Music Hall mmf-2.3, Thorens TD203 or Fluance RT84?

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Hello. So, here's my story in a nutshell. About seven years ago my wife (still girlfriend at the time) presented me with a Pro-Ject Essential Phono USB turntable. I had a modest collection of records at the time, mostly hip-hop and electronica coming out on independent labels, which I bought mainly to support the community, with a view of owning a turntable one day, and to listen to while visiting friends who actually had equipment to play them. For me personally, it was, and still is, the first turntable I owned. I hooked it up to some active desktop speakers, started expanding my collection with re-issues of Blue Note classics, and was pretty happy at the time. Then I started moving around: plain traveling the world first, settling in a new country, new city next. In a new city, with all the cares and worries of setting up a home, and my re-discovered passion for classical menswear I never quit got to the records, and both them and the turntable were just gathering dust in a storage room for more than five years. Up until a month or so back. I don't know if it was due to the isolation or something else, but one day a switch flipped in my head, and ever since then it's been videos of headphone amps and audiophile forums on a daily basis. So, I took the turntable out of storage, bought a used Harman/Kardon HK620 amp, ordered a pair of Klipsch RP-600Ms, and since the dealer for the speakers suddenly hit a supply block and informed me that the Klipsches would arrive by mid of June at best, I bought a pair of Polk Audio T50s just to get going (one would assume that having waited for more than five years I would take another month of waiting without a murmur, but no, as soon as the switch flipped I needed instant gratification, I needed to hear them records play). I was disappointed with the sound of first few records I played - it was noisy and sounded sort of flat if it makes any sense. I bought deep cleaning stuffs, cleaned the records, re-positioned the amp and turntable to avoid potential interference, re-checked the turntable grounding, put the hockey pucks under it to ward off potential vibration, levelled it, changed the matt to acryl, re-ajusted the tonearm pressure. The sound improved significantly, but the noise in the highs remained. I have also learned that there are different quality records out there, different pressings, and indeed, as I was going through my collection I noticed that some of my records sounded much better than the others, there was no lack of weight and broadness. What remained was that aforementioned popping and 'sandy' kind of noise in the highs, which is not the surface noise of the record, but something else, as it seems to correlate with what is playing. When I run digital, through the 3.5 of my MacBook (DAC is on the way), there is no such noise, the sound is clear, I am actually pretty impressed (true, I myself have been listening mostly on sub-par gear, but I am no stranger to hi-fi sound). So I suspect the problem lies somewhere in the direction of the turntable. I suspect it's either a cartridge, or a built-in phono stage. I mean, it's only to be expected from an old piece of gear which survived a number of long-haul relocations and was sitting unattended for a number of years. So, with this long preamble out of the way, I finally arrive at my question. I guess I'd like a clean slate as far as the turntable is concerned. The turntables in the subject can all be had for around 500 EUR new, the Music Hall and Thorens sometimes even for 400 EUR. The audiophile community seems to hold that this is a 'sorry ass no man's land of turntables' price range and recommends going for used Rega P3 or Music Hall mmf-5.3. I have two reservations here. First of all, I am weary of buying a used turntable. As I mentioned, I'd like a clean slate. Should I be somehow unsatisfied, I will not be able to shake the feeling that it may be something wrong with the device, something the previous owner had done. I just don't want this in the equation. Secondly, and this is only related to Music Hall 5.3, that nuclear-waste coloured level which they melted into the plinth is a deal-breaker for me. It just looks plain ugly. Music Hall 2.3, on the other hand, looks pretty slick. But Fluance RT84 seems to be of superior value for the money, with 2M Blue cartridge (of course, here too the opinions are divided, I read both praising and lukewarm reviews online). Thorens has just recently caught my eye. What do you think?
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amiga505
17
Jul 8, 2020
So, I think I have settled upon what will be my 'reference' system for the time being. It was a bumpy road of compromise. To begin with, the TD 203 turned out to be iffy. The more I look around, more true it seems what seasoned audiophiles say: brand-new turntable for less that $1000 will have this issue or the other. Apparently, it's not the 70s anymore. So, issues my TD 203 does have. There's a much-reported upon thing of anti-skating not staying in place, which I avoid by not pushing the tonearm all the way back into the holder. Then the platter - many reports of the wobbly ones, and so was mine. I got it replaced, but as the seller warned me straight away, this was a wild shot. Still, the replacement platter I got if not ideal, but better. And the biggest nuisance of all: there are static clicks and pops while handling the tonearm, I suppose it has to do with the way grounding is done. Due to this I had to replace the Graham Slee with a Cambridge Audio Alva Solo phono pre-amp - I could not hear the difference sonically, but the pops and clicks were not so obvious with the Cambridge Audio pre-amp. I guess this is why they sell TD 203 for 399 EUR instead of listed 799 EUR. These secondary issues out of the way, the sound of TD 203 is great, I can't be happier. Now that I am not is 'inquisition' mode, at times I do not notice the issues with tonearm handling, and when the record is playing, there is nothing to complain. Last week I installed AT95ML cartridge and got a Pro-Ject dust-cover which fits perfectly. This is what my system looks like currently:
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rastus
1231
May 27, 2020
Do you intend to stick with the HK620 as the phono preamp? It was an optional board for that unit, installed? That Project looks like line-out only, plus usb; are you plugged into an aux line-in or phono?
amiga505
17
May 30, 2020
Regarding the cover on TD 203 - some people on the Internet opine that a turntable playing should have the cover removed for better sound, so I suppose this is where Thorens were coming from as they market TD 203 as an entry level audiophile turntable - you just remove the whole thing right away nice and easy. Still, there is a way to achieve the ease of removal while protecting the whole deck. I figured that the piece covering the tonearm with exposure front and back would create a aerodynamic tube effect with dust being sucked even more effectively onto the tonearm, binding and cartridge, and this is exactly what some owners have reported. My apartment is pretty dusty, what with living next to a busy road and having two cats, so effective dust protection is a must for me.
rastus
1231
May 30, 2020
One of these would be the King’s knickers. Custom; you could have them close up the back even more. Mine will need some polish, a bit,, or do the same. The dust covers were never meant to stay on when playing, another reason for years of scratches... https://snvinyl.co.uk/epages/eshop943300.mobile/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/eshop943300/Products/COVER10

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