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Audio Technica AT150MLX Dual Moving Magnet Cartridge Review

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It’s preferable to use antiskate with the AT150MLX. I listened with zero bias, and then I adjusted the antiskate for as little cantilever deflection as possible. It’s a non-scientific approach because you are using your eyes, but the effort pays dividends here. It’s easier to use your eyes for some reason. As you lower the stylus into the groove, watch which way the cantilever deflects. Adjust the antiskate until it no longer deflects. I’ve had several cartridge builders tell me this is the preferred way of doing things, and they know more about cartridges than I do. If you adjust the antiskate by ear by listening to a stereo recording, the constantly changing channel balance inherent in a stereo signal can be misleading. When you adjust by eye, then listen, you’ll be surprised at how dramatic the difference will be. Channel balance and center image placement were dramatically better when using the correct antiskate. Also, tracking distortion was reduced. On my SME V, the bias came out to 1.4grams, which is odd. I wasn’t looking at the bias adjustment knob while I was setting bias. It’s interesting that what “looked” right by the eye, and sounded good, happened to coincide with what SME would recommend. Those SME guys might know what they are doing.

Everything affects the sound of this cartridge. When experimenting with phono cables, the least expensive cable I had produced the best frequency response. It was the red Jelco tonearm cable supplied with their 12” arms: the JAC-501 or JAC-502. It’s a best-buy cable, sporting very high quality materials.

A word on cartridges and phono stages: Some moving magnet cartridges will sound bright with some vacuum tube phono stages, especially ones that use the 12ax7 on the input. It primarily depends on the inductance of the coil windings in the cartridge, and the capacitance of the tonearm cable, the tonearm cable capacitance in parallel with the input capacitance of the tube. The Miller capacitance of some high gain triodes is problematic for moving magnet cartridges, which is why you see pentodes being used in classic phono stages of the ‘50s, like the Leak Varislope that used an EF86 pentode for massive gain and very little Miller capacitance. The high Miller capacitance of the 12ax7, stray capacitances of headshell/tonearm wires and internal wiring of the preamp, and the capacitance of the tonearm cable, form a “tank” circuit with the inductance of the cartridge coils, creating a high frequency peak, then a rapid fall-off after the peak. The higher the capacitance, and/or the higher the inductance of the cartridge coils, the lower the frequency where the resonance occurs. In particularly bad combinations, the peak can be 15KHz, which is definitely audible. Ideally, you will keep inductance of a cartridge and capacitance of your cables low, virtually eliminating the peak.

If Mr. Spock was a cartridge

Once you get this cartridge adjusted, the thing which surprises and confounds is its truthfulness. It’s like Abe Lincoln or Mr. Spock. This thing does not lie. It doesn’t sugar coat. If the pressing or mastering stinks, you can dissect it like the Warren Commission, then issue an 888 page report. It’s so honest that it supervises its own setup and adjustment. It rewards you with good sound when you do well, or punishes you when you make an error. It’s not for people who like to fiddle around with stuff. If you are a fiddler, you will be scorned by this cartridge. You must concentrate and pay very close attention to details. Some cartridges are like disinterested French shopkeepers. Comme ci comme ça. Take it or leave it. The AT150MLX is critical. If you misadjust something in the set up, or the mastering is bad, or the pressing stinks, it can produce unpleasant results. When broken in, adjusted correctly and mated with compatible equipment, it will surprise you with details you haven’t heard.

It does have a remarkable ability to separate the recording from vinyl artifacts. Some components will produce homogenous sound, lumping together distortion and the music. Mechanical transducers, especially speakers, are particularly bad about adding their own distortions to the music in a way that it becomes difficult to tell where the music stops and the distortion starts. Though not as bad as speakers, most cartridges homogenously mix their strong personality with the music. While the AT150MLX does have a distinct personality which overlays the music, and which cannot be gotten rid of, it does actively separate vinyl artifacts like tics and hiss from the music. Vinyl perturbations sound out in another plane, and take on a very mechanical personality; while the music is smooth and organic; this depends on the mastering, of course. It’s almost state-o-the-art in the way it can pull music from the groove and separate it from mechanical artifacts.

In fact, it’s too good on many discs. The vinyl artifacts surprise you, coming as they do from somewhere totally different from the music. It’s like someone walked in the room, lit a firework and threw it at you, then left. BAM! The homogenous cartridges of the world, like the Shure M3d, just lump it all together, integrating the noise, distortion and music. Those old cartridges are mushy and lugubrious. The Audio Technica just presents the facts. Much of this is due to the remarkably light stylus and cantilever. There are moving coil cartridges that do the same thing, but they are much more expensive.

The frequency response of the cartridge totally depends on you and your front end components. The setup and tonearm matching requires care. Getting it wrong can produce hollow dull sounds, or bright and thudding ones. Once I got it dialed in, the frequency response was among the best I’ve heard from a moving magnet, and the treble extension was very competitive with the best moving coils. Most moving magnets start rolling off from 18-25KHz due to the high inductance of the coils. That is why Grado and The Soundsmith currently produce low output moving irons: The inductance of a low output moving iron is much lower, allowing the frequency response to go much higher. Because of the remarkably good tracking and the ability of the stylus to dig deep in the groove, I couldn’t detect any roll off. With lesser stylus profiles, there aren’t high frequencies to reproduce due to groove pinch and problems where the stylus simply won’t “fit in”. The frequency response of the Audio Technica was very flat, from subterranean bass to the highest overtones.

Speaking of bass, this cartridge gives bass an edge and bite missing in the majority of cartridges. When most styli try to navigate heavily modulated bass, their large radius make them lose contact with the groove wall, causing loss of overtones and blurring the attack. That does not mean that a big fat round stylus can’t track bass. They track bass just fine, but can’t track treble due to their fat roundness. The Audio Technica, with its skinny wedge of a stylus, maintains contact with the groove wall, even when an abundance of bass is superimposed on an abundance of treble. If you enjoy loud bass-heavy music, but you also like overtones, a line contact is an absolute must. Otherwise, your stylus is just skipping over treble it can’t reach, sampling it when the stylus fits in the groove, then cutting it off, much like 16 bit digital. In my experience, the AT150MLX is supremely fast and agile, giving bass a lifelike crispness.

Dynamics with this cartridge will be very dependent on the mass of the arm, which also affects frequency response. In my experience, most cartridges have good dynamics and make good bass when they are mounted on the correct arm. The bass dynamics of the Audio Technica can be weak if you don’t have enough mass in the arm. In my case, in a borderline combination with an SME V, the V’s Dynamic Balance (damped spring) and silicon damping trough saved the day in the bass. Without employing the V’s added features, frequency response would have been bass-shy, and bass impact would have suffered greatly.

The dynamic edge of the Audio Technica is in the upper treble. Tiny bells, cymbals, tam-tams, etc. can have surprising impact, but most cartridges struggle to keep up. Contrary to what you might think, it’s these super loud highs that are most difficult to track, not loud bass. Many fine cartridges just cannot cope; they aren’t packing a sufficiently light stylus and cantilever, plus their stylus is just too big. The AT breezes through difficult treble without a hiccup, making formerly nail-biting passages anti-climatic. Once it’s all dialed in, an effortless barrage of dynamics, micro and macro, high and low, gives music life without a sense of strain.

Imaging is very good, but not state-of-the-art. I’m at a loss to explain why. I never got impressive images outside the speakers. On the other hand, the center image was locked in, and mono playback was superb. I’d rather stick with the good center image than worry about audiophile spectacles.

Losing the Forest

I wish I could stop the review and say that this cartridge is a technical masterpiece; that it retrieves so much information that it’s state-of-the-art. But, there’s something a little dispassionate here, much like Joe Friday interviewing a witness, or Mr. Spock describing subspace interference. On many disks, ones that are mastered and pressed well, all the trees made a forest. Unfortunately, on just as many disks, the forest became individual tress. I’ve heard several cartridges that can pick out information better than the AT150MLX, but only two or three that put it together for a cohesive musical delivery. I’m not saying this cartridge is wrong, though. It’s just giving you the facts, as they are. The AT doesn’t gloss over anything; it has not been engineered to soften the delivery for a more enjoyable experience. Many cartridge manufacturers consciously make a decision to soften the delivery of detail, mostly with good results. The AT150MLX does not turn challenging material into a musical equivalent to comfort food.

Whether this cartridge is for you depends on your tonearm, your phono stage, your ability to set up a cartridge, and your musical preferences. If your current system is bland and missing detail, then I heartily recommend this cartridge. Or if it favors the midrange and warmth, it will work. It can liven up a system. If you thoroughly enjoy detail, even when it’s a recording artifact, I recommend it. If your main criterion is imaging outside the speakers, you might be a little disappointed. If you like to “relax” with your music, forget it. And if you don’t like to meticulously adjust a cartridge, then it certainly is NOT meant for you. It’s among the most advanced cartridges being built. When given a fortuitous system combination, and excellent material, it can deliver the goods. But its strengths are also its weaknesses. Be prepared to be wildly enthusiastic, or annoyed, or both.

20 Responses to Audio Technica AT150MLX Dual Moving Magnet Cartridge Review

  1. Mark Benus says:

    I used the AT150-MLX with my Acoustic Signature Manfred/Michell TechnoArm. No adjusting could make it sound anything but lifeless. While tracking was suberb, dynamics were just OK and the treble always seemed dull. Then I tried it on an old Toshiba direct drive ‘table and the results were quite different. Not as refined sounding (record noise was more noticeable) as the Manfred/Technoarm, but much more treble extension and verve.

    • Phillip Holmes says:


      It’s a frustrating cartridge. I ran into some of the same problems you mention with my SME V. I think that the AT150 was designed around headshells and tonearms with losses. Also, I think the standard loading doesn’t suit it well. I didn’t have time to change loading, but I’m positive that removing or dramatically reducing the loading capacitor in my budget phono stage would’ve produced a smoother more relaxed sound. AT recommends 100-200 pf load. Well, the budget phono stage I used for the review had 220pf. Then, add the tonearm cables. Well, the result is a rising top end, and just about everyone with “typical” tonearm cables and phono stages will have the same problem.

      A typical 12ax7 will have a “miller capacitance” of 150-200 pF, so any extra capacitance from tonearm cables would also cause a rising high end.

      Next time I change out cartridges, I’ll take my LCR meter and measure the total capacitance from the cartridge wires of my SME V. I’ll let you know what I find. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the total capacitance of internal wiring, tonearm cable and phono stage loading is 300pF. That means it is at least 50% higher than what AT recommends.

      This is one of the reasons many audiophiles prefer moving coils: they are relatively immune to capacitive loading. With moving magnets, much of the difference from one cartridge design to the next, is the affect of capacitive loading, which is determined by the amount of inductance in the coil windings of the moving magnet. BTW, this is why Grado and The Soundsmith produces low output moving magnet/iron cartridges. They have much less inductance, so they behave much like a moving coil: they are relatively immune to capacitive loading.

    • phillip holmes says:

      Those vinyl front-ends create interesting filters. When you get a serendipitous combination, all is right with the world. In the case of the AT150, it needs a slightly heavy arm, a very low capacitance cable, low capacitance loading in the phono stage, and perhaps even a higher load impedance than 47K. Anyway, it can sound like crap in some systems, and sound like heaven in others. It’s an extreme cartridge.

  2. Rob says:

    I find it odd that you used a budget phono stage with too much capacitance to review this cartridge. Surely you need to correctly research loading of your phono stage before reviewing a cartridge, and use a phono stage of relevant quality in order to produce a fair review. I’m afraid I have to disregard your review’s comments as they were observed in rather unideal conditions for this particular, very special quality cartridge. Please find a better phono stage with 50-100pf loading and write another review which will be fairier to this superb, very able cartridge.

    • Phillip Holmes says:

      That’s why I said what I said in the review and in the response to Mark’s comments. People shouldn’t be expected to modify or buy a new phono stage for every cartridge they purchase. The phono stage I used had “standard” loading. For a budget cartridge, a standard load is what I was going to use. If it was a super low output $8K moving coil, it would be different.

  3. Mark Benus says:


    I exchanged the TechnoArm in favor of a VPI JMW-9 on the Manfred and installed the AT150MLX. It’s at the edge of the arm’s cartridge weight and compliance range but I gave it a shot.

    After trying a few interconnects I settled on Linn silver interconnects. With the Linn Majik Kontrol pre and Majik power amp, Linn Ninka and Amphion Creon II loudspeakers, the results were excellent. Much better than with the TechnoArm. I don’t know how much of this owes to the arm and how much to the cable.

    As far as capacitance loading goes, my experience is that less is not always better. When using phono stages with adjustable capacitance loading I always wound up setting it around 200-300pf; then add on top of that whatever capacitance the interconnect contributed. One phono stage I used let you select over 1,000pf, so go figure.

    The AT150MLX works well with a wide range of music and LPs manufactured over many decades. Very happy.

  4. Steve says:

    I just installed the AT150MLX into an Origin Live Encounter tonearm. I have a Fozgometer and the appropriate test setup record, so getting the azimuth right was not a big problem. I also used a downloaded protractor from ArmGeometer (online) with a 15.69 mm overhang, 22 degree offset and minimum and maximum groove radius points at 56.0 mm and 146.3 mm. Audio-Technica recommends 15 mm of overhang, so the ArmGeometer calculation was extremely close to the recommended amount.

    Encounter is a medium-compliance tonearm. At one time, I had a Michell TechnoArm in my system with a Grado Statement Platinum MI cartridge. The Grado is a high compliance cart. When I switched the tonearm to the Origin Live, the cartridge began to do the “Grado Jig” which it had not done with the Michell arm. This prompted me to switch to a medium compliance cart (Dynavector 10X5). That cured the dancing cartridge problem. Later, I changed to a DV 20X2, which was another medium compliance cartridge. Again, no problems.

    When my 20X2 cantilever was destroyed a few weeks ago by accident, I decided to step down on the price a bit and see what was out there. I settled on the Audio-Technica 150, which I installed just yesterday. It too is a medium compliance cart and really seems to do well in the OL Encounter arm.

    The first record that I played after setup was “Close to the Edge” by Yes. The opening sound collage, with many cartridges, sounds like a noisy collection of sound effects. It is typically quite harsh. NOT SO with the AT150! For the first time, I could hear the naturally recorded sound effects (which were three dimensional) as a distinct layer from the synthesizer effects. Not only that, but it was obvious that the natural portion of the sound track recorded an “approach” from a short distance over a period of a few seconds (as if one was walking up to the stream). The instrumental passage that followed (in 6/8) also was well delineated, with each instrument’s musical line easy to follow and its position in the three-dimensional sound stage clear. In short, a spectacular soundstage on recordings that have one.

    Next was the Eurythmics’ “Revenge” album. This was disappointing, but not because of the cartridge. The cart made it abundantly clear that the recording itself was mediocre. Still, it was not harsh and I enjoyed the clarity of the presentation.

    I left the input impedance at 47K. The OL Encounter has a capacitance of 130 pf according to the OL website. The input impedance of my preamp (using E83CC NOS Tesla tubes) is a bit below 200 pf. This adds up to slightly more than 300 pf capacitance, which does not seem to be a problem for the AT cartridge. I hear no harshness, no rising top, and no issues with tonal quality.

    Here is my conclusion: setup is critical with this cartridge and you MUST have a medium compliance tonearm to get the best results. Since another contributor mentioned that his TecnoArm did poorly with this cart, it merely confirms that the arm/cartridge matchup is very important. This is not the cartridge’s fault, however. You can’t expect this one to work in a flimsy arm. Do the setup right and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular and precise performance. Five Stars!

  5. Kevin says:

    I’ve been using the AT150 for a couple of years in my vintage (modified) VPI HW19jr w/ AQ PT-7 arm. No problems with harshness or rising top end, and I think the arm actually matches the cartridge. Smooth detailed sound. My phono pre has a jfet/triode cascode input stage with very low capacitance so the input cables are, in effect, the load cap.

    I did take the extra time to dial in the SRA, it does make a big difference. I do not hear much difference in tracking force, however. Also, I will now try the ‘stylus deflection’ trick for setting anti-skate, thanks for the tip!

  6. Mark Progmeister says:

    Just wanted to concur with your review of the AT 150 MLX I have just spent the last few days fiddling tweaking for best results in my system I prefer 470pF loading in my Sim Audio Moon 5.3 RS on Wilson Benesch Act 2 Tonearm but think your description on cartridge characteristics are bang on I was previously using an Lyra Argo which is a nice sounding cartridge but was frustrated by inner groove distortion that no amount of tweaking I tried could be totally eliminated no such problems with the Audio Technica and recovers more information only downside you definitely here more surface noise,all though like you say it is completely separated from the music which shows this cartridge is very analytical and faithfully recovers what’s actually on the record.
    Always fancied a Koetsu but would I be able to live with its tracking ability after using this and are the ones currently being made as good as the the original ones Sugano made and have a lot of other manufactures caught up?

  7. Kevin says:

    Update: I just upgraded from the PT-7 to a Jelco 750D. Cart works great in this arm too and there is more detail in the bass with this arm. Maybe due to higher mass? Still experimenting with azimuth (now I can actually set it with the Jelco headshell – not possible w/ the PT-7 / 250) and SRA but it sounds very good – so good that I still haven’t mounted and played my brand new AT033EV!

  8. Kevin, The Jelco 750D is a very good arm for most moving coils, and the occasional medium compliance moving magnet. Mass is everything when finding the right are for that cartridge.

  9. Evan says:

    I have an AT150MLX attached to a carbon arm on my Pro-Ject Carbon turntable. Is my arm too light for this cartridge? I am new to turntables so any advice is appreciated. Thanks.

  10. Dave says:

    Mine sounds pretty good in a Linn Ittok LVII/LP12. Again this validates other reviewers’ suspicions that this cartridge was built for medium mass arms. Just for fun I put it on a Grace 747/Thorens 160S. It sounded okay but with less bass. Maybe the lower mass arm?

  11. FILIP says:

    Can anyone answer questions from Evan, because I have the assistance same combination with Pro-Ject turntable and carbon arm? Sorry poor English knowledgeable.

  12. phillip holmes says:

    As far as mass is concerned, there are many useful tools at If the mass of the Pro-Ject tonearm is listed, then you can take the effective mass of the arm, plus the compliance of the cartridge, and plug it into the formula for resonance frequency (there is a “tools” section, and one of the calculators will give you the resonance frequency of a tonearm/cartridge combination). To me, somewhere between 10 and 15Hz sounds best. Below 10Hz and vinyl problems can cause uncontrolled woofer pumping (but not always–it really depends on the quality of the tonearm, and proper setup); above 20Hz, and the sound can become bright and muddy (both bright and muddy at the same time). If you can’t figure it out, let me know and I’ll send you individual links.

  13. FILIP says:

    Many thanks for help. I have followed your advice but can not find compliance for 10 Hz. Fabricate state compliance 10 for 100 Hz. Based on table while compliance does not exceed 18 is ATN-150MLX resonance on the green area in table.

  14. Filip,

    With cartridge mass of 8.3 grams, 2 grams extra for screws (a total guess), tonearm effective mass of 11 grams, and cartridge compliance of “10”, the resonance frequency is 10 Hz, which is good.

    The bigger issue for tonal balance will be loading. If you are using a tube preamp, especially with 12ax7, the input capacitance could be too high for this cartridge. If you have an LCR meter, measure the capacitance of the tonearm cable and tonearm at the same time (with cartridge and preamp disconnected). They recommend loading of 100-200pf, and many phono stages, plus tonearm, plus tonearm cables, will be 200-300pf (there is stray capacitance of the input jacks, wiring, circuit boards, plus loading capacitors if they are included, plus the capacitance of the tube or transistor).

  15. Alexander Broniewicz says:

    This is more a question. I have an “old” Thorens TD280 Exclusiv player with OM 5 pick-up. I have been seriously considering an upgrade to the AT150MLX. Is that a good idea? The playar is hooked directly to my Yamaha RX-A2030 receiver, no preamp.

    • phillip holmes says:

      There are better budget cartridges available. I tried to get flat frequency response out of the AT150mlx and never could tame the brightness on top. I borrowed a friend’s, and his was the same. Tried with multiple arms, tonearm cables and phono stages. I think the “secret” is the laminated pole pieces, something shared with a handful of other cartridges that seem to be analytical and somewhat unnatural.

  16. Philippe says:

    Hi Phillip!
    Thank you for this very precise review.
    Therefore, what would you recommend as a “better budget cartridge” ?
    Apart from the AT150mlx, I’ve been thinking of AT440 (or more expensive Goldring 1012GX…), knowing that :
    • mine is so far AT95E and I’d like a real step up ;
    • I love neutrality in sound, the one that doesn’t emphasis this or that, because I listen to all kind of music.

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