MUSIC HALL CLASSIC Review

It takes a bit of chutzpah to name a brand-new turntable a ‘Classic’ but anyone who’s met Music Hall’s founder, owner and highly outspoken spokesperson, Roy Hall, will already know that he was not only at the very front of the line when chutzpah was being handed out, but that he circled back for a second helping.

Mind you, he’s pretty much on the money when it comes to his latest creation’s name, because it has all the features that were most prized on the ‘classic’ turntables of yesteryear, built by the likes of Garrard, Acoustic Research, BSR and others. Features such as automatic stop and tonearm lift at the end of an LP (known then as ‘semi-automatic’ because the tonearm was simply lifted, and not moved back to its rest on the tonearm post) and a removable headshell.

We heard no wow, no flutter, not even a hint of either. Just like its speed accuracy, the Music Hall’s speed stability is very, very impressive.

But perhaps the most important reason for calling this new Music Hall a ‘Classic’ is simply down to its appearance. Finished in a walnut veneer, and coming standard with an old-fashioned traditional hinged clear plastic dustcover, this 2021 turntable really does look like it could have been built back in the 1960s or 1970s.

Of course when you look at some of its other features, such as the inbuilt RIAA phono preamplifier (which switchable, if you’d prefer to use a phono stage elsewhere) and the touch-sensitive electronic speed control, or the precision drive d.c. motor and the quality of the bearing, you realize that this is a turntable that could not have been built back in the’60s or’70s, such are its electronic and electromechanical sophistications.

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Equipment

Roy Hall (and therefore Music Hall) is renowned for his customer service, and for making sure anyone who purchases one of his products doesn’t have to fork out any more money in order to get that product up and running, and also that his customers don’t need engineering degrees to get the correct cartridge to best-suit the tonearm, and that that cartridge is correctly connected, mounted and aligned.

So when you unpack your Music Hall Classic turntable, you’ll find you have absolutely everything you need to get it going. The phono cartridge is not only installed, but also correctly aligned, the dustcover comes standard, and Music Hall even supplies a good-quality set of phono cable interconnects, complete with a separate earth wire (a wire that you may or may not need to use depending on how you connect the Classic to your system.)

The fact that it has an RIAA preamplifier built in means that your amplifier does not even require the otherwise obligatory phono input — you can plug the output from the Classic into any conventional line-level input or even into a powered loudspeaker or soundbar, if you like.

You do have to do some assembly of course, because turntables are, after all, relatively fragile electro-mechanical devices that need to be disassembled to withstand the rigours of transport. But Music Hall makes assembly easy for you. First, the assembly instructions are first-rate. Second, the drive belt comes pre-wrapped around the sub-platter, complete with a tag that allows you to move it out over the drive pulley without having to touch the belt at all and the hinges for the dust-cover are all pre-assembled and attached.

The most complicated things you’ll have to do are fit the counterweight, balance the arm, apply the correct tracking force for the supplied Music Hall ‘Spirit’ moving-magnet cartridge, and turn the rotary anti-skating dial so its setting mirrors that of the counterweight.

You, like us, may be intrigued about the slider switch at the rear of the Classic turntable that allows you to switch off one of its most desirable features, so that the turntable does not switch itself off automatically once an LP has finished playing. Essentially, if you flick the switch it turns the turntable from being semi-automatic into being completely manual.

The problem with manual operation is not so much the that the stylus will end up sending a ‘click’, ‘click’, ‘click’, sound through your speakers once a record side is complete as that if you do not stop this happening in a timely manner, you’re going to ruin your stylus. Apparently, the reason for Music Hall providing this option is that some people think that end-of-play auto-sensing mechanisms affect sound quality while a record is playing — and Music Hall wants to please everyone.

The rear of the turntable also has the switch to turn the inbuilt RIAA phono preamplifier on or off, plus a ‘power’ push-button. Note that ‘power’ switch does not switch off the 240V mains power at all, only the 12 volt d.c. power from the switch-mode power pack that plugs into your 240V power point. Frankly, we wouldn’t bother with this switch. We’d leave it on all the time, so the turntable was in ‘Standby’ when we weren’t using it (in which mode it will consume all of 0.05 watts, so you’ll still be ‘green’). We’d switch it off at the wall only if we weren’t going to be using the turntable for a week or more.

Music Hall says that the four huge springy feet fitted to the Classic are adjustable — and they are — but the further they go, the ‘wobblier’ they get, so try not to turn your Classic into a blancmange!

Manufacturing

Music Hall has a very long history in the turntable business. Indeed it was first founded in the USA by Roy Hall specifically to import and distribute Revolver turntables from the UK, after Hall parted ways with Linn of Scotland (while still remaining best mates with Linn’s founder Ivor Tiefenbrun, who he’s known since childhood, when they lived around the corner from each other in Glasgow).

Hall started selling Music Hall-branded turntables as a favour for another friend of his, Heinz Lichtenegger, the owner of ProJect turntables. Heinz was not happy with his US distributor’s performance and wanted to go into competition with himself to stir things up. Roy designed a turntable based on technology he’d learned at Linn and from Revolver, as well as ProJect, and the first Music Hall turntable arrived in the US shortly afterwards.

Lichtenegger has been building Music Hall turntables in his Czech factory ever since but — and here’s what we’ve been working up to — the Musical Hall Classic turntable is not being built at a ProJect factory in the Czech Republic, but in China, in a factory Hall discovered when he was looking to bring out a budget turntable.

“We have been doing business with this company for many years — our USB-1 [now the US-1] is made there,” he told SoundStage’s Tom Moon. “They started to come out with designs that were different from the ones offered by ProJect. They also hit price points that were hard to beat. Our long-term relationship with them meant that we were first in line to help develop and bring these ’tables to market”.

MUSIC HALL CLASSIC Review

Performance

We ran a speed check on the Music Hall Classic, as we usually do, and were pretty chuffed to see our strobe check-disc sitting rock-solid at both 33? and 45rpm. None of the usual ‘hunting’ to and fro, not even a gradual creep. It is quite amazing for a belt-drive turntable to deliver this level of rotational stability.

When switching between speeds, we were impressed by the accurate response of the speed selectors. They’re not push-buttons, but touch-sensitive piezo sensors. Their sensitivity is exemplary, as well. Only the briefest, lightest touch is required. When the platter is not moving, the 33? rpm button has a red LED glowing at its centre. Touch this button and the platter will almost instantly come up to speed, and the colour of the LED will change to bright blue. If you then press the 45 button, platter speed will increase to 45 rpm. Touching either button when playing at that speed will cause the platter to stop. Note that if you do this, the tonearm will not lift automatically — another reason for the description of the turntable telling us that it is ‘semi-automatic.’

Since we’ve mentioned these buttons, we just have to tell you what happens if the turntable is switched to ‘auto’ and the stylus reaches the run-out groove. What happens is that the 33⅓ LED starts flashing for eight seconds, after which both the 33⅓ and 45 LEDs flash together for a further eight seconds, after which the tonearm lifts from the record surface and the LP stops rotating. It’s like a mini light-show. Someone sure had fun programming that sequence of events!

MUSIC HALL CLASSIC Review
MUSIC HALL CLASSIC Review

But all this pomp and pizzazz would be for naught if the Classic caused any audible wow and/or flutter to the music playing back from an LP, so we loaded up our ultimate ‘acid-test’ recording.

That recording is a classical work by French pianist and composer Erik Satie. If we didn’t hear wow or flutter when we were playing back his famous Gymnopédies No. 1, we knew we’d never hear any wow or flutter with any other type of music. We listened very, very closely, and… nothing. No wow, no flutter, not a hint. Just like its speed accuracy, the Music Hall’s speed stability is very, very impressive.

We also listened to Liszt’s Légende No 1 St François d’Assise which is not only a wonderful test piece for wow and flutter, but also totally enjoyable to listen to, so it’s great for regular rotation if we have several ’tables to assess within a short space of time. We prefer Nikolai Demidenko’s version of Légendes, but Leslie Howard’s version is very good too. As for the sound of the Music Hall Spirit moving-magnet cartridge when playing the Liszt, it was excellent. The low frequencies were full and solid, the midrange completely linear and the high frequencies were sweet and extended.

We were also impressed by the stereo imaging of the Spirit cartridge, as well as by the separation between the channels, which was such that instruments that were in the left channel did not ‘bleed’ into the right and vice versa. It’s such a good cartridge that we wouldn’t bother replacing it until we needed a new stylus, at which point in time we’d likely switch to a model such as the Audio-Technica AT-VM95EN simply because of the more-ready availability of replacement styluses, including different diamond profiles (conical, elliptical etc.). This wouldn’t be a leap for the Classic because it’s Audio-Technica that makes the Spirit cartridge for Music Hall.

Conclusion

The Music Hall Classic turntable is particularly good value here in Australia because its distributor, Indi Imports, believes in parity (or better!) pricing with the same product in other countries. But even if you had to pay more, you’d still be getting value for money, because the Classic looks fantastic, performs very well and is built to last a lifetime.

MUSIC HALL CLASSIC Review

MUSIC HALL CLASSIC TURNTABLE

Platter speeds: 33 and 45rpm

Speed tolerance: ±0.3%

Wow and flutter: <0.12% (RMS Wtd)

Line output voltage: 156~312mV

Wow and flutter: <0.12% (RMS Wtd)

S/N ratio: >65dB (DIN-B)

Noise floor: >80dB (DIN-B)

RIAA accuracy: 20Hz~20kHz: ±4dB

Power supply: 12Vd.c./2A

Dimensions (WDH): 435×367×157mm

Weight: 6.9kg

MUSIC HALL SPIRIT PHONO CARTRIDGE

Frequency response: ±3dB @ 1&10kHz

Channel separation: >18dB (at 1kHz)

Channel balance: <2.5 dB (at 1kHz)

Output voltage: 3.5mV ±3dB

Recommended stylus force: 2.0g

Contact: Indi Imports

Telephone: 03 9416 7037

Web: www.indimports.com 

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