Best Turntable Cartridge under $100 & $200 – Finding Your Needle in the Vinyl Haystack

Best Turntable Cartridge under $100 & $200 - Finding Your Needle in the Vinyl Haystack

“Without music, life would be a mistake…” This has always been dad’s line when asked why he always insists on getting the best (which usually means “most expensive”) piece of equipment that he can add to his audiophile arsenal.

I still remember the classic “scratch” of the needle as that gently places it over the vinyl as we start our magical journey through different sonar delights offered by his collection.The clarity of Lennon’s voice, the enigmatic wail of Hendrix’s guitar, the slow but steady groove of Santana; all of these through his

The clarity of Lennon’s voice, the enigmatic wail of Hendrix’s guitar, the slow but steady groove of Santana; all of these through his home made speakers, and of course our ever reliable turntable. Later, I remember asking dad how he got that kind of sound from our hi-fi system way back. He answered me with this simple formula “Garbage in. garbage out”, and showed me one of his precious cartridges – the same one I remembered being used when he played me all those records. But what is the key to finding that perfect “needle” for

Later, I remember asking dad how he got that kind of sound from our hi-fi system way back. He answered me with this simple formula “Garbage in. garbage out”, and showed me one of his precious cartridges – the same one I remembered being used when he played me all those records. But what is the key to finding that perfect “needle” for you. Here are a few points to consider.

Tone Preference – are you a bass head, or more of a mid-type guy? Would you prefer a flat equalization when playing your records, or a bit coloration to immediately highlight the vocals and instrumentations?

Application – are you going to use this for easy listening in your living room, for digitizing your favourite LPs. Or are you going to do some DJ work with this?

Budget – getting the best option for your available budget.

With these in mind, here are some of the best turntable cartridges under $100 and $200 available in the market today. Enjoy!

Audio-Technica AT150MLX Dual Moving Magnet Cartridge

Pro: Faithful reproduction of the elements in the vinyl’s recording stage
Con: Proper fine tuning has to be done before achieving optimal performance

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 this 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.

Denon DL 103 Moving Coil Cartridge

Pro: Great soundstage, minimal noise levels, superb L/R channel separation
Con: Cartridge body prone to deforming due to over tightening because of its open slot for the long screws

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 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.

Sumiko – Pearl MM Cartridge

Pro: Wide frequency response
Con: Becomes to sibilant on high frequencies

The Sumiko Pearl is a very musical cartridge, in terms of frequency response and stereo separation. Upon 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.

Ortofon – 2M Red MM Phono Cartridge

Pro: Flat frequency response – Pure uncoloured reproduction of the record
Con: none

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 it’s stylus with the available red, blue, bronze or black series; each series having a wider frequency response than the others. Listening 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.

Audio-Technica Dual Magnet Phono Cartridge (AT95E)

Pro: Offers clear acoustic representation of the records played
Con: none

Audio Technica has prided itself in building precision equipment and instruments, and the AT95E is part of Audio Technica’s legacy. Made in Japan, this cartridge are amongst the favourite “stock” cartridges of a number of top end turntables. The secret lies with the AT95E’s reproduction of the record’s instrumentations which tends to be clearer and more natural than those provided by CDs. Though this needle does not promise to open a whole new dimension of sounds that you haven’t heard before, the AT95E is a bang for the buck cartridge for those who are looking for superb product value for their money.

Audio-Technica AT92ECD Universal Replacement Magnetic Phono Cartridge

Pro: A definite upgrade to most stock cartridges
Con: Too heavy

The AT92ECD is a viable upgrade to any existing cartridges mounted on most turntables. One of its strong suit is the same faithful reproduction of sound which is offered by its high end brothers up the line. It also has a good frequency response (from 15 to 27,000Hz). A very good entry level cartridge to anyone who is beginning his journey to the audiophile realm.