Type: Moving Magnet (MM)
Stylus: Bonded Elliptical
Price: Budget (vintage)
After falling for the Shure M95ED all over again, I wanted to experience other cartridges from the vintage M95 range. A friend had given me a spare M95 body and I managed to buy a NOS genuine Shure N95EJ stylus from The Stylus Lady, combining them to make an M95EJ. This model was below the M95ED in the cartridge range, featuring a bonded (rather than nude) elliptical stylus. This review is based on this cartridge mounted on a Yamaha YP-511 turntable.
Turntable: Yamaha YP-511
Phono Pre-amp: Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL (with 200pF capacitance)
Amplifier: Yamaha A-S501
Speakers: Q Acoustics 3050
The Shure M95EJ is less well-known than the popular M95ED. The EJ stylus is a bonded elliptical with a fatter profile than the nude elliptical ED stylus. The M95EJ also has lower compliance and is a heavier tracker, intended for use on heavier tonearms. So, I was not expecting it to fully live up to the delights of the M95ED.
Treble: The high frequencies are relatively restrained and have a slightly soft quality that is typical of Shure cartridges. However, there is good clarity and no sense of roll-off. As a result, the treble is easy-going and helps to tame bright recordings.
Midrange: The mid-band is open and well-measured, and offers a fair amount of texture. Midrange instruments can have a nice tone to them and really jump out at you. Vocals sound natural and well-rounded with no edginess. Vocal sibilance on hot pressings is handled with middling competence.
Bass: The bass is weighty and firm, with deep bass well-represented and seemingly a feature of this cartridge. Bass instruments have good texture and, again, often have a nice tone. Low-frequency delivery is tight and punchy. Bass agility is also pretty good, except perhaps on the most bass-heavy recordings.
The net balance is warm but the sound still has a fairly open quality with good dynamics. In fact, the different frequency bands are very well integrated, producing a very satisfying overall sound. The bass is impressive, giving the sound a solid foundation without overwhelming the other bands. The midrange and treble together combine with the bass to yield a mellow, lush quality. This cartridge has a lovely tone that is very easy to live with.
The M95EJ is a relatively heavy tracker for a Hi-Fi cartridge, with a recommended tracking force range of 1.5-3g. I use the mid-point of 2.25g. Tracking is generally very good. I did notice some evidence of mis-tracking on parts of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” album, but my pressing of this album is a challenge for many cartridges. The handling of sibilance on poor pressings is adequate, and much as can be expected for a bonded elliptical stylus.
There is no published compliance figure for this cartridge but the highish tracking force suggests medium-to-low compliance. Indeed, the M95EJ was designed for heavier tonearms, while the higher-compliance M95ED was intended for lighter arms. The Yamaha arm on which I use this cartridge is probably medium-mass and they seem well-suited.
The recommended capacitive load for this cartridge was in the range 400-500pF, although Shure 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. I use a setting on my phono pre-amp of 200pF, probably yielding a total capacitive load (including cable capacitance) in the region of 350-400pF, so not far off the recommended values.
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.
Probably the most burning question is how does the sound of the M95EJ compare with that of the more famous and expensive M95ED? Firstly, it is very obvious that they come from the same range (indeed, they have the same body). The M95ED is a little more open than the M95EJ, with a crisper top-end, more texture to the sound and livelier dynamics. The M95EJ offers a similar but warmer sound, slightly toned down with the balance shifted towards the bass. In fact, the M95EJ provides outright the lushness that the M95ED hints at. To me, they both have the same satisfying, addictive sound. Of course, these two cartridges serve different regimes of tonearm mass, although either could be successfully used on a medium-mass arm.
It is very difficult to suggest an alternative to the M95EJ amongst modern cartridge. Even the recently departed Shure M97xE was not as accomplished as the M95 cartridges. The Audio Technica AT-VM95E, also with bonded elliptical stylus, is in the same ballpark of a full sound with restrained treble, but does not have the charming character of the M95EJ.
The vintage Shure M95EJ is not a frequent visitor to the secondhand cartridge market, although it does surface on eBay from time to time. Having said that, all the M95 cartridges (M95G, M95EJ, M95ED, M95HE) share the same body (but with different labels), so any M95 body 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).
The N95EJ stylus is more of a problem, as NOS examples are quite scarce. Also, this is not a stylus that is widely produced in an aftermarket version, although there are some aftermarket examples out there. Before buying the genuine NOS stylus, I bought an EVG-branded N95EJ stylus (PM3156DE) from an eBay seller in South Korea. It sounds very nice and remarkably close to the original Shure.
The Shure M95EJ happily has a lot in common with its sibling, the wonderful M95ED, delivering an entertaining performance with a very attractive character. It has a warm and lush tonal balance, but is sufficiently open and dynamic to bring the music to life. It is a cartridge that will make you want to carry on listening. If you can find one (particularly a stylus), it is an excellent alternative to the M95ED for turntables with heavier arms. In fact, it beats most of the lower-compliance cartridges that I have experienced.