Cartridge / amp matching


New member
Username: Jjchwdad

Post Number: 1
Registered: Mar-17
I am about to re-enter the world of vinyl. I'm considering buying an Audio Technica AT LP5 turntable which comes fitted with their own AT95EX cartridge. My concern is that, good though this cartridge is, it is described as being a bit 'toppy'. My amp is a Cambridge Audio 640A, which is also said to be a bit forward in the upper register, consequently, I'm looking for any recommendations as to a cartridge that would be better suited to my amp. The deck and cartridge retails at £330 so I'm looking at spending up to £75 on a replacement cartridge. Any thoughts would be welcome.

Platinum Member
Username: Jan_b_vigne

Dallas, TX

Post Number: 18389
Registered: May-04

What a question! It pushes many of my most often hit upon buttons.

Lucky you.

Lucky me.

Lucky day before the full moon day.

First, why would you buy something only to change it? To throw away what you just paid to own?

Second, why buy something you feel is not appropriate for the rest of your system?

Third, how do you know the result will be "this" or "that" until you actually try the combination?

I could go on but I think I will stop there.

Then ask, why buy the AT table at all?

I am not fan of subcontracted tables. AT does not build this table, they pay someone else to built it and then label it with an AT sticker. They do not build the tonearm either and the story is the same for it. They do built the AT cartridge and have been building the same AT cartridge for the past forty years.

The AT table comes with its own pre amp, which your Cambridge amp lacks and, which AT also does not build. Therefore, unless you know the AT cartridge and pre amp combo is not a fit for your Cambridge amp, your question is based on too many things you have read and not enough about what you have actually heard or even thought about.

Stop that!

Personally, I would not buy the AT table when the same money could be put toward a Rega or a Project table, either of which have features which have more widely been accepted as correct for decades.

J shaped tonearms are not my favorites though they do beat out S shaped designs in what I would not own.

All arms "minimize" tracking error when they are properly set up. Thing is, most arms cannot be set for truly minimal tracking error. Therefore, loss of information due to poor arm design is far more critical.

If you remove the OEM AT, what process will you use to align the new cartridge. Poor alignment is far worse than an existing cartridge which is toppy or "forward".

Do you even have a good idea what "forward" means? It remains one of those words, like "warm", that says nothing yet has so many people thinking they understand what has just been said.

Stop using buzzwords.

Detachable headshells have also proven to be inferior to one piece designs.

Aluminum platters were outdated the day Rega built their first table with a glass platter. That too, occurred over forty years ago.

Rubber mats spell out "D-E-A-D" when it comes to musicality.

The AT cartridge, if you want to get down to your actual question, is a holdover from the 1970's. Back then it was designed to compete with the all too cheap and all too ubiquitous Shure M91 as give away cartidges. Both were bastardized into house brand cartridges which could be thrown into a table as a freebie. Maybe we charged $10 just to up our profit margin a bit but they aren't worth any more than that.

That should tell you all you need to know about the AT cartridge. A '74 Pacer would be considered retro even though it was a POS that is all too forgettable to all except those of us who witnessed its horrors and downright laughable excuses for modernity.

Phono cartridges, for the most part, and vintage London-Deccas and Ortofons aside, should not be "retro".

The AT personality is not so much toppy as it is emphatic in those areas below where a relatively low compliance, medium mass cartridge design from the '70's would not play. Goose the stuff you can do and hope no one notices what you cannot do at all was the design theory many went with back then.

It really has not left us today. As they say all too frequently in reviews when they have nothing else good to say, when paired with the crap stuff most buyers will own, this makes for a good combination.

Bull F'ing Hockey!!!

The cartrdige does have the benefit of "sins of omission" rather than the "sins of commission" but that's not exactly a recommendation. More a statement saying you should avoid one of those personality types like it carries the plague.

So, what then is the character of the built in phono stage? Probably, you do not know, I would assume.

What about the interconnects you would run between the output of the built in phono stage and the input on the Cambridge? Unless you tell me you have perfectly neutral cabling, you still have no idea what the net cumulative musical values will be.

Finally, while it is proper to assess individual components on their ability, or lack thereof, to emphasize certain frequency bands, there is far more to piecing together a sympatico system than that.

IMO, without knowing more about your system, your room, your set up and your musical priorities, there's nothing to recommend other than try the AT if, and only if, that's the table you want.

I would buy a different table, but it remains your choice.

I would not buy a table with a thrown in Ortofon from the 1980's! Particularly an OM5 cartridge which was the low end of the Ortofon line back then and originally designed for a low mass, high compliance arm which was common back then.

Actually, it was designed for POS P-Mount arms, though you probably do not remember that disaster in audio either. It is not a good technical match for the medium mass, medium compliance arms of today.

Ortofon, Grado and AT all design around what is loosely referred to as an "induced magnet" design. This sets them apart from more conventional MM designs from, say, Shure or Goldring. Soundsmith also uses a theoretically similar "moving iron" design which they found originated in the old B&O cartridges of the '80's and have successfully updated and made better - or so I read. The B&O cartridges were actually pretty good though they were paired with rather horrible tables and worthless arms which never got them the credit they deserved IMO.

When you buy a cartridge, you should, IMO, first think about the fact you have two transducers in your system. Your loudspeakers and the cartridge. Both are crucial to how one form of energy gets converted with minimal loss or intervention into another form of energy. The loudspeaker is supported by the amp and the system in front of the amp. The cartridge is dependent upon the table and the arm.

In the widely accepted hierarchy of system design, the table carries the primary responsibility of extracting information from the record groove. Screw it up there and nothing further downstream can make repairs.

Then the tonearm and finally the cartridge.

Linn demonstrated this as a successful formula when they compared an expensive cartridge on a cheap table and a very low cost cartridge on a far superior table with a more sophisticated arm. The rules of physics make this a winning thought process.

Go with that formula first and you will find your music is simply more "musical".

Stop reading reviews which tell you nothing and, most of all, stop believing such tripe.

In fact, stop believing anything you read, which includes my advice. Go all in Aristotelian and rely on your own empirical experiences.


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