When I first removed the Music Hall Stealth turntable from its box, all I could say to myself was “Boy—is that ever BLACK!” Music Hall “President for Life” Roy Hall has appropriately christened this latest Music Hall turntable Stealth, as it presents a relentlessly black countenance, except for five inconspicuous points: a trim ring where the headshell meets the tonearm, parts of the arm lift mechanism, the bottom of the vertical tracking angle tower, the center spindle, and the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge. The dust cover, made from velveteen cloth rather than clear plastic, is deep black. Even the bolts holding the cartridge in the headshell are black! Opinions on the Stealth’s overall aesthetic are sure to be polarized.
I asked Hall, “Why so black?” He responded in his usual uninhibited manner, “Because it looks fucking cool.” I told him that sentence might not make it past the bosses, to which he responded, “Do your worst, but where I come from, swearing is considered punctuation.”
Color scheme aside, the Stealth ($1495, all prices in USD) has a number of desirable features. For one, it offers an auto-stop option that halts the platter at the end of a side. In the event that you like using different cartridges, the Stealth offers both an interchangeable headshell, which makes swapping them easy, and adjustable vertical tracking angle (VTA), so the angle of the stylus always aligns with the groove. Moreover, the turntable is direct drive, which means the platter gets up to speed pretty quickly.
The Stealth is moderately large, measuring 17 3/4″ × 14 1/4″ × 5 3/4″. At 24 pounds—four pounds of that being the cast-aluminum, rubber-damped platter—it’s a heavyweight within this price class. The chassis is quite heavy and well damped and is constructed of multiple layers to eliminate external vibrations. Hall told me that its mass reduces resonance in the system by virtue of its weight. He continued, “It is totally different from the ‘split-plinth’ technology incorporated in (our) European ones. They are low-mass tables. You can argue all day which is the better system, but sonically, the Stealth sounds musical, and that is what really matters.”
The Stealth features a full 9″ aluminum tonearm, which helps reduce distortion problems that can arise from incorrect tracking angle. In case you replace the supplied cartridge with a rather heavy one, the box contains a supplemental counterweight—a nice touch. The Stealth offers all three speeds (33, 45, and 78 rpm), and there’s no need to swap one drive belt for another because, as noted, the platter is driven directly by the motor. However, if you want to play 78s, you’ll have to swap the primary stylus for Ortofon’s 78 rpm model.
The main power switch is a push button on the rear panel. There you will also find the output jacks, a ground/earth terminal, and the switch that lets you engage or disengage the auto-stop function. I don’t understand why someone would turn off the auto-stop, but you have that choice. The drive motor is a low-speed brushless direct-drive unit. One complaint some people have had about past direct-drive units is cogging. I asked Hall about what makes his direct drive better than units of the past. He responded as follows:
Cogging is the term for jitter or jumpiness prevalent in motors. It’s caused by the interaction between the magnets and the stator slots. Most ordinary motors suffer from this, especially at low speeds. The design of this motor eliminates this condition by ensuring the motor is built properly [in addition to] a few [other] proprietary details.
Speed selection is accomplished through three buttons on the left front of the plinth surface. Press the one on the left to activate the unit from standby (indicated by a red LED). Press the middle one, and the turntable will spin at 33 and the lights will turn blue. The one on the right selects 45 or, if it’s pressed twice, 78. If auto-stop is turned on, and you want to stop the record before the side is finished, press the speed control again and the platter will stop.
The owner’s manual is brief and to the point but still provides a wealth of complete specifications such as those for wow and flutter (less than 0.07%), signal-to-noise ratio (more than 70dB), and so forth. All of them fall into the good to very good categories. If you revel in specifications, this manual is for you.
The Stealth is supplied with an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge (retail $239) mounted and aligned at the factory. Out of the box, I found the alignment spot on and the tracking force setting was accurate. In my review of the Fluance RT85, I remarked on the Blue’s “bright, fast, sparkling sound.” I liken it to a more refined 2M Red—same snap but a little smoother overall.
The Stealth has an uncommon feature—the vertical tracking angle is adjustable. And even more unusual, it can be adjusted on the fly. The tower next to the arm gimbal is the adjustment mechanism. There’s a release nut on the side of the tower; the knob on top of the tower raises or lowers the arm. Hall told me the reason for this is to adapt the angle of the arm depending on how thick the disc is. For instance, a 180-gram vinyl pressing is thicker than a typical LP, so the tracking angle, which plays a large role in how much or little distortion you encounter, can always be corrected (meaning that the bottom of the cartridge is absolutely parallel to the record’s surface).
The box also contains an aluminum 45 rpm adapter, the black cloth dust cover, the aforementioned supplemental counterweight, a set of sturdy 4′ interconnects, a long separate ground wire, and, of course, the power supply, which is a wall wart complete with interchangeable plugs for various locales. Music Hall provides a one-year warranty. The Stealth is manufactured in China for Music Hall.
After many years, most turntable manufacturers have realized the typical purchaser doesn’t want to spend hour upon hour setting up a turntable. Music Hall is one of them, and they’ve made set up rather easy. Open the box. Remove the main unit. Place the platter on the center spindle and the rubber mat on the platter.
From there, it’s on to the arm. Insert the headshell/cartridge firmly into the front of the tonearm and turn the locking nut to tighten. Slide the counterweight onto the tonearm with the printed numbers facing the front. If you advance the counterweight to the white cross-hatch, the tracking force should be at the recommended 1.8 grams (18mN). Or, if you’re fussy, as I am, adjust the counterweight so the arm balances parallel to the plinth top (make sure you’ve removed the stylus guard from the cartridge first). Hold the counterweight at its current position with one hand, and turn the tracking force gauge on the front of the counterweight until it reads 0. Then, turn the counterweight until it reads 1.8. The last step in either case is to set the anti-skating control to the same value as the stylus force.
Connect the above-average supplied cables to the turntable and your integrated amplifier and do the same with the ground/earth wire. Find your region’s proper AC plug and attach it to the power supply. Plug one end of the power supply into the rear of the turntable and the other end into the AC outlet. And you’re set.
It’s never been part of my reviewing methodology to try to adjust the vertical tracking angle of the stylus for minimum distortion. But then I’ve never auditioned a turntable that makes adjusting the tracking angle so simple and clean. As with any new toy, I had to play with it. With a 180-gram pressing—much thicker than normal—I undid the locking nut and then turned the knob on top of the tower. When you do this, it causes the entire gimbal that the arm rides on to move up or down. Within perhaps 30 seconds, I was able to set the right tracking angle for such records. Very nifty, very easy, and a nice feature.
I followed my normal procedure of playing records without listening to them for roughly ten hours to loosen the cartridge’s cantilever in its suspension. In all that time, the turntable appeared to work perfectly.
The first tune I listened to was “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” by a trio called The Free Design, from their 1967 album Kites Are Fun (Project 3 Records PR 5019 SD). It’s a very different take on the Paul Simon song as, first of all, they take to heart Simon’s first line, “Slow down, you move too fast.” The pace is relaxed with lots of very close harmony. The backing instruments start with the usual guitar (nylon string), electric bass, drum kit, and electronic piano. These are supplemented by two trumpets that start off at a murmur but then kick out with staccato bursts as the song develops—they’re on the left channel with the drums and guitar. There’s also a trombone on the right just behind the singers and the electronic piano just to the right. The record’s producer, Enoch Light, was a real stickler for high-quality recordings, and he certainly pulled one off with this disc. Over the Music Hall, the bass line wrapped around the singers’ feet like a hungry feline. The Stealth brought out every nuance and detail of the recording, creating a magnificent soundstage in the process. Overall, the Stealth turned in a fine performance with this complex recording.
I often use a classical piece to test the dynamic capabilities of a turntable, and for this review, I chose Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, “The Reformation,” performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Sergiu Comissiona (Vox/Turnabout QTV-S 34643). It’s obvious the recording was done in a massive space as the natural reverberation of the hall is almost too much. The orchestra’s physical arrangement is presented well: violins on the left; violas, cellos, and basses on the right; winds in the center; horns in the upper right; and percussion upper center left. The massed strings nearly played as one over the Stealth, while the individual brasses were not hard to pick out—a good result. The interludes where the strings play the Dresden amen were reproduced with due delicacy. There was no grit in the playback, yet loud passages had great heft. All in all, a very satisfying performance.
On some setups, Carly Simon’s voice on “You’re So Vain,” from her No Secrets album (Elektra EKS-75049), can overload the system into distortion. That was not the case here. In fact, there wasn’t a hint of overload reproducing her voice or any of the backing instruments, not even Jim Gordon’s drums, which he beat mercilessly. The high violins near the end, which are also played very aggressively, showed no strain whatsoever over the Music Hall. The backing voices—the male on the left who sounds like Mick Jagger and the female on the right—were tonally spot-on, while the various instruments were arrayed across the soundstage in an near-real-life arrangement. This song was recorded hot, but the Stealth/Blue combination handled it with cool aplomb.
By the 1970s, Motown had expanded from the famous Snakepit recording studio and had at least two other Detroit studios to record in. Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” from Anthology: The Best of Marvin Gaye (Motown M9 791A3), has a totally different sound from earlier Motown hits. First, the overall quality of the recording is far better than earlier Motown hits—far less gritty. Gaye is dead center on the recording with a backup man behind him, who occasionally sings harmony but otherwise carries on a soliloquy behind Gaye. James Jamerson’s bass is down below—in every way—while the soprano sax solo is on the right; the strings are on the left, along with the piano and female backups. The Stealth imaged these players perfectly. The Music Hall caught all of the action and presented a tight, cogent sound with extended highs and lows. Of the budget turntables I’ve reviewed so far, this was the best presentation I’ve heard of this song.
One standby of mine is Miles Davis’s monumental Kind of Blue (Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-45011). This time, I picked “Freddie Freeloader” to study. This pressing is at 45 rpm, so the record has extended fidelity. The tune starts with Wynton Kelly’s piano, down low and left, with the bass and drums hard right. Miles’s solo is dead center and out front, while Coltrane’s tenor is on the left, and Cannonball Adderley’s alto is on the right just in front of the drums. Kelly’s accompaniment to the solos, especially Adderley’s, consists of short, soft, staccato chords, offering just the right counterpoint. What really came through over the Stealth, though, was Davis’s incredible technique: it’s uncommon to regard the trumpet as a soft instrument, but here it is. The amazing control Davis exerted over his instrument was reproduced extremely well by the Stealth/Blue. The drums, as well, are played gently yet precisely, and that’s what I heard with this turntable. Frankly, I’ve never heard this album sound better and ended up listening to both discs.
I compared the Stealth with my trusty Dual CS5000 on several records, and even with the exemplary Sumiko Oyster Moonstone cartridge in place, the Stealth ran rings around my Dual. The Stealth bettered the Dual in terms of overall clarity of playback and improved dynamics, and there was little if any extraneous, turntable-related noise—in short, it just plain skunked the Dual. And it made me realize that it’s time to spring for a new record-playing device.
In the recent past, I’ve had the great pleasure to review three really exceptional turntables: the VPI Cliffwood, the Pro-Ject X1, and this Music Hall Stealth. All of them do a fantastic job of freeing the music from the groove and placing it soundly into your system. But I have to say, I find the Music Hall Stealth the best of the bunch for several reasons. The first is the sound: it’s full and rich, with great frequency extension (due in part, no doubt, to its inclusion of an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge) and fabulous dynamics—all areas where it surpasses the other two turntables I mentioned. It also offers several features I really like, among them the interchangeable headshell, the auto-stop feature, and the easy VTA adjustment. Advantage Music Hall once again. Yes, it’s considerably more expensive ($1495) than the VPI ($1000) or the Pro-Ject ($1099), but it’s a turntable you can buy now and use for years, possibly even decades, without having to entertain the notion of upgrading.
Although I’m not thoroughly enamored of the Stealth’s all-black appearance, I have to say that as a turntable, its features and performance are stellar. I like that it offers interchangeable headshells and an auto-stop feature, and the unique VTA adjustment is helpful. Its sound is simply top notch, and the more I hear the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, the more I like it. Roy Hall noted that the Stealth sounds “musical,” and I have to agree with him 100%. Simply stated, the Music Hall Stealth succeeds in all areas. You can buy it now with the assurance that you’ll probably never outgrow it.
. . . Thom Moon
- Turntables: Dual CS5000, VPI Cliffwood, Pro-Ject Audio Systems X-1.
- Cartridge: Sumiko Oyster Moonstone.
- Preamplifier: Apt Holman.
- Power amplifier: NAD C 275BEE.
- Speakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3, Advent ASW-1200 powered subwoofer.
- Phono cables: Dual (captive with CS5000 turntable), Music Hall (supplied), both RCA.
- Interconnects: Straight Wire.
- Speaker cables: Acoustic Research (14-gauge), terminated with Dayton Audio banana plugs.
Music Hall Stealth Turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue Cartridge
Warranty: One year, parts and labor.
Music Hall Audio
108 Station Road
Great Neck, NY 11023
Phone: (516) 487-3663