Nagaoka MP series Phono Cartridges & Styli
All about the wonderful little Nagaoka moving magnet phono cartridges. We still love records and anything that helps them sound better has got to be a good thing. There are very few cartridges that we haven't listened to or set up, yet the Nagaoka models stand out as not just great value, but something special that offers a real generosity of sound and performance in all the aspects we see as being intrinsically analogue.
Digital has got very, very good, so it takes more than just an average record playing setup to do better - the good news is that Nagaoka have a range of options that don't just meet the digital challenge - they consistently better other cartridge brands, often at higher prices.
Nagaoka have wonderful tagline - 'the authentic vinyl sound' which immediately tells you where they are coming from - All Nagaokas have a characteristic rich and full sound with great bass and dynamics.They present a tangible soundstage and are quite remarkable in their ability to suppress surface noise. But there are also clear distinctions between the models, so let's look at them in turn to see which is best for you.
Nakaoka MP110 $235
The MP-110 (pictured above) is easily our most popular cartridge. It's based on the legendary MP-11 which I fitted to countless turntables. Wonderfully gusty and dynamic, it makes LPs come alive in a way that no other cartridge at this level can do - it's much more solid than the ubiquitous Ortofon 2MRed or OM10 and far richer and better with lower surface noise than the more costly 2MBlue.
The MP-110 is also capable of real subtlety and will respond well to careful setup - because it is physically strong and has a rectangular body shape it is very easy to align and tighten. The cantilever is quite robust so you can safely and easily experiment with tracking weight settings to find the sound that best suits you. I tend to run them at between 1.8 and 2.0 grams which gives really good tracking and adds a nice bit of solidity to the sound.
This is a brilliant all round cartridge - it has great punch and healthy output for rock. Yet the low surface noise and rich tone make female vocals and classical LPs far better than the alternatives.
The MP110 is the cartridge to upgrade any of the Project turntables, and is also perfect for older Regas, Thorens and the like. Likewise with the better Technics models. The complete MP110 costs less than many stylus replacements, yet is a far better option.
Nakaoka MP100 $200
The MP100 is a cheap and cheerful version of the '110 that is designed with older and more basic turntables in mind - perfect for when you just can't get a replacement stylus as is the case more often than not - it will track with any tonearm and the stylus profile is very forgiving, tending to smooth out any nasties. Bass is little less than the MP-110 but this is helpful in avoiding feedback which is often a problem in more lightly constructed turntable.
Being forgiving in nature also means you can easily set it up yourself and know that even if not technically perfect, the end result you'll hear won't be too far from what I might be able to achieve.
Nakaoka MP150 $525
Once you get over the kermit green of the MP-150 you'll discover what Nagaoka is really about. This a seriously good cartridge by any standards. You get a lot of sophistication over the MP110 - more detail yet a far smoother delivery, sweetness and a richer more balanced bass that has better definition and extension. The surface noise dissolves into the background leaving nuance that simply will not have been apparent before. Everything is in its place and the overall presentation is more relaxed. This is a cartridge you can listen to for side after side and never get fatigued.
The MP-150 is a significant upgrade for almost any turntable and is by far our best recommendation under $500. Good setup is essential in this case to get the most out of it and we'd strongly suggest rechecking this - especially tracking weight after the initial 100 hours run in time as the MP150 does get much better over this period.
Although an MM (or MP for moving Permalloy to be completely correct) the '150 is a direct competitor to any entry level MC and a perfect replacement for a great many older ones - you'll gain much better output, less background noise and superior tracking. We've seen some pretty stiff price increase on many MC replacements and the MP150 is great way to solve sticker shock while often coming out ahead - let's face it - persisting with a worn out MC is just damaging your records and making analogue boring. You can do so much better.
So how do we improve upon the MP150? - The Well Tempered Labs TLC is the answer - this is actually based on the Nagaoka but with modifications by Dynavector and the WTL team. This is one of the best cartridges around of any type - suitable for even the very best turntable and just fantastic for anyone who really wants to listen to a lot of records.
Or you can go even further and explore the world of moving coils with the Dynavector range for the ultimate in analogue performance.
Our Phono stage options.
If you upgrading your turntable with any of these cartridge, why not also consider a new phono stage at the same time?
The new CP1 and CP2 from Cambridge Audio offer exceptional performance for similar prices to the Nagaoka cartridges. Even if you have an amp with a built in stage, there are numerous benefits with the Cambridge units - the better isolation, separate power supplies, the ability to upgrade connection cables and most of all, better sound all make for a compelling and easy upgrade to any system. To learn more about all or phono stage options visit our dedicated page here.
Nagaoka Antistatic record sleeves
NZ$ 65 for a pack of 50
These are a simple way of caring for your beloved vinyl. You’ve made an investment in your record collection which can with a bit of care last forever. Paper sleeves shed dust and poly ethylene sleeves stick to the record so as you pull it out dust may scratch the vinyl. Nagaoka antistatic sleeves solve these issues and are slippery enough to allow you to remove your record with total safety. As soon as you try these you’ll notice the difference in ease of use and in the cleanliness of your vinyl.
Totally Wired are analogue specialists. Email us for advice on getting the best sound from your turntable system.
Improving your cables is also worthwhile. The output from phono cartridges (especially MC) is much lower than other audio components so it's critical that any cable used is both of high quality so you avoid loss. But even more important is that it is well shielded to eliminate hum and noise. The new cables and plugs from Keith Louis Eichmann Innovations are by far the best we’ve heard in our many years of turntable listening.
For those with attached cables fitting the KLEI Harmony Bullet plugs will give a vast improvement. We also recommend the ultra quiet Mogami Negelx cables which can be made to any length by order. These are a little less in cost than the KLEIs at a ballpark of around $200 a set.
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