- Needs to be heard, especially if you lean more to subtle or orchestral music than strictly rhythm-led tracks
- Revealing and refined; great with acoustic music; good build quality
- Doesn’t time as well as the best; tricky to fit
Here’s a brand whose long heritage in the analogue audio field augurs well for buyers. Audio Technica’s cartridges have been around since the ’70s and come in a wide variety of types, from the beer-budget AT95E that was once the definitive choice for affordable turntables to the radical tech of the ART1000, one of the most extreme designs on the market. With the AT-F7 we’re in rather more conventional territory.
This is not quite the most affordable moving coil cartridge in the range (there’s one below it) but it’s still a competitive price for a product whose build quality, as close inspection reveals, clearly meets lofty standards. As with all MC cartridges the stylus is fixed and cannot be replaced by the end user. That’s no big deal in our book – with more expensive designs it’s worth having the stylus repaired or replaced if it’s worn or damaged, but at this end of the scale it’s cheaper to get a replacement.
Audio Technica cites a range of features for this cartridge, but the important ones are the nude elliptical stylus (with the diamond mounted directly into the stylus shank) and the use of PC-OCC copper wiring, which is higher-purity copper than usual. Output voltage is 0.35mV, which means you’ll need a decent moving coil phono stage to make the most of it. It doesn’t, though, have any unusual loading requirements, so decent MC stages on integrated amplifiers should be fine.
The AT-F7 has a two-part metal body with parallel sides, which makes it easy to align with an appropriate gauge. Unlike the majority of MCs it doesn’t have captive nuts, so you need to faff around trying to get the nuts onto the mounting bolts. Audio Technica does provide the nuts and bolts to do this, but they are typical aluminium types with slot heads. We recommend stainless-steel hex-head bolts – they give a firmer fixing. The other challenge here is to install the cartridge without the stylus protector in place – you can’t insert or turn the fixing bolts with it on. The tracking weight is 2g.
The AT-F7 has a refinement that eludes all but the best moving magnet cartridges at this level, but it’s not lightweight. Quite the opposite, in fact. The first note that goes down when playing part of Elgar’s Cello Concerto is powerful, the next is quiet. By keeping background noise to a minimum this MC gives dynamics plenty of impact, which makes for a moving experience with a great piece of music.
The bass is slightly exaggerated by the standards of the best, which is a balance that will suit some music just fine. If not, it can be counteracted with a carefully chosen phono stage.
The sense of timing here is less easily balanced out. This is an assured and stately sounding cartridge that suits less percussive tunes better than the banging variety. Give it something subtle to play and it will reward you with a tremendously articulate midrange that does wonders for all manner of instruments, not least the human voice. It’s also usefully open, which suits acoustic sources beautifully, letting the flutes on Mop Mop’s Isle Of Magic album present loads of shape and character.
This Audio Technica gives you a good idea of what moving coils can achieve. Whether it’s suited to a truly broad range of music is open to debate, but those with more refined tastes will find a lot to like.