I just went up two notches in resolution


Suspecting that my LP rig's 20+ yr-old Amber amp/preamp may be getting a little long in the tooth, I tho't I'd try out the Cambridge 640p phono stage. Since the Amber pre's other inputs were getting dodgy, I consulted the Shelf of Sidelined Preamps in the garage and settled on the Outlaw 950 A/V pre/pro as the new line stage. So 5 channels (out of 7.1) and all that surround processing is going to waste (but the whole thing was going to waste before). Unknown to many, however, is that the analog stereo bypass circuit in that unit is very fast, clean, and devoid of electronic artifacts. It also has analog bass management and I'm using a 2.1 sub/sat system in this rig.

Yowzah! Everything popped and jumped out of the speakers as never before. Everything was faster, more there, more transparent. This Cambridge unit slays for the money, and it accepts a very wide range of cartridge outputs. I was feeding it output from a Denon DL-160 HOMC, rated at 1.6mV output but typically measured at 2.2. It didn't take long at all for the Cambridge to settle in, but it just got more organic and musical when it did.

At this point I suspected that the 640p could reveal more than the DL-160 could resolve. After asking for advice here and playing a hunch, I replaced the DL-160 with an Audio Technica AT150MLX mounted on a new 12g LPGear Zupreme headshell.

What do you think you'd get with such a rig? It sounds like a recipe for disaster:

Technics SL1210 M5G DD turntable (oft-accused of glare, harshness, hashy noise, etc.)
+ Cambridge 640p phono stage (summarized as fast, detailed, and lean on these web pages)
+ Outlaw Audio 950 (not going to be compared to a tube unit anytime soon)
+ Audio Technica AT150MLX (described as more linear like master tapes and less warm than typical vinyl playback even by a reviewer who *liked* it)
= Lush.

What? That's right, I said "Lush." This chain sounds lush. But not woofy, indistinct, pillowy, or lacking initial transients. In fact, it's quite fast with big improvements in both macro and micro-dynamics. Big volume swings have plenty of jump; small dynamic changes convey plenty of nuance. You can hear Diana Krall's mouth forming the words. You can hear Stokowsky getting that last nth of expression out of the National Symphony Orchestra.

You hear the fingers scraping the strings of the harp, but you also hear the harp's resonance bloom throughout the room. And it sounds like it's happening in real time. This is no slow'n'thick bloom. It's quick risetime fast followed by a room-filling bloom. And all at 1.5g VTF until it breaks in, at which point I may take it down to a vinyl-friendly 1.25 to 1.35. Even at those low tracking forces, my trusty KAB fluid damper should keep stylus-rattle under control.

I don't know how many times my wife has said (when I'm playing music through the new chain) "It sounds like they're in the room."

Who'da thunk it?
johnnyb53
congratulations! your posts are consistently informative. i have been contemplating this cartridge, having used a DL-160 myself for ~the past year and a half.

non-audiophile (but music loving) female ears are a good thing, imho.
There's so much positive buzz about the 150Mlx I decided to order one. Couldn't hold off any longer.

$249 from J&R with free shipping.
always good to hear that someone has improved their sound. the micro-line stylus of the AT must be pulling out more info than the Denon. another factor contributing to your improved sound may be that you've inadvertently matched phono preamp gain to the output of your cartridge. the MM stage of your Cambridge is set at 39 db gain. this is a fine match for the 38 db gain that your AT needs. i use the Denon and i find it sounds best at 44 db gain...it gives off a more natural, organic sound at that setting. anyway, as raul says, enjoy the music
I still think the Denon DL-110 and 160 are the ones to beat between $100 and $200. Their linearity and tonal balance is excellent. But let's remember that the AT150MLX lists at $500 and Needle Doctor and others sell it at $399. Getting it for $250 is practically a gift.

The stylus on the DL-160 is also pretty fine, especially at that price, but with the AT150MLX, you're going to an ultra-light, gold-plated boron cantilever in addition to the MicroLine stylus, and an ingenious patented setup to get better stereo separation--separate magnets for each channel--and I think they're neodymium to keep moving mass at a minimum.

Then it has a solid aluminum body. The result is a bit more detail, resolution, and dynamics, and understandably so.

I concur that I've been lucky with the system matching. I think both the Denon and AT mate well with the Cambridge 640p. The Cambridge has plenty of gain to handle the Denon, yet was much quieter than what I'd had before. I didn't really notice a change in volume settings when I went to the AT150MLX.

The other fortuitous bit of matching is that the AT likes about 200 pF capacitance, and according to some user reviews, is rather picky about that. The Cambridge is not user-adjustable for this parameter and its capacitive loading is not specified. I know my TT interconnect is 100 pF. All I can conclude is that the Cambridge must also supply around 100 pF because I couldn't ask for a better treble than what I'm getting. Or maybe the interconnect between the Cambridge and the line stage is adding the other 100 (or thereabouts) capacitance.
jb53...u have a greater understanding of the tech side of analog sound reproduction than i do. so, i'll try to get some advice from u. (if you'd be so kind) i have a decent lower budget sound system: rega25 TT(many upgrades)->musical surroundings phonomena phono pre->ARComplete integrated amp->alpha core goertz speaker wire->wharfedale diamond 9.6 floorstanders. i like the sound i'm getting except for the treble. cymbals tend to be splashy instead of shimmery. VTA on regas is a problem..i'm running my tonearm level now..maybe tail-end up would lead to treble improvement.
but for now, i'll focus on cartridges. the last MM cartridge i used was an ortofon OM20. when i went to the denon 160, i found more clarity...u know, "the veil has been lifted" stuff. i never thought i'd go back to MM, but after your review i'll ask: has the treble gone 2 steps up in resolution compared to the denon? also, u seem to have an understanding of the way cartridge constuction influences sound. so i ask, should a LOMC, like an AT 33ptg, "automatically" give me better treble?

i'll add this. much of my listening is rock based. some of this stuff ain't recorded too well, so i may be fighting a losing battle when it comes to treble.
AT150Mlx users...did your cartridge's sound change after it was initially installed? If so, in what ways?
I have been a user of this cart for almost 2 years and never worry about swapping it (I have a Dynavector 20L) as a back up.....it isnt perfect but sure does the trick!
A friend gave me this cart so it was used and I cant really give you an opinion Grant.....sorry
06-28-08: Tvad
AT150Mlx users...did your cartridge's sound change after it was initially installed? If so, in what ways?
Mine sounded good out of the box, but that was just the beginning. Compared to what I had before (DL-160) the 150MLX has more detail, more transparency, obviously more speed, clarity, musicality, etc.

Now that I've played it in a week, the soundstage and imaging specificity have sharpened up considerably. Stereo separation has improved. In my rig it has a very integrated sound, yet you can easily pick out various parts and melody threads. For example, last night I was listening to Abbey Road, and I'd never really noticed Billy Preston's Hammond B-3 licks before.

In case I was unclear, now that the cart is broken in, I am getting the best, most image-specific stereo imaging that I have gotten from this rig to date. Image specificity was only so-so prior to break-in.

Overall, I find the AT150MLX/640p combination musically compelling. It's getting very difficult to put on a record and do something in another room, as the presentation *compels* me to come in and sit in the sweet spot (or sit behind it and dance when no one's watching).

I'm still tracking mine at 1.5g, and I've adjusted anti-skating by ear to get a centered soundstage. I may dial VTF back to 1.25g when it breaks in a little more, not sure yet.
06-28-08: Chadnliz
I have been a user of this cart for almost 2 years and never worry about swapping it (I have a Dynavector 20L) as a back up.....it isnt perfect but sure does the trick!
I definitely think this cart performs in the Rega Exact range, and maybe a little better. What's really cool is that the OEM replacement stylus from LPGear is a mere $179.95. Almost anything else in its performance range (except the Ortofon 2m Bronze and Black) require replacement or a retip.
06-22-08: Amondrool
... i have a rega25 TT .... i like the sound i'm getting except for the treble. cymbals tend to be splashy instead of shimmery. VTA on regas is a problem..i'm running my tonearm level now..maybe tail-end up would lead to treble improvement.
Since I have a Technics SL12x0 series, I've been able to play with VTA easily to observe the effects. Actually, if you want to smooth out the treble and sibilants, you need to run the tonearm slightly tail *down*.

The last MM cartridge i used was an ortofon OM20. when i went to the denon 160, i found more clarity...u know, "the veil has been lifted" stuff. i never thought i'd go back to MM, but after your review i'll ask: has the treble gone 2 steps up in resolution compared to the denon?
I find the AT150MLX to be better than the DL-160 in every way, and I *like* the DL-160. The AT150MLX sounds like it's in an entirely different category, and it is. The DL-160 retails at $180, and the AT150MLX retails at $499, typically sells for $399, and sounds every penny of it. The thing is, currently J&R, LPGear, and a few other vendors are offering the AT150MLX for (I don't know why but I'm glad) $250-260. And get this! The replacement stylus from LPGear is the same price as the replacement cost of a DL-160, so once you pay the intial $250, they cost the same to own (for now, anyway).

Anyway, compared to the DL-160, the AT150MLX is faster, you hear more of everything that forms the notes and you year the tones decay more specifically. In soundstage and imaging, once broken in the AT150MLX has it all over the DL-160. The DL-160 gave a big left-to-right smear with some hall depth, but not much specificity. I could forgive it that because it does so much right, especially frequency linearity, frequency extension, reasonable speed and clarity, etc. But the AT150MLX does ALL those things better, and on top of it, creates a sonic hologram where you know where everything is, assuming the recording was mixed to do that.

The AT150MLX also beats the DL-160 on both microdynamics and macrodynamics. You can discern more subtlety and expression at the one end, and there is more jump and stronger transients at the other. This cart kicks ass on drums.

As for treble, the AT150 is better there too. I didn't really have a problem with excessive sibilants before anyway, but they *are* smoother with the AT150MLX. What is really noticeable, however, is how well this thing tracks percussion. I'm a lifelong percussionist, and I know. This thing nails it when it comes to any kind of cymbals, finger cymbals, triangle, tambourine, jawbone, you name it. All those percussion instruments with a sharp transient followed by lots of high, crazy overtones--the AT150MLX tracks'em and tracks'em good. The Denon didn't do them poorly, but the AT150MLX hits the transient harder without overshoot and then gathers in far more of the overtones and after-ring.
...should a LOMC, like an AT 33ptg, "automatically" give me better treble?
I don't know specifically how the AT150MLX's moving mass compares to that of an LOMC such as the 33ptg, but as MM carts go, the 150 has very low moving mass. I don't know if they use neodymium or not, but they have a patented configuration of two very tiny magnets set at 45 deg. apart, one for each channel, and the channel balance and separation are exemplary -- .8db and 30dB respectively.

I can certainly say that the AT150MLX is a big jump ahead of the moving mass of the HOMC DL-160 (or, that's what it sounds like).

Considering the low price of the AT150, the moderately high output that enables it to interface with a wide variety of phono stages, and the relatively low cost of a replacement stylus, the AT150MLX is certainly a practical choice and cheaper to own.

That said, given my experience now with Audio Technica carts, I don't think you'd lose with either one. But I have no complaints with the 150's treble whatsoever, and I think your problem is VTA-related.

An easy way to see is just put a thicker turntable mat on to set the arm slightly "butt-down" and see if it smooths out the treble.

Also, according to the tonearm database for the Rega RB600 tonearm, the resonant frequency with an AT150MLX should be around 11Hz, which mathematically figures to be a little better match than the DL-160 or the AT33PTG.
Hey - I wouldn't knock the Outlaw stuff either. It's probably the most underrated / overlooked new audio equipment out there. Their design philosophy is extremely sound, specs are top notch, and build is excellent. The only things Outlaw lacks are Hype and wildly inflated markups.
I understand that many Outlaw products are made by Sherwood and and rebadgeed. ..just information, not judgement. I have an Outlaw sub for my Hi Def surround TV system
06-29-08: Stringreen
I understand that many Outlaw products are made by Sherwood and and rebadgeed.
Outlaw has a home office and a core of designers and engineers, but they're networked all over the world to enlist the expertise of others and Far East manufacturing facilities.

They have been candid that their 990 Pre/pro was based on the Sherwood-Newcastle 965. That is totally understandable because nothing could touch it anywhere near the price. In fact, my pre/pro is a Boston Acoustics AVP7, which is also based on the Sherwood-Newcastle unit. I suspect there were other badgings as well. In the case of Outlaw, however, they used the blank areas of the back panel to add balanced connections and 3-to-1 DVI video switching. To save costs, they then ditched the Sherwood learning remote for a garden variety one. The Boston included the nicer learning remote, which retails at $200 on its own.

Outlaw also enlisted the help of Hsu when designing their subwoofers.

My own experiences with Outlaw aren't all that great. This same pre/pro I'm using in stereo bypass mode has some kind of flaw in its left surround channel, and I ordered one of the first batch of their RR150 retro receiver, and sent it back because it couldn't touch my old Amber stack.

But good is good, and the analog bypass line stage in my Outlaw 950 is quite good--wide bandwidth, fast, neutral, and musical.
wow..jb53...thx so much for your response. i was afraid i had broken audiogon etiquette by glomming on to u for advice. yeah, i better play around some with vta. again, thx SO much
My initial reaction to the AT150Mlx compared to the Benz Micro Ace is that the two are more similar than different. The 150Mlx has a slightly "juicier" sound to me...perhaps a bit more three dimensional. Not an enormous difference, but noticeable and fun to hear.

The Benz is quieter. The 150Mlx allows more surface noise through. I don't know if "allow" is the right word, but I definitely hear more snap, crackle and pop with the 150Mlx.

I have gone from a VTF of 1.5 to just under 1.0. The lighter tracking force results in a more balanced sound, IMO.

Phono is a Heed Quasar.
Nice report. That's what it's all about.

Dave
Grant,my dad had the Micro before he stepped up to the Ref 3 (gotta love the upgrade policy), the Benz is exactly as you descibe but I will go a bit further and say that it was sorta boring and lacked any life (it wasnt offensive, it was so polite it bored me is all).
the Benz is exactly as you describe but I will go a bit further and say that it was sorta boring and lacked any life.
Chadnliz (System | Threads | Answers)

I see.

Perhaps the AT150MLX I have for sale will appeal to those wishing for some more life and excitement in their systems!
I have to thank all those whose comments led me to put together my own SL1200/Zupreme/AT150mlx/640p system. Like Johnnyb53 I'm astonished how good this all works together It smokes my finicky old Sota based system at a fraction of the cost.
Buy a MintLP Best Tractor protractor ($90) for your SL1200. The results will be excellent. Check the discussion threads for more info on the MintLP.