During the evaluation, the A95 spent all its time mounted in a Basis Vector IV ’arm connected to either a Basis 2800 Vacuum or Debut Vacuum ’table. The phonostages available for the duration of the cartridge review included the Lamm LP2 Deluxe, Ayre P-5xe, Tritschler Precision Audio Devices TPAD 1000, Musical Surroundings Phenomena II+, and a custom-designed modified unit called The Raptor.
One of the questions a current A90 owner would ask first is: Is the A95 is a worthy upgrade if I’m ready to replace an aging cartridge or interested in taking the next step up in performance? This is an easy question to answer. Having listened to both cartridges (the A90 in multiple locations) in the same setup, there is no area in which the A95 isn’t a better performer than the A90. The A95 produces much bigger dynamic swings, and is more at ease while doing so. Where the A90 tended to be less generous with instrumental sustains, the A95 holds each note’s decay longer, giving the entire presentation a richer sound that is similar to (but different than) that of the MC Anna. An excellent example of this difference is observed when playing the title song from Simply Red’s Picture Book LP. With the A90, the sound is well controlled but somewhat overdamped in the bass with a bit less decay on the electronically processed instruments and voice. With the A95 playing the same track, the bass drum feels like the stick is twice as large (if not more that that) resulting in a much more substantially authoritative note that decays longer. Speaking of decay, every instrument’s engineering is now reproduced in such a way that it is heard clearly—even the cymbals’ processed decay, hidden from the A90, is now audible. The third movement from Reference Recordings’ LP of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances takes this a step further, making the big bass drum sound as though it is being struck by the same double-sized mallet, while also increasing the size of the perceived space around the entire performance three-dimensionally in every direction.
A comparison with MC Anna using the same music led to a much more interesting observation. The biggest surprise, which led to a full day’s worth of installation/reinstallation A/B’s between the A95 and Anna, is the sheer macro-dynamic weight and power the A95 shows compared to the more incisive and controlled Anna. On “Picture Book,” the Anna plays the music with greater grace and poise in direct comparison with the A95. However, the A95 packs more of a wallop in the low registers and seems to continue that trend macro-dynamically up the scale. Mick Hucknall’s voice soars with dynamism on the A95 while being more composed and controlled with the Anna. The bass line and drums are noticeably stronger on the A95, standing out with each guitar note and beat. Unsurprisingly, these same observations held true with the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. The A95 produces a bigger and fuller soundstage that appears dynamically more muscular. The Anna counters with incredible control in the upper midrange on strings and better instrumental separation. In some respects, the A95 plays with more perceived warmth due to its more generous bottom octave and subjectively stronger macro-dynamics—surprising, indeed.
On its own, the A95 has shown itself to be one of Ortofon’s best efforts. While almost, but not quite, as controlled and composed in the upper registers as the MC Anna, the A95 does some things the MC Anna doesn’t, with its perceptively greater dynamic contrasts and power (at least in my observation).
When compared to any other Ortofon cartridge I’ve had experience with, the A95 is ahead in subjective performance by a significant margin. It seems to me as if Ortofon has voiced the A95 to allay any concerns about its tonality veering toward the cool and threadbare. Even so, the A95 seems to stay in the neutral lane with the perceived addition of greater weight and dynamic expressiveness when compared with the A90 (or even the Anna in some regards).
While the A90 was Ortofon’s highest-performance cartridge nearly five years ago, the A95 is much better sounding in every respect. Although it doesn’t outperform it, the A95 nips at the heels of the highest-quality cartridge (the MC Anna) in the manufacturer’s current lineup, and it does so at a more favorable price. For the Ortofon owner, or anyone looking to move into the Ortofon line, the MC A95 deserves serious consideration and a serious audition.
SPECS & PRICING
Output voltage at 1000 Hz, 5cm/sec: 0.2 mV
Channel balance at 1 kHz: <0.5dB
Channel separation at 1 kHz: >25dB
Channel separation at 15 kHz: >22dB
Frequency range at - 3dB: 10Hz–50kHz
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz (+2dB/–1dB)
Tracking ability at 315Hz at recommended tracking force: 90um
Compliance, dynamic, lateral: 13um/mN
Stylus type: Special polished nude Ortofon Replicant 100 on boron cantilever
Stylus tip radius: r/R 5/100um
Tracking force range: 2.0–2.5 g (20-25mN)
Tracking force, recommended: 2.3 g (23mN)
Tracking angle: 23°
Internal impedance, DC resistance: 7 ohms
Recommended load impedance: >10 ohms
Coil wire material: Aucurum
Cartridge body material: SLM titanium
Cartridge weight: 6 grams
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