Friday 21 March 2014

Audio Technica AT95e - My First Thoughts

As it arrived in it's plastic container.

It's the time of the year for a new stylus, but my personal finances being a little tight right now I decided that a cheaper cartridge is better than a worn cartridge and after an extensive stint of internet research I chose the ultra cheapie Audio Technica AT95e to replace my Rega Elys cartridge.

I settled on the green plastic fantastic AT95e simply because I kept reading very good things about it with terms like "punches well above it's weight" and "strong performer" constantly used to describe it's performance. Also in Europe it costs about €25 via Amazon which is around $30 in American money and who can't afford that?

Aligning with Rega's protractor.

Following the easy to understand instructions that came in the box I was able to mount the cartridge much quicker and easier than I thought it would take and soon I fired up a couple of albums to test it out and get a feel for what the lowly Audio Technica AT95e sounds like.

Well, to be quite honest what I heard was not what I was expecting at all, but in a very good way!

Mounted and ready to roll!

On my Rega Planar 3 this cartridge is simply amazing, the warmth, clarity and liveliness of the el cheapo Audio Technica AT95e is much more than I expected, and it isn't even broken in yet! It also seems much more forgiving of pops and crackles than my previous Rega cartridge, and that is great for some of my older LP's.

The only way I can fault it is possibly in the slightly less than wonderful separation between instruments on some classical music pieces, but other than that this cartridge is just simply the best hi-fi bargain anyone can buy. For the price I would have settled for a lot less. Certainly by spending more money you will buy better performance, but you would have to spend at least three to four times as much to better the Audio Technica AT95e!

Today (day two) I listened to (amongst others) three LP's that revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the Audio Technica AT95e.

- The first was a Deutsche Grammophon recording from 1966 of the Berliner Philharmoniker playing Ravel's Bolero which was handled quite well by the AT95e but would only be realistically classified as good, not great. It was competent in the softer build up but the final stretch and crescendo was certainly not as detailed and well handled as it is on better cartridges... but it was definitely not terrible either.

Shiny and new!
- The second was Cat Stevens Greatest Hits album which by contrast to the classical piece was simply outstanding! The sound was crisp, clear and resonant with the bass being suitably full but well controlled.

- The third album was "88 Basie Street" by Count Basie & His Orchestra, also a German pressing, and the AT95e handled this the same way as the Cat Stevens album. The sound was beautifully musical and the cartridge kept pace with the jazz rhythms very nicely retaining the feel and soul of the album in a very balanced and well behaved manner.

Compared to my Rega Elys, which I thought handled both classical and rock/pop/folk/jazz quite well, the AT95e lacks a little in how it handles slightly more challenging classical music but shines in just about everything else I have given it so far.

I was going to buy something a little higher on the cartridge pecking order in a few months when finances permit, but I think I may just keep this one around a bit longer than planned. I'm liking it that much!

I highly recommend that you give this cheap green gem from Audio Technica a whirl, it's certainly going on my "budget recommended list" for friends asking advice!

*UPDATE 28-03-2014* - On the advice of several people I stepped up my cartridge down-force from 2.0g  to 2.25g which is still below the maximum recommended for the AT95e. The result is better handling of the tricky bits in classical music. Still not perfect but getting to the point now where I am almost completely satisfied with my sound.

The more I use this cartridge the harder it's becoming for me to justify spending what will have to be significantly more money for the small improvement I am after...

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