Music Hall Stealth Turntable | REVIEW

music hall stealth

The Music Hall Stealth direct-drive turntable, which includes the Ortofon 2M Blue MM cartridge and carries a price tag of just $1,695, won the PTA Best Value Award for 2023 just a couple of months ago. If you’re one of those readers who skip right to the conclusion of each review, in other words, there should be no big surprises at the end of this one. I didn’t nominate the Stealth for 2023 Best Value because of its MSRP, however, but because no other product surprised me more over the last year–or maybe even two.

The very same week we awarded the Music Hall Stealth with one of our top annual honors, we received the news that Roy Hall of Music Hall sold his company to Turntable USA, which will sell products through MoFi Distribution. I’m not sure how I feel about that–I’ll miss Roy Hall’s unique and historic position in high-end audio, but I really like the guys at MoFi and their associates and the brands they carry. The Music Hall Stealth, in other words, might be Roy Hall’s finest accomplishment even though there are other models in the line, mostly belt-drive, that have higher MSRPs. The words that immediately come to mind are “swan song,” but who knows what Roy Hall will do in the future?

Words and Photos by Marc Phillips

There’s a good story behind my review of the Stealth. At last year’s Reviewing the Reviewers seminar at AXPONA 2023–I sat on the 2022 panel the year before–PTA publisher Scot Hull stepped on stage and moderated the event with yours truly sitting in the audience and taking photographs. During the Q&A portion at the end of the seminar, Scot fielded a question from none other than Roy Hall about the relationship between reviewers and manufacturers. This, by the way, was a mere day before I came face to face with the new Music Hall Stealth direct-drive turntable in one of the exhibit rooms at the show.

“If they don’t like one of my products,” Roy stated, “to hell with them. If they like it…to hell with them, too.” Roy’s point, of course, was that reviews–both good and bad–don’t really affect his sales. He doesn’t need reviews. Music Hall has a very strong following, with plenty of sales generated by word-of-mouth and brand loyalty.

The very next day, as I mentioned, I visited the Amped/Acoustique Quality rooms, usually one of my favorites at a high-end audio show. Roy Hall supplied the analog source in the room, the Music Hall Stealth, and I sat and had a listen. It’s a simple, dark beauty of a turntable, well-finished and solid, and it didn’t take long for me to realize this was an awesome and attainable turntable that was also capable of a very refined, composed sound.

After he plied me with some single malt–a sign in this industry that you’ve finally made it–Roy asked me if I wanted to review it. My first instinct was to say yes, of course, but then I hesitated when I remembered what he said just the day before. “To hell with me?” I asked. Roy quickly smiled, one of those “oh so you heard that?” smiles.

music hall stealth

Inside the Music Hall Stealth

The Music Hall Stealth is a direct-drive turntable that has excellent build quality, and it looks/feels far more substantial than most record spinners at its affordable price point. It’s very easy to set up, and it has so many thoughtful features that I have to assume Roy Hall targeted the Technics SL-1200G at some point during R&D.

The Technics, of course, costs more than twice as much as the Stealth. It doesn’t include a quality cartridge such as the Ortofon included, either. Since I don’t have a 1200G around for direct comparisons anymore, it’s more of a gut feeling. (Newer, less expensive direct-drive ‘tables from Technics are probably more suited for the ol’ A/B comparisons.) But the longer I used the Music Hall Stealth, which is another review product that I kept around for way too long because I had so much fun with it, the more I realized that the same things I loved about the 1200G were the same things I now love about the Stealth.

First let’s look at some of those features. The Music Hall Stealth has plenty of the features found in many inexpensive DD ‘tables, which are usually intended for non-audiophile folks who are still flabbergasted when they operate a completely manual turntable for the first time.

Ease of set-up–I’ll get to this in a bit, but the Music Hall Stealth is packaged as close to plug-and-play as possible. It’s designed for people who shy away from setting up complicated record playing devices, people who love vinyl but don’t have the will to properly mount and align cartridges. You know, slackers.

Removable headshell–When I sent the 1200G back after three years of trouble-free performance, precision design and stellar sound quality, my biggest regret was no longer having a removable headshell. During my time with the 1200G, I actually kept a couple of headshells from DS Audio and Acoustical Systems. When was I going to use those again? The Stealth had the answer.

Auto-stop–I’m not one of those analog lovers who always forgets that a record is playing and forgets to lift the stylus off the dead wax, but the auto-stop was more useful than I originally thought. Within the first two weeks of testing the Music Hall Stealth, I had forgotten to lift the stylus at the end of the LP at least a couple of times. When I raced back to the ‘table, the platter had been stopped. There is a switch on the back to disable the auto-stop for you purists, but I left it on. Evidently I need it.

33, 45 and 78–I haven’t used a turntable that can accommodate 78 rpm records in a very long time. I don’t really listen to 78 rpm records, although I think there may be a few in my record collection. The simple truth is I’d probably listen to 78s more if I had a record player that played at that speed. So along with a nice 78-friendly cartridge, the Music Hall Stealth might make an ideal dedicated rig.

The soul of the Music Hall Stealth is its brushless, low-torque motor, which I believe is the key to a direct-drive sound that can be just as satisfying as the sound from most belt-drive ‘tables. The S-shaped tonearm is static balanced, and VTA can be performed on the fly. The platter is made from aluminum, but it’s relatively heavy at four pounds.

All in all, the Music Hall Stealth isn’t a particularly innovative or novel turntable. But it’s well-built, attractive, easy to use and set up, and the value is so extraordinary that it makes me giddy. Now let’s find out how it sounds.

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As I mentioned, the Music Hall Stealth turntable package quickly revealed itself to be the easiest turntable I’ve ever set up. The Ortofon 2M Blue was already mounted to the removable headshell, and once I installed it and checked the alignment, it was perfect and required no further adjustments from me. I just had to set the tracking force–1.8 grams is recommended–and match the anti-skating to the same setting. Music Hall even includes a digital tracking force gauge! Since the Stealth comes pretty much assembled, I was listening to music in less than a few minutes after opening the box.

I did find an extra part, a small metal bauble with a tiny threaded insert on one side. I scanned the entire turntable, guessing where it might fit, and then I figured it out–the thing-a-ma-bob screws into the back of the counterweight to accommodate heavier cartridges. The Ortofon is a very light cartridge to begin with, and my reference cartridge, the ZYX Ultimate Airy D, is also extremely light. The counterweight addition was left in its little bag and gently packed away. But it’s still cool to know that you won’t be stymied by strange, esoteric cartridges for the Music Hall Stealth. You have options.

zyx bloom 3

Since I’ve had the Music Hall Stealth in constant use over the last few months, I’ve placed it into a number of system configurations. Early on I used the Stealth in a basic and affordable system that included the Naim NAIT 50 integrated amplifier and the Falcon Acoustics M10 monitors. For around $7K including cables, I had a refined and engaging system that far surpassed any of the systems I had back in the years when I was more of a journeyman. After that, the Music Hall Stealth occupied the top shelf of my Fern & Roby equipment rack while the gear around it continually changed, expensive high-end audio gear that looked over at the Stealth and wondered, “Are you lost, little fella? Did your mom forget to pick you up?”

The Stealth obviously proved its worth, in true Hollywood fashion, and ultimately earned the respect of all that other gear–including the $9,900 Allnic Audio H-6500 phono stage, which escorted the Music Hall through my very busy social calendar most of the time it was here. Not once did I think I needed something more ambitious to carry on with my work.

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The Music Hall Stealth Sound

There were times when I thought that the Music Hall Stealth was another fine audio component that liked to stay out of the way of the music, which makes it tough to review, but I do think there’s a “direct-drive sound” that I’ve learned to recognize over the years. In the old days, I thought direct-drive turntables could sound dark and lifeless, with a slightly truncated soundstage, especially when compared to a lively and energetic deck like the Rega P3. Yes, the pitch stability was always superb and bass performance strong and solid, but turntables such as the original Technics SL-1200 always disappointed me sound-wise. When the Technics SL-1200G came along, most of those sonic shortcomings were eliminated. I did feel like the 1200G still hinted at a dark and closed sound, but the good far outweighed the bad.

When I first started listening to the Music Hall Stealth, it reminded me a little of the 1200G–but there was none of that residual direct-drive baggage. The Stealth sounded clear and direct (no pun intended), with a confidence I usually hear in big, high-mass turntables. I realized, over time, that the Music Hall Stealth took its role as a turntable very seriously–its platter moved at a very precise speed, and vibrations and noise from the motor never made it to the end of the stylus. (That’s all a modern, high-performance turntable needs to do.)

In other words, the Stealth reminded me of the true purpose of a turntable–it’s a platform that needs to be stable and quiet and exacting in order to excel, and that’s pretty much it. The flavor of an analog rig should be supplied by the phono cartridge first, and then maybe the phono preamplifier. The tonearm is important because it needs to preserve the signal from the cartridge without adding anything, and it needs to supply the geometry to make the whole thing work like it should. But the turntable? Its duty is very basic, but it sets the standard for everything else in the chain.

That’s when I realized I needed to take the Music Hall Stealth on a musical journey, one that uncovered its hidden strengths as a well-designed piece of machinery. I have a somewhat flexible policy of reviewing gear as it’s delivered without performing tweaks and mods. The Stealth was different, and I’ll explain why.

music hall stealth

More Fun with the Music Hall Stealth

It didn’t take me long to realize the Music Hall Stealth turntable was a bit of a miracle, a great-sounding direct-drive ‘table for a crazy-low price, and I immediately started thinking about souping it up with the plethora of turntable admonishments I’ve come to enjoy. I’m talking about the Les Davis Audio LP Mat replacing the stock rubber mat, various isolation footers from Fern and Roby and Les Davis, the AudioQuest GroundGoody Jupiter grounding wire, a pair of Van den Hul phono cables that have been waiting patiently for the right time to re-appear, and that DS Audio headshell.

Once I swapped out the headshell, I immediately wondered how far the Music Hall Stealth would take me with the ZYX Ultimate Airy, but then I remembered the time I put a Koetsu Black Goldline on a Rega P25 and everyone thought I was nuts until they sat down and listened. I dialed that idea back once I remembered that I also have a ZYX Bloom 3 cartridge, which seems a more likely choice for the Stealth at just $1,200. I started with the Bloom 3 and swapped for the Airy down the road.

The new, hot-rodded Music Hall Stealth was a joy to use. Since the Stealth’s nature is similar to that man behind the curtain, pulling all the levers while remaining largely hidden, that I was able to clearly tell the differences in sound whenever I made a change. I love the Ortofon 2M Blue, but I also love ZYX, Koetsu and other esoteric MC cartridges. By rotating the ZYX Bloom 3 and the Ultimate Airy D, I determined that while these two cartridges have a lot in common, the Airy is much better at inner detail and bass response. I’ve done this comparison with far more expensive turntables, and I was impressed that this Music Hall produced results that were just as consistent.

the test bench

The Stealth also made a clear case for the effectiveness of the Les Davis Audio LP mat. The LDA mat, through its constrained-layer damping material, usually allows the sound to be noticeably fuller and richer and even a little louder because it’s lowering the noise floor. With the Music Hall, this improvement was so obvious from the first few moments of any track that it prompted a double-take once or twice.

Finally, I subjected the Music Hall Stealth turntable to one more chore. I’ve been using the Hagerman Audio Labs Piccolo MC head amp and the Bob’s Devices SKY-20 step-up transformer so I can get more flexibility with the inboard MM phono stage of the Naim NAIT 50. I’ll go into more detail when those reviews are completed, but the lack of editorializing from the Stealth made it the perfect tool for discovering the advantages and disadvantages of each product.

ortofon 2m blue

Listening Sessions

I had someone just criticize me for a review where I didn’t try out every possible music genre–especially metal. But that’s the difficulty with evaluating gear for a longer period of time. I listened to so many LPs over the last few months with the Music Hall Stealth. You want a long list? Read some of my Vinyl Anachronist music reviews over the last few months–almost every single one was conducted with the Stealth.

Let’s start off with Felicia Nielsen’s Mors Dag, which features an old, beat up piano from 1904 that has been prepared. The album juxtaposes melodic instrumentals that bring out the gorgeous imperfections in the instrument with experimental, drone-like pieces that build noisily until you are completely consumed and hypnotized. Direct drive turntables are noted for their ability to produce sustained piano notes without audible fluctuations in speed, so it makes sense that the Music Hall Stealth performed so well with this LP. But the Music Hall Stealth, in its stock form, pulled me in and made me lose track of the time. That’s a very good thing.

On Line of Thought from the Benjamin Gisli Trio, the Stealth’s superb sense of timing and coherence allowed these somewhat languid and patient compositions to maintain perfect sense from beginning to end. This is a jazz piano album that occasionally breaks free from the confines of jazz as it dives further into poignancy, and every moment of silence is incredibly rich with meaning. I started thinking of high-output moving magnet cartridge such as the Ortofon 2M Blue, along with direct-drive turntables, and how many audiophiles (including me) felt that this combination led to “accentuated surface noise.” The rich, black silences I heard on this album reminded me, once again, of how wrong I was when I disrespected direct-drive so many years ago.

Does this mean we should we just trade in our fancy-pants analog rigs for a Music Hall Stealth? Take the money we save and go hog-wild at the local record stores? Roy Hall would probably ask, “Why not?” But there are obvious differences between the Stealth and the finest turntables out there, usually in the size of the overall musical presentation. Big, high-mass turntables usually throw out a huge, nearly infinite soundstage. Quality belt-drive turntables can recreate a sense of energy that makes everything sound so real through the midrange. A low-output moving coil cartridge does make surface noise less of a nuisance because it isolates and relegates it into a smaller piece of the whole.

The Stealth isn’t a miracle, but it is an extraordinary turntable for this kind of money. And yes, curious audiophiles can mod it into something that might just be a miracle. I’ve discussed the importance of a “workhorse” turntable in the past, the one you depend on, and this Music Hall Stealth qualifies with ease.

music hall stealth

Music Hall Stealth Conclusions

To hell with me…I really loved the Music Hall Stealth turntable. The longer I used it, the more I realized how much it shared with that Technics SL-1200G I used for more than three years. This is a workhorse ‘table at less than half the price of the Technics, it sounds fantastic, it’s amenable to tweaks and other improvements, and it has a genuine, high-end turntable sound.

Not every Music Hall Stealth owner will take this analog rig as far as I did, but that’s part of the genius of including the Ortofon 2M Blue–you can simply move up the 2M line when your replace the stylus. At the same time, the Ortofon 2M Blue is a bit of a miracle itself–the only sub-$300 MM cartridge I regularly recommend to vinyl newbies.

Is the Music Hall Stealth a great analog rig for vinyl newbies? No doubt! There are many turntables in the $300-$600 range that offer fine performance–Music Hall makes a few of those, too–but if you’re an experienced audiophile who wants to add vinyl to the mix and you still want the kind of sound quality that will satisfy you, you can have it all for just $1,695. The Stealth is a mature turntable design from someone who has spent many years releasing bang-for-the-buck analog products that appeal to so many people, and it’s clearly evident that Roy Hall wants his clients to enjoy that same great vinyl sound without all the usual bother.

My unsolicited advice to Turntable USA is to keep the Music Hall Stealth in the line-up as long as possible, with absolutely no changes. Highly recommended.

pta reviewers choicebest value winner 2023

marc phillips system

analog testing lab part-time audiophile

music hall stealth

music hall stealth

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