We interviewed Music Hall’s Roy Hall during an event held by Convoy International. Well, we call it an interview — it’s more a case of starting the recorder and sitting back...
Music Hall’s Roy Hall reveals where he gets his ideas. “I just steal”, he says, “but I give credit...”
SOUND+IMAGE: So what’s happening with Music Hall, what have you brought here today?
ROY HALL: What we’ve brought here is our latest range of turntables, which is the .3 series. The series before was the .2 series — we come up with these fantastic names, you know.
And basically we took the original series and upgraded them, by changing to DC motors instead of AC motors, we put better cartridges on, where possible we put a better arm on — we’ve moved up to carbon fibre in nearly all our range now, except for our entrylevel turntables. Some have solid arms where it’s one piece to the headshell; one or two models have carbon then aluminium, as you call it — I now call it aluminum, the American way. I’m fluent in American now — I can translate simultaneously between the two…
S+I: There’s a Pro-Ject connection with your turntables, through Heinz Lichtnegger? RH: Heinz makes them for me, yes. In fact we are Pro-Ject done right, that’s what we do. We still have one, the entry-level .3, which is similar to the Debut Carbon, for instance, but we do it better. They only have two bearings on the arm, we have four on the assembly; they have an inexpensive Ortofon cartridge on that package, we put a very good-sounding Music Hall cartridge made by Audio-Technica. So if you compare ours to Pro-Ject’s it’s a bit more expensive, but sonically it’s more fun, much more musical.
S+I: How did that connection come about? RH: So I met Heinz 15-20 years ago, at CES in Las Vegas, and we just hit it off, you know how sometimes you do. And I told him I used to import Revolver turntables and at some point he said how would you like me to build a turntable for you? And I said I’d love you to, but you already have Sumiko, the big distributor in America. And he said ‘Yeh but they’re doing a lousy job and I want to fuck with them…’ And the minute he said that, I said let’s do it!
So we did the turntable and it was very successful. And it did exactly what he wanted, because Sumiko got really pissed off when the Music Hall arrived — their prices were all wrong — and once I started selling they tried to cut me off. But it had the desired effect — they started looking at the turntables as an asset and they started promoting Pro-Ject much better. We’ve been competitors ever since — though obviously they’re a much more powerful company.
S+I: And who do you see as your customer? RH: We have two customers. One of them is young kids who come along, and we have a lot of middle-age to older people who are buying a good turntable. And they come to us because we’ve been around a long time and have a fairly good reputation, and we give good customer
service, which is important. In our manuals we actually encourage people if they need help to call us, and we’ll pick up the phone and we’ll spend 10 or 15 minutes with the customer helping them set up the arm or whatever. Because if you don’t do that they just put it all back in the box, and you get back a box of garbage… there’s nothing more useless than an incorrectly packed turntable. All you can do is take off the counterweight and anything removable and throw the rest away.
So then going up the range it’s a simple good-better-best story. Pro-Ject, who I love, have four million turntables, 17 different colours, 27 shapes... and they’re all pretty much the same, you know, They even have a vertical one, one of the more stupid things I’ve ever seen, but as an engineering exercise it’s fine...
S+I: Tell us about the multiple plinth layers as you go up the range.
RH: OK so you have to understand, I design the turntables, but in reality I’m a plagiarist, there’s not a single original thought in any of my projects, I just steal. But I give credit! — I don’t say it’s mine. So I used to import the Revolver turntable 30 years ago. And they had two platforms with rubber strips between them, and some bullshit story that the strips were at an angle and it stopped vibration — it was a good story but it was rubbish. But when I went to the Pro-Ject factory I had in mind the idea of two platforms, and rubber springs between them — I knew the strips were bullshit but I thought if we can use these to isolate between the platforms, let’s see what happens. And the night before the main meeting I met with a guy called Mr. Krotil, the production manager, he’d been in the factory forever. And I brought my bottle of Macallan 18-year-old whisky, you know I always have a bottle of whisky, and I said this is one of my favourite whiskies, I want to thank you for the table, please enjoy this whiskey. And he said do you like slivovitz? — this is plum brandy, you get it in Eastern Europe. I was like ‘yeees, maybe…’ and he was ‘No this is homemade slivovitz, it’s very good’. So I think nice, he’s going to give me a bottle of slivovitz. The next morning we’re in the meeting, I meet the head engineer, and the boss of the company, and we sit down and he brings out this bottle of slivovitz there and then — it’s like 8 o’clock in the morning — and we all have a glass to welcome me to the factory. Someone else stood up, another toast, another shot. This stuff is 100 proof... we had three or four shots and I am drunk as can be, there’s a lovely expression in Glasgow, ‘paralytic’, I was paralytic, I couldn’t move. And then someone said ‘OK let’s design the new turntable!’ And that’s how we designed the MMF 5. True story.
So we’ve used that idea, plagiarised as I said from Revolver, for isolation between the platforms, all the way up — two, three, four platforms. I’m not going to do five. And what we’ve done, on the entry level we used rubber springs, and we graduate up to sorbothane, which is a much better viscoelastic rubber material. It’s made only in Ohio. S+I: You say springs, are they actually springs? RH: No they’re hemispheres, just a sticky halfa-ball, but it flattens down and it has the most amazing effect on sound, it dampens vibrations and isolates, a very simple and effective way, so good that we’ve used it ever since. The only problem is it’s very heavy, very dense rubber, and I have to buy 5000 hemispheres at a time, and then ship them over to the Czech Republic. It’s so heavy it costs me a fortune. But it’s worth it.
S+I: Finally a piece of music, is there something you can recommend to our readers, old or new? RH: New music? I’m 71 years old, I only know old music.
S+I: Well, tell us some old music we might not know then!…
RH: Listen to early Joni Mitchell, some of it’s fabulous. Listen to early Leonard Cohen. We saw Leonard Cohen in concert a few years ago just before he died, he was just wonderful.
More info: musichallaudio.com.au
“I design the turntables, but in reality I’m a plagiarist, there’s not a single original thought in any of my projects, I just steal. But I give credit!”