In the last months the company Analogis, known for their great accessory products in the analog hifi area, draws attention with very interesting replica needles for turntable systems. Now, in May 2020, a very exciting needle for the Audio Technica AT91/AT3600L cartridge from Analogis was released. It is equipped with a naked Black Diamond, called Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond,
and thus especially the height range should be displayed with a finer resolution. Metrologically, this can be proven with certainty, but what can our ears expect? And how does the sound of the new needle feel compared to the underrated original AT3600L needle with conical stone?
I would like to try to describe this here with some test plates:
The Test of Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond
Test 1: “I feel The Earth Move” by Carole King:
From experience I can say that this track from the congenial “Tapestry” album is a challenge for turntable needles. The pitch of King’s voice is special: It seems to be in a frequency range that can add scratchy noises to the sound of badly tracking needles. So I like to use this track at the beginning to avoid scratching noises. If there are any, it would be a disqualification for the needle and a reason to send it back. This has happened to me twice in the near past.
So put the Black Diamond needle on it and let’s go! It is doing well… It is almost (!) nothing unclean to hear. In 2 or 3 places I had the feeling to hear only a hint of a shadow of the voice. But this is only possible with headphones, and this can also be due to the often played record. There is nothing disturbing to notice. The sound is a bit quieter and more restrained than on the original Audio Technica 3600L, but very homogeneous and the typical pleasant “bulbous” sound that the 3600L also makes sound so great.
The original needle from Audio Technica also passes Test 1, even with flying colors. The voice is sampled very cleanly by the original needle, without any additional noise. But I had the feeling over headphones that King’s voice was a bit more open with the Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond and also the feeling of space was a bit better than with the original needle.
Test 2: “Space Cookie” by JTB (Jukka Tolonen Band):
The next chosen test track is a real audiophile treat from the late 70s, when analog recording techniques were already very mature. JTB was a highly respected fusion jazz band from Finland. They played very virtuosic and their sound was absolutely top quality.
The needles are here to show what they were able to do from an audiophile point of view. How do you give this wonderful recording, which sounds with high end systems as if the band is standing in the room, in terms of dynamics and frequency response? Do you solve the complicated sound mixes with many high heads well? What can be said about the “stage”, i.e. the width and depth of the sound of the two needles?
First of all: Both needles do it very well in their own way.
But first the Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond:
The Black Diamond is a bit quieter than the original. But when you turn it up, the sound is very pleasantly homogeneous and relaxed. The bass is pleasantly present, round and mellow, yet with punch, a little less distinct than we know from the 3600. But in combination with the mids and highs, it’s wonderfully in tune. The mids are very pleasantly neutral to slightly warm and just the right amount of presence. They don’t jump out at you, are not too reserved, but invite you to enjoy hours of music in a relaxed and very realistic sounding way.
The real strength of the Black Diamond are the finely differentiated trebles: The transition from mids to highs is wonderfully successful here. The high heads of the drums are clear when listening and, which is really good for this price range, can be perceived very finely differentiated. I have the feeling to perceive tones in the song that were not there with the other cheap needles. The differently loud strokes of the high heads are distinguishable here and the metal of the discs also sounds like metal. All very realistic.
But what is very positive: The highs are not amplified loudly and shrilly, but as already typical for the 3600L they are rolled off very slightly (rolled off), i.e. rather less emphasized, but in a natural way restrained, but at no time indistinct. And very differentiated. Actually an art, which was rather reserved to much more expensive models in the high end range. Already extremely good.
Some of you may be bothered by the somewhat more reserved way of playing in the bass and mid-range compared to the Partner 3600L, which I will discuss in a moment.
First of all I think that especially in the lower range after the final break-in (the needle is still very new) there will be a bit more bass foundation. And secondly, this way of playing will not tire the ear so quickly. By the way, the 3600’s EVG needle with its elliptical cut also has this more reserved way of playing with fine trebles. I owned it some time ago and it did its job very well, too. The needle, which is also green, is very out of stock at the moment.
But now to the “stage” of the Black Diamond: Right at the beginning of the acoustic guitar solo in the piece you have the feeling that you can locate the very real sounding playing exactly in the room. In general it is amazing for such a cheap system that the sound is 3 dimensional. The stage is not very wide, which has to do with the average stereo channel separation of a little more than 20dB. But that doesn’t bother me at all, because I find too wide sound unsuitable for many types of music.
The music comes relatively directly to me, but stands out slightly from the speakers and offers an amazing depth. The instruments separate neatly from each other and are easy to locate on the small to medium-sized stage. At no time does the sound seem flat or two-dimensional.
Here at this review the ingenious Graham Slee Communicator Phono Stage and (I’m so proud of it) my great old Toshiba SR-255 DD turntable were very helpful.
And how does the original AT3600L compare?
For many people it would be the first choice in the first moment because it is louder, has the more direct sound with amplified bass and also jumps “more into your face” with the mids. But this is only the first moment and very superficially seen. Because if you listen longer and more closely, you notice how pleasantly relaxed and confidently the Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond plays. Nevertheless, the sound of the affordable 3600L with its only conical stone is impressive. It plays full-bodied, warm and clear.
Even the most audiophile people are surprised when they hear the 3600L’s harmonious sound.
Were it not for the high standards! This needle does almost everything right. For uncomplicated music like singer songwriters or electronics you certainly don’t need more. But the strengths of the Analogis needle’s naked elliptical diamond are especially apparent here in the complicated jazz pieces with many mixed sounds in the high frequency range.
In direct comparison, it is noticeable that the 3600L, for example, represents the high heads of the drums with less accuracy. It actually doesn’t do it badly, and it might not even be noticeable if I hadn’t heard the analogies directly before. The conically ground AT3600L “swallows” some of the subtleties and fine differences that the analog can show. This becomes obvious with particularly good recordings and complicated pieces like here Space Cookie by JTB.
Also in depth and 3 dimensionality the original needle is behind the Black Diamond. Although the sound also stands out from the speakers, I feel that the stage is a little bit narrower and not as deep as on the Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond. This may be due to the lack of detail in the high frequencies.
Nevertheless, the AT3600L continues to amaze me with its very engaging warm full sound. The Black Diamond sounds a bit more neutral and reserved, but similarly charming.
Test 3: “Musical Genocide” by Gregory Porter
If I have not misinformed myself, the vinyl edition of this ingenious jazz disc from 2013 came out 6 years later, that is 2019. For me, these vinyls (there are two of them) are, apart from the already great music, an example of how real audiophile pressing is possible even today. Most of the time modern recordings on record sound awful, like bad MP3, cold and dead. But here the label Blue Note has done a great job.
The dynamics are great, despite (probably?) digital recording Porter’s voice sounds warm and not sharp-edged, as do the instruments. The overall impression is somehow sublime and full-bodied. The slight accentuation in the bass range and the great dynamics make us feel that this is a recording recorded with modern technology. In this case, however, it is positive, since it still sounds “analog” warm and soft. Wow!
But now enough raving and to the test:
The Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond shows right at the beginning of the piece that it can play bass. She lets this bass roll pleasantly deep and when Porter’s voice starts, a pleasant shiver runs down my spine. The needle plays relaxed like in the other pieces, but also round and very harmonious. It’s not quite as demanding as in JTB, because “Musical Genocide” doesn’t sound so complicated, but rather relaxed, and every high tone is played clearly and slowly like the cymbals.
In the recording itself you get the feeling that care has been taken not to let the high notes come too much forward, so that nothing sounds shrill or hard. The Black Diamond is able to transmit this in a sovereign way and e.g. play the cymbals of the drums clearly but discreetly.
The representation by the Black Diamond is homogeneous over the entire frequency response and, as with JTB, with fineness in the trebles. Whereby this strength is not demanded here as much as with JTB. As far as the stage is concerned, however, the depth I had praised so much on JTB is missing a bit.
The width is similarly small and the sound is very direct. That is ok. Unfortunately, the piece sounds a bit two-dimensional, the depth staggering is hardly noticeable, as if everything happens on one line. But here the assumption is obvious that the recording is also not so deeply staggered. Here it would be interesting to test the piece with a high end system, for comparison.
But all in all again a very good performance of the Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond needle.
Test 4: Haydn with “Celloconcert in C major”.
As a classical test I chose the Decca recording of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C major, played by the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Britten.
From the “golden” age of analog recording, this great recording has good dynamics. And played with the right equipment a wide and deep stage unfolds. Decca’s sound engineers have made a number of incredibly good recordings back in the 60s. This is one of them.
Besides, the music is of course also very impressive. Rostropovich’s cello playing was beyond all doubt. And in combination with the English chamber orchestra, this results in an atmospherically dense and moving experience. I like to take this disc out of my record shelf.
But now to the technique: How are our two candidates doing in classical music?
In short: Both needles are fun! But of course we want to differentiate. The picture from the previous test plates continues here as well. That means transferred to the classic piece:
The Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond plays relaxed and shines in the resolution of the fine trebles, e.g. played by the violins. The needle here again impresses in particular by staggering the various instruments in depth to create a 3D effect that is astonishing for such a budget system. The location of the individual string groups can easily be done by ear.
The instruments are also well separated from each other. The width of the stage, however, remains within a frame that widens to the left and right about one meter next to the speakers. But that is fine for a chamber orchestra.
Once again, this creates a listening impression that is a lot of fun and raises the question whether much more expensive systems are justified at all when this artificial black diamond shard produces such a sound.
And what does the rival AT3600L do?
As in the other tests, this needle impresses with its engaging “organic” sound. The wooden strings here get a nice warm bulbous sound coloration, which is appropriate. The single cello also vibrates strongly warm and bulbous, making it a joy to play. Here the analog is more neutrally tuned. So it is probably a matter of taste.
As expected, the high string passages are not quite as finely resolved by the AT3600l as by the Analogis, due to the typed conical stone. Also in the depth of the stage it is inferior to the Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond. But all in all, the clean pickup and the engaging sound make it a great performance of my budget darling.
A small intermediate conclusion:
The Analogis needle is a real joy to test on my Toshiba SR-255 with Phono Stage Graham Slee Communicator. The needle plays a little quieter and more restrained than the AT3600l, but is finer, more neutral and with more depth (3D).
Both needles are fun to listen to and would be a clear buy recommendation for me.
I do not want to close the test here yet, because I want to test the new Analogis needle on another turntable. My Toshiba represents the typical 70’s Direct Drive turntable with a medium-heavy Jelco tonearm of the already upscale middle class with 600 D-Mark (for comparison: the cult turntable Technics SL 1210 MarkII was at 880 D-Mark, so not so far away). There are many models of comparable quality and possibly sound from other brands such as Pioneer, Kenwood, JVC and of course Technics.
Now I would like to test the Analogis needle with the system on a Music Hall mmf 2.2 with acrylic platter. This has a common Project tonearm and may be at least as good as a Rega Planar 1. The Rega Planars in this price range often come with a Rega cartridge, which is identical to the AT3600L. So this new needle may be especially interesting for owners of such turntables.
Due to the high weight of the original AT3600l (3g), I will not compare the two pickups here, since the Music Hall is not designed for such heavy systems, i.e. the counterweight of the tonearm cannot hold up accurately.
With the 1.7g counterweight of the Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond the mmf again has no problem. And we are about to start with the Fusion Jazz record “JTB” and the piece “Space Cookie”.
A short “Wow” after the first few bars, because the piece is more powerful and crass than my old Toshiba. The basses are deep and the highs are clearer, a great dynamic is in the room. It is very impressive how fineness of the trebles and power through dynamics go together here in this audiophile recording.
The depth staggering is as present as on the Toshiba. That was a real treat and was fun. Whereby the more relaxed nature of the Toshiba is also pleasant for long music enjoyment.
What does the Gregory Porter do? Here the difference between the turntables is less obvious. This may be due to the modern recording, which is already very dynamic from the ground up. What is certain is that the Analogis needle does everything right again, with the somewhat flatter stage, which is probably due to the recording.
And the classical music? With Haydn, a slight increase in dynamics is noticeable compared to the Toshiba. The subtlety of the strings are very well resolved, everything seems airy and yet dynamic. The location of the instruments works well. Simply great.
In my opinion Analogis has pulled off a stroke of genius here:
On this pickup, which is designed for the budget range, this needle with the naked elliptical diamond conjures a sound that you would expect to hear in a 150 to 200 Euro system with neuralism, straight frequency response, fine detail in the treble and three-dimensionality. The Analogis AT3651 Black Diamond is recommended as a real upgrade for Project or Rega turntables, maybe more dynamic and for older DD turntables maybe more relaxed.
I’m also interested in the other Black Diamonds and will take a look at e.g. the Audio Technica AT12 with the Analogis Black Diamond. The pickup is well known for its presence in the bass and mids. Together with the fine highs of the Black Diamond this also seems to be an exciting combination.
And the original AT3600L? That’s great too. Especially if you prefer a warm, organic sound to neutrality and want to accept the loss of high frequencies.
I myself will often use it for singer songwriter records, it has its place and sounds great.