I think some people share the feeling I have about this very very famous and probably best selling cartridge ever. I would describe it as a kind of “love-hate relationship”. There dislike plays on the same level with admiration. Now Analogis has an Upgrade Stylus on offer with a naked elliptical diamond. It is called Analogis AT95 Black Diamond.
That made me curious.
A few years ago I had the original, the Audio Technica AT95E, in use. And I was, as described above, torn by the performance. This pickup with its elliptical needle exudes a fresh charm. The tuning of the individual frequency bands are homogeneously matched with a tendency to “crisp” highs. This means that these are more distinct, i.e. slightly raised, and can be heard with a slight tendency to sharpness. This can be attractive to the ears in old 60’s and 70’s recordings, when somewhat “musty” sounding recordings get some freshness in the trebles.
However, the downside is that this “crisp” can drift off in the highs into the too sharp. This means that records from the 80s, for example, were recorded with much more distinct treble and sound “bright” by themselves. Here, an AT95e with its fresh highs can be too much of a good thing and it might sound shrill. This TA (pickup) also tends to produce sharp S sounds due to the sharpness in the high frequencies. This can sound very unpleasant. Also, crackling is more audible due to the increase of the high frequency range, because it often moves on the same frequency.
Despite all this, an AT95E can sound very good with the right hi-fi chain, i.e. turntable preamplifier amplifier cabinets, and a good balanced record recording. It can exude a lot of charm under these circumstances, especially in rock and jazz. It is not for nothing that it is the best-selling cartridge of all times, as far as I am correctly informed.
My decision – I test the Analogis AT95 Black Diamond
That’s why I was attracted to the analog AT95 Black Diamond. Because I would like to know if this is a real upgrade because of the naked stone. So I took the old Audio Technica out of the drawer and ordered the Black Diamond from my needle dealer.
Now an AT95 is not just an AT95. This means that the series spread was so big that you could get a “good” or “bad” cartridge and/or needle. So Audio Technica was able to quote a reasonable price. Until I could start this review of the Analogis AT95 Black Diamond, it was a very rocky road to go:
When the Analogis came and I mounted the At95 with it on my DD Toshiba SR-255, I put on an Eric Clapton from the 70s after some adjustments. I was very positively surprised by the first bars. The sound was open and clear. As described above, it freshened up the recording considerably. The spatiality was also good.
But the disillusionment followed after about 3 songs. The IGD (Inner Groove Distortion), the distortion at the inner grooves was clearly audible. So much so that it was no longer a pleasure to listen further. I tried to improve the adjustment again, put a coin on the headshell to weigh it down, increased the weight to 2.2g (2g is normal), made another try with the Ortofon template. Nothing at all! It occurred to me that even then the AT95 was not a great tracker.
I wrote to my needle dealer, who, great as he is, wanted the needle back so he could measure it and check it with a microscope. He couldn’t find anything, and he had it running without distortion. Instead of “turning me off”, I was even more excited. I could have exchanged it, but I really wanted it to run. So my needle dealer sent me a newer AT cartridge and an original needle to borrow and compare. The odyssey continued. To shorten this now:
The result is now a little better with a newer housing, weight of the arm, increase of the weight. But at the inner grooves it still distorts, whether original or analogis AT95 Black Diamond. But some needles probably do that when they are not called Shibata or SAS. So you can say that even with Black Diamond the AT95 doesn’t become a “track monster”. At least not on my turntables.
But just because this combination of AT95 and naked elliptical diamond sounded so promising in Eric Clapton’s work, I would like to do this test. Its fresh charm makes it very attractive to many. And maybe others do not have such problems with him. Other turners, other prerequisites and then the thing with the serial scattering. I wish it to everyone. Because the foreplay was not much fun here.
The test requirements will be the same as for my other tests: As with the AT12 Black Diamond, I will not go into technology or take any measurements, but rely on my hearing. The tests will represent my subjective perception of the listening experience. This will give potential customers the opportunity to get an idea of the needle. In order to make things easier for those who may be familiar with the original needle from Audio Technica, I will compare the analogues AT95 Black Diamond with the latter.
As listening examples you will again hear Carole King with “I Feel The Earth Move” for voice distortion analysis, JTB with “Space Cookie” as an analog high-end recording, “Musical Genocide” by Gregory Porter as a newer top recording and last but not least a great old Decca classic recording from the 60s, “Cello Concerto in C Major” by Haydn.
Test 1: Carole King with “I Feel The Earth Move
First I will take a closer look at the analog AT95 Black Diamond:
It does its job better than expected. The piece is the first one right on page 1, which means it lies on the outer groove. King’s voice proves to be a “needle killer” again and again, because the pitch and the on the one hand piercing, but on the other hand rough nature of its vocals challenge the tracking characteristics of the needle.
In fact, a very slight scratching can be detected with the BD. It’s really just a touch. I would probably be more critical if I didn’t have this history with the needle. Since the needle is still at the end of its running-in phase and the diamond is not polished, I’ll skip over that.
Otherwise, the needle is fun here. It freshens up the 70s shot with nice dynamics. The piece, which was actually recorded very centrally, is presented very harmoniously. And there it is again, the “love-hate relationship”. A charm you can’t resist, but with slight tracking errors.
But now to the original needle: Here you can see a similar picture. Also the original one sweats a lot when tracking King’s voice. I also have the feeling that I can hear a very slight scratching in her voice in some parts of the vocals. All in all the reproduction is dynamic in a pleasant way.
The original needle from Audio Technica doesn’t quite match the openness and airiness of the Black Diamond, which has a finer treble range. The mids and bass range are similarly coherent, never obtrusive, but pleasantly present. Other pickups, like the AT12 Black Diamond, which otherwise do a lot of things perfectly, had to struggle more with the midrange recording in my review at Carole King.
What I found very pleasant was a nice depth of the stage. It’s not very wide, but the 3 D staggering manages both needles very well.
I liked the Analogis AT95 Black Diamond a bit better, because its fine treble makes the atmosphere in the song a bit more airy. Both were not perfect in tracking.
Test 2: JTB with “Space Cookie
Now things are getting exciting. Because now both will deal with a real high end recording from Fusion Jazz. This is from the end of the 70s, when analog technology had almost reached its technical peak. Shortly before the first digital recordings again meant a (temporary) step backwards in terms of transparency, dynamics and stage. The Jazz of JTB had very elaborate and complicated passages, which the needles now have to break down.
This time we start with the original needle: wow, not bad! For a simple typed, elliptical needle the AT needle does a very good job here. The high heads from the drums are well represented, although not perfect. Here goes a little bit more. But otherwise really wonderful performance with an acoustic guitar that is warm and realistic.
The frequency ranges are presented very very coherently. There are powerful, crisp and at the same time controlled basses, wonderfully coherent realistic warmly presented mids, which here with the original needle blend perfectly into amazingly subtle but accentuated highs.
There it is again, this charm of the At95. What amazed me most was the spatiality of the presentation. A narrow but deep stage.
But now I am curious about the Black Diamond. Ok, the space is extending a little bit to the side, about 50cm to 1m left and right of the boxes. The depth graduation is similar to the original. The middles are shown a bit reduced. This is especially noticeable on the acoustic guitar, which is not quite as bulbous and warm as the AT, but also stands nicely in the room. The basses are very similarly crisp and accented.
But now to the trebles. Here I have ambivalent feelings about this number. On the one hand, the trebles are more in the foreground in the BD, so much so that they go beyond “freshness”. In other words, they bring themselves too much into the foreground. On the other hand, they are very finely resolved and bring out some hidden detail.
But what is that? Starting in the second half of the piece, the analog AT95 Black Diamond distorts. It becomes unpleasant, although the piece is only the second one on the disc. So it can’t be IGD. Distortion on the next piece as well. No change even after cleaning the needle and the disc.
I decide to leave it like this with the result that here the original needle, apart from the distortion of the BD, gave the better picture. The straightness of the frequency response was audibly better. Although the BD displayed the treble (up to the distortion) more finely, it also amplified it very much. This made the recording look a bit shrill.
The depth graduation was very good with both needles. The instruments were easy to locate. This surprised me especially with the original needle. Why the Black Diamond distorted here, I can’t say. I will devote myself to the next test.
Test 3: Gregory Porter with “Musical Genocide”:
I start again with the original needle and I get a “crass” feeling. The AT sounds just great. Now it is so that this Blue Note recording can be called audiophile in the modern sense. It is probably (not 100% sure) digitally recorded, but with great dynamics and warmth. I often have the feeling with this record that every pickup does a good job. None of the tested needles have failed here. They all sounded good. That must have something to do with the pressing, with the record itself.
In any case, the AT95E with the original needle sounds very dynamic and balanced. The bass line is present, but doesn’t disturb Porter’s voice. If you want to grumble on a very high level, you might object to the final accuracy in the cymbal representation of the drums. But this is only noticeable when listening very closely. Even a good stage can be recognized. This is not a matter of course on this record. It was a point of criticism in other reviews.
The frequency response is very well-balanced covered by the originals, whereby the highs here already roll off very slightly through the recording to convey naturalness. Here the AT does not try to artificially boost the treble. That would not be appropriate here either. Very good presentation of the original AT95e needle.
First of all: The distortion has fortunately disappeared. The Analogis AT95 Black Diamond sounds very similar to the originals. But there is also a weakened similarity to the upper test to the JTB.
The stage is very good, a nice depth graduation is noticeable, even a bit more than the original. The warmth and dynamics of the recording are nicely transferred. The mids are again slightly reduced in volume. The bass response is clear, but in a pleasant way in the background as on the original. The BD tries to amplify the treble a little bit. But it doesn’t manage this here to the same extent as on JTB. This is pleasant. Too much would not be appropriate here as already written. It would destroy the warm homely atmosphere.
The trebles are displayed a bit more precisely, apart from the volume. Cymbals and highheads sound more natural. This is one of the strengths of the Black Diamonds. It is played out here.
Nevertheless, the original needle is slightly ahead again. Although the heights are slightly less precise due to the typed stone, the slightly centered warm sound radiates a great charm. The Analogis AT95 Black Diamond also does its job very well, only just behind it with the slightly more distanced neutral but in the heights more precise presentation.
That was very exciting and close. Now on to the classic and thus the last test.
Test 4: “Cello Concerto in C Major” by Haydn played by the English Chamber Orchestra (Decca)
This simply wonderful Decca recording from 1965 has done it to me. The sound engineers from that time did a really great job. After 55 years it sounds so fresh, spatial and transparent. It’s like sitting in a concert hall.
This is what the analogues AT95 Black Diamond, with which we start this time, can convey in a remarkable way. I feel like I’m sitting in a concert hall. It’s just great how the cello stands out from the orchestra. The belly and warmth of the cello standing in the middle of the room is well transmitted. Here, the slight treble boost ensures that the frequency band is presented homogeneously.
Because the old recording can tolerate this refreshment. The rolling upper frequencies are slightly raised. This results in an airiness. You feel the room. The instruments have a slight reverberation that you can hear. This reinforces the impression that you are sitting in a concert hall. The stage is not very wide, but quite low. Very suitable for a chamber orchestra. The instruments are easy to locate.
All in all this makes listening a lot of fun. A great performance of the Analogis AT95 Black Diamond. Due to its slightly restrained presentation of the mids, but the slight increase of the highs, the great three-dimensionality, the BD on the AT95 seems to be a good option for older classical recordings. So far the strongest performance in the tests. Very coherent, very impressive.
It becomes immediately apparent after a few moments that the original Audio Technica needle cannot convey the same openness and transparency as the Black Diamond needle.
The presentation is clean, the strings, both cello and violins show a beautiful warm belly. However, the amplification of the upper frequencies is missing here. This would convey freshness, airiness and even more spaciousness. So the pleasant reverberation of the cello is dampened and disappears instead of being reflected by the walls of the concert hall. More modern recordings, which are already rather high in height, are certainly well presented with the original needle.
Here we have a clear stage win for the Analogis AT95 Black Diamond. Older classical records, which go towards chamber music, seem to be made for this combination.
Now what can be said about the two needles?
First of all, hats off to the original needle of the AT95E. I know that there was a large serial distribution. Apparently I got a good model. Because it delivers a very good, very charming presentation. Especially with jazz and rock, pop has a place. There I would use it again and again. She has earned the high sales figures and the reputation.
There are many skeptics out there. And yes, you can have bad luck with her if you get a bad model. She’s also very bitchy when it comes to adjustment. That means, to get a good performance, she has to be adjusted very precisely. But when everything is right, this original AT95 can be a lot of fun.
There are also interesting articles in the net, how to make a space needle out of it. The sound should be already high end. Exciting thing…
And the analogues AT95 Black Diamond?
Of course there are many factors responsible for the perception of sound. Also the manufacturing tolerances should be kept in mind. This became very clear when adjusting and tuning the AT95.
I can say that this Analogis AT95 Black Diamond and I will not become friends. I would also like to emphasize that it is possible that technically this needle does not fit my system. Anyway, my BD has to struggle with IGD (Inner Groove Distortion) on my turntable. Unfortunately the inner grooves are distorted despite exact adjustment.
Also, with newer jazz and rock, it tends to increase the volume of the high frequency range, which is often not appropriate. This makes many recordings appear pointed. That’s a pity, because his original makes it better, at least in my test.
But there is one area, apart from the distortions, where it seems to have its place. These are older recordings from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Here, the raised high frequency range can provide an airiness and a sense of space. The unrolled upper frequency range of the recordings is thus at least partially straightened in line again. This is pleasant for the hearing. Provided you have a needle that scans cleanly.
While I’m writing this, U2 is running the LP “War” played by the original AT95E on my Toshiba SR-255 in wooden frame and rewired. This is also my test turntable. It represents the typical mid-range Direct Drive of the 70’s newly “pimped” into modern times.
The AT95E’s harmonious reproduction in the rock area is again striking and here additionally remarkable: There is almost no IGD.
Which needle is the better one? From the tests it is 2 : 2, but since I hear more and more newer pressings from the end of the 70’s on, the original needle of the AT95E comes out as a close “winner”. In my example it also had less of a struggle with IGD.
But I think that lovers of old recordings from the 50s, 60s and early 70s should have the new analog AT95 Black Diamond on their screens.