Getting Back into Vinyl, Part 1




(Where am I? Oh. Bed.)


“Alright, alright! I’ll get up!” I yelled at my phone. Slowly, I pulled myself out of bed on an early Saturday morning after a long night out. How did I get home? Something was needed in order to wake me up. Zeppelin’s Presence was on the Rega P1. Perfect.

I slogged over to the P1 and noticed some dust under the needle. Normally at this moment, I would give the Ortofon OM5 cartridge a little whistle to blow off the dust and then apply some LAST Stylus cleaner, but my brain wasn’t there. Instead, my brain said: “Let’s take a chance!” and I flicked off the dust-ball. I missed by millimeters and knocked the needle of the cartridge backwards into its housing.

Not realizing what had just happened, I drop the needle on “Achilles Last Stand”. My cartridge played the record distorted, slowed down, and warbled and then proceeded to slide across the record completely—his last stand indeed.

I ignored the problem, and with no time to bask in my hi-fi slapstick hangover, it was off to NJ for rehearsal.

Waiting for an opportunity to upgrade my cartridge, this was my chance. Michael Fremer had nice things to say about the very affordable Audio Technica AT95-E ($71) within his review of the Thorens TD309; as summarized by the Stereophile Staff in our semi-annual Recommended Components issue: “the Audio-Technica AT95E produced large, exuberant images.” Cool. When purchased, this little green monster was only $50 MSRP, very much in my price bracket. The recent price increase to $71 was somewhat expected. Why? Because I can predict the future. Well, actually I guess not, since I couldn’t have predicted what would happen next in my quest to refurbish my vinyl setup.

The AT95E arrived in a small-ish brown cardboard box on a typical Stereophile workday. Whenever we receive a piece of gear here, we are always as giddy as the time before. SM usually claps his hands together and barks like a seal, and JA pulls out a hula hoop to make him jump, and we all go swimming, Baird too (“Haha! No way am I getting in that water.”). Ok, maybe Baird avoids the plunge, but that is the kind of joy we get from any gear, because hi-fi is swimming.

Inside the small-ish brown box was an even smaller white box which housed our little green friend.

“SM, any advice while installing my cartridge?”

SM gave simple words passed on to him from another manufacturer, “Just make sure you bring the cartridge as far forward on the Rega headshell as possible.”

“Sounds easy enough.”

At 4:00 A.M. on a sleepless night, this time no alcohol, I roamed my house violently. Why so restless? I wasn’t sure, but for some reason, I saw the only alleviation to my jittery evening to be changing my cartridge as the sun rose. My eyes did not droop, and my body was not tired. I could do this.

The little white box contained the cartridge, a manual, and the necessary screws and nuts to install the cartridge. Carefully and slowly, I removed my Ortofon OM5 from the Rega P1. No problem. Let’s stick this bad boy on! The sun was calling.

First, I carefully plugged each of the tonearm pins into the AT95E following the diagram included in the manual and firmly planted the cartridge’s top in line with my headshell’s front-most tip as recommended by SM. Tonearm pins attached. Cartridge in place, I slid the screws through the headshell and into each of the holes on both sides of the AT95E, but my plans were stunted. The outer ridge of the green stylus housing on the AT95 blocked the securing of the screw. There was no space to squeeze the nut above the green awning onto the bottom of the screw.

I kept trying to squeeze that nut on, but the sun rose and my eyes began to droop. Time was catching up with me, but being driven to listen to some vinyl in the breaking dawn, I continued forcefully pushing the screws downward but pressing ever-so-gently on the sides of the cartridge, being careful not to bend back a second stylus. I couldn’t keep the plastic cover over the stylus while trying to insert the screws as it only made it more difficult to have the nut reach over the stylus encasement’s green ridge, which expanded wider than the top of the cartridge. The extreme holding down of the screws in place combined with the required delicate touch to keep the cartridge safe exploded into spastic arm movements endangering my hi-fi. I knocked a tiny screw on the ground into a bowl of dust, cables, and record sleeves, lost and gone forever. “It’s OK,” I reminded myself. “We have more screws.”

Accepting defeat that the nut would just not pass over that darn green ridge, I decided to put back on the OM5. I removed the pins from the AT95 and started connecting them to the Ortofon. Unfortunately, I am stubborn.

“I gotta give it one more try.”

Quickly, forcefully and recklessly, I ripped the OM5 from the tonearm pins and the OM5 took a pin with it. The tonearm cable snapped at its exit point from the tonearm, and I was left with 4 little leads dangling by a pin and capped by a little ball of gray foam.

This was just too much. Any drowsiness had been replaced by anger and more restlessness. The sun peeked through my window.

Weeks later, SM would return to the office with bags under his eyes and a scratchy throat.

“What is going on dude??” I asked concerned. SM did not seem his normal self. Though usually quiet, he was never this quiet.

“I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep lately.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m changing the cartridge on my Rega, but nothing is sounding right.”

Tell me about it.

Part Two: I visit In Living Stereo (New York, NY) to fix ‘er up the right way.

Keep Reading: Part 1.5

Stephen Scharf's picture

When dealing with all things turntable oriented, including cartridges, extreme dexterity and caution is the order of the day. Ham-fistedness gets one nowhere. 

Be glad it wasn't the stylus of a $6000 Koetsu Vermilion...

ssimon's picture


Ariel Bitran's picture


Ariel Bitran's picture

Thank you salmon.

deckeda's picture

“SM, any advice while installing my cartridge?”

SM gave simple words passed on to him from another manufacturer, “Just make sure you bring the cartridge as far forward on the Rega headshell as possible.”


I wasn't aware this was the correct alignment on Regas. Sorta makes the headshell slots superfluous, for all cartridges, as described.

Stephen Mejias's picture

It depends on the cartridge and the turntable. Really, at the very least, you should use an alignment protractor.

burnspbesq's picture

Many years ago, I learned to leave cartridge installation and alignment to the pros. That lesson cost me a Denon DL-103, at a time when the cost of a DL-103 was equal to around one percent of my annual salary.

A word to the wise, Ariel.

Stephen Mejias's picture

I agree that people should be aware of their limitations. However, I also think we have to learn where those limits exist, push ourselves to those limits, and, within reason, work to overcome those limits. There's a difference between leaving a job to the pros and simply giving up.

After weeks of my own practice, trials, and errors, I've decided that just about anyone can install a cartridge, as long as they have the desire to do so, the time and patience, the right tools, and a bit of direction.

jokeka's picture

... the sun peeked.  Sorry, just had to ... 

John Atkinson's picture

Correctly spelled homonyms are the curse of the Microsoft Word Age.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Ariel Bitran's picture

thank you jokeka! corrected.

johnemcgregor's picture

I seem to have the same ham-handedness that you do! I discovered that my wife had some tools that came in handy, specifically tweezers. I also discovered that hemostat's come in real handy for hooking up those wires to leads (who knew, right?).

Audio Asylum Bruce from DC's picture

Pilgrim: CD players and IPods were invented for those times in our life when we are strung-out, hung-over or otherwise performing manual tasks less than optimally.

Sorry about your experience.  Rule #1 when dealing with little fiddly things like phono cartridge leads, pins, nuts and bolts is "don't force it."

You just have to be in that "vinyl frame of mind"!  ;-)  Mellow, not edgy.

I have pretty fat fingers and find that a pair of very pointy needle nose pliers is helpful in doing this work, that is, for sliding connectors onto cartridge pins and for holding little tiny nuts used to attach cartridges to headshells.

Also, in the absence of professional cartridge mounting assistance (hard to find these days), an alignment protractor is also a useful gadget.  This makes sure that your stylus is tangent to the groove and that the fore-and-aft position is optimal.  All of these fussy things help the vinyl magic emerge from the sikinny little grooves.

Jeffzx9r's picture

Ah, yes; vinyl, tape, platters, spools, tonearms,....all those beautiful things we cling to in the name of high fidelity.  Just like those of us who still have (and use) our film cameras (and "see" the aperture/speed settings even before we look through the viewfinder.)  I undertand how the WWII generation laments when they hear big band music.

I still have all of my collected vinyl of many years and many genres, and snap-up yardsale "cut-out bin" specials whenever I can.

The "vinyl frame of mind" is a special place for many of us.  It is definitely worth the extra cost and required patience. 

yaka24's picture

The exact same thing happened to my RP1.............


I'm curious to find out the cost resolution of this.

Ariel Bitran's picture

That's wild!!

How did it happen?

yaka24's picture

While attempting to try a different cartridge.... 


I must of been using too much force while pulling the clips off of my OM5e cartridge.. The clip came off, along with the short lead that was disconnected from that small grey ball of foam.

I have searched the web and seen others post about the same frustrations.

I wonder if this says something about the durability of the solder points on these turnables. Or maybe it's mostly "vinyl noobs" using the Rp1 that are experiencing this issue. 

Obscurist's picture

Setting up a Rega arm is not that hard when you have a cartridge with treaded holes, but the ones with plastic lugs can be a pain...

Putting a cartridge as far forward in the arm as possible is silly advice, as SM pointed out. You will never get your overhang right. It is true that the arm is not exactly 9 inches in length, so setup tools like the Schön disc will not work properly. A good dedicated arc protractor will do the trick though, my Lyra Dorian is really singing in the RB600 arm on my P5 and it will take 90uM modulation from the Hifi News Test and Setup LP.

Snapping off the arm-leads when you put in another cartridge is a real bummer, and you really want to get rid of that dull OM5 thingy Rega puts in there to get you going... An AT95E would be an excellent choice if it wasn't for the struggle that is needed to put it in...

Happy spinning!

Et Quelle's picture

I have that cartridge & no turntable. I could be in that identical position. Posts I read rule out Rega, Music Hall. what is next?

Ariel Bitran's picture

I'm not sure why people would rule out the Rega with this cartridge...

could you link me to some posts?

I don't even have memory of what my Rega sounded like with the Ortofon, but if i could recollect some sort of sonic comparison, i would say the at95 sounds a little brighter but also a little more detailed. in the future i plan on experimenting with increasing tracking force to see if i can bring more body out of it.