For those who want to get the most out of their turntable, it starts with having the best quality turntable cartridges in existence. Of course, the best of the best might cost you more, but if you want to get the best audio out of your speakers, this is just a drop in the bucket.
For those who don’t know what a turntable cartridge is, it’s the little box that holds the needle which rests on the vinyl to play its contents. Over time, the cartridge tends to wear out and has caused many people to throw their turntable out the window so to speak. It doesn’t have to be that way though since you can easily replace it to prolong the life of your turntable.
If you want to get straight to the point, our top pick is none other than the Ortofon – 2M Red MM all-purpose turntable cartridge. The accuracy it gets when the stylus hits the groove on your vinyl is great and it comes at a great price too. Less than a hundred bucks to be exact. Continue reading for its in-depth review.
By the way, if you like to dig deep into the details of things, we’ve featured our selections for the best turntable cartridge under $100 and $200 below.
|Image||Turntable Cartridge||Stylus Type||Frequency Range||Pressure|
Our Pick Under $100
$99.00 at Amazon
|Elliptical||20-22,000 Hz||1.8g (18 mN)|
Our Pick Under $200
$199.00 at Amazon
|Elliptical||20 - 25,000 Hz||1.8 - 2.2g (standard 2.0 g)|
|$127.20 at Amazon||0.6mil Conical Bonded Diamond||20 - 20,000Hz||1.8 - 2.3g (2.0g)|
|$160.00 at Amazon||Elliptical||10-55,000 Hz||1.5g|
Recommended Turntable Cartridges Under $100
For those who are on a budget, these options might be the most ideal. Just because you pay a cheaper price than some of the higher-end options doesn’t mean that you must sacrifice quality entirely. That’s why we set out to find the best ones that still do their job well.
Ortofon – 2M Red MM Phono Cartridge
What’s good: Flat frequency response – Pure uncolored reproduction of the record.
Not so good: Can pick surface noise
The Ortofon 2M is perfect for music lovers who are looking for a “one time buy” kind of cartridge, due to its interchangeable stylus.
One can easily swap its stylus with the available red, blue, bronze, or black series; each series having a wider frequency response than the others.
Listening to the Ortofon 2M’s signature sound, I was impressed by its flat response to a wide variety of genres placed on the player, from classical to modern fusion rock, this baby really sings!
The good part of this quality is, that you can easily tweak the Ortofon 2M’s sound signature to your preference – versatility as its best.
NAGAOKA MP-100 MM
What’s good: Bang for your buck. Detailed sound.
Not so good: Lack of “oomph”
If you are looking for something that would give you the cleanest, nearest tonal reproduction of a song’s recording stage, this needle is for you.
Though this cartridge precise setup before achieving its maximum potential (like a very low capacitance cable, slightly heavier arm, etc.), once all these tweaks are done, you are guaranteed to be in hi-fi paradise.
The downside of this aspect is, too much clarity will lead you into discovering recording flaws that are easily dismissible in other cartridges’ coloration.
If you thinking something else than Ortofon – 2M Red you certainly can’t go wrong with MP-100 MM. All in all bang for your buck cartridge coming all the way from Japan.
GRADO Prestige Black3
What’s good: Elliptical diamond stylus provides accuracy and clarity. Warm sounds suitable for a wide range of music types.
Not so good: It can be outdone, but usually for a higher price than just a hundred bucks.
Since 1953, GRADO has been going strong by providing handmade cartridges out of their hometown of Brooklyn, New York. Just like Sumiko, they’re known for their higher-end turntable cartridge models but they come to be a strong contender within the marketplace.
If you want a deep base backed with warm sounds, that’s exactly what the GRADO Black3 is known for. Coming in at just a little bit under a hundred bucks, it’s a no-brainer for some. Standard cartridges are no match either, as you’ll find that this is also a route for higher resolution.
It contains an elliptical diamond stylus which ensures that it can play on a wide range of types of vinyl, regardless of their condition. If you’re wanting an entry-level solution, this could very well be your match. They stand behind their work too with a warranty provided for customers in the US.
What’s good: It brings the Audio-Technica rep of high quality to a lower cost. A great choice for an entry-level turntable cartridge. Clear vocals and strong beats.
Not so good: It is a budget turntable cartridge but does its job well. Known to distort as it gets closer to the inside of the vinyl.
Over the years, Audio-Technica was focused on rolling out updated versions of their more expensive turntable cartridges. That was until now, as they’ve released an update to their entry-level turntable cartridge (formally known as AT-05E).
One of the things that I like the most is that they’ve made a clever attempt at keeping their customers loyal for the long-term. This is done by starting with the AT-VM95C and upgrading it over time with another type of stylus which can easily be replaced with this cartridge.
When it comes to the sound quality of the AT-VM95C turntable cartridge, there are times when it might not be as good as it gets closer to the inside of your vinyl. You can take the audio quality to a new level by either upgrading the stylus in this cartridge or by using it in a setup that also has a solid amplifier.
This cartridge is also easy to install as it embraces a threaded design, allowing you to use two screws to attach it to the arm of your turntable. An affordable price plus great quality makes this a win.
Sumiko – Oyster MM Cartridge
What’s good: Cost-Effective Price Point. Decent for casual listeners.
Not so good: Very basic.
Sumiko is known for producing high-end turntable cartridges, but this takes an entry-level approach for those who don’t want to break the bank. The sound quality is decent, but if the vinyl wasn’t mastered properly you might find your sound experience suffering.
Just like the previous cartridge we reviewed, there are various options when it comes to stylus replacement which makes it a great addition for those who want customization in the future. It has no problem when it comes to playing both 45 and 78 RPM recordings.
For an entry-level cartridge, Sumiko seems to have brought a decent offering to the table. However, if you want the highest level of audio quality, you might look at one in a higher price range. This is solely intended as a cost-effective solution.
Recommended Turntable Cartridges Under $200
If you’re looking for something more likely to win over the hearts of true audiophiles, these options are the ones that can do exactly that. You might have to pay more than some of the more affordable options, but keep in mind you do get what you pay for. These turntable cartridges are designed to produce a higher level of audio quality.
What’s good: Great where the mid-range sound is critical and a decent bass will suffice. Its dual moving magnet provides you with fewer playback failures.
Not so good: It might not be the cheapest, but in this case, you pay for what you get.
If you don’t want to settle for the cartridges that are less than a hundred bucks to step it up a notch, the AT VM95SH is my pick. This wasn’t easy as the VM520EB came close to winning my heart over, but it didn’t quite do the trick.
One of the biggest factors is that it boasts a level of clarity on the mid-range level that many of the other cartridges couldn’t top. As far as bass, it’s still pretty strong but it’s not the most ideal choice for those who consider themselves to be bass-heavy users.
Whether you’re upgrading or you want a replacement that can have its stylus changed out easily to grow with you, this is one of the strongest contenders on the market today. Top it off with one of the strongest track records when it comes to customer satisfaction, and you don’t have to waste any time thinking twice about it.
Audio-Technica VM520EB Stereo Turntable Cartridge
What’s good:0 One of the better options when it comes to upgrading from a cheaper cartridge. Warm sounds suitable for a wide range of music types.
Not so good: The appearance could be better, but they weren’t focused on looking sexy either.
For those upgrading their turntable cartridge with a couple of hundred bucks that they can spend on it, the AT VM520EB is a great choice. While it might appear to be basic when it comes to appearance, this isn’t where it excels.
It’s designed to be expertly engineered in a way that produces customers with the best results possible. If you’re looking for more of a visually pleasing turntable cartridge, this might not be your choice. But if you’re looking for quality sound and a long-lasting turntable cartridge, it’s a great pick.
Channel separation and improved frequency response are taking to the next level as this is a dual-channel cartridge. As far as using it when going about audio reproduction, that’s where this cartridge, in particular, shines as it embraces the latest advancements to ensure it tracks each groove perfectly.
GRADO Prestige Blue3 Phono Cartridge w/Stylus
What’s good: Bass is deep and can be fine-tuned easily and effectively. Separation is minimized, making it also great for audio reproduction.
Not so good: Hard not to like this phonograph cartridge.
GRADO has always been known for producing high-quality products, and they’ve grown to become even better than ever thanks to their step in reviving their whole lineup of turntable cartridges. The cartridge that caught my eye was the GRADO Prestige Blue3 Phonograph Cartridge (Stylus Included).
They went ahead and took a step back in time when it comes to their stylus, by embracing the original 0.2 X 0.6 (8MZ) stylus. What this does is it provides significantly less separation than the previous model (and even the GRADO Prestige 3). In the end, what you get out of it (with the right setup of course) is a wider soundstage and better levels of clarity when it comes to mids.
As for bass, it still can support deep bass just maybe not as much as the other turntable cartridges under $200 that I reviewed. It was originally released in July 2019 so in terms of being an updated turntable accessory, it’s on point.
Sumiko – Pearl MM Cartridge
What’s good: Wide frequency response
Not so good: Becomes to sibilant on high frequencies
The Sumiko Pearl is a very musical cartridge, in terms of frequency response and stereo separation.
Upon the first impression, one can hear the lush tones of the electric piano blending with Chaka Khan’s vocal styling in “Through the Fire”. And with its wide frequency response, one can hear the rare complementing interplay between the bass and drums.
Though I must say that it tends to slightly choke on the higher notes and whistles, with which other needles with a narrow bandwidth can’t even deliver at all, it is nothing that a slight equalization won’t fix.
With these qualities, the Pearl is a definite buy for the “on-a budget” music aficionado.
What’s good: Great soundstage, minimal noise levels, superb L/R channel separation.
Not so good: Cartridge’s body prone to deforming due to over-tightening because of its open slot for the long screws. Priced just over $200.
With more than 9 decades of musical innovation, Denon had firmly established its roots as being one of the most trusted names in the hi-f industry.
In the 1960s due to the arrival of the “stereo LP” and a fanatic response to this format, Denon focused its vision in delivering the best balance in the degree of left and right channel separation.
With this in mind, the DL-103 was born. With a 25db of separation delivered by the DL-103, it easily surpassed the standard 15-20 dB separation present in the other cartridges at the time.
With these features, the DL-103 was a big hit in the 70s, and until this time, it is rated to be in the top ten best cartridges to ever hit the vinyl floors.
Turntable Cartridge FAQ
Over time, I’ve been getting more and more of the same questions not only on the comments but via my inbox as well. To help speed up the buying process and solving any concerns you may have, here are the top questions that come my way.
What is a turntable cartridge?
A turntable cartridge is a box that holds the stylus (also often thought to be called a phonograph or turntable). It helps transfer the contents of the vinyl to your speakers and/or other audio equipment that you might have hooked up.
By the way, here’s an interesting fact for you. This is one of the most common reasons people give up on their turntables. They don’t realize that replacing the cartridge could make it work again, if not make it work better if you decide to improve upon the cartridge itself by going in on one of the higher-end models that offer more playtime and fewer interruptions.
What is the difference between a stylus and a cartridge?
The stylus is the needle that rests in the groove of the vinyl to start the transfer of its contents to the turntable and its connected audio equipment. You can find them of all types and sizes dependent on what your specific needs are. Some are better for recording, and most cartridges make it easy to swap out the stylus itself without having to replace the whole thing.
Can any cartridge work for any turntable?
In a nutshell, no. It all depends upon what turntable you have and its specifications. You will want to take the time to do your homework to make sure you know whether it’s the type of turntable that will only accept one type of cartridge.
Other models are more flexible, but you want to know right out of the gate, so you don’t waste time by making mistakes. Also, many turntable cartridges are universal allowing them to work with either type of turntable. It all depends on the one you choose and your equipment.
How do I know when I need a new turntable cartridge?
Usually, you’ll hear increased levels of distortion or slower response times. The audio transfer quality might also suffer by being at a lower level of audio quality than normal. It’s always a good rule of thumb to replace it as soon as your stylus wears out if it’s a turntable that you haven’t had the chance to replace the cartridge on yet. Just consider it a needed upgrade.