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Audio Technica AT440MLA Review

audio technica at440mla review

TL;DR:

Audio Technica AT440MLA Review. The AT440MLA is a dual MM (Moving Magnet) audiophile tonearm cartridge with a comprehensive package. With a frequency response of 20Hz - 20kHz, tight tolerance control, and a MicroLine diamond stylus, the AT440MLA offers crystal clear highs and deep tight bass.


Review Preface:

Having never failed our most discerning ears, Audio Technica is most definitely one of the most technologically advanced ‘trendsetter’ brands that sets an extraordinarily high precedent for the pro audio, consumer, and Hi-Fi music industries to follow. However, it is today that we investigate a technology that most ancient in comparison to our more modern digital infatuation. Today this technology still influences the livelihoods of self-confessed audiophiles, and is responsible for one of the biggest technological resurgences in modern (music) consumption history. This technology that we speak of is the humble vinyl player, and with its ‘lossless’ beauty shining bright today we are reviewing the Audio Technica AT440MLA dual moving magnet cartridge.


Unboxing and Build Quality:

Usually we would be familiar with receiving a package that is aesthetically understated in this product category, however the AT440MLA arrives in that signature Audio Technica white and purple box that is so reminiscent within the marketing of any ‘AT’ product. As you open the exterior you will notice that the cartridge is held secure within a plastic display box type tomb. Audio Technica have made sure that the AT440MLA is physically screwed to this enclosure, and on the rear you will locate a set of high-quality head-shell leads, four screws with eight washers, a macro flathead screwdriver, and a fine carbon fibre brush for delicately cleaning the stylus.


This comprehensive package ensures that you are able to update your existing cartridge with ease, and most importantly delivers quality and value for money; especially when you take into account those beautiful headshell leads that, unlike others, come in the package. Audio Technica claim that they have developed these special leads to optimise performance between the internal coil so that the copper is identical and ‘ohno continuous’. In theory this finer attention to detail is wholly credible, and in practice it functions as intended, so with surgical precision you can guarantee that your weakest links are elsewhere.


Whilst the cartridge itself is finished in that signature black and purple hue, you will be hard pressed to find any fault with the build quality. There is no burring of the plastic, no evident heat pressed seams, and, on the whole, feels solid on the tone arm. Our only qualm is aimed towards the ‘swing-arm’ style stylus protector. Unfortunately we have felt that this doesn’t quite fully protect the stylus from the back where only a slip can end in a disastrous bent needle saga, and therefore you will need to be on best behaviour with this beauty.


Technical Information and Installation:

Taken straight from the specifications, the AT440MLA boasts a unique ‘MicroLine™’ stylus and dual magnet cartridge that claims to be “practically identical to the cutter head. Featuring this new technology, this cartridge requires such a minimal tracking force for the stylus to fit closely into the grooves, and thus has a crystal clear high frequency response. Audio Technica state that 1.4g is optimal for this cartridge to perform at within a range of 1.0g to 1.8g. During our testing we found that Audio Technica was bang on the nose with an optimal force of 1.4g as there was a nice balance between beautifully defined highs, and defined deep black lows between the reported 20Hz to 20kHz frequencies.


However, with the tracking of this super light cartridge you may need to consider buying a record stabilizer weight. The reason for this is simple; with most modern pressed records you will find that the production process has warped the vinyl, and with a light tracking you may find that the tolerances of the cartridge may be pushed when the cartridge attempts to follow the peaks and valleys of this imperfection. For some users this can impact the sound quality, and therefore make this purchase a must. Likewise, if you are using an older player with the AT440MLA you may find that your tone arm might have a mass that is quite difficult to work in synergy with the AT440MLA, so we do recommend that you consider this purchase. However, if you are using a modern system then you are less likely to run into these types of complications.


Installing the AT440MLA was a relatively simple affair. Prior to fitting it is recommended that you remove the stylus by closing the guard, and gently pulling the assembly off. Following this step you should not over-tighten the cartridge to the headshell, but also to remember to use the clear washers on the top of the headshell and underneath on the cartridge to eliminate any resonates. After making sure that the headshell leads are clamped all the way to the back of the cartridge lugs you should replicate this on the tonearm lugs. Where the leads are slightly crimped, there can be some difficultly in correctly attaching the leads to the lugs. Always remember to take it slow, and don’t force the leads; it would be a shame to damage them, your tonearm, the cartridge, or the stylus.


Audio Technica At440 MLA Sound Quality:

Prior to a full burn-in, it has to be said that the AT440MLA does sound bright. For this reason we recommend that you burn-in this cartridge for a substantial period before you begin critical listening. With the formalities aside, this is a cartridge for the audiophile! As the cartridge tracks you do not experience any of that horrid distortion because the AT440MLA stylus seems to perfectly reproduce the frequencies on the record with astonishing accuracy.


Featuring a beautiful stereo field that can be considered as only slightly larger than life, you are welcomed in to a world where the instrumentation, each with its own spatial dimension, is nice and defined without projecting an amalgamated wash. In fact it was during our testing of this particular cartridge that I found myself becoming increasingly involved with the music in a way that made me want to play my way through the entire record collection in an evening. Yet, having listened to a number of Vinyl’s that can be considered as exceptionally ‘revealing’ (in terms of environmental awareness), the AT440MLA represented and respected each of the smaller nuances of sound with grace and respect. For this reason I would say that the Microline™ stylus technology employed by Audio Technica is a roaring success. It is plain and simple that this cartridge is not one to plough through the grooves, it is one to fits into them, extraordinarily well, and tracks like a dream.


Overall the cartridge itself appears to be a close fit to what we might describe as ‘neutral’. Now having pleased seasoned audiophiles with this simple sentence, I will explain this further. Upon the playback of ‘heavy’ transient rhythmic bass elements the AT440MLA delivers some sharp punch, whilst not dwelling too much on a super smooth and artificially enhanced bass line for the bass heads out there. The key here is refinement, attack, and neutrality. Approaching the mids now, the sound is sweet and engaging, but does feature, in the grand scheme of things, as slightly thinner to that of the bass and treble frequencies. This is not a problem at all because it all sounds very regimented. As mentioned previously, the highs are where it is at with this cartridge. They are so sweet and musical, never piercing or deflating, to the ear that you might not be able to find another cartridge in this price range that can perform like the AT440MLA does. Listening to lonesome acoustic guitars, to then be accompanied by sweeping vocals, is a dream because of the way that the detail comes across to each instrument with contrast. All in all, this is a beautiful cartridge.


Review Conclusion:

Let’s be frank about it, the Audio Technica AT440MLA is simply brilliant. Where the cartridge requires a super-light optimal tracking force of 1.4g, the AT440MLA greets you with crystal clear highs that sizzle with precision, slightly sobering creamy mids, and a deep transient bass response that just pops. The AT440MLA is definitely one for the audiophile; it will never fail to disappoint. For all of these reasons we proudly award the Audio Technica AT440MLA with a full five out of five rating.


Edd Harris

Edd Harris - 22nd October 2013

US RRP: $285.00 | UK RRP: £159.90

Editors Rating:

Five Star Award
Audio Technica AT440MLA
5/5 stars
Audio Technica AT440MLA Review. The AT440MLA is a dual MM (Moving Magnet) audiophile tonearm cartridge with a comprehensive package. With a frequency response of 20Hz - 20kHz, tight tolerance control, and a MicroLine diamond stylus, the AT440MLA offers crystal clear highs and deep tight bass.
Outstanding Award - The Pro Audio Web Blog