Audio-technica AT-VM95E Dual Moving Magnet Cartridge Review
After nearly forty years, this Japanese company has a new high performance, entry-level moving magnet cartridge. David Price takes it for a spin…
AT-VM95E Dual Moving Magnet Cartridge
SGD $69 MSRP
Launched in the early nineteen eighties, Audio-technica's classic AT-95E moving magnet cartridge was the staple diet of a generation of cash-strapped analogue addicts who wanted a decent turntable, but couldn't afford a premium-priced cartridge to go with it. Its popularity was explained by two things – first, it was cheap, and second, it sounded better than it had any right to at the price. When discontinued a couple of years back it cost around £35, and for much of its life cost less than half of that.
Sonically, it was light, bright and detailed sounding, with a surprisingly smooth and tidy treble considering its price thanks to a decent elliptical stylus. Linn even sold versions of its spherical stylus-equipped AT-93 little brother as its Basik starter cartridge. The AT-95E and its derivatives were everywhere you looked, back in the day. Then, a couple of years ago, the new Audio-technica AT-VM95E arrived.
It's a direct replacement for its classic predecessor, even to the point where the oldie will take styli from the new model range. The company has improved it, with a quoted 4.0mV output (at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec) – 0.5mV up on the previous model – and it has a frequency response of 20Hz to 22kHz, 2kHz more high-frequency extension. The manufacturer recommends 2g tracking weight, quoting a narrower band than its predecessor (1.8 to 2.2g compared to the AT-95E's 1.5 to 2.5g). It weighs 6.1g, slightly heavier than the oldie's 5.7g, in line with the trend for moving away from ultra-low mass designs. It should suit modern tonearms fractionally better.
Other vital statistics include a claimed channel separation of 20dB (1kHz) and channel balance of 2dB (1kHz) – these aren't special but are fine for a cartridge of its price. The 0.3x0.7 mil bonded round shank elliptical stylus sits at the end of an aluminium cantilever, giving a compliance that should match most modern tonearms. Recommended loading is a standard 47k ohm, and capacitance is 100-200pF – middle of the road stuff. The new cartridge's 17.2x18.9x28.3mm body is said to be more rigid and has M2.6 threaded inserts for use with the supplied 8mm and 11mm M2.6 screws and plastic washers.
Fitting the AT-VM95E proved easy enough in my modded Rega RB300 tonearm, mounted in a Technics SL-1200/II turntable. One great thing about the new cartridge is that you can upgrade it with a range of other styli; the five other models include the AT-VMN95C (conical/spherical stylus), AT-VMN95ML (MicroLine stylus), AT-VMN95SH (Shibata) and AT-VMN95SP (78RPM). The company quotes around 500 hours of life for a conical stylus, 300 hours for an elliptical, 1,000 hours for a MicroLine and 800 hours for a Shibata.
Compared to the classic AT-95E, the new AT-VMN95E sounds familiar but better – there's a characteristically open and clean midband sound, a tight and taut bass and detailed and finely etched treble. The music bounds along with gusto, making for an engaging listen. Yet the slightly opaque sound of the older cartridge is gone; I loved the AT-95E at its price, but it was always a little too vague for extended listening. This new cartridge is more subtle, nuanced and intricate than its predecessor, unlocking a good deal more detail from the recording…
Cue up some vintage Led Zeppelin for example, and The Rain Song comes over with surprising amounts of presence. Soundstaging is satisfyingly wide, and the elements of the mix hang back better than you'd expect for a cartridge of this price. Robert Plant's vocal is strongly centred with an appealing texture to it that shows his voice's grittiness, yet it's not harsh. Instrumentation is nicely carried, with lots of detail and great attack to the guitar work. Tonally, this cartridge is still slightly well lit – so the kick drum and bass guitar don't punch you in the stomach – but it sounds dynamic and engaging nonetheless.
Feed this pickup with the sugary sounds of Rose Royce's Wishing on a Star, and this cartridge's pleasing insight strikes you; it has sufficient midband detail to really unlock the passion in this seventies soul classic. The music ebbs and flows in a rousing way, and there's good dynamic shading as the vocal line gets louder and more expressive.
Overall then, Audio-technica's AT-VM95E delivers great performance at the price, and if you want more detail and dimensionality plus better frequency extremes, there's always its siblings further up the range. Highly recommended if you're in the market for a great starter cartridge, this a worthy successor to the classic AT-95E.
For more information, visit Audio-technica.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.
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