The RigB will be a familiar name to regular readers. Created by Simon and Gary of The Audio Files and IPT (Improved Performance Turntables), the RigB (Rigid Body) is a metal cartridge body designed to fit the generator of an Audio-Technica magnetic cartridge. The concept was popularised by Linn Products in the ‘80s, who equipped AT generators with a metal body forming the basis for the K9 and K18 cartridge models. Other brands including A&R and Audio-Technica themselves began providing cartridge with a metal body, but to this day only the upper echelons of a moving magnet range are equipped such as standard.
The IPT RigB already comes in two flavours. The first (the RigB 91) was made to fit the generator of the AT91 and the more popular AT3600, ubiquitous cartridges sold under numerous names and supplied with numerous turntables. Though modest in cost (an AT3600 retails for less than £20), this generator is a classic that has stood the test of time and can offer exceptional performance given the platform to do so. The RigB91 performance is further enhanced with the IPT XTC (extended contact) stylus upgrade.
The RigB 500 came next. This fits the generator of the VM500 line, but also that of the now-discontinued 120, 440 and 150 lines which were immensely popular. This is Audio-Technica’s top-tier moving magnet generator and is identical to that of the VM700, equipped with a metal body as standard. But as noted in my RigB500 review, the RigB is a superior design which extracts even better performance from what is one of the finest moving magnet cartridge generators out there. Pair a RigB500 with the VMN60SLC stylus and you have one of the best moving magnet cartridges available for any money, and a cartridge that can show many a good moving coil the door.
Until now there remained only one generator in AT’s range for which there was no RigB upgrade. That is of course the VM95, Audio-Technica’s highly praised successor to the AT95 when its decades-long production came to an end a few years ago. In truth, the VM95 generator is very similar to the AT95, though the shapely polymer resin body and five-strong range of styli were new to the range.
Fitting a metal body to a VM95 was inevitable, but not without its challenges. The VM95 is distinctive in shape, with a shaped stylus housing precisely matching the lines of the body. Replicating this design with a high-tolerance metal body is no mean feat. The results however speak for themselves, with the black anodised RigB 95 body beautifully replicating the necessary aspects of the VM95 body shape while being made to much tighter tolerances in every area.
Of particular note is the mounting of the generator to the cartridge body. This is achieved with a few small drops of Loctite 638 bonding agent and a countersunk screw, similar to AT’s mounting method. Here however the RigB is a much better fit for the generator canister. Thus, significantly greater rigidity in the interface between the generator, cartridge body and headshell is established. The introduction of the VM95 finally brought tapped mounts to Audio-Technica’s cartridge range. The RigB also mounts via a pair of tapped holes. Though thankfully with a more common M2.5 thread (as opposed to AT’s M2.6 thread) and a rounded mount for extra styling points.
Fit and finish is of course exemplary. The RigB is machined from a single solid T6 aluminium billet and anodised to give a hard-wearing and beautiful finish that will last a lifetime. Sitting next to a standard VM95 body void of its generator, the difference in quality, fit and finish is readily apparent. The RigB adds a negligible (and in most cases useful) 1.33 grams to the mass of the cartridge, weighing 2.77 grams. The original body weighs 1.44 grams.
The RigB 95 is available to be fitted to your existing VM95 cartridge for £59. It is otherwise available fitted to a new VM95 generator without a stylus for £69. Or you can purchase the complete cartridge with a full range of styli; conical (£87), Elliptical (£99), Nude Elliptical (£160), MicroLine (£180), Shibata (£210) and a Paratrace (£259). The latter includes a spare elliptical stylus. The RigB 95 can be purchased directly from The Audio Files.
You can also have your RigB 95 cartridge pre-mounted to one of three headshells. The HS1 (£11), HS6 (£25) and HS10 (£25). These offer plug and play compatibility with the most popular tonearms that have removable headshells including arms from Audio-Technica and Technics. A RigB 95 mounted to an HS6 is the perfect upgrade for an AT-LP5 or AT-LP5X turntable to give just one example. IPT unlike many retailers are equipped with the correct tools and know-how to optimally align the cartridges to the correct overhang. It never ceases to amaze me how many hi-fi dealers, even those with decades in the business, can’t properly align a cartridge, especially when aligning for an s-shaped or j-shaped tonearm where a lack of offset at the headshell is critical, as it is factored into the shape of the arm itself.
I was supplied a pair of cartridges for this review. The first was a VM95 equipped with the RigB body and the second a VM95 with its stock plastic body. Both were mounted to HS1 headshells and pre-aligned to suit the Technics SL-1200G.
I was also provided a comprehensive range of styli including the conical, elliptical, MicroLine and an IPT Paratrace. The cartridges were evaluated on the same Technics SL-1200G turntable at a tracking force of exactly 2 grams, with the bias set to reflect the 2 grams of tracking pressure. The cartridges were tested using the Musical Fidelity M6x Vinyl phono stage, with Musical Fidelity M8s Pre and M6s PRX amplification as per our reference system. The phono stage was configured for its minimal capacitance loading, which in combination with a balanced cable results in around 130PF of capacitance. Resistive loading is fixed at 47K ohms, which is optimal for the AT generator.
I started by refreshing my memory of the VM95 in unmodified form. I previously reviewed the entirety of the VM95 range and have had a VM95ML on a secondary turntable for some time, so I am quite familiar with how the generator sounds. Nevertheless, it has been a while since I had one on the Technics, so I auditioned it carefully with the range of styli before evaluating the RigB 95. The cartridge sounded as I would expect it to sound and my summation hasn’t changed from the review.
I then switched to the RigB. Immediately apparent was a dramatic upgrade in dynamic performance. The VM95 as stock can sound a bit ‘soft’. This was a trait of the AT95 it replaced and was unsurprisingly carried forward into the VM95 as the generators are virtually identical. It is usually noted as a mid-range bump, which increases vocal presence at the expense of detail at the frequency extremes. This tonal shape can alleviate some of the deficiencies in more basic styli and can sound rather pleasant on some recordings, especially so in the context of a vintage system from an era where hi-fi was often tuned to sound that way to begin with.
Even with a conical stylus, however, the RigB retracts the mids slightly, opening up the top-end and exposing top end detail, especially evident with a MicroLine or Paratrace stylus. Coupled with vastly improved low-end control and the whole performance becomes more coherent but also more neutral and honest in tone. Surface noise is also noticeably lessened while the stereo image increases in depth to an appreciable degree.
There is one thought that always comes to mind when I listen to a RigB-equipped cartridge, having now tried them on all three of AT’s moving magnet generators. That is that the cartridges simply sound ‘right’; honest and true to the record. It’s certainly true that at least in the case of the AT91 / 3600 and VM95 generators there is a tonal shift toward the softer, warmer spectrum, whereas the VM500 / VM700 generator is more neutral in character and less forgiving.
But unless you were comparing the cartridges directly on a turntable capable of revealing the differences, you probably wouldn’t notice. To that end, I have found that I could quite happily live with any of the RigB-equipped cartridges in my system, albeit with the top-end styli in each case. Because the RigB body is an optimal platform, interfacing the generator to the headshell in a way that almost achieves the ideal of them being one, the generator in turn simply does its job and allows the other aspects of the chain – the stylus, record, turntable and system – to influence the sound.
The same is true for the RigB 95. It is a wonderful sounding cartridge, especially when fitted with a Paratrace or a MicroLine stylus. Upgrading to the better VM500 generator (in a RigB 500 body of course) gets you a bigger stereo image and better dynamic performance with well recorded, well-pressed vinyl. But just because you can have something, doesn’t mean you miss it. I have had a RigB 95 in permanent residence on my primary turntable for two weeks, and have probably listened to more vinyl than I otherwise would have. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen, and when I hear it I spend my time enjoying the music, rather than thinking about what could be gained if I fitted something better.
That to me is what differentiates a good cartridge from a great one. After all, hi-fi is a means to an end; that end being the enjoyment of our music. The turntable, and by extension the cartridge is a means to enjoy our physical collection of vinyl. A good cartridge leaves you wanting more from the start, prompting upgrades and the prioritisation and acquisition of more hi-fi over more music. A great cartridge, however, plays the music you have in a way that is pleasing to listen to and will do so indefinitely – until the stylus wears out.
The RigB 95 falls firmly into the great cartridge category, and for that earns a deserved recommendation. Another fine IPT product worthy of your hard-earned cash.