Equipment Review No. 1   October 2002

Music Hall MMF-25 CD Player    SRP: $600

Music Hall
108 Station Road
Great Neck, NY 11023
516-487-3663 (voice)
516-773-3891 (fax)
http://www.musichallaudio.com/

Basic Description

Single CD player w/HDCD; 96/24 Burr Brown D/A chips; remote control; optical/coaxial digital output; detachable power cord; 1-year warranty; 17” W x 14.25” D x 3” H; 13.2 lbs.


Equipment

Creek 5350SE integrated amplifier, B&W CDM9NT speakers, Rega Planet 2000 ($950) and Rotel RCD-1070 ($700) CD players for comparison, Audioquest cabling.


Setup

The sample I was given had been used for many months, so I felt no need for the typical burn-in procedure. I did leave the amp and CD on for a couple of hours before critical listening. I used double runs of the same interconnect cable on different inputs on the Creek integrated and adjusted the volume as necessary. I was lucky to have the opportunity to use both the Rega and Rotel players for comparison—both excellent players in their own right. With the Rotel, the volume was very close to the Music Hall player. The Rega player was putting out a slightly different level that complicated the tests somewhat. Both these players are more expensive than the Music Hall, so keep that in mind when reading the comparison testing sections.

The display on the MMF-25 is very bright and easy to read from across the room. There are two dimming levels if you find it too bright. When you push the skip back button, the unit does not go to the beginning of the track, but proceeds to the previous tracks like many Philips-based machines. You can also skip ahead to the first track and skip back to the last. I had a cheaper version of the remote control (similar to a Yamaha remote), but by the time you read this, the unit should come with the metal remote that is much nicer (pictured). The units weight is due to a very solid chassis and heavy under panel, and much of the inside of the unit is empty.


Listening I – Comparisons with Rega Planet 2000

I began the listening tests with “The Fruit Song”--a fun song (track 2) by Jeannie Reynolds on the Smooth Grooves Steppin’ Out CD. The Music Hall was a little tubbier on bottom, there was more sizzle on top, more liveliness to the sound, and voice was better defined and sweeter. The Planet was more restrained, darker, and bass was not as powerful. The voice was more diffuse with an ever-so-slight chalkiness/emphasis in the midrange. The sound was not as liquid and sounded somewhat mechanical.

Another enlightening cut came from Groove Armada’s Back To Mine album--track 1, “Description Of A Fool.” There continued to be difference in sound quality noticeable while listening to the two CD players. On the Music Hall, the voice blended more naturally into the surrounding music, and the sound was more forward. The Rega seemed to emphasize the middle, and made voice come across differently—puffy, slightly chalky and sibilant, and not as well integrated with the music. This disc is a botched copy I made and won’t play at all on certain players (like the NAD S500). The Music Hall paused before the beginning of this track, but otherwise played with no trouble.

Next up was track 10, “Even When I’m Sleeping,” by Leonardo’s Bride Manning from the Soundtrack to Brokedown Palace. Again, with the MMF-25, I found the voice to be more seductive and natural, as well as being more confined in space. Instruments were more vivid, and the player tended to throw things out at the listener. The Rega seemed to blunt transients a little. Voice and guitar came across larger with thickness and richness added to the sound. The overall sound was more polite and tries for refinement, but isn’t all there. Both players were very enjoyable to listen to.

On the classical side of things, I put on track 1 from the Delos Spring Preview 2001 disc—Handel: Rinaldo, Vent turbini. The Music Hall was distinctively “clangier” sounding on the harpsichord. It gave the feeling of a bolder presentation, and sounded quicker than the Rega. My notes indicate a difference in vocal presentation, but it was hard to know which one is more representative of the live event. The Rega sounded more delicate and polite. The voice was thicker—meatier. It had a more relaxed quality that some may term reticent, but which may be preferred by some listeners.


Listening II – Comparisons with Rotel RCD-1070

I had planned to complete the review when it was suggested (by a very critical listener) that I might want to compare the Music Hall with another really fine CD player, the Rotel RCD-1070. He seemed quite impressed with the sound of this player, and thought it would be a beneficial comparison. Since I still had a good amount of time with the player, I continued with the comparison testing.

I dug out “Blackbird” performed by Lincoln Mayorga and colleagues from Sheffield Labs Crème De La Crème. The sounds of the bells on this cut were mellower and smoother with not as much ring as the Rotel. The edge on strings was softened. The Rotel offered a different sound on the strings. The sound was bigger and more open, but with more edge from this recording.

From another Chesky disc, the Special Sampler, I listened to Sara K. singing “Wanna Spend More Time.” The Music Hall sounded softer than the Rotel. The voice was smaller, but well integrated with the sound field. The Rotel offered a bigger soundstage and more depth. Voice was bigger, more delicate, and quicker sounding. There was more reverberation present and more sense of space when listening through the Rotel, but the Music Hall offered a slightly more natural vocal presentation.

I was interested to see how the players fared with a not-so-good recording. I dropped in “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” from Credence Clearwater Revival’s Chronicles Volume 1. The Music Hall delivered a slightly toned down quality on this cut, but voice was very appealing. The Rotel had more space and more sound overall. With bad recordings this may be too much of a normally good thing. There was a definite tradeoff between losing a little resolution (especially spatially) versus the feeling that the music had an etched quality to it.


Listening III – A final listen

I spent many hours just listening to music with the Music Hall. I put on track 1 from the Chesky Vocal Collection—“Kalerka” by Rebecca Pidgeon. Instrumentation was good, and dynamics were commendable. This recording got hard at high levels although it could be the amp running out of steam. Piano sound is pleasant as are the background strings. The CD sound offered by the Music Hall is not soft, nor is it hard. It seems to lean on the slightly mellow side of neutral, and shoots for the liquidity and resolution of the multi-thousand dollar units - and just falls short.

I listened to track 2 from an Antonio Carlos Jobim tribute album. The sound was so nice and enjoyable you almost forget you are listening to a stereo system. The deep, powerful, electronic bass and mechanical samples were an interesting contrast with the natural sounding vocals. This player is not trying to do everything—that’s its strongpoint. It is a bit soft but has an appealing natural quality that is rare at its price.

Track 3, “Livin’ It Up” from Ja Rule’s Pain Is Love is probably not the greatest music ever made, but it did serve to show off some of the capabilities of the Music Hall CD player. If you got the impression that this player is only good for jazz or classical arrangements, then you couldn’t be more wrong. There was plenty of good bass, mellow vocals (as much as is possible with Ja’s voice), and no sense of exaggerated high frequencies or edge added to the music.


Conclusion

It was extremely difficult to remember during this review that I was listening to a CD player that sells for $600. Not only did it have a much more expensive physical presence, but it shown in sonic performance as well. It was slightly soft or mellow sounding, but voice was especially pleasant, and almost unexpected at this price range. If you are into a really big soundstage presentation, hearing the exact recording size and reflections off the studio wall, and extracting the last bit of detail on the CD, then this player might not be for you. But for those who value a natural presentation that is always easy and enjoyable, and aren’t looking to break the bank for a CD player, then the Music Hall MMF-25 should definitely be on your list.

- Brian Bloom     big_brian_b@hotmail.com

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