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LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

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LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby bonaccmj » 01 Dec 2014 02:32

Hello again VE,

OK, firstly: Yes, yes, I know. There's a whole section of the forum dedicated to reviews. But I looked through several pages of different threads and none of them were actual reviews. No one reads any of them, judging by the number of them that had no replies. So, mods, you can move this thread, but I think it's appropriate here in the cartridge forum.

Anyway...

I've been using the ATN-95SA replacement stylus on my turntable for a couple of months now. It gets daily or near daily use and by this point it has been well broken in. I wanted to share my experience with it, as it seems that there is very little written about it online (then again, Michael Fremer reviewed it in comparison to several other cartridges).

Some history: I should talk about Shibata stylii, and how they were first designed in the 1970s to pick up the rear signals on quadraphonic records, and how they have a "hyperelliptical" shape that allows them to make better contact with the walls of the grooves, and how this has the effect of making them superb trackers whilst having incredible detail retrieval and high frequency extension without sounding "etched." I should, but I won't because, whoops, I just did, and if you want more details about this stylus type a Google search can tell you more than I can. I can tell you about this model in particular though. These are sold as a whole cartridge called the AT95SA or as a replacement stylus called the ATN95SA by LP Gear. The stylus costs $130; the whole cartridge is $150. The cartridge body is the same used by the well-known Audio Technica AT95E. Since I have a turntable that came equipped with the AT95E, I only bought the stylus and switched them out. These needles feature the Shibata stylus mentioned above, which, as stated, has several advantages over more common elliptical or conical stylii -- more on this later. Apparently, they are made by JICO in Japan, as signified by the sky-blue dot painted onto the cantilever. As you can see in the included photo, the plastic part is light grey instead of green, as on the AT95E. LP Gear also sells what it calls the AT95VL, which is essentially the same but the stylus tip is a ViVidLine or something silly like that -- it just replaced their old AT95HE, which had a hyperelliptical stylus, falling somewhere in between the profile of a regular elliptical stylus and the Shibata one. All feature the proprietary "Zualum" alloy cantilever, which is supposed to be an upgrade over the regular aluminum cantilever of the AT95E, and likely just some sort of aluminum alloy designed to be lighter and/or stiffer than regular old aluminum.

The stylus arrived in a protective mailing package. Inside was a small plastic case holding a piece of foam with a cutout for the stylus to rest in. It seemed to be very effective in protecting the small delicate parts through shipping. Installing the new stylus into the cartridge body was a snap, literally. The old elliptical stylus popped off and the new one snapped right in. As long as your cartridge is properly aligned, you're all ready to play some music just minutes after receiving the new stylus. Initially, I was shocked -- not at how much better sounding it was, but at how little difference I noticed. This was sort of disappointing, although straight away I could hear some subtle improvements to the audio quality.

It's important to remember that ALL cartridges and stylii have a "burn in" or "break in" period. Also, it is vital that they are aligned properly. At the first listen, mine was neither of those. Soon after getting the cartridge, I bought a cool new Ortofon headshell, which not only looks cool and has a better fingerlift, but also has some quality wires in it with gold-plated ends, and it has better acoustic properties too. But most importantly, switching the cartridge from the stock Audio Technica headshell to the Ortofon one gave me a chance to really properly align the cartridge using a Baerwald protractor. Now, this was my first time setting up a cartridge like this, but I found it to actually be pretty simple. According to various sources online, it is super important to align these Shibata stylii with extreme accuracy however, so keep that in mind (mine isn't, but hey, I tried).

Now that the stylus has had time to burn in and is (somewhat) more properly set up, I can say that, just from A/B-ing the two stylii, I can hear a fairly obvious difference in sound quality. However, I still want to maintain that the difference is still pretty subtle -- someone once said that those "audiophiles" with so-called "golden ears" are like car mechanics: they do not have super-powered hearing, they just know what to listen for, just as a car mechanic can often tell what is wrong with a car by listening to it. To perhaps the average observer, there is not much of a difference at all. But in terms of the entire collective experience that is listening to vinyl records, there is a huge, wonderful difference. While the AT95E is a fine piece of equipment in its own right, a comparison reveals its weaknesses. The high frequencies on the Shibata are actually more laid-back than the Audio Technica -- it can do that because the Shibata stylus can reproduce fine details much more easily and doesn't need an overly-bright presentation to give the illusion of being detailed. This lends itself to a more warm, natural sound. The same is true for the bass -- I can hear more details, but there is also more bass punch and excitement, and it sounds more realistic and less boxy. The midrange is the only area where there is little improvement. Most instruments like guitars and drums are almost the same with the Shibata as with the Audio Technica -- but with the AT95SA, there is a slightly better reproduction of vocals, brass, strings, and saxophones. Not immediately noticeable, but ever so slightly more present, natural sounding, and less bland than with the AT95E. The AT95SA also boasts a slightly better stereo separation spec, which only adds to the sense of separation and air this stylus has -- instruments seem more "in the room," and are easier to tell apart in more complex musical passages. An added bonus: as discussed briefly above, the Shibata fits the groove walls much better, and therefore reduces wear on your records, as well as on the stylus itself. Furthermore, on some (unfortunately not all) noisier records, surface noise is reduced -- not dramatically, but noticeably. This is supposedly another effect of the Shibata's shape -- it touches the groove walls differently than an elliptical or conical stylus would, and therefore avoids some of the wear that has been introduced on used records. Inner-groove tracking is very slightly improved as well.

In conclusion, the AT95SA Shibata stylus sold by LP Gear is a good replacement for the elliptical stylus on the AT95E, even though many of the changes it brings are very subtle. With so many people using the AT95E on their turntables recently, it would seem that this stylus makes for a great, easy, plug-n-play upgrade -- those having bought new Thorens 'tables recently should consider this stylus as a fairly cheap alternative to purchasing a much more expensive cartridge. In fact, I have heard this stylus compared to the AT440mla, which used to be competitive in price with this one, but now costs twice as much (!). I should mention, as well, that my stereo system is very modest. Sure, it is better than a lot of the mass-produced crap out there, but it is by no means spectacular, and that includes the phono stage of my Yamaha receiver. Where I have noticed subtle changes, you may notice substantial ones. It certainly all depends. All in all, I would definitely recommend this stylus/cart to anyone already running the AT95E and looking for an inexpensive upgrade. Or, if you are looking for a great MM cartridge, curious about the Shibata, and looking to get your hands on one without having to get a second mortgage on your house, this is definitely a great option and you should add this to your list.

OK, sorry if I rambled on too long. I'd love to hear your questions, or if you've heard/have one (or just any Shibata stylus in general), I'd love to hear what you think of it. My hope is that more people will use this cart/stylus and more buzz will be generated about it, as was for the AT95E.

(Additional information, including specs and an opportunity to buy the AT95SA, can be found on the LP Gear website here. Also, I'm not affiliated with LP Gear in any way, like, I swear, man, I totally just dig their rad product)
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby BMRR » 01 Dec 2014 05:17

Nice review!
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby bauzace50 » 01 Dec 2014 14:01

Hi,
Excellent review and background. Especially believable in mentionong the subtlety of the improvements over the standard original stylus.

But I disagree about the "burn-in". In 60 Years using cartridge I have never noticed any basis to this belief. In a long parade of cartridge used, I have always found they work best when new. No " burn-in" necessary. The notorios "burn-in" is a false belief which is widely touted as true, as if it were an absolute article of Doctrine.

Apart from that, thanks for the generously detailed review.
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby derspankster » 01 Dec 2014 15:32

bauzace50 wrote:But I disagree about the "burn-in". In 60 Years using cartridge I have never noticed any basis to this belief.
bauzace50

And, I thought I was the only one.

der
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby BMRR » 01 Dec 2014 16:50

Perhaps it varies from cartridge to cartridge (or from stylus to stylus). My AT3482P was painfully bright and shrill for the first 20-30 hours, so much so that I wanted to get rid of it, but then it became smoother, a bit less bright, and more pleasant to listen to.

Before anyone suggests that this was "all in my head," let me state that this experience took place before I had heard or read anything about cartridges needing time to "break in" or "burn in."

My AT95E, on the other hand, was smooth and pleasant right out of the box and I never experienced any changes with it. Ditto for my M44G.

My AT92E has about 20 hours on it now, so I can't predict whether it'll change or not, but it's been quite pleasant since the very beginning.
Last edited by BMRR on 01 Dec 2014 18:11, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby bonaccmj » 01 Dec 2014 18:05

Hmm, interesting that you bring that up. I'm frankly not sure whether or not it is truly a real phenomenon or simply imagined; people will debate this nearly as much as the effects of different speaker cables (ha). Nonetheless, it's definitely worth noting that upon first installing the new stylus, it was on the old headshell, with the cartridge body aligned from the factory. It was then that I was unable to distinguish the AT95E from the AT95SA in an A/B test. Later on, having properly aligned the cart in the new headshell (albeit to the angle of the cantilever angle of the Shibata, not the elliptical), the A/B test showed the difference, so whether or not this is what constitutes true "burn-in" or not is debatable, but the results are valid nonetheless.

It does seem ridiculous, from a logical perspective, that passing a small electrical current through any sort of apparatus (cartridge, amp, speakers, etc.) for a defined amount of time will fundamentally change the audible characteristics of that piece of equipment. And yet it is observed with frequency. Is this real, or imagined as our ears become accustomed to the sound?

We can say, logically, that there is one thing about stylus burn-in: The effects of placing the cantilever's suspension under stress. It seems likely that a new stylus straight from the factory would have a stiffer (or possibly less stiff?) suspension than one that has been used with a continuous strain placed on it i.e. the tracking weight. If so, this would cause a difference in sound over time as the suspension "burns in." Of course, it could be that there is, in fact, no appreciable change, or that it has little to no audible effect.

I do tend to agree with BMRR that when I first got the turntable, it came equipped with the AT95E, which, to me, did NOT seem to change over time -- but, at that time, I probably wouldn't have noticed if it did anyway.

It seems that there really are two sides to every coin.
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby Doug G. » 01 Dec 2014 19:07

Any mechanical device will have a period of break-in. The crux is whether any changes in the diamond or suspension during this time is audible.

As far as electrical "burn-in", arguments in favor of the phenomenon are very specious.

Doug
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby lensmanMK2 » 02 Dec 2014 01:15

BMRR wrote:Perhaps it varies from cartridge to cartridge (or from stylus to stylus). My AT3482P was painfully bright and shrill for the first 20-30 hours, so much so that I wanted to get rid of it, but then it became smoother, a bit less bright, and more pleasant to listen to.


nope youre not going menthol bmrr...ive experienced the exact same thing with this and a few other carts,never heard any with my stantons;even the lowly 500's
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby banerjba » 02 Dec 2014 03:22

Thank you for this excellent review. I have been working my way up the line. The LP Gear versions have better cantilevers making them sound more dynamic but I think the stock cartridge sounds more refined than the AT95SE model I am using which is the LP Gear dark green body. I finding a slight edge on the SE that was not their one the CE or standard E. I will try this one next. I also want to try LP Gear's Ortofon OM series replacements. I will get an Om30 equivalent to replace my genuine OM20 tip next year.
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby BMRR » 02 Dec 2014 03:31

Just curious, banerjba: what do you think of the AT95CE? The folks at LP Gear certainly did a nice job of writing ad copy for that cartridge/stylus, but I've found very few reviews on the web (and strangely LP Gear doesn't allow reviews on their site).
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby john guest » 02 Dec 2014 09:16

Nice review , always liked the 95 cartridge ,bet even more with this stylus.

By the way in all my years with new cartridges , I personally do not believe in burn in.


Regards,
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby banerjba » 25 Dec 2014 01:51

BMRR wrote:Just curious, banerjba: what do you think of the AT95CE? The folks at LP Gear certainly did a nice job of writing ad copy for that cartridge/stylus, but I've found very few reviews on the web (and strangely LP Gear doesn't allow reviews on their site).


Sorry, just saw this now. Been away for a bit. The CE to my ears betters the standard green stylus in dynamics and gives up little in detail. Tone is excellent. It is a dead ringer for the Linn Basik I had almost 30 years ago but this sounds more refined to my ears. The AT95se which is the darker green body retains the CEs sense of dynamics but is more detailed. However on my systems with B&W and Proac speakers, I find a slight edge to the sound. For that reason, I have reverted back to the standard green stylus. My CE has 700 hours on it so it is no longer a daily driver. That said there is no audible signs for wear.

I will try the Shibata next.
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby BMRR » 25 Dec 2014 04:04

Thanks!
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby bonaccmj » 07 Feb 2015 17:15

Sorry to revive an old dead thread, but banerjba: If you see this, I am just curious to hear if you have had a chance to try the shibata stylus yet, and if so, your impressions. Also, if you tried the LP Gear OM30 replacement I'm curious to hear the results of that, too!
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Re: LP Gear AT95SA Shibata Stylus REVIEW

Postby pcourtney » 06 Dec 2016 01:42

I compared the LP Gear AT95SA Shibata at $220
http://www.lpgear.com/product/LPGAT95SA.html
to the Jico Shibata $153 USD
http://www.jico-stylus.com/product_info ... ts_id=1602

the Jico is very good, in fact we did some serious A/B testing with a Sound Level Meter and it was roughly 50 - 50, nobody could tell which was better, OK there were only 6 of us (including two wives who were not so picky maybe) , but never the less, if you want value go with the Jico my friends :-)
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