Audio Technica AT150MLX finally gets some respect

I've been at this audiophile stuff for over 40 years. At this point I'm pretty confident of being able to ignore preconceived notions and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a component in my system. Still, once in awhile it's nice to get some validation--a sanity check.

I've been using an Audio Technica AT150MLX MM cartridge for over 3 years. Since getting it I have improved the downstream components and cabling a few times, and each improvement, rather than revealing limitations of the cartridge, has shown it to have a great tonal balance, high resolution at its price point, excellent trackability, low level detail retrieval and excellent dynamics.

Still, when I opened my January 2012 issue of The Abso!ute Sound, I was pleasantly shocked to see that the $449 list AT150MLX had been named Cartridge of the Year! Given that the $5000 Benz LP-MSR and $13,000 Clearaudio Goldfinger were also mentioned on that page, it wasn't that the AT150MLX won in absolute terms, but for performance value.

It's as I suspected from my first listen. If you want to know where the threshold into a high end cartridge is, it's the AT150MLX. I got mine in 2008 when the dollar was strong and these things were going for $250. But even at the currently available $325 they are pretty unbeatable.

Back in the Spring of 2008 I asked the A-goners about what cartridge to move up to from the DL-160. I was considering the AT OC-9 or the Denon 301 II, but a number of A-goners made a compelling case for the AT150MLX. I took them at their word and have never regretted it.

If you want the best out of this cart, you *must* give it a capacitive load between 100 and 200 pF. In fact, my highly adjustable Jolida JD-9A phono stage indicates that the real sweet spot is right around 150 pF.

Anyway, thanks A-goners, and it's also nice to know that when the stylus wears down, I can just send for a replacement plug-in stylus $225.
I have recommended this cartridge for years. It is much better than the Shure was. Only weakness is a fragile clumbsy fingers....jallen
why does the original poster state and I quote -

"If you want the best out of this cart, you *must* give it a capacitive load between 100 and 200 pF. In fact, my highly adjustable Jolida JD-9A phono stage indicates that the real sweet spot is right around 150 pF."

I don't have to do anything esoteric with my 150MLX on technics 1200mkII aside from proper alignment with Protractor and balance and weight.
Nothing else needs to be done in my case.
Why does this person suggest this?
Risking a guess at the OP's reasoning almost a year after his post, I would say he probably tried the cartridge with a range of different capacitive loadings and determined that he preferred it with 150 pF. This is not to say that you or anyone else would prefer it this way. Some may prefer wildly different loadings, and some may say that it makes no significant difference. It's also possible that your AT150 is loaded in that same range without knowing it. We audiophiles tend to see our own preferences as the only possible ones and, either explicitly or implicitly, decree differing viewpoints as more or less insane. :-)

I have a Jolida phone amp as well and understand that one can adjust the gain and the capacitive loadings.

While I think that I understand gain, I do not understand capacitive loadings.

Can someone please explain this in simple laymen's terms?

Most moving magnet cartridges have a recommended load capacitance range specified by the manufacturer. For the AT150MLX the recommended range is 100 to 200 pf (picofarads), as can be seen here.

That figure represents the total load capacitance seen by the cartridge, which is the sum of the capacitances of all of the wiring between the cartridge and the input of the phono stage, plus the input capacitance of the phono stage.

If the amount of capacitive loading of a moving magnet cartridge is either too high or too low, frequency response flatness in the upper treble region, or possibly even in the lower treble and upper mid-range, may be adversely affected.

Phono cable capacitance is proportional to length, and is also highly dependent on the particular cable type. It may or may not be specified by the cable manufacturer. If it is specified, it would be specified in terms of pf per unit length (for example, pf/foot).

100 and 200 pf are relatively low values, and for typical setups the concern is more likely to be keeping the total capacitance low enough to be in that range, rather than having to increase it. So unless your phono cables are particularly short (for example, 3 feet or less) and are also of a type that has particularly low capacitance (for example, 15 pf per foot or less), I suspect that chances are you will get best results by adjusting the phono stage's load capacitance setting to its minimum possible value.

Ideally, though, you should try several different values, and it is certainly possible that the value which will sound best in your system, to you, will be different than what the OP found was best in his system, for him.

-- Al