Audio Technica VM540ML or Nagaoka MP-200?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by AnalogReview, Mar 1, 2019.

  1. AnalogReview

    AnalogReview Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    Melbourne
    Trying to decide between the two. I like the AT for its MicroLine stylus but not sure about the cold sound people talk about. On the other hand I love the Nagaoka sound and have owned some of the cheaper carts before. I'm just not thrilled with the .3 x.7 mil stylus profile.

    Has anyone heard both? What are your thoughts?

    EDIT the MP-200 is $100 more than the VM540ML. The MP-150 is around the same price and is also a consideration.
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2019
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  2. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Two carts as different as chalk and cheese, not sure why anyone would compare them. I often see these types of comparisons that people categorize by local price and they make no sense to me.
     
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  3. allied333

    allied333 TUBE AMPLIFIER REBUILDER - inquire

    Location:
    MI
    I do not know the sound of the MP200, but the VM540ML and MP-500 are similar in sound with the MP-500 being the better performer.
     
  4. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
    Well AR, you say you love the Naga sound... so I think you've kinda already answered your own question. :idea:
    .
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2019
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  5. Leonthepro

    Leonthepro Skeptically Optimistic Autodidact Debater

    Location:
    Uppsala Sweden
    Hard to say, I want to try the AT at some point. The 200 is good but I too worry about the stylus.
     
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  6. I am at this place right now.
    I have circled around the 3 AT's and the VM 540ML seems to do very well - possibly better than the 740ML, and the 750 SH is seemingly more 'airy - but not as punchy.
    The Nagaoka MP200 is very nice but I am concerned sometimes with odd distortions in the treble (Maybe that stylus shape?) - not always there and also sometimes wanting a slight lift there too.. SO I am considering the VM 540 ML
     
  7. Eyedok

    Eyedok Forum Resident

    Location:
    Wilmington NC
    Pick the one you love the sound of. Don’t get too hung up on hype about stylus shape, as it all depends on how well the design is executed. IMHO Nagaoka.
     
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  8. zombiemodernist

    zombiemodernist Forum Resident

    Location:
    Northeastern USA
    IMHO, the “tone” of Nagaoka is the hype. Stylus profile has an objective effect on the tracking of hot passages and inner grooves. A beryllium cantilever helps tracking, but that standard nude elliptical can only go so far. Meanwhile tone / sound can be easily tweaked with capacitance, loading and phono stage pairing. Feel free to like whatever you want, and prioritize tracking as much as you feel is right at the end of the day, but the AT should objectively track better than the Nagaoka.
     
  9. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    I think you mean boron rather than beryllium, but yeah, agree with all this.

    Can't fit a square peg in a round hole, which is basically what you are doing when you try to cram a fat elliptical into a tight inner groove on a hotly cut record with narrow deadwax. A boron cantilever can't fix that. I always tell people to read the patents on stylus shapes for more info. Companies like Shure and Stanton worked all this out (the advantages of advanced stylus profiles) decades ago. Yet people still want to debate it today.

    FWIW the aluminum cantilevers on AT ML cartridges are very thin and low mass. Any advantage boron has over them will be small and not discernable to most people. If anyone wants a boron cantilever with an ML stylus look at AT's MC line. You can get something that won't cost much more than an MP-200 (street prices, not retail) and will be a far better value overall.
     
  10. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    One more thing about Nagaoka. I think they may be having some QC issues as of late. There was a post elsewhere by a guy that got an MP-200 recently and was disappointed with the sound. He wanted to investigate further so he got a test record and ran some stereo separation tests. Now, these tests can vary due to how different test records are cut but his results on the Nagaoka were WAY out of spec, like 16dB-ish per channel. Something is clearly wrong there. He tested some other cartridges to compare including a vintage Ortofon and it met or exceeded spec. Just something to be aware of if you are buying these carts. I'm not sure if it was an isolated incident or a symptom of wider problems...Caveat Emptor.
     
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  11. Tim1954

    Tim1954 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Cincinnati, OH
    Despite you not knowing why, I have compared them, and they are VERY close.

    If I could find the frequency comparison I did it would show that they are so close it is really quite remarkable.

    Each has a sound in line with its own sonic “brand,” but these carts are almost interchangeable in terms of frequencies they put out.
     
  12. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    If you look at enough FR charts (I'm sure you have, this is for everyone else) the differences in FR between cartridges are often subtle, particularly if you are trying to optimize loading with each cartridge. Many cartridge designers will aim for a flat response or as close as they can get with the limitations of their design.

    But it's not just the FR that matters, it's also the inner groove tracking (among other things, like stereo separation), and any cart with a fat .4 x .7 elliptical is not going to be able to keep up with an MR/ML stylus on a light cantilever like the ATs have, when the cartridges are pushed to the limit. Very FEW reviewers ever push these cartridges to the limit.

    More on that here:

    Vinyl Torture Tracks - Inner Grooves, Sibilants, Hotly Cut Tracks, Sudden Volume Bursts, etc.
     
  13. zombiemodernist

    zombiemodernist Forum Resident

    Location:
    Northeastern USA
    I’m sure this is true, and this was the crux of my point. If both carts are similar in FR (which should relatively flat) those obsessed with the importance of “tone” are misguided at best. Obviously the OP is aware of the effect of stylus shape, and to answer the original question, no, there is nothing objective to the “Nagaoka Sound” that would make a medium sized elliptical stylus preferable to a micro-line.
     
  14. Tim1954

    Tim1954 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Cincinnati, OH
    I don’t know how Nagaoka does it, but their fat ellipticals track so well it is crazy. About the only thing a ML or Shibata will definitively beat them on is an already very sibilant record.
     
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  15. zombiemodernist

    zombiemodernist Forum Resident

    Location:
    Northeastern USA
    Not my experience with the 110. Granted that’s an aluminum cantilever and bonded, but I don’t particularly find that to be a good tracker compared to the competition at that price point.
     
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  16. Tim1954

    Tim1954 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Cincinnati, OH
    Eh, I think it is a great tracker. What tracks better for a hundred bucks? Grado Black maybe? AT VM95ML or SH will beat it for sure but those are a hundred bucks more.

    But definitely the 150 dials everything up a notch. The 200 and 300 are phenomenal trackers in my experience. Same with the 500. The 500 loses a bit of the Nag sonic signature to my ears, however. A little clinical for me.
     
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  17. zombiemodernist

    zombiemodernist Forum Resident

    Location:
    Northeastern USA
    IME, the cheaper Shure m97xe (RIP) outpaced it on torture passages. Not a surprise there as the stylus radius on the Shure is smaller. That same Shure was improved more with a nude ne95ed stylus. AT does have an entry level nude elliptical if its own in the VM95EN, again at a smaller radius than the Nagaoka, but I haven’t tried it out so I can’t comment on it. I would suspect it to be better as well.

    I don’t think the 110 is a bad value at all at $110, but I think the tracking is already getting outpaced at that pricepoint, so keeping the same stylus profile on a cart 4xs as expensive isn’t too impressive IMO.
     
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  18. Tim1954

    Tim1954 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Cincinnati, OH
    I hear you, but despite the science I just have not found that to be the case. The MP-200 and MP-300 have a sound going for them that is drop dead gorgeous, IMO. And both somehow manage to track as well as any Microline or Shibata I’ve tried.
     
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  19. Cyclone Ranger

    Cyclone Ranger New old stock

    Location:
    Best Coast USA
    MP200 all day, every day. :agree:

    OP, did you finally pick one of the two, or go with something else?
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2019
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  20. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage

    Location:
    Belgium
    Imho tracking is not the only difference between fat ellipticals and other, finer, styli. Finer styli get just way more information out of the groove, more air, more ambience and thus a whole other dimension added to the soundstage of a recording! Fat ellipticals can sound like a photo compared to the 3d version that a finer stylus can give you. A bit of exaggaration maybe but that is the best way to explain the difference between both imho.
     
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  21. MusicNBeer

    MusicNBeer Forum Resident

    Location:
    Florida
    I've got the 740ML and it's awesome. You need super low capacitance loading though. Phono pre with input capacitance 100uF or less and short low capacitance cables between turntable and pre. If you do this, it will sound superb.

    I started with an Ortofon 2M Black and the AT tracks way better, has way less surface noise, and noticeably less distortion.
     
  22. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Many singers sing with natural sibilance in their voice, and it will be on the record. A lot of people don't notice this...
     
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  23. Tim1954

    Tim1954 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Cincinnati, OH
    Yeah, I just have not been able to establish this.

    Having recorded hi-res needle drops, the MP-200 seems to extract every bit of information that any ML or Shibata does. To whatever extent it doesn’t get “3D” is not something I’ve ever noticed, but in terms of lifelike ambience plus a balance of warmth and clarity, I think it beats any ML or Shibata I’ve heard in a similar price range.
     
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  24. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    It would depend a lot on what records you are needledropping. Many records are simply not that hard to track and a fat elliptical or conical can play them back fine.

    Here is some information on research Shure did quite some time ago on why they developed the hyperelliptical stylus for their V15 cartridge.

    High Fidelity Phonograph Cartridge - Technical Seminar

    TLDR: less distortion.
     
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  25. zombiemodernist

    zombiemodernist Forum Resident

    Location:
    Northeastern USA
    Beyond all the flowery prose, an advanced profile stylus reaches deeper and makes better contact with the groove walls. This improved contact area and ability to track small groove modulations is going to present a more accurate playback of what the cutting-head cut to the lacquer. This is a simple physics-based fact that every reputable cartridge manufacturer and mastering engineer would not dispute. If an elliptical was the end-all-be-all of tracking Nagaoka themselves wouldn’t make a cart with an advanced profile stylus like the MP-500 their flagship.

    Obviously with anything in audio you may prefer another cart for any subjective reason. I just find tonal preferences not particularly useful to recommend to a stranger not knowing their downstream signal path, room acoustics, and most importantly biases and preferences. So while some posters here may have tested both carts and preferred one or another, their subjective opinion really only applies to themselves.
     

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