Advice on Phono Cartridge

Hello All!

I have a Pro-Ject Debut III with the original Ortofon OM-5 cartridge.  I have never been very impressed with the sound of the table/cartridge.  I am looking at upgrading the cartridge and I am most interested in The Ortofon 2M Blue or the Denon DL-103R.  I would like to stay under $300 for a cartridge.  I haven't really heard any other cartridges.  People seem to have a lot of good things to say about those two, but I'm open to others as well.  Any advice would be much appreciated. 



Go with the Ortofon 2M Blue as it's compliance is a much better match for the Pro-ject tonearm that is pretty low mass.  The Denon is way too low in compliance and would result in a unwanted resonance of around 17 Hz. 

Also the Denon is a low output MC and without knowing what phono stage you have, you have to make sure you have a very good one.  Entry level MC phono stages just don't cut it and are often way too noisy (audible hiss) when you need 60db of gain for a LOMC.

Thanks Paraneer!  My phonostage is the phono module in a NAD 375BEE.  I also have a Pro-Ject phono stage (the cheap one), but I think I prefer the NAD module.

What does that mean, that the compliance is a better match for the tonearm?  How do you determine if a cartridge will mate well with a tonearm?  Do high end tonearms work well with all cartridges, or is that not necessarily true?


The compliance rating of a cartridge refers to its suspension or "springiness" while playing a record with mass bearing down on it.  In this case, the mass is the tonearm.  Years ago most cartridges were high compliance as low mass tonearms (like yours) were the rage.  Today, MC cartridges are in favor and these tend to be low compliance and work better with medium to high mass arms.  At an effective mass of 9.5 grams, your tonearm would be low mass.  The Ortofon has a compliance rating of 20 while the Denon is only 5. 

And the Denon is very low output MC and I would doubt that the built-in phono stage on your NAD would be quiet enough to reduce any hiss.  Assuming that it has a MC setting.

I would stick with higher compliance MM cartridges for your Pro-ject TT. The Ortofon 2M Blue is a good choice for it.

You need to know the effective mass of the arm, the compliance rating of the cartridge and the cartridge weight (add a 1/2 gram for mounting hardware) to determine if its a good match.  Here is a handy link to a tool that will help determine the cartridge/tonearm resonance with regards to its compliance rating...

You can also google cartridge compliance to learn more about this.

So it is not necessarily true that high end tonearms work well with all cartridges. 

I have no idea why this works, but a  couple of years ago my local high end shop recommended a Sumiko Pearl after a new AT440 sounded screechy on my Akito arm…the Pearl sounds amazingly good still…and it's inexpensive.

Thanks Paraneer!  That is a handy tool, I'm curious as to the math behind the chart.

As with most things, every answer seems to generate 2 more questions.  I will definitely do some more research on this.

Do you have any actual personal (listening) experience with the 2M Blue?  If so, do you think it's worth the hype?

Thanks for the suggestion wolf_garcia.  I hadn't really looked into the Pearl.  It does appear to be a good fit for my tonearm also.  The price is good,  but I would probably tend to lean towards the 2M Blue, just because of all the good reviews.  It's too bad you can't go to "the store" and compare all these cartridges side by side.

My inlaws had an old Marantz turntable (6100 I think) and that sounded better than my Debut III.

I was tempted to try one of the "2M" carts but it was pointed out to me by another Akito owner that they won't fit on my arm. Weird but true.
As it it won't physically fit?  That seems weird.  Why is that?  Length of the head or something?
Yeah…it seems to be too large for the Akito's wires to make the bend around to the tonearm clips…or something...
IIRC, the Akito has a rather short headshell which makes it difficult to impossible to mount some cartridges.   Linn carts from back in the day (Karma, Asaka, Troika) all had the same small dimensions thereby almost necessitating the use of their own carts on their tonearms.
I hate the spoil the show for some of these very expensive carts, but in a recent review of 9 MM carts the Audio Technica ATN150MLX finished first, and the Ortofon 2M Black finished a close second.  The others were not even close.  I have a special import Audio Technica AT-7V $159 at LP Gear, which has the ATN150 cart with a less attacking stylus.  I have since used my AT440MLa stylus and it sounds even better, but someday I will eventually buy the stylus from ATN150.  I say this because Audio Technica, Grado, Ortofon all build common carts with a multitude of upgrades you can make.  Rega carts can't even have the stylus changed, so be careful with some of these specialty companies who say theirs is the best.
I had an Ortofon 2M Blue on a Technics SL-1200 M3D, and it sounded great.  I was hesitant to buy the Blue as I had a previous experience with an OM-5.  I know they're two completely different cartridges, but I was afraid that the "house" sound of Ortofon wouldn't be to my liking.  The Blue was impressive in every way, and I think it represents an excellent value. 

If you were to consider a Denon, you may want to look at the DL-110 instead of the DL-103.  I have the DL-110 on a Rega Planar 2, and I'm very happy with it.  It is a high output MC cartridge and works with a MM or MC input.

Regarding the compliance of the Denon cartridges, I stumbled across this quote, and while I haven't verified with measurements or exhaustive cross-referencing, it seems to be accurate in my experience.  If you're interested in a Denon, you may want to investigate this further.  The other references I found used a ballpark multiplier of 2.

Quote below:

" Denon and AT measure compliance at 100Hz. However, compliance for the purposes of mating a cartridge with a tonearm and finding an optimum resonance point is measured at 10Hz. Multiply the compliance of Denon and AT cartridges by 1.6 to 1.8 (in my experience) and you'll be in the realm of their actual compliance at 10Hz."

audiolad, I've recently heard some pretty good things about Audio Technica cartridges.  I would say they are definitely on my radar now.  Thanks for the input.

jerry_ Thanks for the input.  I too was a little apprehensive about going with Ortofon again based on the OM-5E.  I did order a 2M Blue.  I hope that I am not disappointed.  What table/tonearm did you have the OM-5 on?

I am planning on upgrading my turntable in the next few years, so for now, I think I'll stay away from MC.  I may also look into upgrading my phono stage.

What table/tonearm did you have the OM-5 on?

Was also a Pro-Ject Debut III.  I think you'll like the 2M Blue.
Not to come off a snob, but a $300 turntable isn't really going to sound "impressive" as you say, so maybe you're just expecting too much.  I have owned the Music Hall MMF5 and found it to be quite excellent for the money, but it still is quite a bit more money than the Debut.  That said, before I changed anything, I would try a Herbies mat.  It made a huge difference on my Music Hall, to the point I wouldn't have thought possible.  It's full money-back, so there's no risk.  OTOH, it totally screwed up my Linn, which shows you that nothing works on everything.  Try it, it may solve your problems very inexpensively.  Good luck. 

Thanks chayro.  I may try the mat.

As I mentioned before, I am planning on upgrading my turntable in the next few years.  For now, I'm just trying to get the best results I can.  New speakers are my next big priority.