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. Read all about the wonderful little Nagaoka moving magnet phono cartridges.
MP series Phono Cartridges, Styli & Accessories
It’s becoming a digital world so it takes more than just an average record playing setup to do better. The good news is that Nagaoka have a wide range of options that don’t just meet the digital challenge – they are consistently better and at each step you’ll hear considerable improvements.
Nagaoka have wonderful tagline – ‘the authentic vinyl sound’ which immediately tells you where they are coming from – All Nagaoka cartridges 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.
The healthy output is combined with a high degree of compatibility when it comes to matching with a broad range of turntables, amps and phono stages.
Like most MM cartridges, (and unlike Moving Coils) Nagaoka feature user replaceable styli but a key point Nagaoka’s favour is the comparatively low cost of the replacements – The MP series are typically about half the price of the complete new cartridge. Almost all other brands are around 70-80% for replacements.
Another neat feature is that the styli are interchangeable between the models – while there are internal differences between the bodies, this does mean you can improve the performance of any existing Nagaoka simply by going up a step or two at stylus replacement time.
And if you’re within range and can bring your turntable to us we’re more than happy to do an expert fit and set up with any new Nagaoka purchased from us. We find the Nagaoka’s very easy to install – the strong, squared off body makes for accurate alignment. They come with two sets of mounting screws to cater for different head shell thicknesses. Nagaoka cartridges are very tolerant of different tonearms and run over a good range of tracking weights allowing you to optimise both sound quality and tracking.
The easily fitted stylus guard is perfect for protecting your stylus from inquisitive little fingers and playful paws.
The Sound of Nagaoka
I’m writing to express my thanks to you for pointing me down the right path when it came to choosing a new cartridge. As you know my intention was really just to replace the Ortofon 2m black stylus.Am I pleased I didn’t waste my money doing that but instead invested in a totally new cartridge altogether.
I cannot believe that both cartridges are roughly in the same price category.
The difference in performance is to my ears quite remarkable what the Nagaoka reveals by comparison to the Ortofon is like chalk and cheese.So much more detail clearer bass and in some instances parts of music and instruments that have remained hidden until now.
My taste in music extends from early jazz ,Original Dixieland Jazz Band 1910 to the likes of Dylan, Springsteen and classical Chopin Nocturnes Beethoven piano sonatas.On all of my records it’s as if they’ve really come to life the increased listening pleasure is immense.
I thank you again John for your assistance here and am pleased I dealt with a professional rather than some enthusiastic amateur.
Good luck for the future I’ll next be in touch when new stylus required or TT needs upgrading.
Thanks again NS.’
I couldn’t have put it better myself… There are endless great user reviews of the Nagaoka cartridges and they all follow the same pattern – The Nagaoka’s are a revelation delivering more music and a real improvement over whatever was being used before. While there is a clear continuity, there are also real technical distinctions between the models – improvements in stylus profile, the cantilever construction, both material and internal differences in the body of the cartridge and the stylus assembly itself. When combined all of these aspects make a significant and clearly audible improvement at each step between the models. Remember – there’s more to any cartridge design than a single feature so while we might like to attribute differences to a particular stylus profile as an example, it’s important to look at the bigger picture.
How far you choose to go is up to you but we can assure you that whatever level you want to work at, you’ll get exceptional sound when compared to your previous experience. The best models are direct rivals for moving coil cartridges sharing the qualities of responsiveness and detail yet the Nagaoka’s also deliver you higher output and easier matching plus the advantages of lower cost and simplicity when it comes to stylus replacement time.
Yes – you’ll absolutely be playing more records with your new Nagaoka and so chances are you’ll get to the optimal time to replace your stylus a bit sooner (it’s around 1000-1500 hours regardless of brand or type). The Nagaoka stylus profiles mean that wear is evenly spread over this time so you tend to get a gradual but subtle decline. Some literature around the Nagaoka’s suggests that the styli are worn at around 200 hours – this should not be mis-interpreted. It’s just the start when the first signs of wear will become apparent should you have a powerful microscope with which to inspect the stylus (and know what you are actually looking for).
It can also be taken as the end of the warm up period. All cartridges take some time – typically 30 hours over which time the sound noticeably settles and becomes more fluid. This is a really good time to re-check the settings of your turntable – tracking weight, anti-skate and VTA if your tonearm allows as subtle adjustments at this time will ensure you get the best possible sound for the rest of the life of the stylus. These improvements will continue in a more subtle way over the next few weeks and months with a series of ‘I’ve never heard that before’ moments.
With no moving parts, the cartridge body will typically last a lifetime – which is another good reason to have interchangeable styli.
A note for Rega turntable owners – (from Rega themselves) – On Rega turntables, spacers should not be necessary unless you are you using an exceptionally deep-bodied cartridge. (The Nagaoka range are well within standard)
Arm height or V.T.A adjustment can be a controversial subject. Rega believes that the integrity of the arm fixing onto the arm mounting board is much more important than the questionable facility of arm adjustment. The arm should be reasonably parallel to the record surface or slightly lower at the mounting.
The Nagaoka cartridges are a great match for both Rega arms and turntables – while you can play around with spacers, any of the Nagaoka models will work very well without – the trick is to make sure you are running at the correct tracking force – always at the upper end of the recommended range as this gives both the best tracking and VTA.
Let’s look at the individual models to see which is best for you…
NEW for 2022 – The JT – Jewel Tone models.
I’ve always been a fan of the Nagaoka cartridges so have been keenly anticipating the arrival of the new ‘JewelTone’ models: There are two choices – the JT-80LB at NZ$450 and the JT-80BK at NZ$995. These sit alongside the well proven MP series.
The more affordable JT-980LB has a blue stylus assembly and makes an immediate impression – it’s vivd and gusty like the best selling MP-110 but adds considerable detail and precision.
The JT-80BK (black) might look similar but it’s in another league. Sharing the same boron cantilever as the top MP series cartridges certainly helps but there seems to be a lot more going on here. This is an alarmingly good cartridge by any standards. Super easy to fit and set up, it easily bettered my own MP-300 which is $500 more. This was apparent in the first 10 seconds and from there it just kept getting better. I’m not alone in being impressed…
“To keep it short: We have hardly ever listened to a better pickup for this price. The extremely linear top-of-the-range Jeweltone sounds so natural, resolved and fanned out that it provides nothing but pleasure…
… the “BK” displays an inherently noble perfection, especially since it also does without “artificial freshness” in the form of brightened upper frequencies. In addition, it features a gnarly bass, differentiated down to the smallest facets, which perfectly complements the fine trebles at the other end of the spectrum.” stereomagazine .com
“I can also be enthusiastic about MMs, but only a few have really swept me off my feet. Such as the Nagaoka JT-80 BK. Its black body delivers a scope of colour which is just unparalleled. One of the best MM systems ever.” audio.de
“Hi John – I thought I’d send a quick note with my early impressions on the Nagaoka JT-80BK Jeweltone cart you set up for me last week. After about 3 hrs the top end smoothed right out with what were once sounds becoming distinct instruments. I’ve had it for a week now & I’m finding it’s a real honey. It has a big tight clean & very relaxing sound which I know will only get better over time.”
Nagaoka MP110 $350 – stylus replacement $140.
The MP-110 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.
‘The sound everybody loves…
The average enthusiasts of the analog turntable put the warmth of the sound like an attribute in the first place as a reason they like to play music from the records. The sound of MP-110 is on that track. This cartridge seems to have been designed to appeal to passionate vinyl lovers. The sound is round, warm and gentle, and it can be listened to for hours without fatigue.’
‘I am floored with the sound of the Nagaoka MP110 (and this if before break in). The tightness of the bass with punch but not fuzzy or bloated, the ability to make out the complete drum kit, and the separation of the instruments and the stunning vocal presentation is far better than anything else that I have. I can not recommend this product highly enough. What an outstanding value.’
Nagaoka MP100 $300 – stylus replacement $110.
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.
‘Unbelievable quality for the money with this cartridge. I am absolutely thrilled with the way it has livened up my old vintage system. The bass is tight, the highs are undistorted. I love it. It’s like hearing my library all over again for the first time.’
Nagaoka MP150 $800 – stylus replacement $350.
The Nagaoka MP150 for a lifetime of better listening.
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. 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 30 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 increases 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.
‘I lived with the Nagaoka MP-110 for about 9 months, enough playing time for the stylus to wear out. I chose to upgrade to the MP-150 because I really like their “house sound” but wanted better bass and stereo separation. Not only did it deliver these in spades, it also delivered much sharper transients and Leica-like focus, all without harshness or sibilance. It also delivered better image focus, making the surrounding acoustics come to light and flanging effects really stand out. As it breaks in it becomes ever more dynamic and articulate. It presents even worn or poorly mastered records in their best light, but well-made and preserved records sound like master tapes.’
Nagaoka MP200 $980 – stylus replacement $390.
The Boron cantilever on the MP-200 takes the performance even further – Boron is a very rare element in nature and it is not easy to get it so many manufacturers have abandoned the use of the same. But its hardness and strength are desirable characteristics for making a needle holder on a turntable cartridge. Why is boron so much better than aluminum which is often used in cartridges of a similar price? The main advantage is the suppression of the resonance of the material in the ultrasonic area. Aluminum cantilevers resonate in the area of 14 to 16 kHz while the cantilever made of boron is in the range of 19 to 28 kHz.When we add strength and hardness to this data we have almost ideal material on the table.
‘It’s the sound that your turntable brings to the new sphere just give some time to yourself so that this feature comes to light. Drawing of the space is at a high level and together with a very good sound of instruments and vocals, it makes a very serious and competitive sound. ‘
Nagaoka MP300 $1500 – stylus replacement $480.
The gold finish leaves you in now doubt that Nagaoka are throwing almost everything at this cartridge and it shows in the sound quality (the user review at the start of this page was for the 300).
As well as the boron cantilever detailed above you can see that the stylus assembly is now mounted rigidly on the body with two small allen head bolts. There’s a whole lot going on inside too.
The 300 is simply sublime offering Dynavector levels of fluidity and detail. Crazy as it may sound, the MP-300 can still be considered and option for turntables that in many cases will cost less that the cartridge – this is because it’s so benign in terms of arm and set up requirements whereas most MCs are far more demanding in terms of matching.
When combined with a phono stage such as the new Well Tempered, which does amazing things with MM level cartridges the end result is jaw dropping.
Nagaoka MP500 $1850 – stylus replacement $615.
Flagship of the Nagaoka range, the MP500’s primary difference from the 300s is a Superfine line contact diamond stylus – this is able to reach deeply into the groove to touch previously unplayed vinyl, delivering the ultimate MM performance in both detail and freedom from surface noise.
But this does make it more demanding in terms of setup than the 300 – VTA or arm height adjustment is absolutely critical to get the best out of this stylus and cartridge so you have to have it well set up from the outset and then be prepared to fine tune this setting after the warm up period.
The end performance justifies the provision of the MP500 on the very best turntables. Experience the image solidity, detail resolution, and bass extension that made the Nagaoka MP-500 one of Stereophile’s Editors’ Top Picks For The Industry’s Best Products.
Well Tempered Labs TLC $900 – stylus replacement $560.
Why is this cartridge included with Nagaoka? It’s actually derived from the MP-150 and has been designed with input from Nagaoka, Well Tempered and Dynavector. While sharing many of the classic Nagaoka attributes it has it’s own distinct character – a little more articulate and pacy and you could easily assume that it’s the ideal choice for the Well Tempered turntables – I like it a lot and have written volumes about it here.
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 range…3 models make sense with the Nagaoka cartridges; The Well Tempered RIAA is an MM only model which will give you a much more solid and satisfying sound and is better than many more costly stages which tend to be optimised for low output moving coils. The Well Tempered ‘Phono Stage’ is considerably better again. It does amazing things with MM as well as MC. Of course if you really want to hear the very best we have it right here.