My little A/V hobby has blossomed into a full-blown obsession, although I keep hoping that I'll be able to get it under some amount of control (fortunately money can be an effective limiting factor). Here, now, I'd like to show you my baby pictures:
This is where the magic happens. As much as I've bent over backwards to accomodate the demanding needs of creating a multichannel audio system, I increasingly find that simple, more satisfying pleasure can be found in playing LPs. Despite the contemporary focus on convergence and convenience, I prefer the focus on listening that vinyl demands. The downside is that good quality audio comes at a cost; old, damaged records bring back memories of why CDs were so exciting to begin with, and the best new vinyl is often ridiculously priced (e.g. $50 for these guys). On the bright side, not all old records sound bad, and there are plenty of $10-15 new vinyl reissues from Original Jazz Classics (Riverside, Prestige, et. al.), Blue Note, various soul labels, and more. New indie and major label rock LPs tend to cost a bit more.
Anyway, here's what's currently making my shiny black discs spin:
Music Hall MMF-2.1
A good entry-level belt-drive table, which may soon be surpassed by the Pro-Ject Debut III and the new Rega P1. I bought this maybe six years ago and at the time was amazed by how quiet it was compared to the $5 garage sale direct drive turntables I was used to. It required some assembly but the cartridge was factory-mounted and appeared to be correctly aligned. Switching speeds requires lifting off the alloy platter and moving the belt, which is kind of a pain in the ass, but otherwise I felt pretty good about my purchase. Now that I've gotten used to it and listen to a lot more vinyl I can hear some weaknesses, and the build quality is lousy (it has an ugly black ash plinth that chips easily, cheap knobby rubber feet, etc.).
Stepping up in the turntable world is a precarious endeavor, because the price levels pretty much double every step up you go. The next table up in the Music Hall line, the MMF-5, goes for $629, the MMF-7 for $1200, and the MMF-9 for $1700. That's including a tonearm and cartridge; most audiophile tables are sold without a catridge and many even require a separate tonearm purchase. Big dough. I've ben eyeing the MMF-7 for awhile because it's just about the cheapest option which includes almost every major upgrade I'm interested in: an outboard motor (doesn't touch the plinth), an acrylic platter, a decent tonearm (though this is probably its weak point), a moving-coil cartridge, and built-in suspension/vibration control. You can sometimes nab one of these used for as low as $700, but that's still a pretty hefty investment. Then there's this beauty, the Clearaudio Emotion, which only a week ago was $999 but is now retailing for $1200 like the MMF-7.
At this point I'm pretty much resolved to try an enjoy my current 'table as much as I can. The MMF-5 might be an affordable compromise, or the Rega P2, but they just aren't as pretty as the pricier options. Perhaps something more esoteric, like a vintage Michell Focus, is in my future....
In the meantime, I've pimped my analog ride a bit with the following:
Ringmat 330 MK II XLR (Utlizing cutting edge cork technology)
Pro-Ject Speed Box II (For improved speed stability and easy change between 33 and 45 RPM)
Musical Fidelity X-LPS v3 (Phono preamp, former Stereophile Class "C" component)
Musical Fidelity X-10 v3 (Brings tubes into my my otherwise solid-state system for some crazy treble response -- current Stereophile Class "A" golden ear magic box product)
I also bought an old Ortofon OM20 cartridge on eBay last year which I may mount soon, and I sure hope it works. I'm concerned that the Music Hall Tracker cart on my 'table is nearing the end of its life.
I'm completely out of time so it looks like this thrilling account of my 17" wide metal box collection is going to become a series. Stay tuned!