After what feels like decades of waiting, Audio-Technica introduced a range of nine new cartridges in 2017, comprising 500, 600 and 700 Series bodies with seven different versions of styli, including special line contact, Shibata, MicroLine, elliptical and conical types. All versions are configured to optimise the playback of either stereo, mono or even 78 rpm shellac records. The £179.95 VM530EN is a middle range model equipped with a 0.3 x 0.7 mil nude elliptical stylus.
At this relatively modest price you would expect an aluminium cantilever, and that’s what you get. The housing is nothing fancy either, made from low resonance polymer. This cartridge’s main distinguishing feature is the dual magnet system, which has two magnets arranged in the shape of a ‘V’. They’re positioned precisely to match the positions of the left and right channels in the stereo groove walls, which is claimed to give better channel separation. The generator uses para-toroidal coils with laminated cores for greater efficiency (hence higher output and better detail resolution, it’s claimed). A permalloy centre shield plate enables the effective separation of left and right channels, suppressing electrical crosstalk to below 40dB, says Audio-Technica.
The cartridge is easy enough to fit, thanks to the sensible stylus guard and accessible cartridge pins that you would expect from this brand. Tracking force is said to be 1.8 to 2.2g, with 2g recommended. Rated output is 4mV (1kHz, 5cm/sec.) which is good but not outstanding; it will drive most moving magnet inputs pretty well. The company claims a frequency response of 20 to 25,000Hz, a channel separation of 27dB (1kHz), an output channel balance within 1.5dB (1kHz), static compliance of 35×10-6 cm/dyne and dynamic compliance of 8. Recommended load impedance is a pretty standard 47k ohm, and recommended load capacitance is 100 to 200pF. The cartridge comes well packaged with the usual Audio-Technica mounting screws, non-magnetic screwdriver and brush.
The VM530EN sounds – surprise, surprise – like an Audio-Technica cartridge. It’s a clean, crisp and detailed thing, with a fair degree of refinement and obvious rhythmic snap. The tonal balance is familiar too; you’re not getting something that is either wildly bright or excessively dull. Instead this cartridge treats a middle ground, although perhaps it’s slightly smoother than budget cartridges from this brand of yore. For example, the Human League’s Things That Dreams Are Made Of had a big, solid, confident soundstage with a strong central image. At the same time, I was impressed by how quiet the LP surface seemed, that elliptical stylus obviously getting deep into the groove. Indeed, it gave a spirited rendition of this early electro classic. At the same time, the Audio-Technica conveyed harmonics well, giving a sparkling and vibrant sound.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Country Girl had large amounts of detail and an expansive recorded acoustic. It let individual instruments play cleanly, whilst stringing everything together with real skill. Strong on dynamics, it also gave an impactful and emotionally committed reading of this great song. Moving to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five and the pattern continued; this cartridge proved lively yet nicely detailed with a sweet, silky and atmospheric cymbal sound, and a grainy feel to the saxophone. Indeed, it proved to be a highly able mid-price moving magnet that’s a little more subtle and detailed than many rivals, without losing the obvious rhythmic energy that defines the brand’s sound.