Ortofon 2M Blue Versus Audio Technica AT-VM95ML

More than a few emails have arrived over the last few weeks touting the sonic excellence of Audio-Technica's $169 AT-VM95ML dual moving magnet cartridge. The $236 Ortofon 2M Blue equipped Fluance RT85 was here for review so why not procure a VM95ML and do a direct comparison?

The Audio-Technica specs include 4.5mV output, frequency response of 25Hz-25kHz, 23dB channel separation, 1.5dB output balance, 1.8-2.2g suggested tracking force (2g optimal), recommended load capacitance of 100 to 200pF (load+cable capacitance) and the standard 47kOhm resistive load. Compliance is 20 (x 10-6) . The cartridge weighs 6.1 grams. The nude microLinear stylus is fitted to an aluminum pipe cantilever.

The Ortofon 2M Blue specs include 5.5mV (@1kHz, 5cm/sec), 25dB channel separation at 1kHz, 20-20kHz frequency response (+2/-1dB), dynamic compliance, lateral, 20µm/mN, tracking force range is 1.6 to 2g, with recommended tracking force of 1.8g, and the other specs are very similar to the Audio Technica's, though its coil impedance is about 1/3 that of the A-T. The 2M Blue weighs 7.2 grams and features an aluminum cantilever to which is fitted a nude elliptical stylus.

if you've ever compared a $99 Ortofon Red to a $236 Blue you know the sonic differences are considerable, with the Blue delivering far "faster" and more detailed performance thank in great part to its "nude" rather than the Red's bonded and far higher mass stylus. The A-T's theoretical advantage here is having a microLinear or "ridge" shaped stylus that produces more precise groove contact and less inner-groove distortion instead of the Blue's elliptical one.

Instead of me giving you my opinion, why not listen for yourself? I digitized at 96/24 a selection (Gigout's "Grand Chorus in Dialogue") from Music For Organ, Brass and Percussion (Columbia M 31193) featuring E. Power Biggs and The Columbia Brass and Percussion Ensemble recorded at St. George's Church, in NYC. Edward T. Grham and Larry Keyes engineered the 1972 release, which, with its generous bottom end extension, wide dynamics and spacious ambiance seemed like a good choice to help you decide which you prefer. Of course you will have to listen "blind" and please state your preferences in the comments section. I'll reveal which is which within the week.

File "1"

File "2"

Both cartridges were mounted to the Fluance RT85's tone arm and ran through a moderately priced phono preamp appropriate for this "front end". Try to listen to each independently rather than to "A/B" them and match levels. Enjoy!

COMMENTS
Manimaldoug's picture

File 1 is the blue
File 2 has better bass so AT
I THINK:)

gmeese34's picture

I prefer File 1. I suspect it's the Blue

vinylrules's picture

I am not sure I have a favorite which is really weird because both sound so different. File 1 sounds more "audiophile" to be sure. It has more HF extension, more definition. File 2 however has a mellow (warm) sound which I could easily live with especially if I had lots of recordings that could benefit from a softer presentation.

I guess I will have to wait for the big reveal next week - but if I had to guess - I'd say File 1 is the Audio Technica with its more advanced styli.

Lemon Curry's picture

A profound difference. File 1 takes you there. File 2 is flat and lifeless.

latinaudio's picture

...has more and tactile bass extension, a lot more detail and wider soundstage. I hope it´s the Blue, because it´s the upgrade I´ll like to do from my Red... File 2 sounds sweeter but less detailed, "uniform", with less contrasts and color...

Hummer's picture

I thought File 1 sounded brighter and more illuminated but File 2 had better Bass and tone

I think File 1 was AT and File 2 Ortofon?

Dan_Seweri's picture

Cartridge "1" produces a higher output and is louder - and louder cartridges always sound inherently better. Because of the lower output volume cartridge "2" appears to be flat and lifeless. But that does not necessarily say anything about playback quality.

A fair comparison of the two cartridges would have included a normalization of both files, which had not taken place here.

Dan_Seweri's picture

Cartridge "1" play much louder.

Dan_Seweri's picture

According to the manufacturer specs the 2M Blue produces a higher output (5mV vs. 3.5 mV) => File "1" is the Ortofon 2M Blue, file "2" is the AT-VM95ML.

howlinwolf's picture

I love these experiments! I have the blue and love it so I should be able to tell the difference, yet I really can't with any confidence. Humbling but fun. So here's my guess. I put both files into Logic pro, with no changes other then raising File 2 by +3 db to better match the levels. File 1 sounds more open and transparent but maybe not as refined in the upper mids. After raising the level of File 2 even by the minor +3 db it becomes a bit more nuanced in comparison. Just a little sweeter in the top end but not as much force and punch as file 1. So...drum roll... I think File one is the AT and file 2 is the Blue. Let the games begin!

Jim Tavegia's picture

I normalized both files in Sony Sound Forge, 1 was decreased and 2 was increased slightly. 1 has more HF extention and slightly more open. Both had decent HF extension out to 12.7 khz, but 1 had more vol at this region.

Ones choice may be decided by your speakers or cans being brighter or more mellow. I could live with either. Now you are at the point of which one mates better with this particular phono stage.

I always love these shoot-outs. I just did my own with an artist's song in 4 formats, LP, CD, 88.2khz download, and the SACD version. More science projects to look at the effects of EQ/Mastering and HF extension. Great fun.

Jim Tavegia's picture

-1db to insure no overs.

audiof001's picture

Good idea - I'll normalize these tracks too for comparison. Just to discuss normalizing further, I normalize my full album rips before I split the tracks, never song by song. I seem to recall Michael writing about normalizing, recommending a -.10 db setting offering the best output, which is what I've used since. If memory serves, Fremer surmised that normalizing any greater reeks havoc with some playback software. I've used Sound Studio on my Macs for years. It would be interesting to know what software others use.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I have read and practiced over the years that you do want to turn on that last bit, which is above the -6db threshold (6 x the bit rate is the dynamic range). One engineer I read said that there is no reason to go above -5db, but I think that leaving 3db of loudness disregarded as not a good practice and it lowers the rest of the music as well. I generally do not go over -2db in my own work, but overs in digital are bad, so I avoid them at all costs. I noticed in these two files I had clearance at the top of the wave forms by going to -1db.

My displays are helpful when I look at other's recorded music and I see the wave form "fill" my screen and often look like a flat top hair cut near or at 0db, compressed and limited probably to -0.5db. right to the edge. This happens way too often in pop music.

I was glad to see and hear in these two files that the dynamic range was left intact and they both sounds very good to me. The one thing about vinyl it that the cutting and mastering of the LPs is hard work, then with all of the options we as listeners have in choosing a good turntable and then the hundreds of options of cartridges and phono stages it is no wonder we all hear something difference, and I haven't talked about our speakers or rooms yet.

Glad to see you normalized as well as we have read in the past that in DBT that even a .1db difference is discernable by some and the louder generally chosen as sounding better. Sounds like we both try to be honest in the science...a good thing. There is much to worry about in digital, but there is not much we can do about that with most of our players having just on and off, but now the newer dacs are giving us more listening options, a very good thing.

khenegar's picture

File1 is definitely brighter Than file2 but if I was having to listen To music (classical) for a long time file2 would be much easier on the ears to me and more like a live concert. My first time to a live classical concert my first question was where are all the hi’s. My friend just looked at me and grinned ! it sure changed my outlook on recorded music.

Steve Edwards's picture

I prefer File 2. File 1 sounds more detailed, but 2 is fuller and warmer.

AnalogJ's picture

File 2 is brighter on top listening through my Monsoon planar computer speakers. And it brings the top end notes more forward compared to the rest of the frequency spectrum. The presentation is harsher as well. File 1's presentation is not as bright, and has a more cohesive presentation.

I will listen to these both without A/Bing soon, so I can get an overall sense of the performances rendered by each.

I'm also reminded of a conversation with Harry Weisfeld in which he said that not all cartridges mate as sonically well with certain arms. For example, the famed Denon DL-103 Weisfeld thinks sounds great with certain arms and just okay with others. So what we're hearing is how it sounds through whatever you're listening through, on THIS particular tonearm.

bagheera_74's picture

File 2 has a hair longer sustain on the cymbal crash and very satisfying bass. At first I thought that file 1 was a little harsh on the highs but that was because I needed to turn up the volume on file 2. At equal volume levels the second file wins due to the better bass. Great Track By the way.

Grant M's picture

neither sounds any good!

kkatseanes's picture

I have no idea which is which, but I know I like #2 much better. To me, #1 is far to brittle in the highs. Those trumpets are way too bright for me, even sounding more like computer generated sounds than real trumpets. And the highest organ notes poke out for their equally bright, brittle sound. Far more realistic to my ears is #2. It's warmer, more natural and realistic. Much better bass, in my opinion, though admittedly a bit more muddy. I could not listen long to #1. Whereas, repeated plays of #2 don't tax my ears nearly as much. Just an opinion from someone who sits in front of a live orchestra 5-6 days a week.

Wimbo's picture

like either.Therefore, could not discern which was better.
File one was overly bright and file two was grey and dynamic.
My Highly modified AT95VL would leave both for dead :)

Ivan Lietaert's picture

Ok, so some people try to guess which is which, but that's not what Michael asked. He asked which file we prefer, 1 or 2.
That's is soooo difficult.
They both sound excellent to my ears, with excellent stereo. So much depends on the amplifier and speakers as well, so I'd say it is very difficult come to a final conclusion of which file sounds best.

I'll listen to them for a while and then post my preference.

dg110233's picture

Is definitely a bit bright. # 2 on the other hand has a nicer tone a bit warmer.So i prefer #2. Couldn't say which is which.

Kent T's picture

File 2 has better bass, better detail, and tracks a bit better. I'd say File 2 is Audio-Technica. File 1 is Ortofon.

mtemur's picture

file 1 sounds more detailed but exaggerated and bright. file 2 sounds more natural. I guess file 1 is Audio Technica and file 2 is Ortofon.

Daniel Emerson's picture

I have a mild preference for file 1. But mainly it is just nice to hear that piece again.

Radyson's picture

I have a mild preference for file 1 too. I suppose it is AT and file 2 is Ortofon.

abelb1's picture

File 2 sounds a little better put together, perhaps a touch more open in the highs, it had me feeling that File 1 sounded a bit artificial by comparison. The harpsichord in file2 sounded sweeter. I thought File 1 was better at conveying a sense of drama in the opening sequence however.

ArcAudio's picture

I say file 1 is AT

Oscroft's picture

My top-end hearing is weak due to age, which must make a difference, and I don't put a lot of priority on tonal balance. Overall, I prefered the sound of File 2 - I thought I was hearing more subtlety of detail, and better defined notes.

DaveW3009's picture

First , I normalized each file in Audacity. File two was about 1.7 dB below file one. I amplified 2 by 1.7 dB before listening.

Second, I have recorded a fair number of Organ performances and have heard even more live. File two sounded much more like an organ to my ears and the brass was more natural. I had to force myself to listen all the way through File 1.

It's easy to assume that the higher level file was the 2M Blue, which has the higher output. I hope not, since I have a 2M Blue.

Pr Pigulka's picture

File #1 : it struggles with trumpets, lacks scale, weird timing. But not bad.
File #2 : smooth, tonally coherent, natural bass extension, all is well tied and organized, very relaxing and relaxed analogue sound, very natural focus. Could be more luminous but not in this price range.

mixpro's picture

I prefer #1 which has more highs and sounds more open. While this might read as strident to some, it sounds more articulate to me, translating to better stereo image and more detailed reverb tails. Bass seems about the same to my ear.

galacticz00's picture

file1 more in your face file 2 more subtle. I liked both and I suspect file 2 would make me listen more even though it was less immediate.

roffmaj1's picture

File one seems to be the Ortofon Blue. Die one sounds like it has higher output and channel separation which align with the specs. It’s also my preference, but can definitely see those who prefer a more subtle approach enjoying file 2 which I think is the AT. I’m not in this camp so my preference is file 1. I leave toward the POW of transients with “attack” and a wide soundstage.

DaveW3009's picture

OK so I thought my original comments (Which Cartridge) were slanted due to my listening at work with headphones. At home (Meridian Explorer DAC, NAD receiver and Vandersteen 2C's only reinforced that both versions are pretty bad, although file 2 is marginally better. It may be the source material but neither file has a pleasing sound. I may be I'm jaded by normally listening to first gen tapes of organ music, the fact the I really don't like the sound of Baroque tracker organs, and that I was never really impressed by E. 'Powerful' Biggs. A better choice would have been "Pomp and Pipes" (Reference Recordings") even on 44.1 kHz CD. I'd be glad to send you a snippet of what a pipe organ should sound like.

Vinyl On Tubes's picture

But file 1 was louder, so indicative of the higher output Ortofon with more signal. Regardless, I liked it better. I think it would have been a better comparison if the used gain on the phonostage was better matched. Adding some gain to the cartridge used in file 2 may have swayed me to it. I personally think the test is flawed in the manner. If we are to truly test the two cartridges, it should be used with a similar input into the amplification. This is all about matching gear, and using the same gain setting on cartridges with different outputs is unfair. And the VM95ML outputs 3.5mV not the purported 4.5mV.

yeti's picture

File one was louder as has been mentioned and I didn’t try to match them but file 2 sounded the more natural, 1 was a bit too etched. I listened to both and then the first half of each again but though file one was better the second time around, either because of familiarity or the streamer warming up a bit, file 2 still won on a more natural tone and pacing.

xtcfan80's picture

Has MF reveled which is which yet? I prefer File 2 over File 1.

Vinyl_Vern's picture

File 2 is smoother with deeper bass and better bass control. It doesn't seem as punchy as File 1, but it has more finesse.

Having a AT-VM540ML, I believe that File 1 is the Audio Technica -- a shade on the bright side of neutral, and I think it shows, particularly at the end.

If I were to make an analogy (and I do), File 1 is akin to a young musician, eager to play and full of energy, albeit, somewhat lacking in control. File 2 is much like an experienced musician who could, and quite possibly is, playing in his sleep. File 1 has more liveliness whereas File 2 is more polished. File 2 with a bit more liveliness would be great!

xtcfan80's picture

It should be a given that most 1960s & 1970s Columbia US pressings are not exactly Audiophile delights.... they are however often good examples of good performances widely available at low prices vinyl that might be likely to be played on sub $300 cartridges....

DaveW3009's picture

So why use a poor recording/mastering/pressing to evaluate a cartridge, even a sub $300 cartridge? Am I missing something or wouldn't it make more sense to use a respected lp to see how much the mid-range cartridges can extract from it, rather than determine if/how much better one can make a mediocre recording?

xtcfan80's picture

A great example of how many angles we can evaluate home audio. I like that MF used this LP, a view from the other side of the argument is fun as well. Most of us hifi geeks would compare any two cartridges by listening to several types of music from several different pressings we are familiar with and see which one was the best compromise to our own listening habits and LP library.

xtcfan80's picture

And....There are so many different opinions on what represents a respected LP that might make a 1970s Columbia US pressing a fit for this test...To be sure, we may mostly agree these are not respected LP!!!

_daev's picture

My ears thought:
File 1 initially sounded more "exciting", but rapidly moved to fatiguing, too bright and edgy, harsh sounding.
File two initially was dull sounding by comparison but it rapidly sounded more natural and less fatiguing. Better overall balance and more organic, less edgy.

Due to space constraints I use a subwoofer as a footstool at my computer workstation. My ankles tell me file two has better deep bass. :-)

sfojws's picture

I enjoyed File #2 more. The horns sounded more realistic, and there was more nuance to the organ notes. In fact, File #1 sounded edgy, almost like a CD from the early 1980s. It will be interesting to find out which file corresponds to which cartridge, as I have an AQ AT-VM95SH on the bedroom system. From what I can glean, it's basically the same as the AT-VM95ML, but with a Shibata stylus.

wgqg641's picture

File 1 gives a greater sense of immediacy and vivacity on my Fiil headphones. File 2 sounds more like being at a regular live performance and is less tiring to listen to.

rl1856's picture

I prefer File 1. Greater clarity and extension. I did adjust level as File 1 has more gain. In direct comparison, File 2 sounds a bit muffled. I would not characterize this file as "warm" because there are sounds that are much harder to discern on this file compared to File 1. However I did not listen to each file to completion. I went back and forth for about the first minute of each file. I do not know how my opinion would (or would not) change over an extended listening period. From this comparison, it should be apparent that a budget minded listener needs to carefully balance each component to achieve the best possible sound.

Diogo's picture

... So I prefer File 2. File 1 at first appears to have a fuller sound, but eventually gets tiring. File 1 sounds like an older record, too. File 2 does sound a bit muffled in direct comparison but when we go back to File 1 it sounds hysterical (from hysteria, not by making us laugh). so File 2 it is!

Ploeppe's picture

What's with the ghastly track? Gigout? Really?? Actually, this composition might be better than his Toccata, but Gigout is on my personal "hopefully will be forgotten" list. The first track would be the Blue, unless Mikey boosted the AT's level enough to confuse. Hearing these cartridges made me glad I have a couple of V15vxmr's for my MM collection, but in fairness I couldn't even begin to assess what might've been good qualities in either of these because of the ghastly music. Mr. Fremer, did you pick this track because no one cares about any copyrights on it? It's really gawdawful. I can think of several of his French contemporaries that would have made for better listening and sonic comparison, e.g., Saint-Saens, Debussy, Faure, et cetera.

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