Audio-Technica’s original AT-OC9 was introduced back in 1987. Priced £400, the OC9 quickly became one of the go-to options for anyone wanting a talented premium moving coil cartridge. It has been in production since then, going through periodic revisions to keep pace with newer rivals.
The company has changed tack with this latest generation and turned this single model into a five-strong range, starting at £210 ($239, AU$469) and going all the way up to £660 ($729, AU$1399). All the cartridges share the same impressively crafted aluminium body but vary in stylus tip shape, cantilever material and internal generator. At £300 ($349 / AU$699), the AT-OC9XEN is the step-up model in the range.
The AT-OC9XEN features a nude elliptical stylus mounted on an aluminium cantilever. As with the rest of the family, its coils use high purity PCOCC (Pure Copper by Ohno Continuous Casting) conductors.
This kind of copper is manufactured to have no crystal boundaries – it is claimed to maintain signal integrity better than other manufacturing methods.
Frequency response 20Hz to 30kHz
Vertical tracking force 1.8-2.2g
Stylus size 0.3 x 0.7mm
Cartridge weight 7.6 g
Dimensions (hwd) 1.7 x 1.7 x 2.6cm
At the heart of the cartridge is a neodymium magnet and iron yoke generator that delivers an output of 0.35mV (@1kHz, 5cm/second). That’s not overly generous but should be enough for most partnering phono stages to work with comfortably.
We’re impressed by the Audio-Technica’s build. By moving coil standards, it’s at the budget end of the market but certainly doesn’t feel it. The sturdy aluminium body is machined with precision and is shaped to be easy to align in a headshell.
Its two mounting boltholes are threaded to avoid the hassle of having to hold separate nuts during fitting.
The AT-OC9XEN has a suggested tracking range of 1.8g to 2.2g. Once fitted to our reference Technics SL-1000R record player, it works securely at the recommended 2.0g.
We have the similarly priced Ortofon Quintet Blue moving coil and Goldring 2500 moving magnet cartridges on hand for comparisons. The rest of our system is made up of the Cyrus Phono Signature/PSX-R2 phono stage, Burmester 088/911 Mk3 amplifier and ATC SCM50 speakers.
This set-up is far pricier than the kind of systems the AT-OC9XEN would normally be used in, but it puts a magnifying glass on the cartridge’s performance. We also use the Audio-Technica on a Rega Planar 3 to see how it performs with something more price-compatible.
We can’t understate the importance of the phono stage when using a record player, particularly with a moving coil cartridge. The signal levels are so much smaller than a moving magnet alternative – the Goldring outputs 6.5mV of signal rather than the OC9’s 0.35mV – that a spotlight is put on the quality of that phono circuit. If it isn’t good, you won’t make the most of an MC’s theoretical engineering advantages.
Give it some time to settle and you’ll find that the OC9XEN delivers an impressive combination of clarity and speed. We play Four Tet’s There Is Love In You and the Audio-Technica responds with enthusiasm.
There’s plenty of detail, and also the ability to organise it into a cohesive and musical whole. The cartridge is capable of tracking multiple instrumental strands without confusion, each note drawn with care. This level of insight extends to low frequencies, with deep bass notes painted with texture and confidence.
We’re impressed by the cartridge’s agility throughout the frequency range. It’s a responsive performer with little time for overhang or blurring.
We listen to a range of music from Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire to Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis and Orff’s Carmina Burana, and the Audio-Technica continues to entertain. It’s a talented performer with an enviable degree of precision and openness for the money, though not the most authoritative presentation.
Stereo imaging is pleasingly stable and expansive. This ’OC9 generates a wide, layered and focused soundstage once properly set-up. An admirable sense of stability remains as the music gets more demanding.
Tonally, it’s a touch on the light side, but not so much that it would be an issue in a well-balanced system. The top-end is enthusiastic but stays on the right side of acceptability, despite lacking a touch of refinement. This isn’t what concerns us most, though.
Compared to either the Ortofon or Goldring, the Audio-Technica’s presentation lacks a bit of muscularity and dynamic contrast. Those lows may have well-defined punch, but there isn’t the weight or power of the competition in this area.
When coupled to the cartridge’s restrained dynamics, the result is a sound that’s easier to admire than it is to love. It makes listening to music more of a cerebral experience, and less something that stirs the soul. Some may prefer this trait, but not us.
We hope the more upmarket models in the range with their more sophisticated mechanicals avoid these issues. There’s a good chance they might, but as things stand, the OC9XEN has skills but not the all-round game to challenge the class leaders.
- Sound 4
- Compatibility 4
- Build 5
Read our Ortofon Quintet Blue review
Read our Goldring 2500 review