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Upgrading turntable offers bigger audio boost than improving CD player
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Upgrading turntable offers bigger audio boost than improving CD player

From the Recommendations for audio equipment series
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Music Hall Classic turntable.

Q. I recently took advantage of Emotiva’s “30% back in Emobucks” promotion and bought the $399 T-Zero speakers. I then used the resulting 30% credit towards their $399 TA-100 receiver. Now I want to get a turntable and upgrade my CD player, which is an old Technics SL-PG100 from the 1990s. I have $1,000 total to spend and figured I would spend $500 on the turntable and $500 on the CD player. I planned on getting the Music Hall MMF-1.5 “Vessel Special” for $499 from LP Gear. Is there anything else that might be better for around $500, and what would you recommend for the CD player?

— J.F., Minneapolis

A. My recommendation is going to be a bit different than you might expect, but it will definitely get the most out of your $1,000.

I’ve tested a lot of turntables selling for $500 or less and there is still nothing that I prefer over the Music Hall MMF-1.5 “Vessel Special” as sold by LP Gear. The combination of the finely crafted MMF-1.5 turntable, its precision arm and the Vessel A3SE cartridge makes beautiful music and looks great, too. The tactile qualities are a cut above what you typically find for $500 and it is very nice to touch and operate, which adds to the pride and pleasure of ownership.

That said, there is a better way to spend your $1,000 and I will spell out why before providing my recommendations.

With vinyl playback components like turntables, cartridges and phono preamps, the audible differences tend to be quite large and immediately obvious to the ear. Conversely, the differences between CD players tend to be small and even some old players from the 1980s can still sound quite nice. I personally have a Nakamichi OMS-1A from 1987 that I would not hesitate to use in my very best system. (It was a great thrift shop find for under $20.) Your Technics SL-PG100 CD player was very well regarded in its day, and if you compare it to modern CD players you will find the SL-PG100 has a larger, more detailed display, more front-panel buttons and extra playback features. That is because manufacturers simply don’t devote the amount of resources to the format that they used to. Given this, I would invest more of the $1,000 into your turntable system and less on a CD player, or even just continue using your Technics.

As nice as the Music Hall MMF-1.5 is, the $599 Music Hall Classic is even nicer and I have praised it extensively in this column. It must be seen, touched and heard to be appreciated and I suggest you visit musichallaudio.com to check them both out. As nice as the Classic looks in the pictures, online images cannot do justice to its looks and solid quality. I cannot overstate this and you will find that out for yourself when you unbox and use it.

LP Gear has a “Music Hall Classic Fantastic” version upgraded with a premounted Vessel A3SE cartridge for $698, and this is the one I recommend you buy. See it at lpgear.com.

This leaves about $300 for the CD player. I recommend using the Technics for a while longer until you can make a big upgrade, like Emotiva’s $599 ERC-4, which also serves as a digital-to-analog converter. If you want to buy now a $349 Cambridge Audio AXC35 would be a good choice, though you have to stretch your budget a bit to $1,047. Visit cambridgeaudio.com for more info.

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