Audio-Technica AT-OC9XSH Cartridge Page 2

The reason is that the AT-OC9XSH still retains the punchy bass, detailed midrange and fine sense of imagery of its predecessor. Most importantly, the impressive sense of openness and insight at the top-end, for which the model has always been applauded, is also present and correct. It is here that the XSH plays its trump card, really lifting its performance into the next league.

While one of the strengths of the older AT-OC9ML/II was its top-end clarity, those with brighter-sounding systems could find it too forthright at times. The AT-OC9XSH still tends towards that brighter tonal balance, but does so without the slight sheen that its predecessor could impart. The result is a clarity that's not just striking but rare at this price, while the detail and insight on offer are downright spectacular.

Rebecca Pidgeon's vocals on 'Spanish Harlem' from The Raven [Chesky JR115] were as clean as I have heard them, and the AT-OC9XSH projected them into the room perfectly. The double-bass was also vivid, realistic and locked solidly within the soundstage, the pluck of each string not only lifelike but captivating. And when the percussion stepped in, I could have sworn the player was standing outside my listening room, such was the breadth of the soundstage. The sheer insight offered by the AT-OC9XSH can be unnerving at times!

Major Strength
The cartridge had absolutely no problem filling the area between my loudspeakers but, if there was a niggle, it was that, on occasion, the soundstage had a slight hole in its centre. Whatever the music played, the 'main event' was always pulled beautifully forward into the room – especially when it featured a vocalist. And finer backing effects and echoes from the rear of a musical mix would stretch off into the distance perfectly too. However, there was sometimes this sense of a very slight 'dead area' between the immediate foreground and far background.


As a result, the piano on the Rebecca Pidgeon track, although reproduced with a fine purity, couldn't quite make up its mind whether it should be underpinning Rebecca's vocals, or standing very slightly back. It was a rare effect, but noticeable here.

Ultimately, though, the Shibata stylus fitted to the XSH appears to be its major strength. Not only could it offer clarity, but it rode the grooves of any LP I cared to play finding the goodness lurking in the depths. Whereas the old OC9ML/II was a shade uncomfortable with poorer recordings, the AT-OC9XSH dived into them with gusto and also seemed impressively untroubled by vinyl surface noise and general dust.

Powering Through
My mono copy of Vivaldi's Concerto For Guitar And Strings In D Major [Nonesuch H-1018] is far from being in its first flush of youth, but this held no fears for the AT-OC9XSH. It powered through the Allegro movement, picking out every guitar pluck with brio. Even better, those strings were striking in their lucidity, yet without a hint of screech or hardness. The dynamic range revealed by the AT-OC9XSH is impressive, reproducing everything from the merest whisper to a soaring crescendo with an even-handedness rare among its contemporaries.

This overriding sense of security also paid dividends at the low end. The AT-OC9XSH dealt with bass lines with a similar sense of insight and unruffled effortlessness, whether they were acoustic, electric or synthesised. The pounding beat underpinning the central passage of 'Donnie Darko' from Let's Eat Grandma's I'm All Ears [Transgressive TRANS347XXLC] was solid and taut, with real punch-in-the gut impact.

I was also taken aback by the way in which the synthesiser behind the electric guitar in the song's intro swirled both forwards and backwards within the soundstage, as well as left to right. This was topped off by the projection of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth's vocals and the way in which the AT-OC9XSH held everything perfectly in check as the track reached its crescendo. The result was spellbinding.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
This Audio-Technica cartridge is a hugely impressive performer at the price. It takes the many strengths of its predecessor and improves all of them – some subtly, others much more obviously. The AT-OC9 models always punched far above their weight when it came to value for money, but the AT-OC9XSH takes sound per pound performance to a whole new level. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Audio-Technica Corp
Tokyo, Japan
Supplied by: Audio-Technica Limited (Export), Leeds, UK
0113 277 1441