Cart modifiers / budget hunters / Clearaudio / AT

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by H8SLKC, Jul 9, 2017.

  1. H8SLKC

    H8SLKC Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Boston, MA
    After learning that the Clearaudio (CA) MM carts are built around AT-supplied bodies, which allows CA MM owners to service their non-user-serviceable styli, I spent some time reading related threads on the various vinyl forums. It is pretty clear that up through the Maestro, something very, very similar to the AT95e cartridge body is the core of the CA carts. The specs listed for the Virtuoso and Maestro note much better channel separation and other differences from the stock AT95e, but there is disagreement out there about whether the CA carts are simply better-testing bodies pulled from the AT95e production line, or whether they are a higher-spec body made separately. Bottom line for CA cart users is that (1) any stylus that will fit an AT95e or AT92 cart will fit and work in the CA MM carts, (2) there are thankfully multiple stylus options from stock .4X.7 ellipticals all the way to shibata versions easily available with different compliances and (3) with a quick couple of snips from a nail clipper these styli can be made "nude" so they project from the cart front as CA intended.

    Multiple DIYers have produced long online threads not only about the ins and outs of CA MM carts and their AT heritage, but also effective methods to make the simple and cheap AT95e as good as possible. These topics naturally go together, especially for tinkerers and those looking to save a buck while maximizing sound quality. I was intrigued and had an AT95e sitting around, so I took a shot at potting the body with epoxy, replacing the plastic body top with a simple bit of hobby plywood and nuding the stock stylus. I was very happy with the way it sounded and it now lives on my U-Turn Orbit. It's a $40 cartridge sounding good enough that I'll happily leave it alone. I have Grado blue, Ortofon 2m blue and Shure m97xe carts sitting now as I prefer this modified cart.

    Next I ordered an AT95ES from LPGear. It's a stock AT95e but with an aftermarket .3X.7 elliptical, so "better" than the stock stylus but still not advanced like a VL or shibata. I detached the plastic cover, potted the interior of the body with epoxy and carved a wooden head shell from a block of hobby wood, softer than a typical hardwood but also easier to shape. I tried to approximate something like the wood shells on the first generation CA Virtuoso and then epoxied the cart into the new wood shell. After running a thin epoxy bead around all other exposed cartridge seams and nuding the stylus, I tapped the wood shell for cart screws and mounted it on my Marantz TT-15. I've been running it all morning at 2.2 grams VTF and can confirm what I had read elsewhere; it sounds ridiculously good to me. I'll give it 30-40 hours before making any personal declarations about it, but it sounds quite close to what I get from the CA Virtuoso. Considering that the AT95SE costs $60 and the Virtuoso goes for $750-900, the sound from the $60 cart is already embarrassingly close to the CA. If I'm happy with it in a couple hundred hours I'll pick up an ATN95VL (vivid line stylus) and see what that does for the sound.

    This sort of tinkering and frankencarting can be used to argue not only the merits of the lowly AT95e, but also the negatives of the CA MM carts, especially at their prices, IMO. Interestingly, the Virtuoso in particular has gotten rave reviews, including from professionals, and I've been very happy with its sound in my system. That an AT95-based cart that I ginned up myself sounds as close as it does to my copy of the Virtuoso amazes me and confirms what I had read previously about these carts. For anyone else intrigued by these projects, or on a tight budget, or who owns a CA MM cart and hates the idea of having to have it serviced instead of replacing the stylus yourself, I highly recommend looking at pertinent threads online. I am becoming a big big fan of chasing value and a bit of DIY in the hobby based on the above.
     
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  2. missan

    missan Forum Resident

    Location:
    Stockholm
    What You can do, if You use a needle housing with a set screw, is to swap the needle to a much better one. If one find any reason in doing this that is. One can e.g. use a ML needle.
     
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  3. H8SLKC

    H8SLKC Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Thanks Missan for noting that. I forgot to mention in my post that beyond the styli I noted above, it's possible to obtain AT-95e-type stylus housings that have a small set screw that allows for complete cantilever swaps, including (as you said) the 440mla and 440mlb cantilevers. FWIW, the AT95SE stylus includes the set screw needed to perform this surgery/swap, although the normal AT95e OEM stylus does not. These carts and styli are so inexpensive, and can sound so good, it surprises me that more hobbyists don't talk about and pursue these mods. Thanks again for your input.
     
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  4. missan

    missan Forum Resident

    Location:
    Stockholm
    I have one AT95 with a nude Shibata, sounds very good.
     
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  5. Davey

    Davey define a transparent dream

    Location:
    SF Bay Area, USA
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  6. 33na3rd

    33na3rd Forum Resident

    Location:
    SW Washington, USA
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  7. H8SLKC

    H8SLKC Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Boston, MA
    I've seen those but have been unwilling to pay the $50 it would take to buy one. I made my own instead, although it isn't as well done for sure!
     
  8. Dr. J.

    Dr. J. Forum Resident

    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    How do you exactly do this? Once you unscrew the top screw, how do you expose the internals on this cart to put epoxy or beeswax in it? A seller from Germany makes a nice ebony wood housing for this cart, so I think it would be worth trying. Thanks!
     
  9. H8SLKC

    H8SLKC Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Boston, MA
    I carefully pour 30-min epoxy into the body cavity exposed by removing that screw. Ooze a little bit in, wait for it to sink into the internals, ooze a little more in, until the cavity is about to overflow through that little hole on top. Once that has set, I run a bead of epoxy around all seams on all sides, then bury the entire cart body in epoxy in a carved wooden cartridge body. There might be a way to curl open the metal body on the AT-95e to fully expose the internals, but I'm not aware of anyone having gone that far, but instead posts that I've read discuss potting as described above.

    I carved the wood body to accept the cartridge at the same angle as the Clearaudio Virtuoso, so that the SRA is the same once mounted to the head shell. I'm listening to my AT95-based frankencart right now, with naked .3X.7 elliptical stylus mounted, and it sounds very, very good. Between making this cart, and potting and long-horning a Grado prestige on another turntable, I have cured upgradeitis for the foreseeable future.
     
  10. Dr. J.

    Dr. J. Forum Resident

    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    Thanks so much for your detailed response! After I thought about a bit, I figured something like this may be the only solution. Here is the link to the wooden body I mentioned above. It looks great and seems like a nice solid fit:

    Ebony Wood BODY f. AudioTechnica AT95E Cartridge MC Look Perfect Sound Improv. | eBay

    This one is also from the same seller, which allows you to keep the plastic stylus housing and make it look like a CA cart:

    Exclusive WOOD BODY for AudioTechnica AT95E Cartridge Tonabnehmer COCOBOLO Wood | eBay
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2017
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  11. H8SLKC

    H8SLKC Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Boston, MA
    I've seen those wood bodies but made mine myself using a dremel tool because I'm a cheap-ass. I'll be interested to hear how you like one of these from ebay, as they look beautiful. They tempt me to buy a hobby-grade CNC router to make nice one myself!

    FWIW, if you pot with epoxy I recommend 30-minute because it flows easily and gives plenty of time before setting.


     
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  12. needlestein

    needlestein Forum Resident

    Location:
    New England
    I found a brand new in the box (so it said, anyway) CA Performer V2 with a bent cantilever for almost nothing . I straightened the cantilever and got it to play perfectly. AT 440-MLb styli, in the meantime, went on sale so I picked one up as well as a $10 EVG conical stylus with the set screw. I took the cantilever from the MLb and stuck it in the EVG grip, clipped the excess, stuck it in the Performer and it sounded fantastic. Then I retipped a Denon DL-103 with the EVG cantilever.

    I love this stuff!
     
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  13. Dr. J.

    Dr. J. Forum Resident

    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    I have a Denon DL-103 that needs a new cantilever since it's slightly off center/leaning. Is it as easy (but fiddly of course) as removing the two set screws, taking out the cantilever from the EVG and sliding it in the Denon, making sure everything is straight? How does it sound?
     
  14. needlestein

    needlestein Forum Resident

    Location:
    New England
    No. The cantilever of the Denon is moving coil. The cantilever was snapped off. I fit the EVG cantilever with an outer sleeve taken from length of Pfanstiehl cantilever for a Shure. But now I’ve refined my technique using aluminum microtubing from the hobby store and I make the sleeve internally.

    Sounds great!
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
  15. Dr. J.

    Dr. J. Forum Resident

    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    Here's an exciting update. I finally pulled the trigger on an ebony body for the AT-95e from Germany and it arrived today just at the perfect time: it's raining cats and dogs and I needed something to tinker with. I had potted the cart with epoxy two weeks ago, so that was done. The body is absolutely beautiful and well made, but let me get one negative out of the way first: I was under the impression after watching videos for such mods that the AT95 would simply slide in and fit snuggly into the wood body. This was not the case at all. In fact, the front of the body is deeper than the back, so I had to put in a shim to keep the cart level in the body as shown in the pictures on the Ebay listing. I used a bit of Blue Tack, which gave me a good fit. I then put the same epoxy I had used to pot the cart into the wood body and slid it in; a bit oozed out on the sides, but I was able to clean it up with some Q-Tips and alcohol. Because I used a 30-min epoxy I was noticing a bit of slippage, so I got a small chip clip (I guess one could use a binder clip too) and clamped it down for several hours while it cured.

    The part that had me nervous was cutting up the plastic housing on the stylus but that proved to be pretty easy. I used a fresh blade on a utility knife and held the stylus upright while I made two downward cuts to release the stylus from the rest of the housing. I snapped it into the cartridge and aligned it with my Technics overhang gauge for my SL-1200Mk5. To get the best alignment, I had to twist the body a bit from true square in the headshell but it is not really noticeable. I screwed it in the arm, set the tracking force and anti-skate at 2.0 grams, and then played with VTA for a long time. It's a tall cart now, so I started at the top of the dial and then worked my way down. Once I got to where it needed to be, I started to spin some records.

    First impressions: holy s%*t! I did not expect this huge of an improvement. My AT95e is actually one of those black special editions from a few years back and I don't know if it has a .4x7mm or .3x7mm stylus (it was never specified). It was installed on a stock Ar-xa and I really liked the combo but it wasn't the last word in detail. It's still a really balanced cartridge, as many of you know, but it's so much more transparent now. I don't know if that's because the soundstage is so focused, which it is, or if it's riding in the grooves better. Moreover, the bass is a lot more articulate and less wooly. As I am writing this I have a huge smile on my face. I will do some critical listening when the family is out of the house, but for now let me end by saying that for just over $100 this is a crazy, ridiculous cartridge.

    [​IMG]
     
  16. H8SLKC

    H8SLKC Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Hell yes! I've done same and love the results too! When it's time for stylus replacement, I can attest that an HE stylus (or VL) will bring even more joy to your listening.


     
  17. Dr. J.

    Dr. J. Forum Resident

    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    Thanks, man! You were the inspiration for this project. In regard to the stylus, are you talking about the ones they sell at LP Gear?
     
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  18. 33na3rd

    33na3rd Forum Resident

    Location:
    SW Washington, USA
    Nice job, and a very nice write up!
     
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  19. Dr. J.

    Dr. J. Forum Resident

    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    Thanks! Today I am going to play with counterweights. I should have mentioned that my CA Frankenstein cart with hardware weighs in at a whopping 9.67 grams, which barely allows the tonearm to balance. I used a digital scale to get the VTF to 2.0g. I think it will benefit from some extra mass.
     
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  20. H8SLKC

    H8SLKC Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Yes, either the VL stylus from LPGear, or an HE stylus from TVOM or Turntableneedles, or shibata from several sources. For less money there are at least two different .3X.7 ellipticals as well, including one from LPGear that has an ABS/carbon fiber cantilever. I am running an HE stylus right now on my AT95e frankencart and it sounds phenomenal. Again, that's great work on your part and I hope you enjoy it!

     
  21. serendipitydawg

    serendipitydawg Dag nabit!

    Location:
    Berkshire UK
    I am a big fan of regular AT95. It's my favourite budget cartridge by a pretty large margin.

    Here's a question for Dr.J. Exactly which one of the e-bay seller's multiple offerings did you go for? (maybe a link please). He does so many: I'm alittle confused.

    T.I.A
     
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  22. Dr. J.

    Dr. J. Forum Resident

    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    Here you go:

    Ebony Wood BODY f. AudioTechnica AT95E Cartridge MC Look Perfect Sound Improv. | eBay

    But you may also prefer the look of this model which requires no major surgery:

    Exclusive WOOD BODY for AudioTechnica AT95E Cartridge Tonabnehmer Walnut Wood | eBay


    And here's the tutorial on how to install the latter body:

     
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  23. serendipitydawg

    serendipitydawg Dag nabit!

    Location:
    Berkshire UK
    Thank you so much!
     
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  24. serendipitydawg

    serendipitydawg Dag nabit!

    Location:
    Berkshire UK
    I am still procrastinating as to which body to go for.

    Has anyone any thoughts about the nuding of the stylus? Does it appreciably contribute towards the "improvement" gained?
     
  25. Dr. J.

    Dr. J. Forum Resident

    Location:
    Memphis, TN
    Actually, this may help with your decision. I took the stylus off today because I wanted to Dremel a white line in the front of the body to, you know, complete the look, and I was kind of surprised how easily it goes in and out. I think the stylus casing of the AT95e helps click it into position and maybe makes it more secure. I may apply the tiniest bit of glue or something and cut it out when it's spent. Anyway, I can't comment on whether there is a difference in sound, but I do like the nude look a lot. It makes cueing up a lot easier and it is even easier with my new white line.
     
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