Audio-Technica AT-ML 150/OCC phono cartridge

How can two meticulously built, high-technology, high-performance, premium-quality moving-magnet cartridges that measure so well (according to their manufacturer-supplied specs) sound so different?

That was the question I asked myself after auditioning the high-compliance, moving-magnet Audio-Technica AT-ML 150/OCC and Shure V15-VMR phono cartridges in two different settings. Why two? Well, the sound I got from each was so different in the Rega 9 'table—review to appear next month—I figured I'd better give them both another shot someplace else. So I mounted them in a couple of Graham nonceramic arm wands and compared them on the Graham 1.5t/VPI TNT combo. Same basic difference.

I never did answer the "why" question, nor did I expect to. Like loudspeakers, cartridges usually do sound very different from one another, and especially at this price point. They have "character." And while in the ideal audiophile world we shoot for accuracy, not for compensating colorations to achieve neutrality, in the world of $300 cartridges that's not really possible. Hell, it's not really possible in the world of $3000 cartridges, but many of those come much closer to neutrality than do either of these.

So while Shure's been on the American scene since the inception of stereo, Audio-Technica's arrival came sometime in the mid-1970s. Since then the company, whose cartridges are made in Japan, has issued a number of well-regarded moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges. Currently, the MM ML-150 and the MC OC-9 are at the top of Audio-Technica's roster.

The ML-150 features Audio-Technica's Vector-Aligned V-shaped magnet system, wherein the two magnets are positioned to match the left and right channels in the record groove. AT claims the arrangement yields "outstanding channel separation, low distortion, and superb tracing performance." The 150 tracked beautifully at 1.25gm, handling the heaviest-modulated music grooves I could throw at it; its lateral and vertical resonance points on the Rega RB 900 arm were within the ideal ranges.

The 150 also features a gold-coated Beryllium cantilever and a MicroLine stylus that resembles the shape of a cutter stylus, and which AT claims provides for better high-frequency response, less wear, and lower distortion "...than with earlier configurations."

The 150's coils are wound with PCOCC wire (Pure Copper by Ohno Continuous Casting), which is formed from a high-temperature extrusion die that produces "...copper with virtually no transverse crystal barriers to impede signal transmission or color sound." The 150 features a Mu-Metal shield between the coils for (claimed) better separation, and an anti-resonance ceramic mounting base.

Speaking of which, mounting the ML 150 was kind of a pain; if you're not careful, the nuts can end up interfering with the stylus assembly you've removed for safekeeping. After you've attached the cartridge body to the arm, if you haven't used the shortest possible screws and the round nuts, you'll find that the stylus assembly won't snap into place when you try to reattach it. A minor annoyance. However, the AT does mate well mechanically with the Rega's preset VTA.

Sound Quality
Once installed, the 150 jumped out at me with its very "fast" sonic presentation. Compared to the Shure's warm comfort, the AT sounded exciting and "snappy," more like a moving-coil cartridge. Without sounding too "edgy," the AT did an outstanding job of delineating boundaries between images and space. Transient attack throughout the spectrum was taut, with well-articulated bass and crisp yet natural-sounding high frequencies.

The result was less murk and better spotlighting toward the back of the soundstage, which also appeared slightly wider than the Shure's. Reproducing massed strings, for instance, the Audio-Technica let me hear the individual players better than the Shure, which tended to homogenize them.

If your system sounds too slow, too laid-back, too rich, you might be a candidate for the Audio-Technica; it was moving-coil–like in its speed and extension, and in its ability to recover inner detail. The ML 150 was fast and lithe, and it too was an excellent tracker, though it emphasized transient information throughout the audio spectrum at the expense of the harmonic envelope.

I heard more detail with the Audio-Technica: when singers "doubled" their voices, for instance, each individual track was easier to follow. For better or worse, individual microphones on multimiked recordings were easier to pick out. Bells had more shimmer, metal guitar strings more bite, reeds more "reediness."

At first it seemed that the Audio-Technica was the clearly superior cartridge, and in terms of "event" information it was. But after a while its lack of harmonic richness robbed music, particularly symphonic music, of its lush splendor. It was kind of like eating rich food when you have a cold—you taste it, but only so far. On male voices—particularly baritones—I got plenty of head and mouth but not enough chest. Female voices could sound like "mouths in space," detached from heads and bodies. Reverberant tails tended to dry up before they'd run their natural courses, which made large spaces seem small, and small ones almost nonexistent.

Compared to the Shure, the Audio-Technica, despite its superior information retrieval, began to sound thin and gray—as if the music were coming through a scrim that wasn't letting all of the colors through. "The harmonic envelope, please!" I kept telling myself.

While the Audio-Technica's bass extension was prodigious in terms of the fundamental, it shortsheeted the rich harmonic that makes a timpani sound like more than just a membrane. With the Shure I got more of the kettle and less of the mallet hitting the drumhead. And so it went, up and down the spectrum. (I'll spare you a few dozen examples; I'm certain you get the picture.)

You simply can't have it all for $300. But you can have a lot (footnote 1). Both of these cartridges feature superb tracking at under 1½gm, with the Shure gaining the upper hand on warped records because of its stabilizer brush. Within the limits of their individual characters (the Shure was slow, rich, and soft, the Audio-Technica fast, lean, and detailed), both cartridges gave a very believable presentation of music, with the kind of overall image focus and instrumental clarity no digital front-end matches, in my listening experience.

So which cartridge is better? And would I recommend a moving-magnet cartridge over a similarly priced high-output moving-coil? Either one of these moderately priced cartridges will match or out-track the finest moving-coil, and do it at 1 or 1.25gm vs about 2. And you can replace the stylus in about five seconds—something you can't do with any current moving-coil cartridge. No $300 moving-coil cartridge features the high-tech, low-mass stylus/cantilever systems either one of these MM cartridges offers. But I wouldn't use either of these high-compliance cartridges on a high-mass arm, or on most linear trackers. No problem on the Rega arms, though.

The Shure V15-VMR? The Audio-Technica? (Or even that long-term favorite, Sumiko's Blue Point?) I can't answer that question for you. Both cartridges offer a lot of music for a very reasonable price. Some of you will find the Shure too sweet, too rich, too slow and boring; some will find the Audio-Technica too thin and lean. Nor can I tell you what Grado's new wooden-bodied entrant at this price point sounds like. (But I'm reviewing the $1200 top of that line, and it's awfully good.)

Which of these two cartridges is better? It depends on what you need. Speed and detail? Go for the Audio-Technica. Warmth and richness? Go for the Shure. Want both? Go for your wallet and head into costlier territory.

Footnote 1: Though the AT's suggested list price is $400 and the Shure's is $300, I've seen both advertised for around $250 mail-order.
Audio-Technica U.S., Inc
1221 Commerce Dr
Stow, OH 44224

Ortofan's picture

Neither one.

The Stanton 881S MK II was what recording engineer Doug Sax used.

volvic's picture

And Stan Ricker always preferred the Shure V15.

Ortofan's picture

... it is mentioned that, when using that cartridge, Stan Ricker is reported to have said that he had "considerable difficulty telling which was which" when comparing "the sound of an original tape with its lacquer-disc playback."

In that same review, J. Gordon Holt stated that "there are undoubtedly a number of other cartridges which will do audiophile-type things better than the Shure" but that "the person who merely (!) wants a cartridge that will reproduce what was originally inscribed on his discs may never again feel the need for a better cartridge than this one."

Also, speaker maker Acoustic Research at one time had some of its own LPs made and determined that playback via the Shure V15-IV resulted in the closest match to the sound from the master tape.

volvic's picture

I always try and find the modern equivalent and something to replace the Shure if I ever need but have never been able to. Some cartridges might have a more colored sound but none I have seen have the ease of stylus replacement and brush that the Shure has proven to be so helpful to me over the years, for many reasons. I still use it and on some pretty expensive gear. Like the late Art Dudley said in a recent column he found it counterintuitive to pay lots of $$$ on something that was going to wear out. He was right, so I still use these MM cartridges. I can afford the more expensive MC's and do have an Audio Technica coming in from AT, but the idea of removing the tonearm to install it when all I do with my other tables with MM cartridges is simply pull the old stylus and replace it with a new one - that is very relaxing and saves a lot of time.

volvic's picture

As I have mentioned many times I own quite a few of the Shure V15's they are terrific cartridges. But they no longer make cartridges and Audio Technica still does. There is something for everyone within the Audio Technica range. Their aftersales service is exemplary.

tonykaz's picture

These are mass produced little pieces, assembled in mass and sold as profit points for Dealers. They function sort of properly, in a general way.

A precision Starrett Micrometer 0-1" for the price of $150, made in Athol, MA is a genuine meticulously made instrument.

Supporting outrageous Phono Cartridge Sale Prices as some sort of legitimate is disappointing behavior of people aspiring to be leading authorities.

Tony in Venice

volvic's picture

"Supporting outrageous Phono Cartridge Sale Prices as some sort of legitimate is disappointing behavior of people aspiring to be leading authorities."

One can say the same thing about the crap GM put out wouldn't you agree TonyKaz?

All joking aside, your hyper focus on the apparent weaknesses of vinyl is getting tired, but perhaps I am being a little too judgemental and wondering if there is some deeper anxiety or neurosis that we may be able to help you with? Do you want to borrow my Dennsen protractor? My Linn setup jig? Or one of my spare Shure V-15's? You would be surprised how it could get your life back in order.

But tell us how we can get you back on track because you've been sidelined way too long with this obsession.

tonykaz's picture

$300 for cheaply made audio gear is the obsession.

Yes, GM Corp made embarrassing products and market place mistakes. Still does. Tesla and Toyota are rather clear evidence.

Vinyl lads reliving the Glory of the 20th Century, collecting thousands of records is another obsession that seems to be elevated as a Art form as justification.

Vinyl is Museum curating.

Of course, Vinyl still works, still entertains, is still available. It is a hobby in of itself.

It isn't the dominant format and it isn't better.

Tony in Venice

volvic's picture

You're unhinged....

JHL's picture

But sir, the free online Stereophile hifi comments thread is the completely natural place to work out our projections concerning all the world's unsavory types, starting with the Asian manufacturer and extending to all the rubes with the audacity to audition and analyze audio gear we haven't heard, but post-facto, simply could never approve.

And those record-spinners? Luddite cultist proletariats. Allow me to count the ways.

Also, copious chatterings about how the editors who give us free online Stereophile now need to compare all hifi gear made in some infinite matrix of intersecting components. Because we're not in the market for any of it anyway.

This is considered good form and the best use of the space.

John Atkinson's picture
JHL wrote:
. . . copious chatterings about how the editors who give us free online Stereophile now need to compare all hifi gear made in some infinite matrix of intersecting components.

I have started working on that project. Jim Austin has, somewhat optimistically I believe, given me a deadline of the day before the heat death of the Universe.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

funambulistic's picture

Very nice - "heat death" indeed!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Heat death' or 'Big freeze' or 'Big rip' ...... Ultimate fate of the Universe ....... See, Wikipedia :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Infinite matrix of intersecting components' could represent 'String Theory' of the Universe :-) .......

rschryer's picture we can all have a chance to read it.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

A week before 'Heat death' the temperatures on Earth (if, there is still an Earth) would be several million degrees :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Also, there won't be enough time to include those in the 'Recommended components' list :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JA1 could publish that article for his 75th birthday, Diamond Anniversary :-) ........

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Score one for the Gipper for that one.

tonykaz's picture

what makes you the Authority ?

The nearly entire 99.999999% of the Audible World is not vinyl based, are they to be considered 'unhinged' ?

Still, I'll consider your opinion authentic.

Tony in Venice

volvic's picture

Nor do I claim to be, but I don't belittle their choices over and over again.

Your commentary is, at times, brilliant, but when you repeatedly kick someone's choice of software choices over and over again, it gets the eyes rolling.

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

tonykaz's picture

I'm an insider, I own a vast vinyl collection and a significant Koetsu variety. I was pro-active in bringing the turntable revolution to the United States. ( along with Linn ).

I understand today's vinyl.

Chad Kassem and Acoustic Sounds is today's leading authority in the vinyl world, he provides an exhorbitantly pricy path ( to take ) considering the remarkable performance levels available with modest PCM.

My original 'comment' here relating to the $300 MSRP for a basic MM Phono Cartridge being described as "meticuliously built" is; intentional gaslighting.

Can someone prove me wrong.

But , this little example of Entry Level is probably as good as most vinyl players will ever find useful, after all , it's an AT. Does it feature a consumer replaceable Stylus?

Tony in Venice

ps. thanks for noticing

Ortofan's picture

... "basic MM phono cartridge", rather it was for a product at or near the top of the manufacturer's (MM) product line.

Basic, at that time, was the Shure M70BX, with an MSRP of $25, or an Audio-Technica CN5625AL for $29.

In the opposite direction, both Van den Hul and Rega were offerng MM cartridges with an MSRP of $600.

tonykaz's picture

Thank you for the clarity.

I'm trying to wipe the Egg off my Face. ( and embarrassment )

Tony in Venice

JHL's picture

...effort to scrape volvic's observation of your characteristic content onto the vast majority in your pocket is fallacious, tony. They're not in here chirping how ignorant they think us 0.0000001%ers are.


JHL's picture

Vinyl isn't so much Museum [sic] curating as it is, when done really right, an acoustical time machine, capable of inducing sufficient suspension of disbelief to place the witness substantially back in the recording space, 30, 50 or 70 years ago.

Of course, you'd have to *be* said witness to know this but who's worrying about little things like that.

volvic's picture

Precisely and as Michael Lavorgna said many years ago he wants to hear the music replayed the way it was intended to be heard, either vinyl, CD, or streaming. I have a 60's recording of Bohm conducting Mahler that I really love, I also bought the CD at a second-hand store so that I could listen to it on my iPod. I was shocked to hear how different and uninvolving it was. It doesn't happen all the time but I am glad I have the vinyl rigs.

JHL's picture

...that's allowed, volvic. We'll have to wait for the judges' score. We may even require Harrison Bergeroning, for the cause you understand.

The nice thing about democracy is how forceful it is.

volvic's picture

I rest my case.

Jack L's picture

....... and it isn't better." quoted Tony.

Sorry, yr above statement only shows us you have not really enjoy music closest to live performance yet?

My question: how often you go to live music performances?

Like every audio fans here & out there, I've gone thru the digital era, e.g. Redbook CDs, DVD-audio, Blu-ray HF Pure Audio, streaming. I still keep all these players in my rig, but as backburners.

I switched to vinyl only a few years back & now have collected some 1,000+ stereo LPs & I am gratified to have done so for sake of musicality.

Only analogue medium: vinyl can bring me back home music closest to live performance in term of emotion, engagement & being-there.

Hate to say unless you really love music & have taken the time & patience to compare analogue vs digital media, you don't appreciate what I am telling you here.

Listening is believing

Jack L

tonykaz's picture

My mother was a performing Opera Voice, my older Brother was Horn player for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra ( DSO ), I've lived a young life with performing artists.
By the way, no hifi could perform like a Live Voice that I heard every day. I am well aware of Live Music.

I originated with 78s, then progressed thru the stages of 33.3 development.

A person's synapses get tuned to the format of choice, vinyl in my early years, then Redbook in my later years.

Nowadays, digital folks have differing tuning of their nervous systems than you experience. I can recall the still great 78 collector Joe Bussard that tuned himself to 78s and couldn't tolerate modern 33.3.

Folks like our Jazz Sheppard seem to proclaim uncleaned 10inch vinyl's superiority.

Some gifted folks mandate MONO as the one and only true and worthy format. ( which I think included Frank Sinatra and a good many other professionals ).

I'll contend that your listening experience will differ from everyone else.

My continuing issue with 33.3 is the Extravagant costs involved with Vinyl Curating.: i.e. 8,000 cu.ft of dedicated storage space, Prices for worthy Phono Cartridges, Arms, Players, Stands, Cabling, step-up devices, Pre-amps, access to available used record stores, Cleaning machines, regular equipment tune ups.

Geez, if a person feels compelled to tolerate all the above, as we all have done thru the 1950s 60s,70s & 80s. fine with me but demanding that all the vast rest of us honour that culture commitment is too much to require.

Still, there is plenty of room for every one of us. ( even cassette & DVD collectors for gods sake )

Pursue your interests and your critiques.

You always seem a dam exciting read.

Tony in Venice

JHL's picture

...FWIW, includes 40 years of analog, making me a reasonable fit around here. I've lost count of the tables I've set up. The cart/arm combos. The phono frontends. I've had tables machined back before machined tables became a hifi show staple. And I've got a few dozen feet of vinyl stacks and the requisite cleaning gear.

Digital holds a lot of promises - ongoing development, potentially higher-fi, access, storage efficiency, portability; the list is as long as it is important.

However, to get into bits-music is the most preposterously lengthy research project I can imagine, and one completely unsuited and unneeded by and for folks who just want to hear music in reasonable fidelity.

I won't do it. It's stupid. I'm not going to build computers - having built half a dozen so far - to hear music. And I won't screw around in the DAC wars, the online access nonsense, and the subscriptions, technical standards, formats, CODECS, USB harnesses, 7G smart phone charger bars, Hey Alexa voice commands, netfi data-zappers, router-channeler-modem-switcher-nodes, and all the kitchen sinks.

It's stupid.

For all that Perfect Sound Forever, it turned into a disaster of obscurity, outliers, conditions, knowledge sets, inside information, trial-and-error, and frustration.

I control a table setup, the plastic software, and the simple procedures to get Living Stereo every time, in the space, with me in its space. Digital has yet to do that in sufficient proportion to the nutso backend and prep it demands of a user.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Those digital people are masochists :-) .......

tonykaz's picture

I agree with you.

Analog is a nice comfortable arrangement for folks like us that've been around the world a few times.

PCM became a "Break-thru" for me. ( about 2011 ) as it allowed me to Travel with a Superb Sound System and an amazing Library/Catalog of easily accessible music. Work Travel is a punitive existence without a music System ( even If it's Walkman ).

I got stuck in Colorado during an RMAF2011 where I happened to meet Steve G and Tyll at one of the Seminars. My first experience in home audio Shows since 1984.

I was amazed at the Sound Quality of Headphone Audio gear. ( better than the Stax stuff I stocked at Esoteric Audio )

Tyll introduced me to the Schiit guys and Sennheiser people.

Now, I have Symphony Orchestras playing at every Park Bench, I'm living in Audiophile Nirvana. Every Hotel Guest Room is more than equal to my best High End demo room at Esoteric Audio.

I've had a University of Michigan Audiologist and Psychiatrist help me retune my Synapses as I aged. All my little gear will easily drive a Full Range and full power Sound System thanks to some Pro-Audio guys helping me select just the right connector cables interfaces. Room filling glory is always an easy flip of a switch and connector insertion.

I continue to win Life's Lottery.

Audio is my personal dopamine comfort companion. I'm an anesthetized Audio Drug addict that doesn't have to pay out for illegal white stuff, get drunk driving charges, arrests for disorderly, shunned by Society. I pass all blood tests, I'm clean.

We Old-School Audiophiles cling to our wonderful Full Range Sound Systems.

The kids have a 50" 4k Monitor, a handheld phone and noise cancelling earbuds.

What exciting things will 2030 bring? I'm extrapolating to Electric Cars with Gas Stations on everyone's roof. ( guns might be banned by then, hmm )

I'm planning on seeing 2050, fingers crossed.

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Jack L and JHL will still be promoting vinyl playback on 2050 Stereophile website :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

People will be living on Moon and Mars in 2050 ........ They will be reading digital edition of Stereophile :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

2050 Stereophile Recommended components list will include, a long list of turntables, tonearms, phono cartridges, phono pre-amps, record cleaning machines etc. etc. :-) .........

tonykaz's picture

how do you know?

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Like I said before, I have a 'crystal ball' :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

In 2050, Ortofan will still be comparing between phono cartridges :-) .......

Jack L's picture

........with Vinyl Curating.:" quoted Tony.

Sorry, I find your above statement speculation & exaggeration.
It does NOT happen to me at all even though I've acquired 1,000+ stereo LPs in only a few years.

Play SMART is the name of the audio game !

For convenience, go digital, period.
For real music enjoyment at home, go analogue: vinyl. I've gone for vinyl after serious & extensive comparison between both media I already got. I finally settled on vinyl wth no regret.

I don't listen to whoever experts/critics sale pitches & go only by my own ears. Mind you, unlike many 'helpless' consumers, I know audio a lot, thanks to my electrical/electronic engineering background & decades experience in design/build audios as a hobby. Of course, my best asset is knowing what music media delivering music at home closest to live - vinyl.

What is yr family members' orchestral involvement to do with yr music preference? Likewise, my elder who started playing classical piano when he was only 5 & graduated in our city's Royal Conservatory of Music in classical piano theory/practice with first class honour. But so what, he still never owns any HiFi & enjoys his earbud music from his iPhone.

I never need to spend big bucks like many here & out there to enjoy vinyl music. Why & How?

You may say I am a cheapskate again.
For a buck or less a LP, I built up my timeless music treasure by shopping pre-owned vinyls in some chain thrift stores in my neighborhood. Those dirt cheap used LPs include 35 LPs of digital masters in immaculate condition.

With PROPER cleansing (no need whatever record cleaning machines), ALL my pre-owned LPs sound like brandnew ones picked up from record stores.
Who needs to spend big bucks on records? I don't.

Many affordable LP lovers pay big bucks for their cartridges. I don't
because I know how to make a cheapie cartrdige sound pretty good with proper tracking & ANTI-skating adjustment without need of purchasing any expense tools.

To save expensive strong tall record storage shelves, I place ALL my 1,000+ LPs in dirt cheap carton boxes modified like those seen in record stores for easy view & access. I placed those LP carton boxes side by side direct on the floor.

Why? No tall shelves around means eliminating music soundwaves reflection caused by the tall shelves. Better sound.

Vinyl playing is NOT that expensive as you speculated IF YOU know the business enough.

Listening vinyl is beliving

Jack L

tonykaz's picture

Once again you present rational arguments for continuing with 33.3 on a modest expense model . I applaud you.

Your manageable methods and methodology is NOT what is commonly presented by the Planet folks. They're recommended & reviewed gear seems 20x to 30x realistic levels.

Your collecting of 33.3 and affordable Audio seems a well informed and educated DIY involvement life.


I'm objecting to the Review of Robb Report Lifestyle Product reviewing being steadily featured by a small number of Stereophile's aspiring Brand Ambassadors.

There is an asserted Hubris involved in being "Privileged" to Review a $750,000 Loudspeaker in the Manufacturer's Home Setting or Amplification costing $150,000
after which we have to endure these things being Awarded "Product of the Year" type applause.

My Mother was a performing Operatic Voice during the Depression Era ( 1930s ), she was never recorded or "known" outside her peer groups.

I enjoyed nearly 4 Decades of 33.3 playback and would love to go back to re-live the entire experience but my world changed, I changed, my circumstances changed completely with my future decision factors changing right before our eyes as I write this.

It appears we are entering a Revolution.

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Jack, did you send any vinyl playback gear and vinyl records with those astronauts to the ISS? ........ If not, send some of the vinyl playback gear and vinyl records to ISS, next time they go up there ....... I'm sure they would love to hear live music up there in space :-) ........

Jack L's picture


Vinyl is for HOME music enjoyment. What is it to do with spaceships??

Ha ha ha....

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

International space station (ISS) is home to several astronauts :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

People who spend some time in ISS can grow taller, due to microgravity ....... So, if we want to be as tall as JA2, we need to spend some time, may be 10 years or more, up there in ISS :-) ........

misterc59's picture

Agree with you Volvic, very tiresome, post after post.

Sorry, this should have appeared in your previous post on analog bashing.


Ortofan's picture

... Ortofon MC30 was $650.

In 1999, you could spend up to $7,500 for a cartridge from either Clearaudio or Koetsu.
An Ortofon MC7500 was a trifling $2,800.
To put that in some perspective, the SME Series V tonearm sold for $3,250.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

In 1999, the price for Sony SCD-1 CD/SACD player was $5,000 :-) ........