With a heavy heart I decided to part with this great system and sell it on ebay. But why? How and what is the Audio Technica AT3200 XE II anyway?
First of all, the special feature of this system: It’s an MC system with the possibility to change the needles. That doesn’t happen very often. Most of the time it is reserved for MM systems to be able to change the needles. The MC systems have to be bought new after the needles have been used up or they have to be retyped in a time-consuming and costly way. Not so with this one. Audio Technica offers, or rather offered, exchangeable needles, albeit not quite cheaply, so that you can enjoy music for hours on end without having a guilty conscience and without feeling that the expensive MC system is wearing out.
The second special feature of this system is that it is a very loud and high output MC. You can use it with a MM preamplifier.
Actually, it should be a legendary wool-milk sow. Because you can enjoy the advantages of both pickup worlds: The improved sound quality through MC (Moving Coil) and the efficiency and flexibility of the MM (Moving Magnet) world. But there is also the crux of the matter. I would like to explain that here. First of all: It is a great system if you have the right equipment around it.
With the knowledge of the advantages and special features I bought this pickup some time ago quite cheap. Now I would like to test it:
Test requirements for the Audio Technica AT3200
On my living room system I have the very good Graham Slee Communicator MM preamplifier in the chain behind the Toshiba SR-255 with a medium weight tonearm.
For testing, similar to the review of the AT3651, I took two audiophile masterpieces from the times of analog sound recording and a “modern” audiophile pressing:
“JTB” (Jukka Tolonen Band), a fusion jazz formation, the DECCA recording of the English Chamber Orchestra with Rostropovich on cello “Haydn’s Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra in C Major” (1965), and the rightly highly praised Blue Note pressing of Gregory Porter’s “Liquid Spirit” from 2019
What I immediately noticed was the very good tracking and the accuracy in the heights. The system does not sound sharp and harsh at all. It has rather soft round trebles, but without missing them. High heads are reproduced very natural and realistic. However, the character of the sound can change by changing the impedance.
With these fixed conditions of my phono stage I also noticed that the sound came out of the speakers quietly despite the high output MC. So I had to turn up the “volume” control of my amplifier almost to the half to get a decent volume level. Unfortunately such a low output seems to be thinner than that of a loud pickup. This is also the case here. The sound seems strangely distant. So I think maybe the Graham Slee is not the right phono stage for the test. Here the crux I mentioned above already becomes clear. The At 3200 is in my opinion too quiet for MM preamps.
Fortunately I have a decent MC input on my bedroom stereo at the old but great Harma Kardon amplifier. So I plugged the Audio Technica AT3200 to the turntable in my bedroom and connected it to the MC input:
The sound was now powerful and seemingly great, but unfortunately only for a short time. The very dynamic recording by Porter caused distortion. The system was too loud for this (also not adjustable) MC input. Then test it rather quieter and without distortion! So back to the living room to the Graham Slee and continue testing the sound:
Only in between: The problem seems to be obvious because of the high output: The Audio Technica AT3200 XE II is too quiet for MM and too loud for simple non-adjustable MC inputs. It needs an adjustable impedance of the MC phono stage to sound perfect.
Even though the following tests were made under not perfect circumstances, I still want to publish them here. Because there are some strengths of this system that I would like to get rid of:
Test 1: JTB with “Space Cookie”
As mentioned above, the sound of natural and soft highs is a pleasure to listen to, and the Jazz record JTB is a very precise example of this. With bravura, the Audio Technica AT3200 is able to reproduce the finest nuances of high heads. With its naked elliptical stone (3200 XE II), it is extremely reliable to pick up even the innermost grooves. There is no perceptible distortion on the inner grooves (IGD). The bass on JTB is also very dry and deep. This is a pleasure. Only the mids are restrained by the lack of volume. As seen in the bedroom, they could be different.
Another point that stands out on JTB is the width and depth of the stage: the music fans out in the room and you can locate the instruments. I think this works even better with high end systems, but here you get an impression of what MC systems can do and what advantages they have. The width of the stage is not excessive, but still feels good up to one meter to the left and right of the speakers.
Even more impressive is the depth and thus the three-dimensionality. On the JTB a clear depth gradation can be seen. It’s as if you close your eyes as if you had the stage in front of you and could tell where each instrument is.
This good three-dimensionality is for me the most striking feature of this pickup. With this and its sovereignty in picking up almost all information on the record, it is a good introduction to high class systems, provided you have an adjustable MC phono stage.
On the other two test plates the picture described above is confirmed:
Test 2: Haydn’s “Celloconcert in C major”
The Klassik Decca recordings from the early 60’s to the end of the 70’s are legendary and great sound engineering. So here as well. The recording of Haydn’s Cello Concerto has great dynamics and breadth. If you ignore the above mentioned handicap, that I made the tests with a preamp that was not perfect for this pickup, the characteristics that are already recognizable in “JTB” can still be seen here.
Especially noticeable here again was the three-dimensionality. It’s very nice to hear how the wind instruments are separated from the strings and the cello from the other instruments and how they can be located.
With the right phono stage you can really enjoy this. With his naked elliptical diamond, he feels his way into the innermost grooves with ease.
Test 3: Gregory Porter with “Musical Genocide”
Gregory Porter’s “”Musical Genocide”” starts right off with a great plasticity that the Audio Technica AT3200 creates from the piano, bass and Porter’s, which again reminds you that this is an MC system. In general, the system brings out a depth from Porters recordings that I would not have expected in this recording.
Where other systems I’ve tested have been able to create quite a deep stage on JTB, Porter is very dynamic but flat. Not so here with the Audio Technica. He doesn’t do as well with every song as he did with “Musical Genocide”. Again, it’s a pity that I don’t have a suitable phono stage. I would have loved to hear Porter with this system with perfect impedance.
What was he like now, the Audio Technica AT3200?
This pickup is a very interesting and potent contemporary.
It’s not a legendary woolly milkshake: the exchangeable needles are too expensive for that and the volume of the system is not tuned enough to the common fixed MM and MC impedances of the phono stages.
But: What I have already heard with my MM preamp, which is not perfect for this system, in terms of depth, 3 dimensionality and balanced sound, suggests that this system with the perfectly adjusted MC impedance is running at full speed and is a good introduction to the MC world.