Shure M95ED

Type: Moving Magnet (MM)
Stylus: Nude Elliptical
Compliance: High
Price: Mid-price (vintage)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Background

The Shure M95ED was my first cartridge upgrade (from the M75ED) in 1977. I used this cartridge initially on a Pioneer PL12D turntable but mostly on a Yamaha YP-511. Much of my listening in the late 70s and early 80s was conducted with this cartridge. When I got another Pioneer PL12D a few years ago, I wanted to re-visit the M95ED and bought a used cartridge body on eBay. After a misadventure with an aftermarket stylus, I managed to buy a genuine Shure stylus from an online store and finally heard the M95ED again in its full glory.

Equipment

Turntable: Pioneer PL12D MkII
Phono Pre-amp: Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL (with 150pF capacitance)
Amplifier: Yamaha A-S501
Speakers: Q Acoustics 3050

Sound Quality

For me, the Shure M95ED makes Pop music of the late 70s sound like it is supposed to sound, perhaps because this is the cartridge I lived with back in the day. However, its talents go way beyond the reproduction of music from that era.

Treble: The treble is well-extended and airy. It is delivered with good detail and clarity, without being analytical. The upper treble has a slightly soft quality that is typical of Shure cartridges – this is not an unattractive characteristic, suppressing potentially offensive edges.

Midrange: The mid-band is clear, open and dynamic, with very nice texture and presence. Vocals sound natural, clean and nuanced. Sibilance is handled well, faltering on only the most difficult passages.

Bass: The bass has good depth and punch, lending weight to the sound when needed. It is also taut and textured, with an agility that allows tight and fast rhythms to be negotiated with ease. This all amounts to a low-frequency delivery of some quality, giving the overall sound a nice tone.  

The M95ED is one of the more neutrally balanced Shure cartridges that I’ve heard, although still remains on the warm side of neutral. The most striking thing about this cartridge is that it has such a well-integrated, expansive sound. The frequency bands are each delivered in good measure and with great competence, and together make a very satisfying whole. This is a very involving cartridge which captures your attention but isn’t over-bearing. The overall sound manages to be open, detailed and dynamic without being bright and tiring. Only the most edgy recordings are at the risk of causing offense with this cartridge. The sound even achieves a slightly mellow, sumptuous quality, without resorting to a very forward bass and rolled-off treble (of which the M75ED may be accused). The M95ED successfully navigates the precarious path of exciting but easy listening. It certainly fits my ears well and is probably my favourite cartridge.

Tracking

This cartridge is a light tracker, with a tracking force range of 0.75-1.5g. The commonly used setting is 1.25g and this is the one that I adopt (or 1.3g). The original Shure stylus handles sibilant vocals extremely well, but you cannot necessarily expect this level of tracking performance from an aftermarket stylus (unless perhaps you opt for a premium version with an exotic profile).

It should be noted that aftermarket styli for the M95ED may require a higher tracking force than quoted above – a setting of 1.5g may be wise for a basic replacement stylus.   

Compliance

While I don’t believe a dynamic compliance figure for the Shure M95ED was ever published, it is assumed to be high-compliance. Its low recommended tracking force would certainly support this. This means that it is suitable for low-mass tonearms, although I have used it to great effect on medium-mass arms, such as that of the Pioneer PL12D (which has an effective mass of around 17g). I would therefore recommend this cartridge for medium-mass arms as well as low-mass arms.

It should be noted that aftermarket styli for the M95ED may have lower compliance than the original Shure stylus and require a higher tracking force (see Tracking above).

Capacitive Load

Like for most of their cartridges of this era, Shure’s recommended capacitive load for the M95ED was in the range 400-500pF, although they claimed that it could be “as low as 100 picofarads with only minor audible change”. In my experience, varying the capacitive load does make noticeable sonic differences with this cartridge but it sounds good with a wide range of loads. My preferred capacitance setting for it on my phono pre-amp is 150pF, with total capacitance (adding in cable capacitance) at around 300-350pF. This setting is in the middle ground of the typical capacitances of phono pre-amps. Here, the cartridge sounds nicely open, but increasing the capacitance towards the top of the region suggested by Shure does result in detectable high-frequency roll-off. The message to take away is that the M95ED should perform well with most typical phono pre-amps (with internal capacitance in the range 100-220pF).

Note that the above assumes a phono-cable capacitance in the range 150-200pF, but for a specific turntable it may be lower or higher.  

Comparison

I can still remember my initial impressions of the Shure M95ED when I first upgraded from an M75ED back in the 70s. The first record I played was the LP “Arrival” by ABBA. As the album opened with “When I Kissed The Teacher”, it just sounded clearer and more focused – I could now hear more detail in the guitar strums, and the bass-line sounded punchier and tighter. It was a less soft sound than that of the M75ED, but I now realise that the upper-midrange coarseness that had bothered me with the M75ED was gone. The M95ED is not actually a typical Shure cartridge – it is more open, lively and detailed than most Shures that I have experienced. I even prefer it to the top-of-the-range Shure V15 III. In its day, the mid-priced M95ED lived in the shadows of the M75ED and V15 III, which were often recommended in the Hi-Fi press for budget and high-end systems respectively (at least in the UK). However, I think the delights of the M95ED are generally recognised amongst its owners today.  

From the M95ED, I eventually upgraded to the Ortofon VMS20E MkII (on a Rega Planar 3), which was highly regarded by the Hi-Fi press and has since become a ‘classic cartridge’. I was actually rather underwhelmed by this upgrade. Perhaps I gained a little refinement, but I definitely lost some excitement – the M95ED had been a much more musically involving cartridge. With hindsight, I wish I had gone back to the M95ED, but I persevered with the VMS20E.

Availability

While production of the Shure M95ED and its replacement styli has long ceased, the good news is that used cartridge bodies are in steady supply on eBay. There are, in fact, other M95 cartridges as well as the M95ED, including the M95G, M95EJ and M95HE – they all share the same body (but with different labels), so any of these bodies will suffice. However, beware of the special M95 cartridges made for Dual turntables, as they cannot be readily fitted to tonearms with a traditional half-inch mount headshell (with two mounting screws).

Styli for the M95ED are a more complicated affair, although good aftermarket styli do exist. When I first re-acquainted myself with the M95ED, I bought an aftermarket N95ED stylus from an eBay seller in the US – I knew that Jico was a reputable name and the seller claimed that this EVG-branded stylus was actually made by Jico. Firstly, the stylus would not stay in the groove at tracking forces below 1.5g, which was not a good sign. Secondly, with this stylus the cartridge sounded nothing like the M95ED as I had known it – the sound was flat and lifeless, severely lacking in dynamics. However, I later obtained a Jico N95ED stylus from William Thakker in Germany, which was more impressive, sounding much closer to the original Shure stylus. To take the sound quality of this cartridge a step further, many audiophiles invest in a hyper-elliptical stylus (N95HE) from a reputable aftermarket brand such as Jico, LP Gear, Thakker Japan or Tonar. I must add that I have since had much better experiences with EVG styli for other cartridges – perhaps these were indeed sourced from Jico.

For turntables with upper-medium-mass and high-mass tonearms, the lower-compliance N95EJ stylus would be a more appropriate alternative to the N95ED. The M95EJ cartridge shares the same body with the M95ED and delivers a not dissimilar sonic performance. Again, the challenge would be to find a decent aftermarket stylus.

Conclusion

The Shure M95ED has a sound that, in my mind, is hard to surpass. It is open, detailed and dynamic, while remaining slightly warm and easy on the ear. It achieves an all-round satisfaction that few other cartridges can manage and it therefore holds a special place in my collection. To reap its benefits today, you will need to find a used cartridge body and invest in a good-quality aftermarket stylus. If looking for a cartridge for a low-mass or medium-mass tonearm on a modest budget, the M95ED provides a very worthy alternative to a modern cartridge.

If you need help with any of the turntable and phono-cartridge terminology used in this review, please visit the Terminology & Concepts page.