It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Audio-Technica cartridges. THey’re my go-to cartridge choice thanks to their value for money, consistent reliability and stellar performance. Products from the 150 series are in my opinion some of the best moving magnet cartridges available at any price, and I’d been running an AT150SA on a Technics 1210 for some time. While it is a great cartridge, it wasn’t a perfect match for the 1210 and its sound could, at times, become a little harsh at the top end. Minute adjustments corrected this to an extent, though the issue couldn’t be cured entirely. Phono stage loading was also somewhat to blame. AT’s moving magnet cartridges require unusually low capacitance and impedance loading to smooth out the top end which my preferred phono stage cannot provide.
Having modified the arm (details on which will be coming soon), I decided to switch the cartridge to a moving coil. I wanted a MicroLine stylus, tired of the (IMO inferior) Shibata of the 150SA and spoilt by the MicroLine of its MLX predecessor. I opted for the AT33PTG/II, the latest variant of AT’s dual moving coil design which has been around for decades. The 33 range includes the AT33EV (an elliptical tip on an aluminium cantilever, this AT33PTG/II and the more expensive AT33SA, a Shibata tip on a Boron cantilever. Other differences between the cartridges appear minimal.
Before I go on I should address some comments concerning my brand bias toward Audio-Technica. Despite repeated recommendation of their products and continually high praise from me, Audio-Technica do not provide me review samples. My requests for samples and related information from both AT themselves and their PR agency have fallen on deaf ears. Any Audio-Technica product on review has therefore been purchased by myself. They don’t send me free product nor supply me product at a discount. While some co-operation from them would be nice, the fact that I continue to purchase and promote their products speaks volumes for my trust in the brand and faith in their products, especially when there are plenty of alternatives to which I have easy reviewer access.
The AT33PTG/II incorporates AT’s dual moving coil generator based around a powerful neodymium magnet and PCOCC wire coils supported by a VC mould of special synthetic resin. A MicroLine stylus is mounted to a nude tapered Boron cantilever, thinned down and shortened thereby reducing the mass of the stylus assembly.
The MicroLine diamond is a highly polished line contact shape with a curvature radius which wears evenly extending the life of both stylus and record, AT claiming an average product lifetime of around 1000 hours. Longer can be achieved with adequate cleaning and if care is taken to keep the records in good condition. As with any moving coil the stylus of the AT33PTG/II is non replaceable. AT operate a replacement program whereby upon return of the cartridge any model desired among AT’s current MC cartridge line can be purchased at a reduced stylus upgrade price. It’s an excellent way to upgrade down the road or even to receive a reduction on the same model if desired.
The AT33PTG/II is a low output (0.3MV, 1kHz, 5CM/Sec) moving coil and thus requires a suitable phono stage or step up transformer. Recommended loading is 100Ω which I found to be spot on. Running the PTG/II into my Marantz PM-11’s moving coil section showed just how good that stage really is, and presented what I felt was an optimal load to the cartridge. Frequency response is rated from 15-50,000Hz, channel balance is rated within 1dB (1kHz) and channel separation is a more than adequate 30dB (1kHz).
Like the majority of AT cartridges, the AT33PTG/II is supplied in a display case mounted to a device resembling a headshell. This device supposedly serves as an overhang gauge for setting 15MM overhang on suitable turntables, though I’ve never been able to figure out how it is intended to be used. You also get 4 screws, 2 nuts, two washers, a screwdriver and a stylus cleaning brush along with some documentation and a set of headshell leads.
The AT33PTG/II was installed into an LP Gear High-definition headshell with the installation hardware provided minus the leads, the clips of which wouldn’t fit the headshell pins despite persuasion from a selection of tools. The OFC LITZ leads supplied with the headshell were used instead and fit perfectly. Setup was otherwise fuss-free, the PTG expertly aligned by my father using the Technics overhang tool which, despite what the peak and RMS distortion figures show, gives the optimal geometry for the Technics arm. Installing a cartridge is one (perhaps the only) area where blindness is to my advantage, as I can leave the fiddly alignment and arm balancing to someone else. Given the fragility of the PTG’s tiny cantilever and the ease of which that MicroLine could be decapitated, it’s nice not being the one tasked with setting the thing up.
The PTG was set to track at its nominal rating of 2 grams, with bias slightly less. AT specify a small tracking window of 1.8-2.2G, though I found 2 grams to be optimal. The bias on my arm is slightly overzealous owing to my almost frictionless modified bearing, but is not an essential setting and “good enough” really is good enough. VTA, the neurosis often debated by many was set such that the arm was parallel to a record of medium thickness, exactly 1.0 on the Technics’ calibrated VTA scale. Azimuth seemed fine with the headshell horizontal, so I left it as-was and didn’t feel the need to obsess over it – there goes my audiophile reputation. My setup resulted in a resonant frequency of roughly 10.74Hz, well within the usual 8-12Hz recommendation.
Straight out of the box the AT33PTG/II sounded smooth and refined with a wonderfully relaxed presentation. It’s quiet in the groove too, that MicroLine digging deep into the groove and presenting a soft hiss between tracks and largely avoiding the noise present on less than perfect pressings. As the MicroLine stylus contacts the groove over a larger surface area than most, record cleanliness is important as such a small diamond will drag every last bit of dirt from the groove of a contaminated record. If you’ve a vacuum cleaning device or a collection of mint pressings this won’t be an issue, though if you’ve been cleaning your collection with a bath cleaner such as the popular Knosti or Spin Clean you can expect to be cleaning the stylus a fair bit as those cleaners do not access the areas of the groove that are actually in contact with the stylus.
Spin a good pressing and the AT33PTG/II oozes confidence and demonstrates impeccable tracking ability. The sound is smooth and detailed with an expansive sound stage and without the slightest hint of distortion even during highly modulated passages. Worn pressings are handled with an impressive ease, any present crackle or noise dismissed in a manor that doesn’t at all detract from the music.
Measuring the frequency response shows it to be almost ruler flat, besides a little bump at the top beyond the audible range. Despite claims to the contrary, many audiophiles prefer a coloured sound and thus may find the AT33PTG/II somewhat bland. I’m in the minority who prefers a neutral presentation, and the flatness of the PTG was a welcome departure from the sibilant brightness or boosted midrange of other cartridges and perfectly suited to my taste. It suited any music I threw at it from Rainbow reissues to today’s mainstream pop, from metal to orchestral to Electronic, and from Acoustic to soul and Jazz.
The best way to describe the sound of the AT33PTG/II is ‘natural’. As a drummer, I know how a cymbal should sound. I know how the cymbal behaves depending on the way it is struck. I am familiar with the decay of drum shells of various woods. As a guitarist and pianist I know how stringed instruments (namely the guitar and piano) sound and behave. I know what it feels like to play those instruments, and how they will respond. The hammer action of a piano, for example. If a hi-fi system can reproduce that sound, but also remind me of that feeling, then it is a great system working in harmony.
And the AT33PTG/II does just that. It might not have the colour that some prefer, but it is able to reproduce the sound that was cut to the record accurately. Dynamics are intact and tracking is superb. You could spend a fortune on the best cartridge money can buy for minimal return, or you could opt for the modestly price option that simply gets everything right and buy more music. I know which I’d rather. Highly recommended.
Hi I currently have the At33 EV on a 1200G (recent ish purchase to replace a Gyrodec Techno arm setup)The At33EV sounds a wee bit better in the 1200G but not much – it does display a little thickening or muddiness in the mid bass so I am wondering about the PTG/II I also have a Nagaoka MP200 which ie lean and precise in the bass, maybe a whisker lighter weight so also pondering a MP300/500 the advantage would be stylus replacement a bit easierany thoughts??
THe PGT2 is great, I used to have one. Look at the OC9X series however. The MicroLine stylus, or the SLC stylus, should give you what you’re after.
I am currently using my FOURTH AT33PTG, the first three being original model not MkII. IMO, when correctly set up on a compatible arm there is NOTHING sterile about the sound. Natural, as you have noted, is an apt descriptor. Did I say that I LOVE this thing??
It’s a brilliant cartridge.
I finally purchased one and all i can say is “WOW”. had my turntable setup too and never heard it sound so good. I have an old AT630 SteupTransformer and “NO” Hum lol Do i buy a MC stage? or even build one. It has to be better than the Transformer or is the Transformer the way to go? Watch this space and I’ll also accept any advice.
There are conflicting opinions on this. The transformer you have is well regarded and paired with a decent moving magnet stage you would probably have to spend a good bit to beat the performance. You can see a huge cost saving if you build a preamp of your own, though be aware that the tiny signal of an MC cartridge requires a huge amount of gain, and there is plenty of opportunity for interference to affect such a tiny electrical voltage, and plenty of opportunity for unwanted noise. I’d be interested to hear how you get on if you do decide to build one
I don’t have a special amplifier, but it has a mm phono stage. It’s a Yamaha rx-v667 receiver. The only one I could find with a phono stage. But I could build a mm stage and connect to line level input. But it’s knowing which is a good quality DIY Phono preamp to build and whether to build valve, transistor or discreet. The choice is endless. I’m open to advice please. And I will keep you posted.
Firstly, a clarification. a ‘discrete’ design is not a different design like a valve vs transistor circuit. A discrete design is simply a design that uses individual (discrete) components as opposed to integrated circuit chips. Discrete designs offer the designer the ability to more finely optimise the circuit and choose components of the desired quality and are usually considered superior, though the quality of integrated circuit solutions has improved significantly over the years to the point where many high-end devices use integrated devices. Valve vs transistor technology is a widely debated subject that we won’t go into here, though my personal preference is for solid state (transistorised) designs.
I don’t know of any good DIY kits. Personally unless you’re going to design your own circuit I would buy something off the shelf. You could certainly improve performance with a decent outboard MM stage in combination with your existing transformer, or perhaps find something with MC compatibility depending on your budget.
Hi Ashley. I can’t believe it’s been not far off 4 years. Where has the time gone too? Over 2 years of Covid LOL.
I finally bit the bullet ( Probably bit more than I could chew) and built a valve MM Phono Stage and inserted 2 coils. It sounded great, in fact brilliant with great attack. I say great, because I started picking up loads of interference, mainly from my Wi-Fi which was driving me potty. Routers and Powerline adapters are the devils in Audio. I also suffered a lot of hum. I became despondent and so I haven’t played it for a while. Been too busy and especially work. When I get round to it, I’ll be upgrading the components in the Phono stage and PSU, This may be the reason why I am having Hum. I was going to upload a couple of pics for you to see my efforts, but not sure how to do it on here.
Very interested in this cartridge and I have itchy palms in buying it, but what about the at-oc9/iii? they are both at a similar price, but have different body shapes. I have an at1120 arm and have obtained an at-610 MC Transformer. I need some help here guys. First venture into MC.
They are both excellent cartridges and I don’t think you’d be disappointed with either. I would choose the AT33 simply because of the MicroLine stylus profile which in my opinion is superior to the line contact used on the OC9/iii, or have a look at the oc9/ii which is still available.
Thank you Ashley, I made a typo earlier – I have the AT630 Transformer not the 610 ( just bought on ebay). Jeez I have old Equipment – At1120 Arm with Roksan Corus Black (present) Cartridge on an Ariston RD80 sl Turntable. I am hoping that getting the 33ptg/ii that you recommend, will wipe the floor with with the Roksan. Read a lot of good reviews on the At33.
Old but still very good equipment, particularly the Ariston. If you can get hold of the ATOC9/II (which AT still have available) it will be a better match for your arm than the AT33. If you go with an AT33 or even an OC9 you may want to add a 3 gram headshell weight (available from eBay) to help lower the resonance frequency of the arm / cartridge combination.
Ah , the 1120 comes with an extra weight that threads into the rear stem of the arm.. Think I’ve already made up my mind and getting the 33.
Ah, my mistake. I miscalculated the resonance frequency of the AT33PTG/II on your arm. It is actually a theoretically ideal match with the resonance frequency right around 10Hz. I had initially thought that some weight would need to be added to increase the effective mass of the arm – this weight is added at the headshell end, rather than the counterweight end – but this is in fact not the case. I had forgotten that Audio-Technica measure compliance at 100Hz and I calculated based on a compliance measurement at 10Hz. Long story short the match should work great.
Thank you Ashley for responding again. What you have just said, has gone over my head LOL.
Just to let you know also, the arm has a bath with damping fluid at the base of the arm. I think the idea is to eliminate resonances. My only reservations I have with Audio Technica, is from what I remember on the AT-f5 ( I think ) can sound a little sterile, a bit too clinical. But this was on my brothers system at the time and I think it depended on what type of music was being played. It was a long time ago.
That fluid bath is indeed for damping, and also helps the arm cope better with warps. Many high-end arms use the system and it works well. AT cartridges are not to everyone’s taste. They can be a bit clinical, particularly the MC line, though I personally find that once you get used to it it becomes very musical. Some of their carts go the other way; the AT440 for example was quite bright, especially presented with a high capacitance. I look forward to hearing how you get on with your AT33.
Superb, Thanks Ashley for your review. By the way, Could you Please reveal which Phono stage you have used for the review and what’s your recommendation to match with Yamaha AV RX-A3060. Cheers.
I’ve used the cart with a range of stages. It’s primarily used with the integrated stage in my Marantz PM-11S3 which is excellent, on a par with many external stages. It was most recently used with the Pro-Ject PhonoBox DS2 USB which was an excellent match and has the advantage of USB recording and easy front-panel adjustments. The Audio-technica cartridges, particularly the moving coils, are very easy to match and will partner well with most stages. I’d take a look at one of the Pro-Ject models, the Arcam rPhono which is an excellent performer, or perhaps a Trichord Dino depending on your budget.