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Genius!3: Hideo Matsushita and the dual moving-magnet cartridge

The brains behind Audio-Technica's pioneering products - part two

“I believe in quality audio for everyone.”

Those seven words were the guiding vision, and a favourite quote, of Audio-Technica founder Hideo Matsushita – who in 1962, at the age of 42, left his job at Tokyo’s Bridgestone Museum of Art to embark on lifelong a quest to bring quality audio to the masses.

Following a ten-year stint at the museum, during which time he organised a number of successful LP listening events, Matsushita struck out on his own, establishing Audio-Technica as a way to make his ideas and designs for accessible, quality phono cartridges a reality.

He recalled in 2002: “The company immediately launched its first product, the AT-1 stereo cartridge. At that time, we were headquartered in a rented one-story barracks in Shinjuku. We started out with three employees, but quickly grew to 20. We worked late each night, stopping only for dinner at the ramen shop in front of the premises.”

Matsushita’s breakthrough was the invention of a phono cartridge design that, unlike other stereo cartridges, duplicated the structure of the cutter head of the lathes used to carve out record grooves. The now internationally patented design – still used in A-T cartridges today and referred to as “VM” – employs two independent permanent magnets mounted at 45° angles, precisely matching the positions of the left and right channels in the stereo record groove. An isolation plate is positioned between the two magnets to reduce crosstalk and improve channel separation/balance.

With its associated pole pieces and electrical coils, each magnet becomes an electrical generator reproducing only the signal from one side of the record groove, maximising stereo channel separation. Each magnet is also smaller and weighs less than the single magnet in a conventional cartridge. Given this reduced mass, and the fact that the magnets are mounted near the fulcrum of the stylus assembly, the stylus can respond more quickly and accurately to the motion of the record groove, resulting in less distortion.

In addition to providing quality sound reproduction, the VM dual moving-magnet cartridge was priced affordably, winning Audio-Technica a legion of fans in Japan and laying the foundations for the company’s expansion into international markets and the development of many other audio products.

Matsushita served as president of Audio-Technica until 1993, when he was named chairman of the board and succeeded as president by his son, Kazuo. Matsushita was later appointed executive emeritus – a position he held at the time of his death on 5 March 2013.