Sound & Vision magazine's Michael Trei recently tested three turntables: the Rega Research P1 ($395), Music Hall mmf 2.2 ($449), and Technics SL-1200MK2 ($699). And guess what: the most expensive turntable wasn't the best-sounding one!
Mike's an old friend and a major turntable guru in his own right. His knowledge of all things analog runs deep, and he regularly sets up finicky high-end turntables for the rich and famous, including the president of a major record company, here in NYC. Mike set up the VPI Classic turntable I bought last year.
The three turntables covered in his report, the Rega, Music Hall, and Technics are all excellent, but I was more interested in the belt vs. direct-drive aspect of the reviews. The Technics is a long standing DJ favorite, for its powerful, direct-drive motor, which is a big plus when you're back cueing and scratching records. Direct-drive 'tables never wowed the high-end crowd, they favor belt-drive turntables. The appeal is mostly based on the fact that the belt "decouples" the motor from the platter. So whatever noise and vibration the motor makes as it spins aren't directly transmitted to the platter, and therefore to the record. No wonder the vast majority of turntables sold to audiophiles are belt-drive designs.
Mike may be a hard-core audiophile, but he's not closed-minded about direct-drive turntables, and in fact owns a Technics direct-drive turntable (and many belt-drives as well).
But that didn't stop him from preferring the two belt-drive turntables over the Technics, "While the Rega proved to be the pitch-stability king, I also found that the Music Hall's transparent reproduction gave the clearest insight into the piano's tone, as well as the space that the recording was made in." It's been years since I heard a direct-drive turntable, but I remember finding their sound to be more homogenized and boring, compared to a good quality belt-drive turntable.
Mike summed up the three 'tables this way, "The Rega P1 is a clear and fast-sounding machine that serves the music to you straight without waffling. The Music Hall mmf 2.2, on the other hand, displays many of the same attributes as the Rega, but adds a bit more warmth and subtlety to the mix. Technics' bold-sounding SL-1200MK2 is built to last a lifetime of nightclub abuse, and while it can still perform well in a domestic environment, I found that its simpler belt-drive competitors were able to extract just a little extra musical enjoyment from those grooves."
So there you have it: the Rega P1 may be the cheapest of the lot, but in some ways it's the best-sounding one.