In mid 2019 many changes were taking place in my life and in my family’s. I had started a new job and my wife had found another some km away but with a worse schedule than mine. So we had to relocate where she was working and our son would have changed school for the last elementary school year. So it would have been a new challenge for my Hifi system, that would have had to be in a new listening room. There had also been a big change in the system itself, since I had finally had the guts to sell my historical Unison Research Mood amp at a great price – so great I was able to upgrade to a Naim Nait 5i for free! So I got a new sound from the amp, a new sound from the room and a new sound from the phono cartridge: I had damaged the Grado 8MZ styus of my beloved Grado 8MX cartridge and had to run a Shure Me97HE with an elliptical stylus for a while. I had even bought low-capacitance Qed cables for the Naim. Many things had changed and I was not even sure I really still liked the Grado sound after having been surprised by the down-to-the-earth approach of the Shure cart.
Again the usual Audiokarma forum would come to help. I met a pen pal (mail pal, I should say) from the States who happens to be a Hifi dealer and an acquaintance of the Grado family. For some reason, maybe because of his Italian origins, he felt compelled to help me somehow and he decided to send me and Audio Technica AT95e cartridge. I had read a lot about the Japanese cart. It is revered as the best bargain ever and as one of the most beloved cheap cartridges for its outstanding performances for the price. Some are not that impressed, it is a 50 dollar worth cart and it sounds like it. But my newly-acquired friend was confident it would open a new world for my ears. especially because he included an excellent LP Gear stylus, featuring a hyper elliptical tip mounted on a thin-wall alloy cantilever, that would have transformed the cart in an AT95HE. Well, I was astounded.
The Shure Me97 was more prone to footfalls when someone walked too close to the turntable. Clearly the high compliance of the Nagaoka stylus was not good for my stock Thorens TD-160. The AT cart seems to have a lower compliance that suits my tonearm better: no jumps at all. But above all, this cartridge is a blast! It astounded me with its definition, with the separation and details I can perceive with the Japanese bundle.
I am really curious to compare my Grado Signature with the hyperelliptical AT. For now, I don’t have a suitable stylus for the Grado. I am really enjoying the Japanese cart and I wonder what a new ATV95 would do in my system… I have been always recommending Grado cartridges for the old Thorens turntables. The cheapest Prestige Black 3 is great for its price. If you want more you should go at least for a Red 3. If you can, a Silver or Gold 3 are exceptional value (and their stylus is not that different from the revered 8MZ). But today I am sure I can also recommend an AT95 or ATV95 for vintage Thorens tables, especially if you have a TD-165 and do not want to spend too much.