the base cabinet. I don’t have any flexibility with that. You can see pictures my the room and setup here: http://www.pbase.com/ezwicky/inbox

The system is:

Audio-Technia SL-D@ direct-drive TT with Grado Prestige Black cartridge
Sony multidisc CD player (soon to be replaced with Music-Hall cdac15.3)
Music-Hall a15.3 integrated amp
Bowers & Wilkins 686 S2 speakers
JL Audio 8’ powered sub-woofer

I have done a good bit of A/B-ing between CD and LP of some of my favorite albums and have decided I am ready to invest in a better turntable / cartridge. My local hifi shop carries Pro-Ject and Music-Hall, and my budget is up to $1000.

Knowing all that, what would you all recommend? The Music-Hall 5.3 has a dual-plinth and comes with the Ortofon Blue cartridge, as well as carbon-fiber tonearm. The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit comes with the carbon tonearm and Ortofon Blue, but not the dual plinth.

Would I notice (with my system as described and pictured) a large difference between those two turntables and the Music-Hall 2.3 or the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon (regular)? I don’t mind paying more for a noticeable improvement in sound, but given the less-than-ideal constraints of my setup, I don’t want to get something that the rest of my system will not be able to pass through.

On the subject of isolation, is it worth the extra $200 to get the Music-Hall 5.3 with dual plinth, over the Pro-Ject that does not have the dual plinth? Maybe get some isolation feet from Herbie’s for the Pro-Ject? But then that combined might get me back upto the Music-Hall 5.3 price.

I am kind of overwhelmed by all the possibilities, so I appreciate in advance your timeand advice.


Eric Zwicky
Richmond VA

If your local shop carries both, have your listened to them with some of your favorite LPs. Maby take your TT and compare.
Ezwicky - Congratulations on your new speakers - Hope that you're enjoying them.

Of the 2 tables that you're considering I would choose the Music Hall over the Pro-ject simply because it ads an adjustment for vertical tracking angle which  the Pro-ject does not.

That said, neither setup allows for azimuth adjustment which to me is pretty important as well.  In the case of both tables, neither comes with a very nice cartridge and so at some point you're likely going to want to upgrade in which case, having the broadest ability to set up the tonearm is quite important.

The $1000 price range is a tough place in the market - there's a lot to pick from but it seems that all offerings come with some level of compromise.

Given that your local dealer carries most MH and Pro-ject, you might want to ask about the Pro-ject 2Xperience Primary Acryl Turntable - Clear.  It's just over the top end of your budget but comes with an OK cartridge and a tonearm that allows for vertical tracking angle (VTA) adjustment as well as azimuth.  Also, it has nicely designed damped feet and acrylic is also known to be a great solution to prevent resonance.

I also like that it has a full platter that is driven by an isolated motor/ belt rather than the flimsy subplatjer of the 2 tables you're suggesting.

If I were in your shoes, I would consider waiting until you can bump up your budget to the point where you're going to get something that you will not easily outgrow.

Just my $.02


Thanks Greg, and sorry to be so late in replying. I ended up going with the Music-Hall mmf-5.3. According to the owner’s manual, it does indeed have a VTA adjustment and an azimuth adjustment. The dealer set it up for me, but I have a test LP record on the way and I might end up tweaking it if necessary.

This is my first foray into the level above Best-Buy (actually Circuit-City - showing my age here) stereo gear, so I am able to notice a significant improvement with what some might consider "modest" components.

So far, my system now is all Music-Hall except for the speakers:

mmf-5.3 TT with Ortofon Blue cartridge and Herbie’s mat
a15.3 integrated amp
c-dac15.3 CD player and DAC
Bowers & Wilkins 686 S2 speakers

Thanks again for your advice.


Eric WRT isolation - for my turntable I currently employ the following...

- a 3/4" MDF shelf with a 10mm granite tile cut to size and foam shelf liner in between - like this

- the Turntable has ball bearing feet, which I find is superior to cones because they "rock" if there is any movement in the granite - that movement is not transferred to the TT

Spikes actually grip the granite and transfer minute vibrations to the TT

You can make your own very easily - here...

I have removed the rubber feet on my TT and simply mounted the Ball Bearing feet to the bottom of the plinth. The sorbothane will naturally adhere to most surfaces (by vacuum) and can be removed without leaving any residue.

I use variations of this approach (i.e. different sized ball bearing and washers) on all my components and finds it works extremely well - plus it’s very affordable

The commercial sorbothane products I’ve tried apply use too much sorbothane and results in a muddy reproduction. The thickness of the sorbothane is important - I use 1/10" sheet only.

Hope this helps - Steve
Thanks williewonka,      The Music-Hall mmf-5.3 has a dual-plinth setup (made of MDF) So I think I am good there.    Thanks for the links to the ball-bearing footers... that looks like something I could do.    I think Herbie's also has something similar ready-made.    I already have a sheet of sorbothane cut up into smaller squares so I am part-way there.



Eric - Music Hall is very good at isolation, but trust in your touch. If you feel the slightest vibrations in the upper part of the plinth when playing music then you need more isolation.

Very Lightly touch your finger tips on the upper plinth (the arm and bearing should be attached to this plinth) with the music playing - you'll know right away

If you cannot feel anything you are completely isolated.

Also, play music through your digital gear and touch the platter (without it rotating) if you have vibration there you will need an effective mat.

Vibrapod has some nice ready made ball bearing feet

You might still need sorbothane between the Vibrapod and the component for 100% isolation

Thanks Steve!    I will try this test tomorrow.    I appreciate the info.