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2021 Good Value Cartridges / Stylus


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Looking to purchase a reasonably good cartridge / stylus for my Sansui SR-929. Is the Audio Technica VM540ML still good value in 2021? Are there other models or brands to consider around the similar price point?

 

Thanks for all your comments.

Edited by Sansui77
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In my view the AT VM540ML remains one of the best value cartridges at the moment.  I certainly  haven't compared it to everything out there;  however I have been surprised by how close it runs the vintage AT microline moving coils I have (AT33ML, AT36ML),  and its proximity in sound quality to the legendary AT 150MLX, which I also own. 

 

The VM95ML is also worth checking out.  

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19 minutes ago, mkaramazov said:

In my view the AT VM540ML remains one of the best value cartridges at the moment.  I certainly  haven't compared it to everything out there;  however I have been surprised by how close it runs the vintage AT microline moving coils I have (AT33ML, AT36ML),  and its proximity in sound quality to the legendary AT 150MLX, which I also own. 

 

The VM95ML is also worth checking out.  

 

How close do you find the 95 to the 540 in performance?   I found the extra couple of hundred a bit hard to justify (not having heard either) so I got the VM95ML which I found to be way better than I expected.    I guess I am wondering, should I now save for a 540 for one of my other tables?

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After doing some research the AT-7V is one serious bargain. I've emailed IP gear to see if anymore stock will be available.

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3 minutes ago, Sansui77 said:

After doing some research the AT-7V is one serious bargain. I've emailed IP gear to see if anymore stock will be available.

 

It's a special elliptical, vs the microline in the 540ML and 95ML, if that matters

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2 hours ago, aussievintage said:

 

How close do you find the 95 to the 540 in performance?   I found the extra couple of hundred a bit hard to justify (not having heard either) so I got the VM95ML which I found to be way better than I expected.    I guess I am wondering, should I now save for a 540 for one of my other tables?

 

I haven't heard the VM95ML to compare. My guess is they would sound similar? I believe the 540ML has a tapered aluminium cantilever and better body construction which in theory should mean better sound. But in practice I suspect the differences are marginal - in both cartridges the highlight is surely the ML stylus, which as you know when set up properly is quite magic. 

 

I was attracted to the 540ML btw because it uses the same body as the 150, and the older 120 / 440 models (as well as the p mount 112/ 132/142 etc) so the stylii are exchangeable - I have a few of these cartridge bodies in my collection, including the old beryllium cantilevered AT 150E. 

 

 

1 hour ago, Sansui77 said:

After doing some research the AT-7V is one serious bargain. I've emailed IP gear to see if anymore stock will be available.

 

The AT 7V is a really nice cartridge for the money, and I believe one of the few 0.2 x 0.7 mil ellipticals available at this price point. However the microline stylus in the 95ML / 540ML would move things to another level.

 

The only warning around the microline is that set up needs to be optimal and clean records are a priority. I know some  may prefer an elliptical as set up is less finicky, and in some cases they are easier to live with if you have  less than ideal condition records.  

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I have not heard the 540ML, but I have the AT VM95ML and would say in it's price range it would be hard to beat.

 

Having said that I also have a LP Gear The Vessel A3SV which is about the same price range, is also a ML stylus and for me is better than the VM95ML. It still has great detail and balance but is a little smoother, perhaps not quite as clinical.

 

The only issue with it is it has to be ordered from LP Gear in the States.  I ordered one last year and with all the Covid issues it took several months to get here. If there is a problem with it you also the hassle of return to the US.  

 

The Vessel is a great cartridge, but for convenience you might prefer the VM95ML.

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4 hours ago, mkaramazov said:

I was attracted to the 540ML btw because it uses the same body as the 150, and the older 120 / 440 models (as well as the p mount 112/ 132/142 etc) so the stylii are exchangeable - I have a few of these cartridge bodies in my collection, including the old beryllium cantilevered AT 150E. 

 

It's funny, because other than price, that was one thing that DIDN'T attract me, as I have a 440MLa and hate the thin sound.  I was worrried that the 540 would be more of the same.

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4 hours ago, mkaramazov said:

The only warning around the microline is that set up needs to be optimal and clean records are a priority. I know some  may prefer an elliptical as set up is less finicky, and in some cases they are easier to live with if you have  less than ideal condition records.  

 

In practice, I found the VM95ML no harder to set up than any other stylus shape, and I do play less than pristine records at times.  It's not really much worse, if at all.

Edited by aussievintage
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34 minutes ago, aussievintage said:

 

It's funny, because other than price, that was one thing that DIDN'T attract me, as I have a 440MLa and hate the thin sound.  I was worrried that the 540 would be more of the same.

 

The 540ml is a really different beast,  despite on paper appearing the same.  I had a 440ML OCC (the first 440) which was exciting for some recordings,  but very painful on anything vaguely  bright.  The 540ML on the other hand is a much more balanced cartridge. In some respects it is more easy to live with than the AT 150MLX - in my view the latter is capable of a beautiful airy sound with that Boron cantilever,  but can also be bright with some records.  

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38 minutes ago, aussievintage said:

 

In practice, I found the VM95ML no harder to set up than any other stylus shape, and I do play less than pristine records at times.  It's not really much worse, if at all.

 

That makes sense to me,  I guess it is really just about applying the same principles of set up that you would take into account with any cartridge.  I have heard it said that VTA is more critical with microline,  and this is a problem for folks with arms that lack adjustment.  I havent had this problem though with my arms. 

 

I did find when I started using microlines that they gathered gunk much more easily - I have started being much more attentive to record cleaning and stylus cleaning! 

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1 hour ago, mkaramazov said:

 

That makes sense to me,  I guess it is really just about applying the same principles of set up that you would take into account with any cartridge.  I have heard it said that VTA is more critical with microline,  and this is a problem for folks with arms that lack adjustment.  I havent had this problem though with my arms. 

 

I did find when I started using microlines that they gathered gunk much more easily - I have started being much more attentive to record cleaning and stylus cleaning! 

 

A quick dab in magic eraser before each play is so easy to do, and keeps the ML stylus pristine.

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10 hours ago, mkaramazov said:

 legendary AT 150MLX, which I also own. 

Have you come across a new stylus for this cart in your travels? Mine needs replacing.  

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11 hours ago, blakey72 said:

Have you come across a new stylus for this cart in your travels? Mine needs replacing.  

 

Sadly no,  I suspect the international supply of original styli for the MLX  have been snapped up by collectors.  

 

Occasionally ebay sellers have a good prices on the shibata stylus for the AT150SA.  However in some respects it may be better to just buy a new 540ML stylus for your cartridge,  as this is compatible. 

 

For a bit of fun Goldring Stylus in Australia have some NOS stylii that should be compatible,  including the AT150e stylus,  which is a 0.2 x 0.7 mil nude elliptical on a berrylium cantilever.  Its not as good as the MLX,  but sounds very nice.  

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21 minutes ago, mkaramazov said:

 

That is an exceptional price,  it will be hard to do much better.  

Just bought one with only 5 left.....Hurry at this price.

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14 minutes ago, Sansui77 said:

Just bought one with only 5 left.....Hurry at this price.

 

Great stuff,  looking forward to hearing how it goes in your system! 

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A little late, but some interesting comparisons and graphs on the AT carts here  https://www.vinylengine.com/turntable_forum/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=124168

 

Just going by the graphs and some of the comments,  I can see why I prefer the VM95ML to my 440MLa (presuming it behaves like the rest of that family i.e. 540ML and 740ML.

Edited by aussievintage
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