For the past three years in my reference system, I’ve been using the AMG Viella V12 turntable and their wonderful AMG 12J2 tonearm. This table and arm combo along with the HRS platform sells for a little over $17,000 and is still the best bargain in truly high-end turntables. I have had turntables in my system that cost up to $75,000 when you add a tonearm, and none of them has given me the truly musical experience the AMG has. Yes, some do certain things better, but none has been any better or as good at simply making music sound so much like a live musical event.
So, I was excited when I heard they had brought out a phono cartridge and phono preamp. This review is of the Teatro moving-coil cartridge; the phono preamp won’t be available to later this year. So for this review I mostly used the cartridge with an Allnic phono preamp.
While the Teatro cartridge has been mentioned in several show reports, I’m not sure why it hasn’t gotten much press. Maybe it’s because Musical Surroundings also started importing the DS Audio optical phono cartridge about the same time, and everyone has been so enamored with it. As I will share below, the Teatro should not be allowed to fall through the cracks of the audio world.
Description and Setup
The Teatro features an American manufactured two-piece Tiodize Type III Titanium body. That, AMG says, provides a superior strength-to-weight ratio and is dimensioned to minimize resonance and reflected energy. The titanium body is tapped for 2.5mm mounting screws, and the output pins are also Pure Copper Ohno Continuous Casting. I have to admit it is a very different looking phono cartridge. The Teatro uses a specially designed stylus guard machined from solid aluminum billet. It can be removed by gripping the stylus guard from both sides and lightly pulling downward when the cartridge is mounted in the tonearm. It is easily reattached by fitting the rounded front over the front of the cartridge, aligning the sides and the rubber o-rings, and gently pushing upwards.
According to Musical Surroundings, the Japanese built generator’s internal construction is radiused and includes a fixture so that MC generator is rigidly mounted. It uses an extremely efficient electro-mechanical design that use separate coils for each channel for superior channel separation. The coils are wound with Ohno cast (OCC) mono-crystal high-purity oxygen-free copper wire Neodymium magnets are combined with a special soft magnetic alloy yoke consisting of cobalt and iron to produce an output of .4mV at 5cm/sec. The coil impedance is 12Ω allowing the use of many phono stages and step-up devices. I found it worked very well when used with the Allnic SUT. It uses a solid boron cantilever with a diameter of .26mm and is fit with a line contact stylus. The dynamic compliance is 18 x 10-6 cm/dyne for enhanced tracking.
When you unpack most Japanese cartridges they come in boxes that could easily be made for very expensive jewelry. Most European cartridges come in boxes, some wood, some plastic and some just cardboard. I have to say AMG came up with something different; a rocket that’s over six inches tall and nice enough looking to set out on a bookshelf or your desk. The middle section of the rockets cylinder is clear and is where the cartridge is mounted. Setting up the cartridge was pretty straight forward, not quite as easy as a cartridge with a flat front, but the shape is not nearly as hard to aligned as those rounded fronts. My only complaint would be that I don’t know why the pins are spaced so close together. When you combine the close pins with the tiny wires of the AMG tonearm, it’s a little scary during installation. Still, I got it installed and removed without any problems. I settled in on 2.1g for the tracking force with the VTA ever so slightly up in the back using the level on the AMG tonearm.
My Teatro was already well broken in, but AMG says the Teatro requires a minimum of 20 hours of play time (approximately 60 record sides) to break-in. You should notice a more relaxed presentation. It is a good idea to check your setup after break-in.
Before I move on to talking about how the Teatro sounded in my system, I should mention the system I used it in. The cartridge was mounted on a the wonderful AMG 12-J2 tonearm that was mounted on the AMG Viella V12 turntable. The turntable was sitting on my HRS M3X-1921-AMG V12 Isolation Platform, which was sitting atop a Box Furniture double wide D3S rack. When it arrived, I was in the process of removing the Margules electronics (SF220.15 preamplifier, U280-SC amplifier) from my system after the review was over. I left their FZ47db phono preamp in and used it with an Allnic SUT for a few days, I also used a prototype transistor phono preamp and an Allnic H1201 phono preamp. All three of these were hooked up to my Emia Remote Autoformer. The amp and speakers were the Pass Labs XA 30.8 and my Teresonic Ingenium XR. Let me share a couple of things about the Teatro, it tracks like a champ. The Soundsmith SG-220 Strain-Gauge had been the best tracking cartridge I have used, but the Teatro matches or comes in a close second.
For reasons I don’t understand, some cartridges’ stylus stay cleaner than others. The Teatro is one of those that just doesn’t get as dirty as most other cartridges. I’ve noticed that with other cartridges like the Shindo and EMTs I don’t seem to hear as much service noise. I always assumed this was the result of their spherical stylus shape but the Teatro has a line contact stylus, and it pulls off the same trick.
Listening to the Teatro
Like the Miyabi Standard, the Teatro is one of those rare phono cartridges that defies being broken down into parts. It’s a waste of time to talk about how it sounds in the midrange, bass, or treble. That’s not what this cartridge is all about. Listening to music with the AMG Teatro is a completely holistic experience. It is so enthralling to listen to that it’s very difficult to think about how anything sounds except the music. These two things make the cartridge hard to review, but a whole lot of fun to listen to music. As I move from the time I started my listening to the time I begin the review, I became convinced this cartridge had the best bass I have heard from any cartridge, other than the London Decca Reference. The bass doesn’t jump out and impress you, though; it’s just there when it should be. Again, this cartridge has a holistic sound that only seems to emphasize the performance you are enjoying.
With the Teatro in my system, I was able to hear beautiful, rich tonal colors. This combined with the way it let me hear both the leading edge of instruments and the decay of those instruments made for a wonderful listening experience that will leave you talking about the performance. I think one of the reasons why it sounds this way is that the Teatro does a better than average job at getting out of its own way. The Teatro has magnets that vibrate, like all traditional cartridges but unlike my Soundsmith Strain Gauge or the new Optical DS cartridge. It doesn’t get out of its own way as much as they do, but still more than most high-end cartridges. The design of the Teatro’s very rigid titanium body, combined with the shape of the body makes this a cartridge that doesn’t add much of its own sound to the music.
Yes, it is very quiet. This quality is sometimes referred to as a very black background. It is as quiet as any other moving coil cartridge I have used, but not as quiet as my strain gauge. While it’s quiet, the music sounds holistic, like it does in a live performance instead of an artificial illusion of instruments floating around on a black background. You will notice immediately if the guitar player is really good. It’s also easy to tell if it’s a steel string or nylon string guitar, but the guitar will sound like part of the performance unless it’s a solo number. This is true of all instruments on the Teatro, they are very easy to hear but sound like just part of the performance. Of course, if the recording is badly miked you will hear it the way it was miked.
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