Music Hall MMF 2.1

I have no will power. Barely two weeks after deciding that I’d like to pick up a turntable, I now own a Music Hall MMF 2.1. I’m justifying the expense by reminding myself that, in two weeks, I won’t be spending several days in New York with Brian, Girish, and Acquarello, I won’t be attending the Rendezvous with French Cinema series, and I won’t be eating fabulous meals or seeing live music or visiting museums or doing any of the other expensive things I had intended to do before a family obligation forced a change of plans.

Every review I could find described the MMF 2.1 as a great bang-for-the-buck table. (I ordered direct from J&R, who shipped it quickly and triple-boxed it for safe delivery.) After more than a decade of using nothing but solid-state electronics, I can’t quite express how much fun it was to spend nearly an hour assembling and calibrating a piece of audio equipment. The wood deck, manual belt drive, and delicate tonearm assembly gave me the sense that I was handling a musical instrument rather than the kind of sterile “players” (CD, DVD, mp3) I’ve been living with for so long.

(In case any audiophiles stumble upon this post: I’ve connected the MMF 2.1 directly to the phono input on my Denon AVR-3805 receiver, which is driving Paradigm Studio 40 speakers and a Klipsch subwoofer.)

Some thoughts on listening . . .

“Babylon Sisters” — The first LP I queued up was Steely Dan’s Gaucho. (I found a factory-sealed copy last weekend at a record show.) Because I had to make a 20-decibel volume adjustment each time I switched between the phono and CD inputs, it was difficult to make a direct A-B comparison, but I feel pretty confident saying that I prefer the sound of the LP over the CD. The LP is warmer and less fatiguing, with more depth in the middle frequencies and less of the tinny compression that mars even well-engineered CDs.

“All Along the Watchtower” — From Michael Hedges’s Live on the Double Planet. I have a longer Michael Hedges post in the works, but for now I’ll just say that I suspect my copy of this album was once the property of a radio station. Either that or the previous owner just really liked Hedges’s cover of Sheila E.’s “A Love Bizarre” (the record’s single, as I recall). That one track has obviously been played to death on this particular LP — the abuse can be seen and heard.

“Subdivisions” — I bought Rush’s Signals the week it was released. 1982. It’s one of the six or seven LPs I’ve held on to over the years, but last night was the first time I’d heard it since the late-80s. The nostalgia almost gave me a seizure. I swear I recognized every pop and hiss on that record.

“Thunder Road” — No, I don’t yet own a copy of Born to Run, but on Sunday I picked up The Brave and the Bold from Tortoise and Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy. I would love to make their cover of “Thunder Road” my new Song of the Moment but I can’t. In fact, the only way I can hear it is by going down to my basement, turning on my stereo, and queuing up Side 1. It feels so strange to surrender control of my listening experience like that.

And a bit of movie music trivia. Now that I have a working turntable, I’m feeling the itch to recreate one of my favorite film moments: the opening title sequence of Harold and Maude. As you might recall, the film begins with a medium-long shot of Harold (actually, we don’t yet know it’s Harold because we can’t see his face) as he walks across the room to his record player and puts on Cat Stevens’s “Don’t Be Shy.” But here’s the thing — because “Don’t Be Shy” was written specifically for the film, and because no official soundtrack containing the song was ever released, “Don’t Be Shy” didn’t actually appear on vinyl until thirteen years later, when Cat Stevens released Footsteps in the Dark, the second volume of his greatest hits. In other words, I need to get my hands on a copy of Footsteps in the Dark on vinyl.