A great entry level MC cartridge: Audio Technica AT-OC9XEN

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Oelewapper, Aug 11, 2021.

  1. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    Recently I bought my second MC cartridge.
    The first cartridge I got was a Benz Micro Glider SL, which is a very good midrange MC cartridge, but that ended up as a debacle.
    It's a very warm sounding cartridge, so totally the type of sound I hate.
    I prefer the opposite, the cool sound.

    So instead of wasting another thousand bucks on a gamble and having no store to audition a nice selection of MC carts, I concluded to play safe and go with a decent entry level cartridge from Audio Technica.
    The Audio Technica signature sound is fairly neutral compared to that of Benz Micro.
    When I finally found a nice offer for 250 bucks for an AT-OC9XEN, I took the plunge.

    I got more than I ever dared to hope from a 250 bucks cartridge...


    [​IMG]
    Looks good, comes in a solid white cardboard box with a cardboard wrap around it, not too different of the packaging design of Apple products.
    Sliding the cardboard off and lifting the lid reveals the cartridge in foam, under it are the screws, washers, screwdriver and a brush.
    The stylus guard fits very loosely and comes off very easily, so watch out when you try to get your cartridge out of the foam!
    Overall: well packaged for and entry level cartridge.

    [​IMG]
    The cartridge body is made out of a machined piece of aluminium, feels nicely solid and it has threaded holes to make cartridge mounting a bit easier for the clumsy people :p
    Note: Because those holes are threaded, I don't think it's suitable for the older Audio Technica Technihard headshells that also have threaded holes (thread + thread = error).

    [​IMG]
    I mounted the cartridge and aligned it with the Technics overhang gauge.
    Done within 2 minutes.
    Checked if zenith was correct with a square set, happened to be dead on. Lucky.

    [​IMG]
    Balanced the tonearm, dialed in the tracking force. Bam. Dead on according to the scale.
    VTA was set: top of the cartridge parallel to the record surface as a starting point.

    [​IMG]
    Looks as good as it sounds.
    Added the headshell weight to lower the resonance frequency to about 7Hz, fairly low, but these carts seem to do well with lower resonance frequencies.

    So far, the cartridge was boxed nicely, looks nicely, feels solid and of quality.
    The sound is interesting, in a good way.
    Very nice and clear, low noise, forgiving with ticks, good dynamics and transient response.
    But it also seems that the high frequencies are a bit softer/duller than I'm used to from the Audio Technica MM counterparts (yes, even when the loading capacitance is used to tame their shrillness).
    Having little experience with these MC cartridges, I started fooling around with resistive loading, which can be switched on the fly at my phono preamp (SPL Phonos).
    To me it sounds as if the highs are more pronounced with a higher load resistance... but the difference is extremely small.
    Recommended is >100ohms, but to me over 2.2kOhms seems to be a bit better (brighter).

    In short, I can highly recommend this cartridge to anyone else who's looking for a cheap entry level MC cartridge to test the waters of MC cartridges.
    I only have a few hours on this new cartridge now, so the sound/my opinion might change after break-in, but so far so good!
     
  2. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    What do other people think about MC loading?
    And is it normal that AT MC carts are less bright than their MM counterparts?
     
  3. Davey

    Davey NP: Jenny Hval ~ The Long Sleep (2018)

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    Nice review!

    Just a side note on the Benz Micro, from past discussions we've had, I think you are taking about the first generation of the Glider from the early 90s, which was a relatively high output nude elliptical (I think around 1mV @ 3.54 cm/sec, 40 ohm coils). The LOMC models sold over the last 20 year with the MicroRidge stylus are really pretty neutral, at least in my experience (0.4mV @ 3.54 cm/sec, 12 ohm coils). Also sounds very close to the Wood SL, which I also find very neutral, even in comparison to the AT-OCXML. And test results have shown it has one of the flattest responses you can find in LOMC carts. I like the Benz Micro sound a little more than the Audio Technica sound, maybe it is warmth, I think of it as a naturalness, but they honestly aren't too far apart these days with this new line, same Namiki cantilever and diamond on my Benz and AT. The AT does have higher compliance than most LOMC carts these days, so a better match for lighter arms.

    But sorry for the detour, that AT-OC9XEN is a really good buy in low cost MC carts now for an elliptical on aluminum cantilever. My AT-OC9XM was only $466 last year when they had the 15% discount active, so it's a great deal for a MicroLine on boron cantilever, easily the best I've heard in that price range, does just about everything right. They have a great trade-in program too, but currently aren't very responsive, I've been trying to get the OK to exchange my high mileage AT-OC9XML for a few weeks or so now but they aren't responding to emails. Guess I'll have to call.

    I generally use my LOMC carts at around 500 ohm loading, but I use step up transformers and don't find the loading makes much difference. Seemed to have a lot more impact with resistor loaded active stages.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2021
    gakerty and Oelewapper like this.
  4. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    I know this doesn't matter, but there has always been something about that model I find especially visually pleasing.

    Could be the colors and the shape combo.

    I'd be interested in hearing how you like it in a couple of weeks.
     
  5. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    Thanks, yes the compliance given is in a strange unit of measure, but after using a resonance test record and calculating backwards it appears to be just above 20um/mN.
    I could be mistaken though, but that’s fairly high indeed, about the same as my 2M Black which is rated at 22um/mN.
     
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  6. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    Yes, I’ll do a small update in a few weeks when it’s fully broken in.
     
  7. Davey

    Davey NP: Jenny Hval ~ The Long Sleep (2018)

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    Yes, I measured around 23+ cu on my AT-OC9XML by back calculation on my Micro Seiki, and others have confirmed that range, including professional reviews.
     
    patient_ot likes this.
  8. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    Over 23 holy crap lol
    How much does the stiffness of the boron cantilever impact the compliance or is it solely about the suspension that makes up for the compliance figures?
     
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  9. Davey

    Davey NP: Jenny Hval ~ The Long Sleep (2018)

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
    It's just suspension. One of our buddies here also made resonance frequency measurements of a bunch of the current AT carts on his Technics SL-1200GR ... The Technics SL-1200 GAE/G/GR general questions thread
     
  10. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Go Padres!!

    Location:
    San Diego
    Is this a lower compliance design like a lot of other LOMC's? Is that why you increased the mass of the headshell? Nice review. If fits into the same price range as a VM740ml microline MM though. Also Denon DL-103r LOMC. It is nice looking!
     
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  11. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    It looks like the compliance is fairly high. Maybe he will want to change the weight after a week or two.

    These Audio Technica MC have a rubber suspension without any sort of wire, right?
     
  12. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    The compliance is somewhere just above 20um/mN, so that’s fairly high.
    With headshell weight (7.2gram headshell + 4gram weight; still lighter than most headshells AT themselves sell though) its resonance frequency is about 7Hz, which is still acceptable but on the low side... somehow it sounds better this way.
     
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  13. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Go Padres!!

    Location:
    San Diego
    Is the new Technics arm mass still 12g with headshell? So with the weight you'd be at 16g effective tonearm mass. I really don't understand compliance measurements though. Just that high compliance carts like lighter arms.
     
  14. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    Perhaps, I often change cartridge and settings.
    It’s not just a matter of time, but I also change depending on mood and type of music.
    So far I’ve found that this cartridge sounds nice with sharp trumpet music, makes them less sharp.
    Echos and low volume sustain in the music are very clearly present with this cartridge, I like that.
    Sounds like the pluck of a string seems to take longer to fully die out, compared when playing the same record with a 2M Black or Concorde Century (Shibata and Fineline).
     
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  15. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    Yes, the higher the compliance, the lower the tonearm mass required, but it can also get too light, because needs to be within the range of 6Hz to 12Hz.
    In this case, both with and without headshell weight results in a resonance frequency within that range (~7Hz vs ~10.5).
     
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  16. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    How is it for surface noise?

    What phono stage are you using?
     
  17. Boltman92124

    Boltman92124 Go Padres!!

    Location:
    San Diego
    So here's my dumb question, what is the formula for calculating the resonance frequency? Especially since the Japanese and US compliance specs don't match up?
     
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  18. patient_ot

    patient_ot Senior Member

    Location:
    USA
    $250 is certainly fair for that cartridge. When it wears out, you can trade it in for a high level model in the same series :) .

    I'm sure the nice phono stage helps with making the cart sound as nice as it does. :)
     
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  19. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    nicely done review.
    try loading at 200 ohms. the stylus sjape may be reducing brightness compared to MM.
     
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  20. td320_vinylist

    td320_vinylist Well-Known Member

    The XEB and XEN are lower compliance than the more expensive models of the series according to AT specs. I've got the XEN on my Thorens and at least on paper the lower compliance benefits the tonearm with an effective mass of 17 grams. I'm loading it at 100 Ohms, found it too bright with higher loading (even at 100 it's not rolled off to my ears). Great for the price. Tracks well, sounds well, is built very well. All the AT's I've ever bought had correctly aligned cantilevers and stylii. Can't say that for Goldring or Denon.
     
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  21. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    Yeah... those Japanese units are an issue... hardly something that can be converted.
    But the formula can be found here for example:
    Resonance frequency

    There are also calculators on vinyl engine:
    Cartridge Database Tools - Vinyl Engine
     
  22. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    Yeah I’ve tried some loading options; I have 100, 220, 470, 2.2k, 4.7k and 10k options available.
    So far, 470 and 2.2k seem to sound nicest to me.
    Being able to switch loading on the fly really helps with experimenting.
     
  23. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    Ah yes with the headshell weight installed I’m also at about 16-17grams.
    Somehow sounds better than without the 4 grams headshell weight, even though the resonance frequency is on the low side of the recommended range.
     
  24. Oelewapper

    Oelewapper Plays vinyl instead of installing it on the floor. Thread Starter

    It’s very forgiving to surface noise compared to a 2M Black with Shibata tip, but that’s typical for Shibata I think.
    Compared to fineline (like the 2M bronze, OM30 and Concorde Century) it’s about the same.
    However, it’s quite sensitive to static noise, but I think that’s due to the high gain used for LOMC cartridges.
    I’m using a SPL Phonos.
     
  25. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    Do you think you may consider a step up transformer for some of the gain at some point or too soon to tell?
     

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