Music Hall's MMF-11.1 Top of the Line Turntable
The relationship between Pro-Ject’s Heinz Lichtenegger and Music Hall’s Roy Hall began back in the 1990s at the “dawn” of the vinyl revival. For Czech-based Pro-Ject at the time, the more turntables manufactured at the Pro-Ject factory the better the company’s bottom line. For Music Hall it meant partnering with a precision manufacturer capable of delivering a ready-to-play turntable built to spec. Pro-Ject manufactures everything in-house down to the screws, nuts and bolts.
The relationship still works for both parties as much of Music Hall’s line sells where Pro-Ject does not, so most every Music Hall sold is another turntable manufactured at the Pro-Ject factory that wouldn’t otherwise have been. Plus the two must find pleasant doing business with each other.
Black Lacquer Layer Cake
The 39.5 pound ‘table is built upon four rectangular black lacquer MDF wafers separated by Sorbothane discs. Three of the four plinths carry at least one component. The tonearm connects to the top plate, the inverted ceramic ball-topped bearing housing attaches to the one below, while the bottom plinth holds the four adjustable magnetically levitated feet as well as (on its own isolated platform within), the motor pod containing the motors, flywheel and electronic speed controller. According to Music Hall, the lower mass-loaded plinth acts as an energy sink.
The result is an elegant-looking self-contained 21.3”x13.8”x7.8” assemblage topped with a recessed 1.5” tall, 7.4 pound acrylic platter. The arm is a Pro-Ject 9cc Evolution identical (other than in length) to the 10 inch one used on the Pro-Ject xtension10 turntable recently reviewed on analogplanet.com. Music Hall also supplies a substantial dustcover.
The motor pod contains two 16 volt synchronous motors and a flywheel linked by an “O” ring. An electronic speed controller drives the motors at 50Hz. Music Hall claims the dual motors and flywheel increase torque and reduce vibration, while running the motors at 50Hz results in quieter operation. Voltage reduction is via a “wall-wart”
The flywheel drives the platter via another “O” ring around its periphery. The platter bearing appears to be identical to the one Pro-Ject uses in the xtension10 and in other turntables in the line. A ceramic ball tops the bearing, which rides within a brass bushing attached to the platter bottom.
Three push buttons mounted atop the plinth’s left side (better located here than directly below the stylus on the xtension10!) select 33 1/3, 45 or “off”. A blue LED associated with each speed button blinks until the platter reaches speed at which point the LED emits a steady light.
The Music Hall 11.1 sets up easily. Like all turntables it’s best placed atop a sturdy, flat and level platform, ideally one that’s in some way isolated, though the four adjustable mag-lev feet provide excellent isolation and make easy minor leveling.
A set of RCA jacks mounted to the lower plinth rear provide the tonearm/phono preamp interface using the supplied gold-plated RCA interconnects or your choice.
The Evolution 9cc tonearm of continuous carbon fiber from head shell to counterweight stub represents a high value “high tech” design in a ‘table, the total cost of which is under $5000. However, carbon fiber is not a “miracle” material. True, it is light-weight (effective mass fewer than 9 grams) and ultra-stiff but it also has a high resonant frequency that must be damped.
The ABEC7 quality bearings are set in a high mass housing giving the entire assemblage a precise, secure feel. Pro-Ject supplies three Sorbothane damped counterweights that can accommodate just about any weight cartridge. Despite the fixed head shell, azimuth is adjustable by loosening grub screws and rotating the entire arm tube. VTA/SRA is also adjustable by loosening a pair of grub screws.
The arm set-up is relatively straight forward. Having a gimbaled arm with azimuth adjustability at this price point is a real plus and while the VTA/SRA adjustment is coarse, at least it’s possible. You loosen the screws and the arm’s vertical shaft can be raised and lowered as desired but wherever you start you’d better make a mark of some kind on the shaft because if the sound is not to your liking, when you loosen the screws the arm will drop to its lowest position and without the reference mark you’re starting over.
Using a digital microscope and reference marks I was able to set 92 degree SRA but I’ve done it more easily! Anti-skating is the familiar weight and monofilament that loops over one of three notches in a difficult to access shaft protruding from the arm’s rear. VTF is set using the counterweight scale after leveling the arm and setting it to “0”. I have found both Pro-Ject’s VTF and anti-skating scales to be remarkably accurate but I still recommend using a digital scale to set VTF
Using the MMF 11.1
This is an easy turntable to both set up and use, other than the 9cc tonearm’s “vestigial” finger lift, which is nearly impossible to pinch, or to lift with an extended finger. Use the cueing mechanism.
Otherwise, thanks to the two motors and flywheel system plus the electronic controller, the platter quickly reaches speed and turns precisely at the correct 33 1/3 and 45rpm speeds. Isolation from the outside world is very effective. The Feickert PlatterSpeed software used in conjunction with the supplied 7” test record shows that the 3150Hz test tone was reproduced at 3149.9Hz, which is for all intents and purposes perfect. Low pass filtered to remove the effects of record eccentricity produced a maximum relative deviation of ±0.02%, which is very good and an absolute deviation of -0.6Hz/+0.7Hz, which is also good. If you compare the frequency charts of the two tables, you’ll see they look remarkably similar though the MMF 11.1’s lowpass-filtered “green line” is flatter.
Sounds Smooth and Sweet
Despite using the same bearing and essentially the same tonearm, and having similar rotational specifications the MMF 11.1 did not sound at all like the $2995 Pro-Ject Xtension10. While the single motor Xtension10 with its 12.5 pound damped aluminum alloy platter produced a “slightly accentuated attack and high frequency transient exaggeration”, the MMF 11.1’s overall sonic signature was precisely the opposite, tending towards the soft and smooth as I’d have guessed given its acrylic platter.
However the combination of the carbon fiber arm (which I think is at least in part for the Xtension10’s slight high frequency transient exaggeration) and the acrylic platter produced a sonic character that was neither overly smooth, nor overly soft, though it was somewhat smooth and somewhat soft. However, that worked extremely well with a more analytical cartridge like the now discontinued $6500 Lyra Titan i, though it’s probably more cartridge than most MMF 11.1 owners will be using with the ‘table.
The combo was honest enough for me to reliably evaluate the new Led Zeppelin reissues. When I went back to the Continuum with the Lyra Etna or Transfiguration Proteus, there was more of everything and less of an obvious smoothness and warmth, but I drew the same conclusions about the Led Zep reissues.
Like the Xtension10, the MMF 11.1 produces very quiet backdrops but I’d say its bass performance while very well extended was slightly softer than that of the Xtension10—more of a sprung ‘table’s bass smoothness but a bit less of a mass loade design’s tight, impactful bass.
Because the high frequency transient performance was also somewhat softer and smoother than the Xtension10’s push in the other direction, the MMF 11.1’s overall sonic picture was free of obvious tonal or transient affects, which made long term listening ultra-pleasant.
The combination of the new Ortofon 2Mse mono and the 11.1 produced an ideal balance of detail, dimensionality and smoothness that kept me up all night listening to great mono records. The ‘table sorted out a great deal of front to back depth and provided a lot of detail while also producing pleasing but not suffocating smoothness.
Mats somewhat changed the sound, with Music Hall’s cork mat with peripheral cork discs producing a somewhat, thicker, meatier sound than bare acrylic, while the Boston Audio’s graphite mat produced faster top to bottom transients, livelier trebles and more pronounced instrumental decay.
The combination of the Boston Audio mat and the Lyra Titan kept me happily playing records for more months than Roy Hall probably would have liked. I’ve had this ‘table in the system too long!
The Music Hall MMF 11.1 is the company’s most expensive turntable and based on the ones I’ve heard (many of them) also their best. It produced a pleasingly smooth, well-detailed sonic picture that makes up in relaxation and long-term listenability what it gives up in terms of transient attack speed and precision and ultra-tight punchy bass.
Those who might find the Xtension10’s “ride” a bit too hard, tight and fast, will love the MMF 11.1. Those who find the 11.1 too softly and smoothly sprung will head the other way towards the Xtension10.
Unless you really like ultra-warmth and smoothness (and I know some who do) I’d definitely suggest a cartridge on the faster, leaner side and phono preamp leaning that way too.
If you mostly play rock the MMF 11.1 might not be for you, but if you listen mostly to acoustic music—jazz, folk and classical—it’s definitely worthy of your attention. On the other hand, with the Titan mounted on it running into a Reit Audio PS 1 phono stage (currently under review) and an original George Piros mastered copy of Led Zeppelin 1 on the Boston Audio mat, the Music Hall MMF11.1 need not make any excuses.