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Ortofon 2M Red vs. AT95E Comparison and Review

I recently spent a few weeks reviewing and comparing the Ortofon 2M Red and the Audio-Technica AT95E turntable phono cartridges. I’ve been excited to see how some of the most popular entry-level and midrange cartridges compare for a long time. So, eventually, I bought a few cartridges to do my own testing. 

I have also compared the Ortofon 2M Red and the AT95E against the Ortofon 2M Blue and the VM540ML. You’ll find links to those articles towards the end.  

(The AT95E is now replaced by the VM95E.) 

I found the AT95E to have a relaxed and laid-back presentation whereas the Ortofon 2M Red has a brighter and more analytical presentation. The biggest downside with the AT95E is that it can sound a bit boring and boxed-in, whereas the Ortofon 2M Red might become slightly fatiguing in the long run, especially if you have a bright system. 

I think the most important criteria for comparing and choosing audio gear is enjoyment. How much do I actually enjoy listening to music with one cartridge versus another? Is it engaging? Is it fun? Do I want to keep on listening to music? 

In the enjoyment department, I found it hard to pick one over the other in this particular comparison. I might be too critical, but I would love the AT-95E to be more open and engaging. More like the Ortofon 2M Red. But I would also like the Ortofon 2M Red to be warmer and smoother.

These two cartridges have very different personalities, and I do not think either one is a natural upgrade or replacement for the other. I think these are cartridges that should be cherry picked to give your system the character you prefer.  

We’ll get into more details later, but first a few words on how I did my testing. 

My Testing

To be able to quickly swap between cartridges for back-to-back comparisons, I had all the cartridges mounted on separate headshells. I used my Audio-Technica AT-LP120USB turntable that has a tonearm with a “quick-release” that makes it easy to quickly swap between cartridges.  

I used audiophile-graded headphones instead of speakers to make for a more “isolated” listening experience without background noise and negative effects arising from “less than ideal” listening room acoustics. (I am currently between houses and temporarily live in a medium-size hotel room so bringing in my speakers wasn’t really a valid option anyway…)

My “reference” turntable is currently a $700 Rega Planar 2 with a $600 Rega Carbon cartridge. I had the performance of that reference setup in the back of my head when I did the reviews and comparisons. To have a “reference” benchmark for the testing.  

Here are the key components of my test setup: 

Turntable: 2018 Audio-Technica AT-LP120USB (with preamp removed) 

Preamp: Rega Fono Mini A2D

Headphone amp: Schiit Magni 3

Headphones: Focal Elear 

I used a protractor and a stylus force gauge to make sure that the cartridges were set up correctly and operating according to their specifications. I also gave the new cartridges a decent amount of playing time before my testing, but I cannot guarantee that they broke-in fully. 

The Ortofon 2M Red 

The Ortofon 2M Red is one of the cartridges I bought solely for the purpose of these cartridge comparisons. It is the budget option from Ortofon’s popular 2M range of cartridges which (save for the mono versions) consist of the Red, Blue, Bronze and Black. 

PRICE

You can check the current price on Amazon by clicking here (affiliate link). 

KEY SPECIFICATIONS 

Stylus Type: Elliptical 

Weight: 7.2 g

Rec. tracking Force: 1.8 g

Rec. load capacitance: 150-300 pF 

Output level at 1 kHz: 5.5 mV

Channel Separation at 1 kHz: 22 dB 

Link to complete list of specifications. 

The Audio-Technica AT95E 

The AT95E came stock with my AT-LP120, so this is a cartridge that I have owned for a long time. Audio-Technica classify it is a midrange cartridge, but I believe many vinyl enthusiasts will put it in the entry-level category. It is now replaced by the VM95E which has quite similar specifications and price. (And performance I assume.) 

PRICE

You can check the current price on Amazon by clicking here (affiliate link). 

KEY SPECIFICATIONS 

Stylus Type: Elliptical 

Weight: 5.7 g

Rec. tracking Force: 2.0 g

Rec. load capacitance: 100-200 pF 

Output level at 1 kHz: 3.5 mV

Channel Separation at 1 kHz: 20 dB 

Link to complete list of specifications. 

Comparison: Ortofon 2M Red vs. AT95E

Sound and enjoyment factor

When I swapped back and forth between the Ortofon 2M Red and the AT95E, I found it very hard to pick a favorite. I normally prefer warm and smooth sound over bright and analytical. 

The AT95E has all the warmth and smoothness you can ask for, but it unfortunately sounds too boxed-in to get a perfect score from me. It feels a bit like playing music behind thick curtains. The sound doesn’t fully shine through. 

I wish the AT95E had a bit more life and transparency. A complaint I have had about the AT95E since the very first time I heard it. And the reason I quickly replaced it with a VM540ML on my AT-LP120 turntable. The AT95E is super laid back and pleasant to listen to, but it lacks the life and emotion it would need to become a complete cartridge. 

The Ortofon 2M Red, on the other hand, sounds noticeably more open and detailed, but it did never sound as pleasant as the AT95E. 

The music sounds livelier and more engaging with the Ortofon 2M Red. But it doesn’t combine it with warmth and smoothness like I experience with the much more expensive Audio-Technica VM540ML, which is my favorite cartridge under $300 (so far). The Ortofon 2M Red has plenty details and transparency but lacks the smoothness to become a complete cartridge, in my opinion. 

What you should take from this is that these cartridges have quite different personalities. 

The AT95E is great if you want an affordable cartridge that is pleasant and laid back. It will be perfect to balance a system that is too bright and analytical. 

The Ortofon 2M Red is great if you want a cartridge that can extract lots of details for a relatively affordable price. It is also great to add life to a system that is on the darker side. 

Music Volume 

The difference in output level (3.5 mV for the AT95E and 5.5 mV for the Ortofon 2M Red) is big enough to make the Ortofon 2M Red play with significantly higher music volume. Noticeable difference there. 

Sibilance and IGD 

I did not manage to provoke sibilance or inner groove distortion worth mentioning from either the AT95E or the Ortofon 2M Red. None of these have a reputation for being awesome trackers, but I did not experience anything worth mentioning with the records I used for my testing.  

I did put a lot of efforts into adjusting tracking force and VTA so that the carts operated according to their specifications. With ideal operating conditions, these cartridges should not give major sibilance or IGD headaches. 

Conclusion

There you have it, my honest review of the AT95E and the Ortofon 2M Red. Two quite different cartridges that I think will give your system quite different character.  

I hope you got value from reading this and don’t forget to check out my other cartridge comparisons as well. You find the links below. 

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to share your experience with these cartridges. 

Related Articles 

Sound Test: Ortofon 2M Red vs. Ortofon 2M Blue Comparison Review

Sound Test: Ortofon 2M Blue vs. VM540ML Comparison Review

Sound Test: AT95E vs. VM540ML Comparison Review

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