Sometimes when we are listening to our music on vinyl, it can begin to sound a little bit tired and flat. You cannot think why? It just feels a little bit tired. The immediate reaction is to think that maybe you need a new turntable. That may very well be the answer. But before you rush and get a new one, it is always worthwhile considering getting a new cartridge.
With the quality of cartridges today, it could make a difference to the sound. In fact, it may be the answer to the problem. It is a bit like moving house. Sometimes it is better to improve than to move.
Cartridges for turntables come in two design types. There are moving magnet and moving coil. The cartridge we are looking at in this Nagaoka MP-110 Cartridge Review today is a moving magnet cartridge. The moving magnet, or as they are often called MM cartridges, has a different design from the moving coil or MC.
They have a cantilever which picks up the vibrations picked up from the groove on the record. It then transfers them straight to the magnet of the cartridge. The magnetic field is constantly changing or moving, which produces a magnetic flow. This, in turn, creates an electromotive force. This force is in proportion to the amount of vibration.
This is then turned into sound by the amplifier and played back through the speakers. You cannot use this type of cartridge unless your amplifier has an MM phono input. This is because the low voltage needs to be boosted to drive the speakers. Many amplifiers, of course, have this input as an option.
With the moving coil cartridge, or MC, the magnet is fixed, but it has a coil that is mobile. The fixed magnet creates a magnetic field in which the coil moves. This movement creates an electromotive force. The moving mass being nearer the pivot point lessens the inertia. This creates a better high-fidelity sound.
So, are we saying the MC system is better than the MM? Sometimes it is by virtue of its design. Though the top end MM cartridges will outperform the lower level MC cartridges. But in a like for like situation, the MC will probably deliver a better sound.
There usually is a downside in most comparative situations. In this case, it is the cost. Moving Coil products are usually more expensive, and sometimes quite a bit more expensive.
MM cartridges are still made to a very high quality, and the sound to the average mortal will be excellent and hardly distinguishable from its MC opposition.
Before we go on to take a look at the Nagaoka MP-110 Cartridge, who is Nagaoka?
Nagaoka are a Japanese company and are respected worldwide. They have an international reputation for the manufacture of audio and especially phono products and their accessories. In fact, they are one of the few companies that offer a full range of products across various levels of phono equipment.
They specialize in MM cartridges. In fact, it is the only design they manufacture. As a company, they are totally focused on the Moving Magnet technology and therefore produce absolute quality at whatever level they are designing. They achieve with their cartridges, a quality that other manufacturers aim for.
Their cartridges have the smooth sound that is usually associated with MM cartridges. But they also manage to achieve a tonal accuracy that is usually the domain of the Moving Coil cartridge.
They have expanded their operations to now have representations in Europe in Amersfoort in the Netherlands, through Tonar International bv.
So, let’s move on and take an in-depth look at the Nagaoka MP-110 Cartridge…
Nagaoka MP-110 Cartridge Overview
The MP-110 is the successor to one of Nagaoka’s most respected and admired cartridges, the MP-11.
This is by no means a top of the range cartridge from Nagaoka. However, if your turntable is feeling a little dull, this is certainly going to cheer it up a bit. The balance of the sound across the frequencies is impressive and balanced. More on this later.
This is a cartridge that has good dynamics and certainly delivers at a higher level than its price tag suggests. It is easy to fit and has a good performance spec. And if you want to change your cartridge but are on a budget, this is definitely worth a look.
As we have said, this is a moving magnet design with a half-inch mount. It is an elliptical diamond bond stylus with a radius of 0.4 x 0.7 mil. It has a dual samarium cobalt magnet that is very powerful. There is an anti-Ferro shield casing, and the cantilever is made from an aluminum alloy that makes sure it is very lightweight. Also, to ensure this design remains light, there is a plastic shoe reinforced with carbon fiber.
The recommended settings for both the anti-skate and the tracking force are both 1.8g. This may, of course, vary depending on individual requirements. There is a range of 1.5 to 2.0 grams for tracking. This gives you a little bit of room for adjustment if necessary. It has a weight of 6.5 grams.
It is recommended that you allow a period of about 30 hours of use time to allow the cartridge to settle in. Once this ‘breaking-in’ period is complete, you will hear the cartridge perform at its best.
The design of the cartridge makes fitting and alignment easy. This is assisted by the design of the easy to manage square casing. All you need for mounting the cartridge is included, including a small screwdriver.
So let us return to the sound. Nagaoka has made a great effort to make sure that this cartridge will appeal to lovers of vinyl. There is no harshness in the sound at all, and it is warm and gentle on the ear. There will be no problem with lengthy listening sessions with this cartridge.
We were able to listen to some rock classics from Dire Straits and Led Zeppelin. The sound was powerful and articulate and gave you the feeling that the cartridge was designed for rock music. But then a quick change of style to Sade and it became gentle and warm. Then on to Chaka Khan where the rhythms in the midsections excelled.
It was here that the balance across the frequencies was most noticeable. When you listen to some of these old classics on vinyl, it makes you realize why people love them so much. They sound great. And this cartridge gives a sound that is very complete. But it still is able to give you some of those highlights that some tracks give you. The’ wow’ moment if you like.
You don’t have to try and imagine what the sound must have been like when it was first recorded. Just kick back and listen; it is there right in front of you. And this is including all the little nuances so sadly missing from today’s ‘perfect’ digital recordings.
It has a frequency range of 20Hz ~ 20kHz. That, of course, is a range that is not often required. Most speakers do not go as low as 20Hz. Nevertheless, the range is there.
The bass is not as prominent as some might want. It is gentle and almost subtle. It was most noticeable on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock n Roll’, where it all but disappeared. If you are used to hearing that song with John Paul Jones’s bass thundering along, you might miss it. On other tracks, it was perfectly balanced, especially with the softer touch of Sade and Chaka Khan.
On the higher frequencies, there is a slight roll-off, and the sound has a warm feeling. The high frequencies are not shrill at all, even at volume and do not leap out at you. In some people’s opinions, it could probably do with a little bit of refining at the top end. But they sit neatly in the mix.
They offer a very sweet and rounded sound and push the vocals and orchestral instruments to the front of the stage. This allows great clarity. It also makes sense that if the bass were any more prominent, it might start to drown out this important area.
That may be the logic behind the design of the sound. Something we would definitely agree with. In our view, the mids are often ignored, yet they contain some of the most important content of the song.
You might have guessed by now that we were impressed with the sound. It is full and rounded, and as we said nicely balanced.
We have already remarked that it comes with a spare stylus and all that you need for fitting, It comes in a protective plastic see-through case.
Nagaoka MP-110 Cartridge Pros & Cons
- Solid build quality
- A nicely balanced full-frequency sound.
- Easy to adjust.
- Very affordable for the quality.
- Some will want a little more bottom and top end.
Fancy An Upgrade?
This Nagaoka cartridge will definitely improve the sound of your turntable, but may be it’s time for a complete upgrade? If so, check out our reviews of the Best Turntables under 1000 Dollars, the Best Turntables under 500 Dollars, the Best Turntables under 300 Dollars, the Best Turntables under 200 Dollars, and the Best Turntables under 100 Dollars currently available.
You may also be interested in our reviews of the Best Record Player Stands and the Best Speakers for Vinyl on the market.
There really cannot be any doubt that the Nagaoka MP-110 Cartridge offers great value for money. It has a very well-balanced sound with plenty of great mids and just enough bottom and top end to make it a great listen. As we said at the beginning, if your turntable is feeling a bit tired, then this will certainly pick it up.
Plenty of positives to consider, but what about the negatives if there are any. It is not that easy to find obvious failings with this cartridge. To find fault with it seems rather futile because it is not a thousand dollar cartridge.
Some will not like the dynamics of the sound. As we said, when talking about it, the bottom end lacks a bit of power. The same can be said of the top if you want to stretch a point. But in providing a reduced presence, there are some glorious mid sounds, as we have said. And vocal reproduction is excellent. As mentioned, some will want a bit more at both ends, but for us, it is enough.
At the price point, this is an absolute bargain. If you are looking for a new cartridge but are on a rather tight budget, then rush out and take a listen. The Nagaoka MP-110 Cartridge is not going to disappoint.
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