Saturday, July 28, 2018

Phono Cartridge Comparison - Audio Technica AT95E vs Nagaoka MP-110

The Nagaoka MP-110 has garnered a lot of praise in various corners of the internet, especially on YouTube. Less known in the U.S. than Shure or Audio Technica, Nagaoka is a Japanese manufacturer with a long history. A lot of what they do is OEM for other companies, as well as aftermarket stylus manufacturing.

Unlike the Audio Technica and Shure models, which are both moving magnet designs, the MP-110 is a moving permalloy design (hence the MP moniker) with a fixed magnet. This is very similar to the moving iron design used by manufactures like Grado. In practice this won't mean much to most users as the cart is compatible with any standard moving magnet phono preamp.

Let's compare the sound of the MP-110 to the AT95E. The track I chose for this comparison is the Talking Heads' "The Great Curve" from their 1980 album 'Remain In Light'. I picked this track because with so much going on with multiple polyrhythms, multi-tracked instruments, backing vocals, etc. it's a very revealing track.

Unfortunately I sold the MP-110 I used to make this recording before I got around to measuring its frequency response, so no swanky graph this time. It's nevertheless pretty easy to hear the MP-110 is a brighter, more forward sounding cart than the AT-95E. I would guess it starts to have a slight lift right around where the AT95E's response starts to dip (around 2 kHz).

The fact that I sold the cart shouldn't be taken to mean that I didn't like it. It's a nice sounding cart (but you can make up your own mind about that, that's why I post comparison videos). What I can tell you is that the Nagaoka did not track my Hi Fi News Test Record as well as either the Shure M97xE or the AT95E. It really struggled with the final "torture" track, and I found it was necessary to bump the VTF (vertical tracking force) up to about 2.0 g to get the best out of it (if you get one of these I really recommend setting the tracking force around 2.0 g).

Most of the time the lesser performance on the test record did not correlate with problems with actual music as far as I could hear. However, the Nagaoka did occasionally struggle with sibilants in my experience. Here's a comparison between the MP-110 and a Denon DL-110 on T.Rex's "Life Is Strange" from a U.S. Reprise pressing of 'Tanx':

A couple things to keep in mind here: This is a really tough song for a cart to track cleanly, and the DL-110 is a more expensive cart than the MP-110 which goes for around $130 whereas the Denon sells for $200 or more in the U.S.

Here's a comparison using David Bowie's "Fashion" from 'Scary Monsters (and super creeps)' between the MP-110 and the Shure M97xE (this one with stock stylus):

Hopefully these videos will give you a fair sense of the kind of sound you would get from an MP-110 even without the benefit of frequency plots, etc. If you visit my YouTube channel you'll find lots more comparison videos featuring the MP-110.

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