Thursday, December 14, 2017

Phono Cartridge Comparison: At95e vs Ortofon Omega

I recently assembled a franken-turntable from bits and pieces I salvaged from other systems, but one of the pieces I needed to complete it is a new cartridge. I already had an At95e from Audio Technica, which is well known and well regarded among turntable aficionados as a solid budget cartridge, so I thought I would mix it up a bit and purchase another favorite from the budget realm, the Ortofon Omega. Both of these cartridges are available for around $35-40, so I figured it would be a good, fair fight. Reviews online tend to refer to the Omega as "warmer" than the At95e, which is known as a "sterile" but "accurate" performer.

Audio Technica's At95e
For testing, I took two short recordings with each cartridge from the 'tape monitor' output of my preamp, which sends a full-output signal (i.e., bypassing all of the volume and EQ from the preamp aside from applying the Redbook boost to the phono stage) directly into the audio input of my Lenovo Thinkpad laptop. I used Steely Dan's Showbiz Kids (track 1 from side B of the first disc of Steely Dan's Greatest Hits double LP) and Dr. Dre's Nothin But a G Thang (coincidentally also track 1 from side B of the first disc of The Chronic 180g vinyl remaster). I didn't do any EQ/processing/declicking, just removed the dead space at the beginning and normalized both tracks to -1 dB because the At95e put out a slightly louder signal and we typically think louder things sound subjectively better.

The Ortofon Omega
You can download my test recordings here. (Note: these recordings are short and only include the intros of the songs, and I believe them to be covered by Fair Use). I did my testing using the Lacinato ABX audio testing software, which is free to use, listening via Audio Technica ATH-M50 closed-back headphones.

If you wish to remain impartial, please do your listening/testing before reading any further.

Ok, so first off, the results are extremely close. I think anyone would be very happy with either of these cartridges for the prices they typically go for. In simple, unblinded A/B testing, I feel like I was able to hear a consistent difference between them, mostly in the vocal midrange. The At95e sounds a little roomier while the Omega sounds very tight. Whether one would consider either to be better than the other probably depends on the words I use to describe them (e.g., roomy vs loose/sloppy, tight vs constricted). I honestly don't think I prefer one over the other, it's just a slightly different character.

In proper blinded ABX testing, that all fell apart and I wasn't able to reliably tell them apart. I did about a half-dozen comparisons and my best accuracy rate was around 67%, but more often I hovered around 50% and my confidence was always quite low.

So, there you have it. Both are good budget cartridges with no major differences as far as I could tell. I noticed no difference between them in "warmth" or "accuracy," whatever that means. You should probably take reviews claiming otherwise (e.g., suggesting one or the other is better for this or that kind of music, etc.) with a grain of salt. Feel free to leave a comment with your own ABX results.

1 comment:

Tab said...

Thanks for this review, I was considering both of these, but with Ortofon currently going for up to 3/4 of the AT part cost this was a no brainer decision, based on your evaluation and files. The LP Gear CARBON FIDELITY CF3600LE also seems like a valid contender in this space, but there's not a lot of reviews, or comparisons to other carts yet, that I could find.

Thanks again!

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