I don't have a Paratrace myself but I can offer some thoughts on your questions:
Yes, according to the info here only the stylus is replaced. Cantilever, suspension etc. are retained from the AT assembly.http://theaudiofiles.co.uk/?page_id=206
Current production AT95E and AT95EX have almost identical specs and I’m not sure if there are any real differences between them. The older AT95E had a 0.4 x 0.7 stylus but current spec is 0.3 x 0.7 the same as the AT95EX.
AT’s carbon cantilever is actually carbon fibre reinforced ABS plastic. They use this on their very cheapest cartridges and introduced the AT91R as a variant on the AT91 with “improved aluminium cantilever”.
Whether the carbon or aluminium cantilevered version is better will be a matter of taste but AT don’t currently produce a carbon AT95E variant anyway.https://eu.audio-technica.com/resources ... ges_17.pdf
Thanks for the input, chiz.
#3 - That's right, my bad. However the PS section remains actual: maybe somebody made a decision that the AT95-like cartridge by one manufacturer is better then that of the others? For example in terms of hum amount (my current two AT95 cartridges are different in hum - one perceives 5dB more electromagnetic hum from the environment).
Or maybe a regular 0.4/0.7 (or 0.3/0.7) stylus by some manufacturer is better then others?
#6 - Well, EX version has aluminium pipe instead of metal alloy one. Also per theaudiofiles, it has slightly different damper in the suspension. And because of those changes, it has an increased frequency reponse - 20-22 (instead of regular 20-20).
Regarding the carbon one - yeah, you are right. There is no AT atm. There is one by LP Gear which is 10 USD more expensive than the regular one.
Maybe aluminium cantilever is an improvement to the carbon one, but carbon one is ~same as the metal alloy one? Maybe the carbon one has the same characteristics as the metal alloy one while simply being more durable?
Would be wonderful if somebody with enough knowledge write in here.
AT95VL is 6 x 75 µm according to LP Gear
AT95SA is 6 x 75 µm according to LP Gear
Paratrace is 4 x 70 µm according to Soundsmith
If you think MicroLine is best then why not consider the AT440MLb or VM540ML?
Some of my 1960s records sound better with a spherical than they do with a MicroLine.
The values that you provide are the radii values. While what matters is the contact surface size.
For AT95SA with 6x75 contact surface is 74.
For VDH (which I suppose is believed to be very similar to the Paratrace one) with 4x70 contact surface is 92.
Regarding VividLine I've read somewhere it is more or less same as Shure's HE (and L.A.C., alliftig, Fine Line, Stereohedron). If you are saying it is 6x75 then I don't know the contact surface. If it is same as HE than contact surface is ~37.
Regarding choosing other stylus: I can only say that the AT95 is very neutral, has many stylus options and, what's important, on one test digitizing run it showed results which were (to my ears and to my headphones) indistinguishable from the Japanese CD release of same track. However if I won't go with Paratrace, I will probably have to search for some other neutral cartridge.
I agree that in some cases "worse" tips may show better result. It depends on the grooves state, whether intentional distortion was burned in, whether the matrix was "cleaned" with the special preparation stylus run, which part of groove is least destroyed etc.