Thursday, September 3, 2015

Audio Technica AT150MLX vs Ortofon 2M Black review

This review was conducted with the AT150MLX fitted to a Kenwood KD500 with SME 3009 Series 3 tonearm. The 2M Black was fitted to a Linn Sondek with Origin Live Encounter tonearm. Although I would very much have liked to have compared the cartridges on the same turntable and tonearm, neither the Origin live or the SME has a detachable headshell and so swapping cartridges would have added too much time between listening sessions. The review was conducted by listening to one or more tracks on one turntable then immediately listening to the same track or tracks on the other turntable. Please take what you want from this review.

Despite these turntables being very different, the sound coming from both decks in the same system using the same phono preamp was incredibly similar. I wasn't expecting a Kenwood to sound so similar to a Linn, but they did! From this I have learned that a good turntable is a good turntable irrespective of its reputation, recommendation on a forum, its mystique, cult status or lack of. I always recommend people to come to their own conclusions by trying equipment before making a judgement.

 The sound coming from both turntables was well balanced. Neither cartridge sounded bright, or boomy and I was surprised to find that the sonic balance was near identical but I will attempt to describe some of the differences below.

There are some notable differences between the AT150MLX and the Ortofon 2M Black. The AT150MLX uses a gold plated boron cantilever with nude Microline stylus. The 2M Black uses an aluminum cantilever with nude shibata stylus.
The difference between these two stylus is that the shibata has a wider radius and does not sit as far down in the groove as the microline stylus which sits very deep in the groove. Audio Technica says the microline is very close to the shape of the cutting stylus used to cut records. Shibata cut was developed in the 1970's to allow the cartridge to reproduce the very high frequency carrier signals on quadraphonic records. Both microline and shibata stylus profiles provide a large contact area with the sides of the record groove which reduces pressure on the groove, and simultaneously reduces wear on the stylus. Both profiles are superior to a regular eliptical stylus in this regard. Both profiles are excellent at cleanly reproducing high frequency sounds from records.

Differences that I observed between the two cartridges are that the 2M black has slightly softer more silky and rounder sounding high frequencies. The AT150MLX has very fast and crisp sounding high frequencies. Tonally there is a slightly warm tinge to the 2M Black. The AT150MLX sounds slightly cooler and leaner. However I must stress that the difference in tonally is quite small and in the grand scheme of things is quite unimportant. Effectively both cartridges have an extremely similar sonic signature.

But differences there are, and if I was to be ultra picky, I can fault with both cartridges, though neither fault is a deal breaker, and in isolation without doing an AB comparison its unlikely that anyone would be picky about the sound that comes from either. However what I observed is this;
The 2M Black sounds a bit slow, warm and rounded. The AT150MLX can sound sharper faster meaning that the leading edge of sounds can appear somewhat highlighted, and this applies to the entire frequency spectrum.
But I have to stress that neither present the sound as obviously wrong or incorrect. But after doing the AB comparison I thought to myslef - wouldn't it be nice if I could have the speed of the AT150MLX, and the slightly warm presentation of the 2M Black. If I could have a hybrid of the two cartridges I think id be very happy.

In summary;

The 2M Black provides truly excellent sound. Its forte is its ability to provide a highly detailed and easy to listen to tonal spectrum where everything is well balanced but slightly on the rose coloured side of neutral, and this sound will suit many people.

In comparison, the AT150MLX also provides equally excellent sound its microline stylus providing slightly sharper edges of notes, with very noticeable improvement in speed and accuracy in the  high frequencies, and this speed and accuracy flows through to the rest of the audio spectrum.

There is one final noticeable difference between these two cartridges which is the ability of the microline stylus of the 150MLX to sit below the groove wear resulting in a very noticeable reduction in surface noise compared to the shibata stylus of the the 2M Black which sits higher in the groove.

I think it should be obvious that I favor the AT150MLX. I honestly think it is the more accurate of these two cartridges. But the 2M Black is just so easy to listen to, whereas the AT is always presenting so much speed that its always begging the listener to sit up and listen. Whereas the 2M Black has a certain balance of fine detail and ease with its presentation.

Lucky for those who want a new moving magnet cartridge, we have two excellent cartridges in an affordable price range.

For those who prefer fast leading edges of notes and don't like a rose coloured presentation then the AT150MLX is for you.

For those who prefer excellent levels of detail with a very coherent relaxing and musical experience the 2M Black is for you.

But so similar are these cartridges that assuming correct set up (and cartridge loading) I honestly believe that any discerning listener could live with either cartridge. They are both excellent.

The AT150MLX can be purchased for around AUD $400 and the 2M Black costs about double at
AUD $800

So based only on price I would declare the winner to be the AT150MLX.
If based on listening, then its a very tough call, and I would say that it comes down to personal preference, and system matching. In that regard I will declare it a tie.


  1. I just got the 2m black . Your review is spot on. I miss the edge and speed of 150mlx . The smoothness of 2m black is very easy on the ears. The both do sound very similar in other aspects !

    1. Thank you for sharing your observation, and sorry for taking so long to publish your comment and reply. Well, I just report things as I hear them. I try to be fair and honest. I'm humbled that you shared your appreciation and feel the same way about their sound. I really do like both cartridges.