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Audio Technica recently released an updated budget pickup cartridge – the VM95 – that comes with six different, interchangeable tip types. Noel Keywood takes a close look.




As people either move back to vinyl or – just as likely – decide to try it for the first time, demand is for entry level products – and that is what Audio Technica have on offer here in their new VM95 range of budget pickup cartridges, price stretching from a mere £30 to a more wallet demanding £179. That’s not a lot of money as cartridges go, where life gets serious above £300 and if the infection spreads can cost you thousands – think diamond coated boron cantilevers and such like. 

   With the budget VM95 Series, Audio Technica offer to walk you from the mundane to the esoteric – well, a whiff of it – in one affordable range where you can upgrade just by buying a new stylus instead of a whole new cartridge. 

   OK, not a new idea but Audio Technica expand it by offering a broader range of interchangeable styli than usual – six in all. At bottom – price and spec. wise – comes the AT-VM95C, the ‘C’ standing for conical (blue). Simple conical tips give a nice sound, easy and unchallenging, if a tad diffuse and for this basic cartridge Audio Technica keep price right down to a measly £29 (stylus £19). 

  Just above come an interesting duo, the AT-VM95E alternatively identified as E/H (green) and AT-VM95EN (yellow), price £44 (stylus £26) and £99 (stylus £89) respectively. The ’N” suffix of the latter indicates Nude, which in this case means a tiny diamond mounted directly onto the cantilever, not on a rondel. Benefit: better tracking. Drawback: it will easily clog with fluff and skate. So the cheaper unit is for those with fluffy LPs and the more expensive for those without. Elliptical styli better read high frequencies, giving greater treble definition than a simple conical.





















At left is the AT-VM95E (green) elliptical stylus on a rondel. Compare its fluff-clearance height with that of the nude elliptical AT-VM95EN (yellow). The E stylus is large – degrading tracking ability. 



 Above the two ellipticals come two more sophisticated tip shapes – the Microlinear AT-VM95ML (red) price £149 (stylus £129) and the Shibata AT-VM95SH (brown), price £179 (stylus £159). This is where things gets interesting. Microlinear is a modern geometry better than elliptical, and Shibata an old (1970s, for CD-4 LPs) but venerated long-contact tip shape produced by multiple grinds. Both give extraordinary high frequency definition, even on inner grooves where they are able to read very short mechanical wavelengths, our measurements confirmed. 


 The phenolic body has a captive brass nut bonded in and it is not blind as in Ortofons, but open so any length of screw can be used. Screws are supplied of course, one pair 8mm M2.6 and one pair 11mm M2.6, both lightweight aluminium. With captive nuts just hold the body below the head shell and pop in a screw from above – it’s as simple as that. Electrical connection must be made first of course, as usual, making the simple a little less simple! 





















At left the expensive AT-VM95SH Shibata profile (brown), ground onto a square shank for improved axial alignment. At right the AT-VM95ML (red) stylus also on a square shank (look closely!). 




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