After what seems like decades of waiting, Audio-Technica released a new cartridge line in 2017, with bodies in the 500, 600, and 700 Series and seven different styli kinds, including special line contact, Shibata, MicroLine, elliptical, and conical varieties. The playback of stereo, mono, and even 78 rpm shellac recordings is optimized in all versions. The VM530EN, which costs £179.95, is a mid-range device featuring a 0.3 x 0.7 mil nude elliptical pen.
At this low price, you’d expect an aluminium cantilever, and that’s exactly what you get. The housing, which is composed of low resonance polymer, is also unremarkable. The dual magnet system, which has two magnets placed in the shape of a ‘V,’ is the cartridge’s most noticeable characteristic. They’re properly aligned with the left and right channels in the stereo groove walls, resulting in superior channel separation, according to the manufacturer. For improved efficiency, the generator employs para-toroidal coils with laminated cores (resulting in higher output and better detail resolution, according to the manufacturer). According to Audio-Technica, a permalloy centre shield plate offers efficient separation of left and right channels, lowering electrical crosstalk to below 40dB.
The cartridge is simple to install, thanks to the practical stylus protection and easily accessible cartridge pins that this brand is known for. The tracking force should be between 1.8 and 2.2 grammes, with 2 grammes being preferred. The rated output is 4mV (1kHz, 5cm/sec), which is adequate but not exceptional; it will adequately drive most moving magnet inputs. The firm claims a 20 to 25,000Hz frequency response, 27dB (1kHz) channel separation, 1.5dB (1kHz) output channel balance, static compliance of 3510-6 cm/dyne, and dynamic compliance of 8. The suggested load impedance is 47k ohm, while the recommended load capacitance ranges from 100 to 200pF. The cartridge comes with the standard Audio-Technica mounting screws, a non-magnetic screwdriver, and a cleaning brush.
Surprisingly, the VM530EN sounds like an Audio-Technica cartridge. It’s a neat, sharp, and detailed piece with a good deal of finesse and a noticeable rhythmic snap. The tonal balance is also recognizable; you won’t get something that’s either too bright or too dark. Instead, this cartridge takes a middle ground approach, however it may be marginally smoother than previous budget cartridges from this company. Things That Dreams Are Made Of, for example, featured a large, robust, confident soundstage with a strong core picture. At the same time, I was struck by how silent the LP surface appeared to be, despite the fact that the elliptical stylus was clearly digging deep into the groove. It provided a lively performance of this early electro hit. Simultaneously, the Audio-Technica successfully imparted harmonics, resulting in a dazzling and vivid sound.
Country Girl by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young has a lot of detail and a big recorded acoustic. It allowed individual instruments to play clearly while expertly connecting everything together. It offered a dramatic and emotionally committed reading of this wonderful song, with strong dynamics. The pattern resumed with Dave Brubeck’s Take Five; this cartridge was vibrant but highly detailed, with a sweet, silky, and atmospheric cymbal sound and a gritty saxophone sound. Indeed, it proved to be a decent mid-price moving magnet that is a little more nuanced and detailed than many competitors while maintaining the brand’s signature rhythmic intensity.