Music Hall MMF-2.2 LE Turntable Review 
Home Theater Audio Sources Vinyl/LP
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Last month I stopped into a large retailer with the initials “BB.” I wasn't shopping, per se, but verifying reports that among the rows of compact discs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs were dozens of new LPs. In 2010, who would have guessed that the venerable 33 rpm would enjoy a renaissance that not only includes big-box retail sales but those same establishments offering turntables among the scores of personal media players, flat panel TVs and other home theater accessories. Consumers shocked to see record players back on the shelves would do well to look beyond such stock and discover the numerous options for spinning vinyl that exist outside the strip malls.

My discovery came several years ago, when I picked up a couple audio publications. One was a buyer's guide that included recommended components across several price and performance points. A company called Music Hall was well represented; with three of its turntables being touted as high performers at low cost. The entry-level model was the MMF-2.1, a sub-$400 'table that got plenty of props, though it was noted the tonearm was a bit skimpy. Music Hall kept making turntables, and the 2.1 stayed in production for several years until it was time for a change.

Music Hall upgraded the 2.1 to the 2.2, equipping it with an improved tonearm. The company further upped the ante by offering a limited edition model (“LE” stands for limited edition) in a striking Ferrari red finish. The LE sold well and continued to, so the moniker no longer applies since the LE remains in production, and will, for the foreseeable future. Retailing for $499, the MMF-2.2 LE combines the sonic benefits of a manual-operated turntable with the convenience of nearly plug-and-play setup. It's Music Hall's entry-level 'table, and I liked it immediately.

Music Hall power switch

Design & Set Up

There's an unwritten rule about turntables – the more expensive the system, the more difficult to set up. It can be very intimidating to adjust azimuth, vertical tracking angle and even install a phono cartridge if you've never done so. Unfortunately, most manuals do a poor job explaining the process. The 2.2 LE, however, offers no such challenges or education. Set up is super easy, and basically involves removing a pair of motor-transport screws, looping the belt around the pulley and the rim of the sub-platter, setting the platter on the spindle, putting the counterweight on the tonearm, setting cartridge tracking force, slipping the anti-skating weight in place and sliding the dust cover onto its hinges. Back in the true glory days of vinyl, it was a rare machine that didn't come equipped with a dust cover. As the high-end audio industry grew, though, designers went to all ends to reduce vibrations and resonances from turntables. Such zeal pretty much spelled the end for dust covers. I'm happy that the 2.2 comes with such protection, as it's too easy to leave an LP exposed to the elements and discover days later that it's coated with particles.

The tonearm comes pre-mounted with Music Hall's Tracker cartridge, a high-output moving magnet design (with replaceable elliptical stylus) that is fully aligned in the factory and ready to play music out of the box. It's important to mention that the tonearm is a substantial upgrade from 2.1 models of the past. One of the few complaints I remember in the past reading about this well-regarded entry-level predecessor was that the tonearm was rather skimpy. Music Hall went up the ladder and replaced the old-style tonearm with a more robust alloy model, the same one previously found on its MMF-5.1 turntable, which retails for hundreds more.

The alloy platter is a substantial 4.5 pounds, befitting of the 2.2 as a whole which weighs in at a solid 17 pounds. An isolated asynchronous motor with two-speed (33/45rpm) pulley keeps the platters spinning. To go from 33 to 45 rpm, simply remove the platter and loop the drive belt around the motor pulley's larger diameter rim. The process should take no more than 30 seconds. A black, felt turntable mat is included. The whole system sits on a trio of adjustable, vibration-damping feet, which makes leveling a breeze.

Music Hall arm

Ferrari Taste on a Kia Budget

Not that it influences the sound one bit, nonetheless, Music Hall gives consumers two finish options beyond the stock high-gloss piano black lacquer found on the base model. For an extra $50, you can get the 2.2 LE outfitted in white or Ferrari red finish. Both are eye-catching and turn the table (pun intended) into something that will perk up any room. Music Hall sent me a Ferrari red model. Seeing pictures of this 'table doesn't do it justice. Call me cynical, but at this price I was expecting a half-baked finish that was likely to flake from day one. Not so! The Ferrari red coating is flawless, just like you'd expect its namesake speed racer to emerge from the factory. Roy Hall, Music Hall founder, notes on Youtube, “I actually had to go to a Ferrari dealer... and get a sample of it...” Originally, the Ferrari red model was the only LE version of the MMF-2.2, but because the 'table was so well accepted Music Hall kept making and selling it, eventually offering the record player in a lustrous white finish, too.

In Action

Steady, reliable and smooth – those are three words that kept springing to mind while using and listening to the 2.2 LE. It operates whisper-quiet and works without a hitch. There's no worry about the tonearm waving in space or suddenly veering off the platter plane without the user doing so. The tonearm and cartridge do a solid job of tracking and make playing records a total pleasure (as it should be). A slight quibble would be with the felt platter mat. I found that it left more “mat” on the records than I care for. It's easy enough to replace it with another mat, though.

A bounty of vinyl came my way thanks to the good folks at Rhino Records, who recently reissued the five Grateful Dead albums on 180-gram vinyl. This box set features the Dead LPs recorded for Warner Bros., from 1967-70, and includes the folk-rock classics Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. I've heard this music a lot, but what struck me when playing these new slabs was the purity of the tones from Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir's guitars to Phil Lesh's slippery bass lines. Garcia's vocals had a lovely immediacy and the logic of the arrangements came through, too. For years, my only copy of American Beauty was on cassette tape, so hearing this old favorite again was like looking through a window cleaned of dust after a decade of neglect.

Top shot of the turntable

Willie Nelson's cover of standards, Stardust, was presented with a nice combination of sheen and richness. Nelson's craggy vocals and inimitable phrasing make old chestnuts such as “Georgia On My Mind” and  “Moonlight In Vermont” new again. Compared to the Pro-Ject RPM 5.1, a 'table that retails just shy of a grand, the 2.2 LE doesn't offer the same “air” around instruments or the dimensionality. What the 2.2 does very well is deliver the presence and “weight” that a good analog system will and just lets the music sing.

I always enjoy bringing someone from the CD generation into my listening room and spinning a few LPs. As I played a couple cuts from the “Butterfly” side of Heart's Dog & Butterfly for a friend, his eyes went back and forth from the 2.2 to my speakers. As the web of acoustic guitars wove sparkling designs around Ann Wilson's voice, he said, “You'd never know it's not a CD.” It was his way of saying that the music was coming through, untarnished by ticks or pops that many associate with vinyl. “Nope,” I said, “start with a clean record and a good player and noise isn't an issue.” He nodded, “Sounds really nice.” Agreed.

Final Thoughts

The MMF-2.2 LE gets my strong recommendation as a top choice for an entry-level turntable for budding audiophiles looking to put together a first analog system or those ready to replace an aging 'table. Paired with a modest phono stage (yes, Music Hall has a preamp that would match nicely with the LE), you'll be spinning and enjoying records in no time, for a long time. This “Ferrari” may be a looker, but it's meant to be driven, not languish in the garage. Just like those old records you've been meaning to rescue.

System Setup

  • Music Hall MMF-2.2 LE Turntable
  • Parasound Zphono preamplifier
  • Grant Fidelity A-348 Integrated Tube Amplifier
  • Snell Acoustics Type K Loudspeakers
  • Better Cables Premium Anniversary Edition Speaker Cables 
  • Better Cables Silver Serpent Anniversary Edition Interconnects

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