Review: Music Hall Ikura Turntable

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A Welcome Upgrade From the Classic Budget Turntable

Brent Butterworth

Great as a lot of budget turntables are, there's a depressing homogeneity among them. Translation: A lot of them seem kind of the same. It's understandable because there are only so many factories that make them. Doing something radically different costs more than turntable companies -- almost by nature small entities -- can afford. But with the Ikura, Music Hall took the major step of hiring an industrial designer to give the turntable a totally new look and feel.

For a budget turntable, the Ikura is big and heavy. It's a dual-plinth design. The bottom plinth houses the motor, which is powered by a separate DC wall wart. The only things connecting the top plinth to the bottom plinth are the belt connecting the motor and platter, and three conical rubber feet. Thus, the platter, tonearm and cartridge are well-isolated from ground-borne vibration.

The platter and the plinths are made from MDF and finished in your choice of white gloss or black gloss. The tonearm tube is made from an unspecified metal alloy. An Ortofon 2M Blue moving magnet cartridge comes pre-installed and aligned. All you have to do is set the tracking force -- the Ikura is designed so you don't even need a tracking force gauge (like the Shure SFG-2) to do that -- and install the anti-skating weight, which involves just placing a loop of monofilament line around a thin metal rod.

So let's find out what it sounds like....

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Music Hall Ikura: Features and Ergonomics

Brent Butterworth

• 33/45 rpm playback
• Ortofon 2M Blue moving magnet cartridge with user-replaceable stylus
• Teflon-sheathed stainless steel main bearing
• Felt platter mat
• RCA outputs with ground screw and cable included
• Vibration-damping adjustable feet
• Dust cover
• 45 RPM adapter
• Dimensions: 6 x 20.19 x 15.25 in / 151 x 509 x 384 mm
• Weight: 28 lb / 466 g

Setting up the Ikura was easy; I think it took me about 15 minutes at most. There are three main pieces to put together -- the bottom plinth, the top plinth and the platter -- and all go together easily. You have to attach the belt between the platter base and the two-speed motor pulley, and as I stated before, you have to set the tracking weight on the cartridge.

Should you want to change the cartridge, the tonearm is fully adjustable. There's a set screw near the back end of the tonearm that lets you adjust azimuth, and another set screw on the base of the tonearm that lets you set the vertical tracking angle.

Changing from 33 to 45 RPM is reasonably easy. Just pull off the platter and move the belt to the other groove in the motor pulley.

I really liked the dust cover, which comes completely off and is held in position by a couple of metal pins in the back. Unlike those hinged dust covers some turntables come with, this one can be removed without having big metal prongs hanging clumsily off the back of the turntable.

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Music Hall Ikura: Performance

Brent Butterworth

I used the Ikura for about two months, mostly with my Revel F206 speakers, my Krell S-300i integrated amp and my NAD PP-3 phono preamp. I also did some listening with my Musical Fidelity V-Can headphone amp and NAD Viso HP-50 headphones.

There are two things about the Ikura that really struck me. Well, three things, really. The third one is just that it's an overall very neutral-sounding turntable without a whole lot of sonic character of its own. Maybe not as neutral-sounding as the Rega RP6, but some, including me, say the RP6 can sound a little too neutral and clean, almost like a CD. The Ikura retains enough of a sense of character that you won't forget you're playing vinyl records.

So what are those two things that first struck me? First, the Ikura/Ortofon 2M Blue combo has really tight and clean bass. In comparison, my usual rig -- a ProJect RM-1.3 with either a Sumiko Pearl or Denon DL-103 cartridge -- has fuller but fatter-sounding bass. I loved this sound with all sorts of music, but especially with driving, hard-swinging jazz like Stanley Turrentine's Rough 'N Tumble and with well-produced pop and rock such as Donald Fagen's The Nightfly.

On The Nightfly, I kept playing the tune over and over to check out Anthony Jackson's electric bass line and wishing I could play like that (I've dabbled in bass-like instruments). But it wasn't just the bass that grabbed me, it was also the huge ambience and dense mix, all of which the Ikura and the 2M Blue picked out perfectly.

It's the precision and definition of the bass that I loved so much, and that made Fernando Sauza's vigorously slapped electric bass lines on "Quilombo Dos Palmares," from trumpeter Marcio Montarroyos's awesome Carioca, sound so explosive but so incredibly clean.

OK, so the second thing that really struck me about the Ikura was the ambience I mentioned when talking about The Nightfly. I noticed this in everything I listened to, from the intimate, small-club live recording Piccolo by bassist Ron Carter, to the colossal amounts of fake electronic reverb in Carioca. In fact, I was pretty sure that I could identify the primitive, artificial sound of early digital reverb and delay in Carioca, which was recorded in 1983; I did a lot of studio recording then and remember that sound well (although we thought it was frigging amazing back then).

The most ambient, spacious-sounding record I own is Jenny Hval's Viscera, so after hearing what the Ikura/2M Blue combo did with The Nightfly, I gave it a spin. And then I played it again with the headphones, which was really mindblowing. I can't remember ever hearing sounds image so perfectly and realistically through the NAD HP-50, which is pretty much my reference headphone. The bells that open "Engines In the City" were uncannily real, as was the bowed cymbal and the other seemingly random bits of percussion.

I did take the chance to listen briefly to the Ikura with my Sumiko Pearl attached, just so I could get an idea of how much contribution the Ortofon 2M Blue made to the sound. With the Pearl, the sound was just slightly thinner in the bottom end, with not quite as much punch and precision as the 2M Blue but pretty close. The treble in the 2M Blue seemed slightly tamer (maybe because of the variance in the bass response) but the 2M Blue gave me more sense of space and ambience -- which is saying a lot 'cause the Pearl is a pretty spacious-sounding cartridge. So overall, I'd say most of the Ikura's bass character rests with the turntable, and most of the wonderful spaciousness comes from the 2M Blue cartridge.

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Music Hall Ikura: Final Take

Brent Butterworth

There are other very nice turntables in the Ikura's price range, but I think I might buy the Ikura. There's really nothing I don't like about the sound, and there's a lot I love about it. Plus I love the size and heft of the turntable, and how much more solid it feels than most of what's in its price range. It's a very different design from most of what's out there -- at any price -- but in my opinion, that's a good thing.