The Audio Technica AT440MLA cartridge is an audiophile budget cartridge that packs a huge punch for value. ‘Audiophile’ and ‘budget’ very rarely belong in the same sentence. Cartridge manufacturers over the last decade or so appear to have made an effort to make turntable accessorising a far more affordable venture. Such a welcome change too – no longer are we needing to trawl for second hand cartridges to fulfil our audiophile needs. Shure, Denon, Audio Technica and Ortofon all have some lovely cheapies that suit anyone who thinks paying $1000 for a cartridge is overkill.
The 440MLA comes as an update to the AT440, which is no longer being manufactured. A real strength of the AT440MLA is its dynamic range – for a budget cart this has wonderful scope, especially at the treble end. Stereo channel separation is fantastic, which makes listening to vinyl via either headphones or speakers a unique experience.
The micro-linear stylus tracks quite lightly, at 0.8 to 1.6 grams. Surprising, then, that it tracks quite well. It can be prone to a bit of sibilance distortion (inaccurately reproduces hissy consonants). During the break in phase at the least, ‘S’ sounds may be overtly noticeable which can affect the listening experience. Probably best to avoid that op shop record with the “she sells sea shells by the sea shore” then. The stock stylus is really quite good and will make you extra keen to keep your records nice and clean since it will pick up every speck of dust in the grooves of the record.
The AT440MLA vs similar cartridges
The Shure M97xE is the AT440MLA’s most respected competitor. At a similar price range, the ‘general consensus’, if such things matter to you, is that the AT440MLA wins by a sliver. It comes down to sound of course – the Shure M97xE is rather a flat sounding cartridge, which some people particularly love. If the rest of your system sounds overly warm, the Shure is a good cartridge to tone that down a little. Conversely, the AT440MLA is on the brighter side and will warm up flat sounding systems.
The M97xE has a particular knack of minimising tracking and background noise, a trait common to most of the Shure fleet. The AT440MLA’s tracking is perhaps a little better however and produces slightly more dynamic range. If you’ve heard ‘flat’ or ‘bright’ sounding carts before then you’re probably already aware of your personal preference and will buy accordingly. Those unfamiliar with cartridge subtleties will likely get more joy out of the Audio Technica AT440MLA since it has a more characteristically ‘vinyl’ sound.