Music Hall Stealth record player Page 2

The Stealth comes stock with Ortofon's 2M Blue moving magnet phono cartridge, which, according to my Feickert protractor, was set to a Stevenson alignment. The Blue features a Hopelex body and a well-designed, safe-to-use stylus protector. Its magnets are attached to an aluminum cantilever tipped with a nude elliptical diamond. It weighs 7.2gm and produces 5.5mV output. The recommended vertical tracking force is 1.6–2.0gm.

From left to right on the Stealth's rear are twin RCA connectors that are directly connected to the tonearm's wires, a ground terminal, a slider switch for turning the auto-stop feature on or off, a larger On/Off button, and a receptacle for the wall wart power supply.

Before starting my auditions, I checked the Stealth's speed accuracy with the RPM app on my iPhone. It clocked a steady 33.36rpm (+0.09%). (See fig.1.)


Black and Blue listening
For the whole of this month's all-analog review period, I decided to power my Falcon Gold Badge LS3/5a speakers with Parasound's Halo A 21+ stereo amplifier and use the uber-clear HoloAudio Serene preamp. I chose that combo, and my reference Tavish Design Adagio tube phono stage, because I felt it gave the black Stealth and blue Ortofon their best chance of sounding clear and vigorous.

I played lots of records during my first week with the Stealth, to break in the cartridge and wash some of last month's digital out of my brain. I listened a lot from adjoining rooms as I cooked, washed dishes, and painted paintings. Under these conditions, what I noticed most was the Stealth and 2M Blue's high level of tone correctness.


This high level of tone correctness was most obvious playing Prince's Piano & a Microphone 1983 (Warner LP R1 566557/603497861286), a recording that someone on an audio forum warned people not to buy because, according to him, it sounded "bright" and "poorly recorded ... like something the Prince Estate issued just to make money." Naturally, I rushed out and bought it. The fact that this recording was made by Prince himself, in his own home studio, made it irresistible. Not to mention, it was mastered by the master: Bernie Grundman.

With inferior component groupings, this recording flashes moments of compressed-sounding bite-n-glare. The first time I heard it, I thought Prince's recorder was overloading on peaks. The Stealth and Blue cartridge combo did not show any of that. They played it quietly and smoothly while pushing songs like "Cold Coffee and Cocaine" and "Why the Butterflies" along like a medium-sized wave propelling a surfer.

The stock Stealth played about as pitch-perfect and tone-true as any record-playing system I've used. What the Blue didn't do was pump the music up or present sounds with invigorating force. Overall, the 2M Blue is more passive than propulsive-sounding. In my system, its best trait was how it emphasized fine textures and the atmospheric aspects of recordings. For example ...


Marlene Dietrich at the Café de Paris (Columbia LP ML 4975) is far from an audiophile recording, but its humanity and artistry and historical context make it a disc I play often.

On Ms. Dietrich's first night, Noel Coward introduces her with a poem he had written for the occasion. Ernest Hemingway contributed to the album's liner notes. This is a live-in-London, 1954 recording, and at the bottom of the back cover it states, "The excitement and charm of the Dietrich voice and the reaction of her audience is faithfully captured on this recording. The recording and these notes are designed to give you the illusion you are part of the audience present on this memorable occasion. In order to make this impression complete, we have tried to recreate the picture in front of your eyes."

The Stealth-Blue combo did what those Columbia scribes said the disc should do: present Marlene Dietrich at the Café de Paris as a room of a certain size full of audience noises and smoky-nightclub atmosphere. Most importantly, it transmitted the tone of voice, emotional intensity, and inspiring temperament of this extraordinary 20th century woman.


Black on black
Next, I decided to make the Stealth 'table look more stealthy by installing a black Ortofon 2M Black moving magnet cartridge that Amazon sells for $695, on an LP Gear (Jelco-type) headshell that Amazon sells for $89.98. I set the more expensive Ortofon for a Stevenson alignment at 1.8gm VTF. I played "Raga Malika" off Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Kahn's Ragas (Fantasy Records LP F24714-2), smiled, chuckled, and thought, There it is. It took only seconds for me to realize that the 2M Blue is only a starter-kit place keeper until users move up and "go black"; only then can they really hear what the Stealth is capable of. This Ali Akbar Kahn recording (and every other recording) sounded stronger, denser, more dynamic, clearer, and more intense than it did with the 2M Blue.

More black: With the black turntable wearing Ortofon's Black cartridge playing the Man in Black, Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar (Sun LP-1220), my brain screamed: "Hell yes! That's what this record is supposed to sound like." Tone quality, and the illusion of force and forward momentum, were enhanced to a degree that made me think I could live happily forever with this setup. Each record I played made me chuckle more, wondering, is this the biggest, fullest, and most hormone-fueled robust that the 2M Black has ever sounded? I decided it was, in my system.

On the Feickert Blackbird with Thomas Schick's 10.5" arm, the 2M Black sounds restrained. On the Stealth, it danced, sang, and smiled a naughty smile, like Tina Turner. A highly recommendable combo.

Still more black
Keeping the Black Ortofon in, I switched out the Tavish Design Adagio tubed phono pre and installed Kitsuné HiFi's solid state LCR-1 MK5 phono preamplifier, which instantly kicked up the bass detail and clarified the 80–200Hz region. The beat got stronger. Tina kicked higher. Reverberant energy became more intense. Forward momentum became more pronounced. The Kitsuné phono stage specializes in iron-hulled density and allegro vivo; both traits kicked up the pleasure factor with the Stealth–2M Black combo.

What about low-compliance moving coils?
Once, on an audio forum, someone declared, "The Denon DL-103 is the most overrated cartridge ever." Maybe no one told him that this "overrated," almost-free moving coil has been in production since 1962. Certainly no one told him—though he may not have cared—that I've enjoyed a platoon of DL-103s over 40 years, at one point using it with spectacular results on a Denon DP-3000 direct-drive turntable with a Denon step-up transformer.

The plastic-bodied 103 weighs 8.5gm and costs $349. It's designed to track at 2.4–2.8gm, with an output of 0.3mV, a 40 ohm output impedance, and a low (5 × 106 cm/dyne) dynamic compliance.

The DL-103 remains one of the most flat-out enjoyable-to-use cartridges I know. Its 0.2mm spherical stylus and hollow aluminum cantilever bring vibrancy and spirited dynamics to every type of recording, but the 103 famously specializes in jazz, country, uptempo rock, R&B, and blues.

I installed the Denon because for the sake of this report, I wanted to see how effectively the Stealth's tonearm would perform with a low-compliance moving coil. To that end, I tested the plastic-bodied Denon using a Hi-Fi News Test Record to check the resonant frequency of the Stealth arm + Denon cartridge pairing.

The combo resonated at exactly 11Hz; 8–15Hz is considered ideal. Later, after adding the Stealth's 10gm auxiliary subweight to the back of the tonearm, I performed the same test with my 15gm, aluminum-bodied Zu Audio Denon Zu/DL-103 Mk.II, and it also resonated at 11Hz. Either cartridge—the basic DL-103 or the much heavier modified Zu version—will work fine on the Stealth.

It's an old story, but every time I install a conical-tipped Denon DL-103, I start digging through my boxes of 1960s 7" 45s. I collect 45s because on 7" discs, the music I grew up with sounds like it did coming out of jukeboxes and the dashboards of my cars. Back then, Denon DL-103s were common at radio stations, so to me, if a modern record player is good, I will hear some of that '60s sound I remember.

It cheered me to discover that when the DL-103–equipped Stealth played 45s, they sounded solidly present and vigorous, not emasculated as 7" 45s usually do when played on audiophile decks. The Stealth's stock rubber mat did not grip my big-hole discs in a reassuring manner, but that didn't stop the Stealth from playing my Chess, Stax, and Atlantic releases with plenty of jukebox energy and dance-party mojo. The Stealth-Denon combo played my 45s more enjoyably than the Feickert Blackbird or my Linn LP12 Valhalla.

One record the Stealth played more engagingly than the Linn or Feickert was of a 1965 radio hit called "Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?" by the Barbarians (Laurie LR 3308). The Barbarians were an American band that ironically emulated British invasion bands while mocking the British invasion with lyrics like "You're either a girl, or you come from Liverpool." This Doug Morris–produced disc usually struggles to come completely clear and alive, even with the Koetsu on the Blackbird, but the Stealth-Denon combo sorted it out and presented it with an appropriate dose of weird charm.


The Stealth–DL-103 setup performed equally well with 33 1/3rpm jazz, vocal, and classical discs. Frank Sinatra's Only the Lonely (Capitol LP SW 1053) came through with exemplary tone and a healthy portion of that burnished Capital Records sound.

What about 78s?
Music Hall's Stealth can play 78rpm records. My Linn LP12 can't do that. Neither can most of Music Hall's other turntables.

Folks, I entreat you: if you've never tried collecting and playing 78s, you can have no idea how beautiful, exotic, and high-fidelity the experience can be. Especially when the discs feature rare performances from ancient gods like Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Roy Acuff, Judy Garland, Charlie Patton, or Édith Piaf.

My long-term go-to cartridge for playing 78s is the Grado Labs 78E mono ($160). It's another one of those cartridges, like the DL-103, that puts the music part of the recording up front.

The Stealth's firm rubber mat seemed ideally suited to heavy shellacs. The Stealth's all-over matte-blackness served to frame the beauty of those gold- and silver-lettered old 78 labels. The 78E's 0.3mm conical stylus (tracking at 3gm) played noisy discs quietly, endowing every one with quick, sure flow and a full measure of dynamic subtlety. If you want to try 78s, this Stealth–Grado combo is a good place to start.

B&H Photo Video will sell you two Pioneer PLX-1000s for $1478 (footnote 1). I am sure many readers are wondering whether Music Hall's $1649 (for just one) Stealth is worth the extra money.


In my studio, the Pioneer PLX-1000 looks, feels, and plays like a well-built Technics 1200-style record player; it puts rhythm, drive, and musical content in the foreground.

The Stealth's sound has much in common with the Pioneer PLX-1000's. But in my system, the Music Hall deck played quieter, cleaner, and with sharper focus than the cheaper Pioneer. It drew more life and energy out of my records. I credit the Stealth's tonearm, and maybe its plinth, because every cartridge I tried seemed to come to life—to light up—sounding quicker and more stable than it did on the Pioneer. I felt more connected to the artists and their recordings when using the Stealth.

The Stealth's best trait was how conspicuously it carried the tune—just like Ivor said direct drives couldn't. I can think of no record player under $2000 that I'd rather use. Or recommend.

Footnote 1: For $1699, you can buy the direct-drive Technics SL-1200GR, which I haven't heard. The GR is a cheaper version of the $4000 SL-1200G, which I have heard, extensively, in a familiar system at a friend's house. Look for Alex Halberstadt's review in a forthcoming issue.

Music Hall LLC
108 Station Rd.
Great Neck, NY 11023
(516) 487-3663

tenorman's picture


mmole's picture

The Barbarians were famous because their drummer, Victor "Moulty" Moulton had one hand, with the other, lost in a childhood accident, replaced by a hook. Their big break came when they were included in the T.A.M.I. show (which featured the Stones and James Brown). Their song, "Moulty" was basically a monologue by their handicapped drummer about how he kept positive despite the devastating injury. It came out years later that the backing band for "Moulty" was the Hawks (the Band) minus Levon Helm.

jtshaw's picture

We returned to vinyl after a 30 year hiatus when my wife agreed that it would be a shame to waste the phono stage in the Luxman amp. I decided to look for a direct-drive turntable, hoping for a pretty much turn-key setup. It became clear quickly that the best prospects were one of the Technics or the Stealth.

Set-up was easy for the Stealth (no “hair-shirt audio” as Roy Hall commented elsewhere). It took me two tries to get the counterweight on the tonearm set properly, and a stylus gauge I had acquired helped with that. The Ortofon cartridge was pre-mounted correctly, and it was a simple plug-in to the end of the tonearm. Herb should have tried the supplied interconnect: I think it is well-constructed and tonally neutral.

The sound of the Stealth through the Luxman amp is marked by clarity with a touch of warmth. Channel separation can be startling good, and Airto Moreira’s percussion on an ECM pressing of the first Return to Forever album is riveting as the Stealth locks down the left-right image. My wife and I both enjoy the musical mind-meld between Chet Baker and Paul Bley on “Diane,” their album of duets on Steeple Chase. The first LP we played was John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” which proved an inspired choice as we start exploring vinyl again.

As always, your mileage may vary depending on your associated equipment and the sound you are trying to achieve. However, I doubt one can appreciably better the Stealth near it’s price point. Stereophile placed it with Class B in the latest Recommended Components, which strikes me as reasonable.

Jack L's picture


"Shame" or not depends on one's music requirement.

I got donated many years back now sleeping in my junk bin: Luxman L-480 integrated amp (with phonostage of course), AM/FM tuner & a tape deck, all in Luxman then typical solud walnut wood housing & in pretty mint condition.

Yes, vintage Luxman audio can be good for family music recreation use.

BUT I would never want to use its phonostage for my LPs solely for sonic reason - way toooo vintage sounding let alone it being solid state, for my tube-spoiled ears.

Listening to tube is believing

Jack L

Herb Reichert's picture

I can blame this only on geezeritus and too many blows to my head, but after the review was on the newsstands, I went to move the Stealth to the other side of the rack and realized that I had ONLY used the Music Hall supplied interconnect and its attached grounding wire.

Therefore all of my observations were made with the stock wire.

I apologize for the misstatement. .


Jack L's picture


Yup, I heard quite a few hi-end affordable audiophiles back in Technic SL-1200 era when I was young young, complaining the music played on that DD TT did not "fly" - sound compressed & slacking.

Sounds similar to Ivor T's comment: "could not carry a tune".

Listening is believing

Jack L

PS: That said, my second TT on duty is also a vintage DD (made in Japan, but not by Technics) mounted with SME black carbon-fibre S-shaped tonearm/MMC cartridge of Japanese origin. I prefer playing my belt-driven TT though.