I cannot believe that a staggering ten months after I originally asked the question that the post still appears on the first page of the "Cartridges and Preamps" section (even if it has gone off topic and onto the separation specs on certain cartridges).
I have to apologies for the delay in updating my findings but once I started down the slope of "trying out things" and trying to understand some of the things I was hearing things sort of snowballed a bit (well a lot) :shock: :shock: :shock:
So quick recap - I bought a second user Nagaoka MP-11 Boron that was being sold for spares as the tip was missing from the cantilever (£20 + postage). I then bought a MP-110 stylus (out of Japan as UK pricing on Nagaoka is "pants") so this gave me something similar to a MP-110 for around £60.
At the same time (out of Japan) I purchased a MP-200 stylus. Now I know that the body of the MP-11/110 is not the same spec as the MP150/200 but this gave me a "MP-180ish") for about £160 compared to a MP-200 in the UK at ~£340-£390 (over £300 if imported).
I also sent off my cartridge and stylus to ESCo to have an Ultra Low Mass Paratrace tip fitted to the existing Boron cantilever. Now the only Nag with anything other than an elliptical tip is the MP-500 (at over £600 weather imported or from the UK) so at the price of £120 to have the tip fitted and tested this seemed like a potential bargain. I thought this might be a "MP-250ish" due to the much better body in the MP500 [more on this later].
Suddenly realised I had nothing to "run in" the new styli with so purchased another MP-11B (£45+postage) for the body (but the tip looks fine) so I suppose I should add a further £15 to each of the above (unless I sell my now "spare" body).
Ran each of the Nagaoka new styli in for 20 hours and then did a quick measurement and got some very strange frequency response curves that had me diving through my other cartridges to measure these and these also gave strange results that did not seem to match the results from the mark one audio measurement equipment.
Perhaps the phono stage was showing it's age? [yes.... you can see where this is going can't you?] so pondered for a few weeks, listened to some records, my re-tipped MP11B(P) turned up, looked up loads of reviews tried to listen to a few phono stages without much success and in a fit of madness when ordering a heavy tungsten counter weight for my old Planar 3 added a Rothwell Rialto into the basket mainly because independent testing showed that it had a very accurate RIAA correction (up to about 100kHz) and I couldn't find any bad reviews and it was lower cost than a Slee Gold ERA V and had MC capability too.
The Rialto is the hardest thing to review (but it did show that the Phono Stage in the MF A3.2 is very good though) as it doesn't really have any sound of it's own as it just sort of "disappears" and you hear the music, musicianship and acoustics (real or studio-ed). Input capacitance is 150pF so a reasonably good match to most cartridges and I would recommend adding one to any shortlist you may have (mine is definitely staying).
Re-ran the curves with almost the same results as the internal phono stage – so pulling my hair out and testing my recorder (Olympus LS-14) using downloaded Pink/White noise, CD’s etc. and these came back with a flat response. The cartridges are sounding fine so what on earth is going on?
A fellow VE member billshurv pointed out that many test record’s Pink Noise tracks were, to use his phrase “pretty ropey!”. So having had a dig around I found I had another test record and low and behold we now had nice smooth frequency responses so nothing wrong with my ears or internal phono stage after all!! It did show that the Rialto is definitely more accurate than the internal phono stage above 15kHz but only by about a db or so.
So tried to do a quick comparison for other people to see the difference between the tips but the compression used by YouTube makes it much, much harder to spot the differences.
So I will try and give my impressions:-
The MP11B/110 at £60-£75 is quite something at that price range and a major step above my Elys with an excellent bass responses, good dynamics and a feeling of excitement and the acoustics and I don’t think many would be disappointed with purchasing one. However when things get complex, especially with massed classical music, it's excitement tends to lose control a little bit and it hardens up and details get lost. Trouble is in the UK the price seems to have gone up towards £140 which is harder to justify against say, for example, the new AT VM95EN/ML or VM530EN at £99-£149.
The MP11B, with its original stylus and/or the MP200 stylus is a MASSIVE step in refinement with improved control over the full frequency response and the details in complex/massed passages are fully available with no hardening up at all. The bass seems a little less full but I don’t think it is really. It’s just better controlled with faster starts and stops with no overhang. It does things incredibly well and the only downside is that it seems to have lost some of the excitement in the process and it can sound overly “polite” which might work really well with some speakers but not all. At the £160-£175 level for my MP-180ish its highly recommended but at £300+ for a full MP-200 there are the cartridges like the Goldring 1042 to compete with making it a more difficult decision.
Well then we come to my “MP-250ish” hybrid MP11B/Paratrace………….this takes all the good from the MP-180/200 and adds back the excitement, bass level adds even better imaging and sound stage width and height and even more “sparkle” at the top end (neither the MP110 or 200 are bad in this respect in the first place)and is even more “musical” and reduces the good sibilance levels even lower. At ~£150 it is hard to describe just what value for money this represents and just how good a performer it is overall… highly, highly addictive.
The question that then occurs is “just how much difference does the body make?” [again you can guess where this is going can’t you?]. So I am now the proud owner of a second user MP-30!! Unfortunately the heavier body and higher compliance of the MP-30 stylus takes the resonance a bit lower than I would like BUT comparing the MP11B/P with the original stylus on the MP30 body I would consider the Paratraced stylus to be a “MP450ish” and comparing the MP30 and MP11B body/Paratrace I now consider the hybrid to be a “MP-400ish” rather than a “MP250ish” Yes it really is that good.
So having spent a lot more than originally intended I can say “Nagaoka are very very good cartridges but can be made even better”.
So to save other VE members from spending oodles of money and if you are looking for a long term partner for your deck then YES buy a MP-110 enjoy it and when the stylus is worn out then buy a MP200 stylus and enjoy the improvements and when that is worn out have it re-tipped by ESCo. Yes at the end of it you will have spent almost as much as a just buying a new MP-200 but you will have had a lot of enjoyment, three times the life of a single stylus and end up with something better at the end. If you can find a MP-11 Boron at the right price just go for the re-tip as soon as possible.
I know that I should have stopped at that point but having a cartridge that is probably worth £400-£500 with a phono stage of the £380 level it made the £187.50 I paid for my Planar 3 in 1987 look a bit sad (yes it’s now got VTA adjustment, a Ruby ball and a metal sub-platter) I started looking at the new Planar 6 rather than add a new motor, PSU braces etc. to my old deck but someone then put their ex-demo RP8 up for sale at the price of a new Planar 6 so that fell in my shopping basket as well.
The MP-11B/P is now sat on the RP8 but the performance of each stylus has taken a significant step up and all the differences between the tips has been magnified even further. So a RP8 with an entry level cartridge over a lower cost deck with a better cartridge would be another of my recommendations.
I have a friend who has a much better system than mine and has been highly amused by my ”playing” with different styli etc. has heard my system many, many times with different cartridges but came round to hear the MP11B/P, RP8 via the Rialto. I played one of his favourite tracks from the 80’s – Herb Alpert’s “8 Ball” from the Wild Romance album. He looked straight at me and said “F#####g h#ll that sounds good”.
Make your own mind up (96/24bit)
https://www.dropbox.com/s/sce0oq12sz2e5 ... 1.wav?dl=0