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  1. #1

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    Default Rediscovering Vinyl: Music Hall MMF-9 and Yamaha PF-800 Turntables Pt. 1

    I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to records over the past few weeks; on a recently acquired Music Hall MMF-9 turntable and on my nearly 20 year old Yamaha PF-800 turntable. I thought now would be a good time to update my analog front end. I do not listen to records very often (typically 5 to 10 hours a month), but when I do, I want a satisfying experience. Since analog playback is an occasional diversion, I am not interested in or willing to pay in the multiple tens of thousands of $ for a “decent” analog setup. Fortunately, I don’t have to, but a turntable “update” is going to be more costly than anticipated.

    Some Historical Reference

    I started my adventure as an audio hobbyist in 1985. This was around the beginning of the digital playback era. My primary source has always been digital. However, I never envisioned a day when I would “abandon” vinyl records because I have too many that I know will never be transcribed into the CD or SACD format. Besides, even if they were, sad experience has taught me that I might not be pleased with the digital transfer. On the other hand, If I could magically acquire high quality digital versions of all my records, I would sell my turntables and associated paraphernalia and never look back. I absolutely do not like dealing with the maintenance and setup issues with turntables and records.

    I purchased the Yamaha PF-800 turntable brand new in September of 1986, which makes it almost 20 years that I have owned it. The 1986 MSRP of the PF-800 was $500. In an earlier post, I mentioned that the PF-800 was nearly 17 years old. I had confused the purchase date of this PF-800 with another one that I purchased used in 1999. I acquired another PF-800 because I really liked its design and performance and Yamaha had discontinued it. I was worried about parts availability in case mine broke. My concerns were unwarranted. In nearly 20 years, I have only had to replace the belt twice and refill the silicon oil in the cueing damping mechanism once. Parts are still available from Yamaha. After the second PF-800 sat unused for a few years, I sold it on eBay for way more than I paid for it when I noticed that they were in high demand (you know how they do on eBay). In 2001, after the original PF-800 had been with me for 15 years, I purchased another used PF-800 on eBay. I thought that mine might die suddenly and I did not want to be caught unprepared. I still have the second used PF-800. I thoroughly tested it when I received it and put it in a closet, where it has remained to this day.

    I performed three modifications on the original PF-800: replacement of the tone arm wires, replacement of the stock captive 18 gauge power cord with a captive 14 gauge power cord, and replacement of the captive RCA cables with Cardas GRFA-S RCA jacks. When I was discussing turntable modifications with a Yamaha repair technician, he advised against replacing the tonearm wire because it was specifically selected to work with the PF-800’s unique twin pipe tonearm design. He said that I might hear some difference or apparent “improvement” with low resolution gear, but that apparent improvement would diminish as I used gear with more resolving power. Indeed, I do have higher resolution gear than I did twenty years ago. I decided to put the original tonearm wire back in and test Mr. Yamaha’s theory. He was right. The original wire really is better. Live, tweak, and learn.
    Over the years, I have used a variety of cartridges with the PF-800. It is currently fitted with a Yamaha MC-705 moving coil cartridge ($200), which is discontinued and which was only sold in the European and Asian markets. It has a moderate level of resolving power commensurate with its cost. There are several user reviews of the PF-800 and of the MC-705 on the Internet. The only audio magazine review of the PF-800 that I know of is one in the March 1985 issue of High Fidelity.

    The PF-800’s 1986 MSRP of $500, adjusted for inflation, equates to $908 in 2006 dollars. The MC-705’s 1986 MSRP of $200 equates to $363 in 2006 dollars . The PF-800 currently sells in the $225 to $325 range on eBay in the US and in the $900 to $1100 range in Europe. Interesting discrepancy isn’t it? The MSRP of the Music Hall MMF-9 turntable/Maestro cartridge package is $1699. This is a third more expensive than the $1271 adjusted 2006 MSRP of the PF-800/MC-705 package.

    Performance

    As is common with many moving coil cartridges (budget and high-end), the MC-705 has a slightly “tipped-up” treble. It is not harsh sounding. It is more like the treble control being turned up just a little bit. The bass and midrange of the MC-705 is excellent. My goals for upgrading my analog source (turntable, cartridge, and phono preamp) were:

    1. A quiet, neutral sounding phono preamp of no more than $1000 MSRP.

    2. A quiet, neutral sounding turntable with a spring suspension, belt drive, and non-captive RCA interconnects of no more than $1500 MSRP.

    3. A moving coil cartridge with a neutral, detailed, and balanced presentation throughout the frequency spectrum of no more than $500 MSRP.

    4. Getting rid of the faint hum from the turntable. It is not audible on music playback, but I want it gone anyway.

    5. Reasonable price to performance ratio.

    Clearly, I am not seeking state of the art analog playback. My investment in vinyl and amount of time spent listening to records does not justify a state of the art or near state of the art analog source. I just want to be “OK”. (For now.)

    After two years of careful research and careful listening, the Music Hall MMF-9 turntable with a Goldring Maestro cartridge was the leading candidate for turntable/cartridge combination and the PS Audio GCPH was the top candidate for phono preamp. The Maestro cartridge is a modified version of the Goldring Eroica H (high output) moving coil cartridge. The Maestro has a better stylus and tracks better than the Eoica. The result is a more focused soundstage and more clarity. Specifications for the Yamaha PF-800 and the Music Hall MMF-9 turntable are attached.

    Trials

    My Adcom GFP-750 preamp does not have a phono stage. A Sony TA-E90ES preamp that has a well regarded phono stage was used as a phono preamp. The reason why I did not replace the GFP-750 with the TA-E90ES was that the Adcom is more neutral in its overall sound character whereas the TA-E90ES is just a bit on the “warm” side of neutral at the frequency extremes. Also, the GFP-750 has some features (balance control, phase reversal, switching to mono, passive mode (non-amplified)) that the TA-N90ES lacks.


    I first replaced only the TA-E90ES preamp with the GCPH phono preamp, putting it between the PF-800/MC-705 and the GFP-750. I immediately heard the following differences: I was hearing more details in the music and the hum was gone when music was not playing. When I say the hum was gone, I don’t mean gone as in significantly diminished, I mean completely disappeared. I turned the volume controls of both the GCPH and the GFP-750 to maximum and put my ear right next to the speaker. Still no hum.

    Listening notes were made with the PF-800/MC-705/GCPH combination and then it was replaced with the Music Hall MMF-9/Maestro combination. With the MMF-9/Maestro, I was immediately struck by the increase in detail throughout the frequency range, clarity, and soundstaging. The sound was perfectly balanced. No one frequency area (treble, midrange, bass) stood out. The only disappointment was the return of the hum. It was lower than with the Yamaha/TA-E90ES setup, but it was noticeable with no music playing.

    Next, I put the Maestro cartridge in the Yamaha PF-800. This is when the magic began. The hum has disappeared again, replaced by an inky black, dead silent background. The PF-800/Maestro setup was quieter and had more solid imaging than the MMF-9/Maestro combination. Looks like I could save a few bucks. Instead of a new turntable/cartridge/phono pre setup, I only needed to get a new cartridge and phono pre, which is exactly what I did. I could sense the Yamaha smirking as I boxed up the MMF-9/Maestro for return. I immediately ordered a Maestro cartridge (MSRP $550).

    Conclusion

    I realize that I am going to have to do three to four times the cost of the PF-800/Maestro package to get any significant improvement (MSRP, not actual cost to me). In addition to higher cost, most of today’s high performance turntables lack some of the Yamaha’s nice ergonomic features and design features such as:

    1. An oil-damped and accurate cueing mechanism that raises and lowers the tonearm without any lateral drift whatsoever.

    2. An adjustable optical lift sensor-when the tonearm reaches a preset postion at the end of a record, a solenoid is activated that raises the tonearm and shuts off the motor.

    3. Fine tuning pitch control.

    4. Excellent vibration isolation. The PF-800 uses a double-float, spring loaded plinth suspension system. The plinth (platter base) is hung from three springs tuned to 4 Hz. I can pound my fist on the shelf the turntable is sitting on and the turntable won't skip.

    With all that said, my renewed enjoyment of vinyl has me thinking about getting a better turntable/tonearm/cartridge/phono preamp. Maybe a nice Oracle or Clearaudio deck. Maybe (hopefully) this is just a silly phase I'm going through and I'll stop before I end up spending a small fortune on a "record player". ;)
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    Last edited by DarqueKnight; 09-07-2006 at 09:22 PM.

  2. #2

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    Default Rediscovering Vinyl: Music Hall MMF-9 and Yamaha PF-800 Turntables Pt. 2

    Note: This review exceeded the word length for one post, hence the split into two parts.

    Associated Equipment

    Adcom GFA-750 preamp
    Parasound JC 1 mono power amplifiers
    Polk Audio SDA SRS 1.2TL speakers
    Signal Cable Premium XLR interconnects (amp to preamp)
    Monster Cable Z200i interconnects (turntable to phono preamp, phono preamp to preamp)
    Monster Cable Z3 Reference speaker cable
    Monster Cable Z2 Reference SDA interconnect

    Obscure, Out Of Print, Reference Recordings

    1. “Skydance”, Rodney Frankin, 1985 CBS Records. I like every song on the album, but my favorites are tracks 2, 5, and 6 ( “Destiny”, “One From The Heart”, and “Skydance”). Those three songs, in addition to Franklin’s excellent keyboard work, are soaked in complex and exotic percussion sounds. Paulo de Costa’s percussion work on “Destiny” and “Skydance” are particularly lush. The Maestro cartridge decoded everything and put it in its proper place in the soundstage.

    2. “8”, Madhouse, 1987 Paisley Park Records. This is one of Prince’s early excursions into jazz. Unlike many of his pop and R&B albums, the recording quality is excellent. The CD also sounds good, but is not as dynamic and detailed as the LP. It sounds like what it is: a good approximation of the analog source tape.

    3. “Breezin”, George Benson, 1976 Audiophile Original Master Recording by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab under license from Warner Brothers Records. This is the landmark album that put George on the map. To call this record stereophonic would be an insult. Holographic is a more appropriate description. George sounds like he’s directly in front of you. His vocals come from a space directly above where his guitar sounds are emanating from. I could hear sound reflecting off the rear wall of the recording space.

    The Warner Brothers CD is a crime against nature: cold, dead, compressed, and noisy. George sounds like he has a head cold. Piano sounds steely and cold. The sound of tape hiss is very conspicuous on the CD. It is totally absent on the Mobile Fidelity LP.

    4. “Is That The Way To Your Heart”, Kazu Matsui Project, 1986 Passport Jazz Records. The recording quality of this album is B to B+. I wanted to see if the Maestro would
    favorably embellish the record. Nope. No luck. This record always takes me back to when I lived in southern California.

    5. “Magic Touch”, Stanley Jordan, 1985 Blue Note Records. The recording quality varies from track to track. For example, track 5, “The Lady In My Life”, has a hot treble that gives the cymbals a “spitchy” edge, sort of like AM radio static. This record sounds like an average to slightly above average CD. On the other hand, the CD has extremely good sound quality and sounds like a well recorded LP or SACD! No spitchy cymbals. Interesting.

    6. “Honey”, Ohio Players, 1976 Polygram Records. For me, the sax solo on track 5, “Sweet Sticky Thing”, is, by itself, worth 10X the price of the album. The album puts the band, all of whom were consummate musicians, right in your room. The CD version of this album should be recalled and the recording engineer responsible for this sabotage jailed.

    7. “Touchdown”, Bob James, 1978 CBS Records Mastersound Audiophile Pressing. Quiet, inky black background, holographic soundstaging, rock solid imaging; what more could you want? Those of you who have SDA’s are familiar with the “wide piano effect” that arises when a piano is recorded with two microphones at the piano’s position in the recording studio. On SDA’s, this makes the piano extend for the entire width of the soundstage. With the Yamaha MC-705 cartridge, track 1, “Angela (theme from “Taxi”)” appears to suffer from wide piano effect. With the Maestro cartridge, the “wide piano” is resolved into three different and distinct piano sounds (acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, and electric piano) coming from the left, center, and right of the sound stage.
    Last edited by DarqueKnight; 08-25-2006 at 02:53 PM.

  3. #3

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    Glad you have found vinyl bliss! Very nice to read. I'm gearing up for a change myself...for my needs I think a KAB-modified Technics is the way to go, a true darkhorse champion when all is considered. Glad you stuck with the ol' Yammy, they made some truly killer gear back in the day...TT's, amps, the whole deal. One day I'd like to try out their PX-2 linear tracker...hand-built and massive.

  4. #4

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    Nice write-up! And nice equipment.
    Last edited by speakergeek; 08-25-2006 at 07:28 PM.

  5. #5

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    I wanted to see a pic of the Yamaha!

    That is surprising, at least to me, that the MF tt can't beat the Yamaha. The discrepancy between the Yamaha's resale value in the states and across the waters is interesting, too.

    I don't guess a Yamaha TT-300U could hold a candle to your PF-800.
    Quote Originally Posted by George Grand View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jstas View Post
    Simple question. If you had a cool million bucks, what would you do with it?
    Wonder WTF happened to the rest of my money.
    My Saga
    Equipment Pictures

    [2CH]
    Rotel RCD-02
    Yamaha KX-W900U
    Sony ST-S500ES
    Denon DP-7F
    Parasound P/HP-850
    Parasound HCA-1000A
    Klipsch RF-35


    [In Storage]
    Yamaha CDR-HD1300
    ASL Wave 20 monoblocks
    Pro-Ject Phono Box MKII


    [Car System]
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  6. #6

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    Default Here U Go

    When I did the review the PF-800 was inside the audio cabinet and I didn't want to take it out to photograph it. I have since moved the PF-800 (and my CD player) to the top of the audio cabinet.

    There was a PF-1000 with a "buy it now" price of $500 on eBay a couple of weeks ago. I thought about getting it just to have in my collection, but I really do not like the wood finish and silver combination. Performance-wise, it is virtually identical to the PF-800.
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    Last edited by DarqueKnight; 08-31-2006 at 01:22 PM.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by audiobliss
    That is surprising, at least to me, that the MF tt can't beat the Yamaha.
    Yeah, big surprise to me too.

    Quote Originally Posted by audiobliss
    The discrepancy between the Yamaha's resale value in the states and across the waters is interesting, too.
    Maybe they know something we don't? The PF-800 and PF-1000 were only manufactured for one year (1986) and only available commercially in the US from 1986-1987. This was the beginning of the new CD craze and Yamaha decided to move in the digital playback direction. I have read unconfirmed reports on various audio boards that the PF-800 and PF-1000 were sold below Yamaha's cost and they were just trying to see if they could "buy" some market share in the high end turntable market. If they had been successful, of course the prices would have gone up considerably.

    Quote Originally Posted by audiobliss
    I don't guess a Yamaha TT-300U could hold a candle to your PF-800.
    I don't know. I'm not familiar with the TT-300U.

  8. #8

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    Haha, wow, that's one beast of a turntable. From looking at the picture I can easily answer my own question; the TT-300U should be ashamed just being in the same family as the PF-800!!

    Thanks for the pics!
    Quote Originally Posted by George Grand View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jstas View Post
    Simple question. If you had a cool million bucks, what would you do with it?
    Wonder WTF happened to the rest of my money.
    My Saga
    Equipment Pictures

    [2CH]
    Rotel RCD-02
    Yamaha KX-W900U
    Sony ST-S500ES
    Denon DP-7F
    Parasound P/HP-850
    Parasound HCA-1000A
    Klipsch RF-35


    [In Storage]
    Yamaha CDR-HD1300
    ASL Wave 20 monoblocks
    Pro-Ject Phono Box MKII


    [Car System]
    Pioneer Premier DEH-P860MP
    Memphis 16-MCA3004
    Boston Acoustic RC520

  9. #9

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    Just goes to show you, the best turntables from 20-30 years ago are still strong contenders and a great value on the used market.

    I'm quite happy with my Oracle Alexandria (Its about drinking age right now). I paid $225 for it and have it mated to a modest Shure M97xE and the phono stage in my Sony F333ESL (probably similar to the stage on DK's E90ES). I'll be even happier when I finish replacing the tonearm (with a 25 year old SME Series III). The stock tonearm is the weak link.

    I was very near buying a PF-800 or PF-1000 at several points before I came across the deal on the Alex. Its a very good table, and would be a world beater if it had the ability to accept 3rd party tonearms.
    Last edited by billbillw; 08-31-2006 at 02:10 PM.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by audiobliss
    Haha, wow, that's one beast of a turntable. From looking at the picture I can easily answer my own question; the TT-300U should be ashamed just being in the same family as the PF-800!!

    Thanks for the pics!
    Those pics are of the freshly humiliated MMF-9.

  11. #11

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    Check out the pics he attached just a few posts up. They're of his PF-800.
    Quote Originally Posted by George Grand View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jstas View Post
    Simple question. If you had a cool million bucks, what would you do with it?
    Wonder WTF happened to the rest of my money.
    My Saga
    Equipment Pictures

    [2CH]
    Rotel RCD-02
    Yamaha KX-W900U
    Sony ST-S500ES
    Denon DP-7F
    Parasound P/HP-850
    Parasound HCA-1000A
    Klipsch RF-35


    [In Storage]
    Yamaha CDR-HD1300
    ASL Wave 20 monoblocks
    Pro-Ject Phono Box MKII


    [Car System]
    Pioneer Premier DEH-P860MP
    Memphis 16-MCA3004
    Boston Acoustic RC520

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by audiobliss
    Check out the pics he attached just a few posts up. They're of his PF-800.
    Doh, I guess he added those while I was composing my messages. Sorry.

  13. #13

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    I owned a PF-800 in 1986, bought it new at the audio/photo club in Germany---WONDERFUL turntable. I think I paid about $525 for it. I think my 'ex' still has it. I also had the Yamaha PX-3 linear tracking TT, it was rock solid as well.
    Last edited by steveinaz; 08-31-2006 at 03:19 PM.

    Source: Squeezebox Touch/CIA Power Supply
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    Speakers: Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 Monitor
    Subwoofer: SVS PB12-NSD

  14. #14

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    Vinyl IS GOOD
    HECK I STILL HAVE MY OLD BEATA VCR
    BETTER THAN HI-FI
    BUT TODAY?

  15. #15
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    As usual Raife excellent research and reporting. I'm still a CDs SUCKS guy.

    Quote Originally Posted by DarqueKnight
    3. “Breezin”, George Benson, 1976 Audiophile Original Master Recording by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab under license from Warner Brothers Records. This is the landmark album that put George on the map. To call this record stereophonic would be an insult. Holographic is a more appropriate description. George sounds like he’s directly in front of you. His vocals come from a space directly above where his guitar sounds are emanating from. I could hear sound reflecting off the rear wall of the recording space.

    I have an MFSL copy of Breezin that has never been opened or played. I always played the run of the mill version of Breezin which was really damned good for a massed produced lp.

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    for Yamaha tt: PF-800 & YP-800, can anyone tell me which is better?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Atheis View Post
    for Yamaha tt: PF-800 & YP-800, can anyone tell me which is better?
    id say the PF800 is the better of the two...
    http://www.thevintageknob.org/YAMAHA/PF1000/PF1000.html

    http://www.thevintageknob.org/YAMAHA/YP700/YP700.html

  18. #18

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    this is a nice writeup...

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