AT-LP120 BK replacement cart recommendations?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Chrome_Head, Jul 17, 2017.

  1. Chrome_Head

    Chrome_Head Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA.
    Hi, I've been searching through the threads here for this topic, and haven't yet found one that matches my criteria.

    I have a stock AT-LP120 turntable, with the stock green AT95E cart (which only has 5 months of use on it so far). I think the sound is pretty good on most LP's, though I find it a bit on the darker side at times on certain pressings. Been trying to tweak my system lately to compensate for this, but there's only so much I can do with what I have, and I'm starting to wonder if replacing the stock cartridge would help.

    Been looking at a few of the available ones. Basically, I told myself I'd rather spend more money on records over hardware, but if I can make some slight modifications to the TT, maybe I can get even more enjoyment out of my collection.

    So what do you guys recommend as a replacement cartridge, and would it make much of a difference with my (modest) setup?
     
  2. Doug Walton

    Doug Walton New Member

    Location:
    Michigan
    You might consider either the recently-discontinued (but well-regarded) AT440MLB ($200), or the newer AT VM540ML ($250). Guessing you'd likely hear a difference on your AT-LP120.
     
  3. Chrome_Head

    Chrome_Head Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA.
    Thanks for the recommendations, Doug. Looks like good old Amazon has both.

    Any idea if the AT VM540ML would need a new headshell, or would it twist into the existing tonearm connection?
     
  4. MIA2RDU

    MIA2RDU Member

    Location:
    North Carolina
    I'd go the route of getting a new cart on a new headshell so you can swap easily. It's one of the nice things about the tonearm on the LP120.

    FWIW, I had that table and went with an AT100e (which has now been replaced by a new model # and higher price tag but can still be found with the old model # and pricetag if you look around) and I found that it really brightened things up in my set up without being shrill.
     
  5. Chrome_Head

    Chrome_Head Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA.
    Nice, thanks man! That one is a bit more in my price range at $100 less. Not that the others were overly expensive. I think it'll be a good investment.

    Yeah, just noticed or read about the spot in the back to store spare headshells/carts on the ATLP120.
     
  6. MIA2RDU

    MIA2RDU Member

    Location:
    North Carolina
    Definitely a good investment, I think. I would also look at the AT120eb. It's slightly more than the 100e but I have heard great things about it. I was going to try that one next if I had kept the table. Bumping up the cartridge on that table and possibly removing the phono preamp if you're comfortable with that really make the LP120 shine at its pricepoint--both of these mods had the effect of opening up the sound and making it sound less dull and more lively, but never shrill. I enjoyed mine for many many years.

    Report back with your findings!
     
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  7. Chrome_Head

    Chrome_Head Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA.
    Ended up ordering the Audio-Technica AT100E/G Cartridge with Headshell version just now, as it is one piece. Hopefully the AT100E/G isn't too different than just the AT100E cart.

    Amazon.com: Audio-Technica AT100E/G Cartridge with Headshell: Musical Instruments

    I would definitely like to know more about bypassing the phono preamp? I'm running it through a separate phono amp, and not using the built-in preamp. Is there a way to improve the sound by taking it out completely?
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2017
  8. guidedbyvoices

    guidedbyvoices Forum Resident

    Location:
    Alpine, TX
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  9. Chrome_Head

    Chrome_Head Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA.
    Thanks for that ^. Lots of very interesting info throughout that thread

    I'll see what this cart does for me when it comes (I also ordered an alignment protractor) before I embark on the modding adventure. But the idea is definitely in my head now. I recently upgraded my speakers and I think it's really opening up my ears to the limits of the AT-LP120.
     
  10. MIA2RDU

    MIA2RDU Member

    Location:
    North Carolina
    Yeah, I'd say install the new cart and get used to the new sound with that cart before you try the preamp removal. That way you'll know how the sound changed. I think with those 2 upgrades (and possibly a better mat than the stock one that came with the LP120) your table would be at a level where you'd have to spend $800+ on a new table to get drastic improvement over what you have.

    What I'm saying is I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the effect of those upgrades.
     
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  11. Jackstraw78

    Jackstraw78 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Reston, VA
    I really liked the Nagaoka MP 110 cart on my LP120 when I had that table. Thought it was a great upgrade to the stock cart, and it should be around $100.
     
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  12. Chrome_Head

    Chrome_Head Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA.
    So many carts to choose from! Good to have a variety of options of carts with different sonic characteristics.
     
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  13. kitt1987

    kitt1987 Member

    Location:
    Ohio
    When I had that table I upgraded to the Nagaoka MP 110 cart as well and used it with the Schiit Mani pre-amp and was impressed with the results. Night and day difference IMO. Any of the carts mentioned here will be an improvement upon the stock cart so if you find something that you like the sound on just keep on enjoying it.
     
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  14. Great and smart choice in turntables! There are a lot of people out there with a sore spot for this turntable(probably because they spent much more for a turntable which looks like it was put together with an Erector Set and resembles a 'kiddie' record player). The AT-LP120's and LP5's are substantial and well-mannered turntables!

    I own two of these turntables and have lot's of experience with them. The first thing I did with my AT-120Lp, after it destroyed a couple of expensive records was to S-can the AT cart which came with it. I had an old Shure V-15 cart from the 70's and installed it. The sound difference was an astounding improvement! This old Shure V-15 had 100's of hours on it and the stylus. I found that it had been discontinued, but the replacement was a Shure M97xe, so I ordered one. I installed it as soon as I received it and was very impressed! I recommend the Shure M97xe with the highest regards.

    AT's cartridge hey-day was the 70's with their CD-4 Shibata-equipped carts of the 70's. Other carts they have made since don't measure quite up.

    I play a variety of different types of records, including quadraphonic, so I have multiple headshells with different types of cartridges mounted. It's very helpful to have a turntable which is equipped with a removable headshell.

    A lot of people are talking through their hats about removing/bypassing the built-in pre-amp. There is no set standard for pre-amps, so every pre-amp will have a different sound. I never have used a pre-amp as my receivers have them built-in. I run my AT-120LP's in the bypass mode. Looking at it with a scope, there is no different in wiring around the pre-amp or running it with it's switch in the bypass mode. As far as the sound that it passes through, playing quadraphonic CD-4 Discrete records, which have a 30khz carrier frequencies, being able to pass through high frequencies is a must. For CD-4, I use a Shure M24H which has a frequency response of 20-50khz and using a special record and frequency counter, the cartridge and pre-amp in bypass mode passes this through nicely.

    From my personal experience with this turntable, I recommend the Shure M97xe for an all-around everyman's cartridge and not modifications to the turntable. You can find new Shure M97xe's in the sub-$100. range. I've paid $45. - $60. for the many which I have bought and used.

    As a sidenote, set-up is critical for the best sound. Even if you have the cartridge aligned properly, you may find that some records sound better than others. The differences can go back to the original lacquers not being cut properly. Record quality varies from record to record and pressing to pressing. Sometimes, the speed of the records are not correct, so that variable speed control comes in handy. The speed of those high-dollar turntables are not correct from the start and they don't even have a variable adjustment!
     
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  15. MIA2RDU

    MIA2RDU Member

    Location:
    North Carolina
    maybe it's my ears playing tricks on me! maybe I'm just a fool! but I heard an audible difference after fully removing the preamp. Others can chime in with their experiences, which may vary but from my own personal experience, I recommend the preamp removal and using an external or one built into your integrated.
     
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  16. As I stated, there is no standard for pre-amps, so different pre-amps will sound different(especially if you want to believe that you made an improvement). Bypassed is bypassed. If you want to tailor your sound, by all means totally bypass the circuitry and use the best pre-amp that sounds the best to you. Me? I've done all the tests and confirmed that there is no advantage to totally wiring around the built-in circuit board, so I don't feel it's worth the effort. The circuit board in the bypass mode can pass through frequencies of from 5-50khz .
     
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  17. kitt1987

    kitt1987 Member

    Location:
    Ohio
    I had read as well that one would yield the best results by removing the preamp but I didn't feel like potentially busting up my turntable so I opted to just switch off the preamp and go the "line out" route to an external preamp and found much better results/sound quality than the use of the built in preamp. It all is dependent on what you feel is the sound that you are comfortable with and especially what you are comfortable with spending....this hobby can be quite expensive otherwise.
     
  18. MikeInFla

    MikeInFla Forum Resident

    Location:
    Panama City, FL
    LOVE my 100e, hate that it was discontinued.

    Oh,no... Not another newbie turntable question!

    Find one premounted, it swaps out in 15 seconds. When I bought mine it was 63 bucks. Click link above then go to the Amazon reviews, mine is there with photos.
     
  19. Chrome_Head

    Chrome_Head Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA.
    Received my AT100E/G cart yesterday, and went right home after work and began installing it. To test, I went ahead and grabbed a few random records (David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name, Buffalo Springfield's Buffalo Springfield Again, and Radiohead's Amnesiac 45rpm cut), and recorded bits of them into my DAW home recording setup, first with the 0ld AT95E cart. I wanted to have a comparison recorded to check against.

    Went right ahead and screwed in the headshell of the AT100E/G and dropped the needle, which was ill-advised. Guess I was overly-excited. The Crosby record sounded like absolute mud on playback, there was clearly an error in tracking. I needed to reposition the headshell on the AT100E/G, which I aligned with the old AT95E as per the instructions. I also went ahead and reset the tone arm weight as per the recommendations, at 1.4 grams, and rebalanced the tone arm. NOW it sounded right. Recorded some bits of the same songs, lined them up in the DAW and then A/B'd them to examine the difference.

    While the waveforms didn't look massively different from eachother, man, the sound was night and day. While the AT95E had the same sort of muffled sound with a narrow soundstage, the AT100E/G sounded clear and crisp, with a much wider soundstage overall and was a fair amount louder-sounding. The best results were to be found on the Crosby record ("Cowboy Movie" and "Tamalpais High", and damned if that's not one of the best-recorded pop/rock albums of all time). The Buffalo Springfield samples ("Mr Soul", "Bluebird") didn't sound largely different (man is that a hotly-recorded record for its era but it sounds great), but the AT100E/G was the clear winner there as well in terms of clarity and separation. Finally, the piano and vocal that guides Radiohead's "Pyramid Song" sounded very full on the new cart, lending that "they are in the room" vibe to the playback that the AT95E slightly lacked (though both offered a nice punch to the drums). Also, things like handclaps and reverb trails and transients on certain songs became much more apparent on the AT100E/G.

    I next re-routed the TT back into my home stereo system, which is how I usually listen to LP's, and cranked up Led Zeppelin III. I wasn't particularly wowed by this one, but I don't think I have the best pressing of it, and it's a lot of information on some of the crazier tracks ("Since I've Been Loving You" sounded great). Flipped on Floyd's Animals after a side of Zep, the 2016 remaster which I really like the sound of, and it of course performed better through my setup; lots of impact, incredible separation and a crazy wide soundstage.

    I'm not as impressed with my standard home stereo setup and I'm trying to figure out why. The ATLP120 goes through an old 80's Scott RS250 phono receiver, and from there into a 4-way RCA switch (because my main receiver only has one dedicated RCA input and I have several RCA devices I like to be able to run into it), and from the switch into the main Denon receiver. The Denon has a variety of settings, but last night I opted for just the 'Direct' stereo setting. My Wharfedale front speakers are still pretty new, and I've read they need a 50-some hour break-in period. There is certainly some coloration happening via the chain of stuff the TT is running through.

    Regardless, I can really tell that the AT100E/G made a huge difference. Thanks to everyone for the advice here! While I've been collecting and spinning vinyl for over ten years now, I'm just now getting serious about my equipment (thanks in large part to this forum). Think I'll wait to see how this new cart performs before I consider the ATLP120 preamp mod any further.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017 at 11:59 AM
  20. Jackstraw78

    Jackstraw78 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Reston, VA
    Enjoy the new cart! I agree on waiting with regards to the preamp. I always like to do one upgrade at a time. Helps to better appreciate each upgrade IMO.
     
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  21. Chrome_Head

    Chrome_Head Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA.
    Guys, this morning I've had two otherwise fine condition records get stuck in skips towards the inner groove, seemingly in the same spots, and one on both sides in the same spot.

    Would this be because of the tracking force or something else?
     
  22. MIA2RDU

    MIA2RDU Member

    Location:
    North Carolina
    What is your tracking force set to?
     
  23. McLover

    McLover Forum Resident

    Location:
    East TN
    Agree, the AT 100 for me is the beginning of their really good cartridges. Much more refined, better detail, and more articulate. The E/G headshell included version is very nice. Yes, you need to balance the arm, and set tracking force correctly, you learned why it's so important.
     
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  24. Chrome_Head

    Chrome_Head Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA.
    1.4, which is what the little manual recommended.
     
  25. MadMelMon

    MadMelMon Forum Resident

    I had that exact problem when my anti-skating was off...like, way off. Might want to double check on that.
     
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