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Best cartridge you've never heard of: the Audio-Technica AT33PTG/II

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by back2vinyl, Sep 17, 2013.

  1. back2vinyl

    back2vinyl Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    London, UK
    You never hear much about the Audio-Technica AT33PTG/II but a while back I noticed that the needledropper known as pbthal was using it, so I started to wonder if he’d maybe chosen it because it was especially accurate with an especially flat frequency response. I’ve long been a fan of Audio-Technica cartridges for their unbeatable tracking - up till now I’ve been using an AT150MLx which I love – so I thought I’d give the AT33PTG/II a try.

    The AT33 is a departure for me because it’s an MC cartridge and my previous cartridges have almost always been MM. It costs more than I’m used to paying, as well – it seems to be around $500 if bought direct from Japan on eBay. As far as I know it’s only available from Japan and that’s probably why you hear so little about it.

    Having tried it for a few days, I’m quite bowled over by it and I think it’s probably going to be my new cartridge of choice – even better than the AT150MLx, which is something I never thought I’d hear myself say. I really think this cartridge deserves more attention and I hope people will at least consider it, for the following reasons:

    1. The tracking is simply stunning and I’ve yet to find anything that will derail this thing. It just seems rock steady and totally carefree as it rides through the most difficult inner groove passages.

    2. I’ve run a lot of tests and as far as I can establish the frequency response is ruler flat all the way through except for a very slight upward bulge at the far right-hand end of the frequency spectrum, pretty much beyond the audible range. You get loads of lovely bass, a beautiful midrange and pleasantly smooth sibilants – everything is there in perfect balance and harmony. Of course, you have to keep in mind the title of the famous thread that Steve started a few years back: “Audiophiles don't really want NEUTRAL. Audiophiles don't really like NEUTRAL” - some people might find they don’t really like a flat frequency response. Careful what you wish for!

    3. It’s a lot quieter in the groove than the AT150, meaning it doesn’t emphasise the ticks and pops to the same extent. I’m not sure why that would be but it’s quite strange in the nicest possible way – it does that lovely thing where you start the record and sit down but you think you’ve forgotten to drop the needle in the groove because you can’t hear anything so you start walking back to the turntable again when suddenly, to your surprise, the music starts.

    4. It’s a very handsome thing. I know we shouldn’t care about looks but even though the Shure V15VxMR (for example) is a great, great cartridge, it’s hard to love it when it’s so pig ugly.

    Finally, here’s a footnote for AT150MLx lovers. Yes, I love the AT150MLx and always will but there is a body of opinion that finds it just that little bright (or a lot too bright in some cases. Hello Grant!) The reason is, it does have quite a bulge in the frequency response at the top end – a lot of that is beyond the audible range but enough of it is within the audible range to give a layer of frosting or icing to the very high frequencies. Now, the difference with the AT33 is that is simply doesn’t have that touch of frost at the top.

    Here’s a chart to illustrate the point.

    This is a frequency response chart for Hearbreaker on Led Zeppelin II, the UK plum pressing with the “Living Loving Wreck” label. The chart for the AT33 is in bright green and the chart for the AT150 is in white. The one is superimposed upon the other and they turn out to be an exact match EXCEPT at the upper end of the frequency range, where the white of the AT150 extends beyond the green of the AT33:

    HeartbreakerAT150vAT33.PNG

    Here’s the same effect again seen on the first two tracks of Electric Ladyland, first UK pressing, though not so pronounced in this case:

    LadylandAT150vAT33.PNG


    In both cases, more in the first than in the second, you can see how the AT150 adds a little layer of frosting at the top end of the frequency range, and in a close side-by-side comparison I found the difference was audible. However, let’s not forget that a lot of people would like the extra “air” that the upper frequency boost produces, and might find the AT33 quite bland.

    The downside of any MC cartridge of course is the cost because you can't replace the stylus. However, Audio-Technica reckons it's good for 1,000 hours, so if you think of it as 50 cents an hour, I reckon the pleasure's worth the pain.
     
  2. motorcitydave

    motorcitydave Enlightened Rogue In Memoriam

    Location:
    Las Vegas, NV, USA
    Damn right. Myself included.
     
    Rogn Valdr and smokeverbs like this.
  3. hal jones

    hal jones Forum Resident

    Location:
    Waterloo, ON.
  4. Meatface

    Meatface Forum Resident

    Yes! Yes! Amen!
    This cartridge is one of the best purchases I've ever made. I've had Denon, Dynavector, Shure, Grado....and many more over the decades. This thing does everything I need in a cart. Quiet in the groove. IGD is a thing of the past. Very deep soundstage. The highs are silky and smooth, unlike the other ATs I've heard. I have had no desire to upgrade!
    It is not available in the U.S. I had to order mine from overseas.
     
  5. vinylkid58

    vinylkid58 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Victoria, B.C.
    I've been using an original series 33PTG on and off for a couple years now. It's the one with the gold bottom plate, not grey like the series II. It "does" have a raising treble output, shown on the little graph paper sheet that comes with the cartridge. It definitely has a little extra "sparkle" up top, which can work both ways depending on what kind of speakers are in use. It's still my favorite, and easily beats the other cartridges in the stable, DL-103R, Benz Glider, SAE 1000, etc.....

    jeff
     
    Heckto35 likes this.
  6. motorcitydave

    motorcitydave Enlightened Rogue In Memoriam

    Location:
    Las Vegas, NV, USA
    Would any of you say it's better than the OC9? And what is the stylus tip? Microline or Elliptical?
     
    Licorice pizza likes this.
  7. Antares

    Antares Forum Resident

    Location:
    Flanders


    The PTG (Prestige) is MicroLine (w/ boron cantilever), the red bodied AT33EV (Evolution) is elliptical (w/ Duralumin cantilever).
     
  8. marblesmike

    marblesmike Forum Resident

    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I think this might be my next cart. I went from a Stanton 681eee with a shibata stylus to a Nagaoka MP110 (which I was sorely disappointed with) to my current cart, a Denon 301mk2 which I absolutely love.

    I wonder how the Denon 301mk2 compares to the PTG/II.
     
  9. motorcitydave

    motorcitydave Enlightened Rogue In Memoriam

    Location:
    Las Vegas, NV, USA
    That's cool, thanks!
     
  10. e630940

    e630940 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Canada
    I got this cartridge based on a recommendation (my 1st AT) while my Denon DL 304 was being re-tipped/repaired.
    I put 50 hrs on it. It has an impressive sound stage, and looks like a good tracker with good frequency extremes. On my setup it had an initial 'hardness' in the sound that was bugging me. This softened somewhat (with play time) but still noticeable on some recordings. What has not changed yet is that it has not 'pulled' me into the music. It is just not exciting to me. I put back the Denon for verification and BANG!
    What is the typical break in period? I will give it a few more hours but a little worried about it.
     
  11. marblesmike

    marblesmike Forum Resident

    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I'd say my Denon is very lively sounding too. Nice, deep 3d soundstage with excellent clarity and separation.
     
    Daniel Thomas likes this.
  12. back2vinyl

    back2vinyl Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    London, UK
    The PTG/II is a big improvement over the original AT33, not least because of the much better stylus as Antares points out. The cantilever is one of AT's fabulously thin boron things and it has a high compliance - 10 by the Japanese system (100Hz) which is around 20 by our system. The cartridge is a fair bit lighter than the AT150 so thanks to the saving in weight, you don't need an ultra-low mass arm - I'm using an SMEIII as it happens but it would easily match an SMEV.

    What you think of the sound is likely to be influenced by what you're used to. Many or most cartridges have a bulge in the upper frequencies so if that's what you're used to, the AT33 could sound a bit tame by comparison, at least initially. I think it's worth persevering to see whether you can adjust to it but ultimately it's down to personal preference and it's not for everyone. To quote Steve again, "many audiophiles don't really like neutral."

    I meant to say something about loading. That upper frequency peak in the AT150MLx can be tamed quite a bit by getting the capacitance as low as possible and dropping the impedence from 47k to 33k. In the charts I showed above, my loading was adjusted to those levels. If you had the AT150 at a standard loading, it would look brighter than it does in those charts.

    A big advantage of MC cartridges is that they're not as susceptible to variations in loading as MM cartridges. Most people aren't easily able to change the loading on their phono stage so they can't tame the upper frequency bulge that so many cartridges have. The advantage of the AT33 is that you can run it on any decent phono stage without ever having to worry about such issues.
     
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  13. Ben Adams

    Ben Adams Forum Resident

    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ, USA
    I wonder how many of us who like a slight high end bump do so because we're middle-aged (and older) and starting to lose our high frequency hearing?

    Cripes, my family's gonna hate me when I'm 80 and everything's all treble. . . .
     
  14. vinylkid58

    vinylkid58 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Victoria, B.C.
    I would think 50 hours is plenty for break-in. It's possible the 33PTG is just not suited to your system, and tastes.

    jeff
     
  15. e630940

    e630940 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Canada
    I believe you might be right -that's my worry. I will give it another listen, after a very careful setup in another arm and a different phono amp setup.
     
  16. GreatTone

    GreatTone Forum Resident

    Location:
    Falls Church, VA
    I have been using the AT33EV for the last year, and I love it. It does everything the OP says about the PTG: tracks great, very quiet in the groove. I would say it is wonderfully musical and engaging, detailed yet smooth. I have about 500 hours on it and am hoping for 500 more. Then I will probably get it re-tipped by Soundsmith.
     
  17. vinylkid58

    vinylkid58 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Victoria, B.C.
    What were you you using for step-up, and the loading?

    jeff
     
  18. e630940

    e630940 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Canada
    same as for the Denon - a vintage tranny (altec/peerless 15095A in a 150:15K ohm mode,1:10 VR) and 47K phono input
     
  19. e630940

    e630940 Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Canada
    ^-effective load 470 ohms at phono preamp (47K/100). AT recommends greater than 100 ohms
     
  20. RobHolt

    RobHolt Forum Resident

    Location:
    London UK
    Used a Mk1 for several years and still have one stored away.
    Brilliant VFM and easily the match for much more expensive MCs.

    The basic 32/33 design goes back to the late 70s. Lots of variation, mainly in the cantilever and tip covering elliptical, LC and Microline.
    Here is a 32E on the front cover of a 1980 uk magazine:

    [​IMG]
    $(KGrHqNHJBMFIpilQpD5BSLIIsplP!~~60_12
    by trebor1966, on Flickr
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2013
    harkpabst, Pedroboe, Doctorwu and 2 others like this.
  21. marblesmike

    marblesmike Forum Resident

    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I wonder how the PTG/II compares to the Dynavector 20x2l. I'm thinking of getting one of those two as my next cart.
     
  22. rl1856

    rl1856 Forum Resident

    Location:
    SC
    I run a AT33/ML OCC, in a Linn LP12/Ittok LVII, connected to a Lundahl SUT. ML-OCC I think means Micro Line stylus and extra pure copper wireing in the coils. When I initially installed the cartridge all I could hear was unholy HUMMMMMMMM. Careful routing of wires and star grounding took care of the hum to the extent that it is inaudible at my listening chair. The AT replaced a Shure V15Vmr. After the hum was addressed and carefully rechecking alingment I was rewarded with a wonderful sounding cartridge. I settled on 2.2g TF and about 2g AS. Wider and deeper soundstage, better transient responce and the ability to hear details and pick out multiple players in a group. I recall listening to a familiar record and noting that the piano had set at a 45' angle to the mic. How did I figure this out? Because as the pianist was playing I could hear his fingers move across the keyboard and slightly away from me. With cymbols I could hear the intial percusive strike of the stick against the cymbal and then the shimmer and decay of the sound. The V15 blurred the percusive strike and tended to merge the shimmer and decay of the note. On the other hand, I have a few records with heavy low bass content that causes the cartridge to occilate, then jump the groove and bouce along the record surface. I understand this to be a cartridge/arm resonance problem, but by all accounts my arm and cartridge are compatible. Oh well.
     
  23. motorcitydave

    motorcitydave Enlightened Rogue In Memoriam

    Location:
    Las Vegas, NV, USA
    Ok, cool, but again how does this compare to the OC9?
     
  24. back2vinyl

    back2vinyl Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    London, UK
    rl1856, I don't know anything about the AT33/ML OCC - an earlier model perhaps? - but having a needle jumping out of the groove is very worrying. I would double-check the setup and make sure the arm movement is free laterally and vertically, then invest in the Hi-Fi News Test Record which will enable you to check not only the resonance but also the antiskate.

    motorcitydave, I've never tried the OC9 so I can't help you there unfortunately but maybe someone else will chip in.

    RobHolt, I was very interested to learn of the AT33's long pedigree. Thanks for posting, esp. the old magazine cover.
     
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  25. vinylkid58

    vinylkid58 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Victoria, B.C.
    I agree, that's "very" unusual. My 33PTG has never exhibited this kind of behavior.

    jeff
     
    Heckto35 likes this.

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