In 2009, Ortofon introduced the $4200 MC A90 phono cartridge to commemorate its 90th year of operation. The A90 was a limited-production item only available to 500 owners. As it was a unique and ambitious product, the A90 positioned Ortofon to compete in the upper tier of cartridges available. Within the pages of an earlier issue of The Absolute Sound, our very own HP and JV (Issue 208) shared opinions about the A90 set up and auditioned in their individual systems. Having been involved with the installation of the A90 in JV’s system (among many others), using the set-up procedure documented in the pages of Issue 244 and now available online, the cartridge’s performance proved to be the best Ortofon had achieved at the time.
Two-and-a-half years later, Ortofon released its flagship phono cartridge, the $8924 MC Anna. Building on the successful Selective Laser Melting (SLM) manufacturing process first used in the MC A90, the MC Anna continued the theme with a larger, closed-body design made of titanium. Along with a new magnet system, enhanced damping, and a host of additional adjustments, the MC Anna easily became Ortofon’s highest-performing (and highest-cost) cartridge to date. Its reputation as a top-tier performer in capable systems is well deserved.
Fast-forwarding to 2015, Ortofon’s 95th anniversary is being celebrated in a similar fashion with a 500-piece, limited-run moving-coil cartridge. This time the cartridge is the MC A95. Five years of experience designing the most advanced cartridges has allowed Ortofon to combine all the technical advancements and knowledge gained from producing the A90 and Anna into what appears to be an ideal mix of the two cartridges. The resulting performance of the A95 ($6499) is much closer to the performance of, but not better than, that of the MC Anna in most respects, and surprising in others. At a cost that is roughly half the difference between the A90 and the Anna, which could make it more affordable to a greater number of readers, the MC A95 may be considered the next step by those who desire to go beyond the A90 but can’t quite reach the higher-priced Anna.
Arriving nicely packaged in a silvery wooden box within the same-color, foam-insulated cardboard outer box, the MC A95 (Serial #001) was mounted to a clear plate. Included with the cartridge are three sets of mounting screws, a screwdriver, a stylus brush, a set of headshell wires, and the user manual.
The cartridge uses the Anna’s semi-magnetic armature design to give the A95 more stable reproduction of cantilever movements, which (in concert with the Field Stabilizing Element [FSE] controlling the movement of magnetic fields) produces greater height, depth, and dynamics, according to Ortofon. Further paraphrasing Ortofon’s literature, the Wide Range Damping system is integral to the cartridge’s above-average tracking abilities, low distortion, and resonances; the Replicant 100 diamond is responsible for the A95’s groove-tracing ability. Ortofon also claims that the Aucurum coils of gold-plated, 6Nx oxygen-free copper, the “zero-loss” transmission of stylus motion to the motor, and its resonance-damping Thermo Plastic Elastomer contribute to the A95’s performance. (Much of this information is available online at Ortofon’s website.) The body of the MC A95 has the shape of the A90 as opposed to that of the Anna, but is made (using the SLM process) of titanium rather than the A90’s stainless steel. The main visual differences at first glance are the “A95” identification tag, the absence of the A90’s three circular holes in the front support for the magnetic assembly, and the new (much better) stylus guard.
Taking a glance at the specifications, the A95’s output voltage is identical to that of the Anna at 0.2mV (vs. the A90’s 0.27mV). The A95’s channel separation of >25dB is also identical to that of the Anna (vs. the A90’s >28dB). The frequency response of 20Hz–20kHz has a tolerance of +2dB/-1dB (vs. +/-1dB for the A90 and +/–1.5dB for the Anna). Tracking ability is split between the two cartridges at 90µm (the Anna is 80µm and the A90 is100µm) along with lateral compliance at 13µm/mN (vs. 9µm/mN for the Anna and 16µm/mN for the A90). Tracking-force range matches the A90 at 2.0–2.5 grams with 2.3 grams recommended compared to the Anna’s recommended tracking force of 2.6 grams. The final electrical difference has the coil impedance at 7 ohms (vs. 6 ohms for the Anna and 4 ohms for the A90). The A95’s cartridge weight is lowest among the trio at 6 grams (16 grams for the Anna and 8 grams for the A90).
The A95 was first set up according to Ortofon’s basic suggestions in the user manual. Ortofon makes a point of stating that there are a host of approaches to cartridge setup, and it encourages users to explore the options available but also states that alignment consideration must be made for azimuth, anti-skating, and VTA/SRA in order to maximize cartridge performance. Following Ortofon’s approach to setting azimuth yielded objectively measured results that exceeded the specifications for channel separation at 27.7dB (left) and 28.0dB (right) with channel balance just above specifications (but still good) at 0.8dB when referenced to 1kHz. Electronically adjusting azimuth improved the measured results for channel separation (and consequently the sound) to 33.6dB (left) and 32.7dB (right) with 0dB of difference in channel balance. A tracking force of 2.25 grams produced the most favorable sound with an SRA set slightly greater than halfway between 91 and 92 degrees in this specific setup. Loading varied depending on the phonostage in use, but in the case of the solid-state units without step-up transformers, a loading north of 100 ohms was sonically ideal.