Best all-around cartridge for 500.00 new

I just purchased a Rega P25/RB600 and am shopping for a worthy cartridge. I listen to almost anything and spread my listening time among most genres about evenly. I've only got a few dollars left to spend and want to get the best all-around cartridge available. Any thoughts on the Grado Sonata or am I just asking for trouble with hum?
The Grado Sonata is a great choice!!!I have found the Grado woodies and the Rega Tables/arms are a great match.The VTA is right on with this combo.I tried 1 then 2 spacers with my Grado and found the best sound is with no spacers.Hum with my 4.5mv Platinum is no issue at all,unless some low level hum at the end of the LP in the lead out grooves bothers you.Some will say lack of VTA with Rega arms and hum with Rega tables is a reason to stay away from this setup, but I say bull.My analog setup sounds great and I am as particular/neurotic as the next phile'
I can make no comparisons, but be aware of the Dynavector DV-20x (the high output model (2.5mv) will more likely be hum free.) They are $525 in the states; I bought mine from originlive in England for ~$370, total. Going to past the US importer, however has been reported to possibly negate the warranty. My guess is that you could easily get around it if it is a problem, but i think you should know that, just in case. More experienced cartridge (and DV with P25) users are easily found on Good luck
the rega/dynavector combo is truly a wonderful pairing. either the 10x4 mk2 or the DV-20 high output, which is a little more expensive.

grado/rega have the notorious hum problem. (sometimes)
I would buy a VTA base if your Rega arm uses spacers.And spend the rest of the money on a Shure V15VxMR. Some are finding that the spacers work ok for them, or find they need no spacers at all, but adjustments in VTA that you can hardly see make a difference.The spacer thing is stone age VTA tech. I bet the Dynavector is very good as they have been making great cartridges for years, but this will sound great too and you can really get the angle correct for once. The Grados are wonderful too but can't match the tracking of the Shure and ARE prone to hum in many tables.You will never really know if you have ANY cartridge set up to it's full potential without the VTA base.
I too vote for Dynavector 20XL if your phono can drive it. If your phono can't drive it you can get 20XH. They're great rock-n-roll and fussion cartridges.
Grado most-likely will hum on Rega.
A fellow Audiogonian told me that Denon DL 103D's, a classic of yesteryear, are still available, and at only $229 plus $5 shipping. I had one decades ago and loved it, but of course your phono stage would have to work with a roughly .3mv MC. If you're interested, the only way I know to contact Denon is by telephone: 310-974-1010. It takes a while to reach a human being, but once you do, they're polite and helpful.

I've ordered one for a Rega 25 system but don't have it yet. Grados used to hum with Rega tables--has that changed?
Let me suggest the Clear Audio Aurum Beta S MK 2. I have recently purchased this cartridge (actually its predecessor) and I am very impressed.
I have had quite a few cartridges including a Benz Glider, the Dynavector DV20XH is a great cartridge and works well with the Rega. I had mine on an Origin Live modified RB250.
By the way, I have one up for auction.
I am currently using a Grado Sonata (low output version, less prone to hum) with my Linn LP12 and find it great with vocals and acoustic music. However, it is not the most detailed or dynamic. If you can stretch your budget or get a discount buy a Benz Glider as this cartridge does almost everything quite well. I've heard and read many good things about the Denon (as recommended in the above post) and Shelter cartridges. I understand why you said "new" as buying a used cartridge is an iffy proposition.
Tom, i recently picked up a Denon that had never been used for $100. One of my buddies found it and a few other cartridges from a vinyl "addict" overseas and snagged it for me. He had used one previously and thought it was a phenomenal bargain for the money. As you mentioned though, it is a low output cartridge and does require more gain to perform optimally.

If you're looking for a high output MM type, try a Stanton 881S Mk II. It will smoke a Shure in terms of overall reproduction and musicality and costs measurably less. All the V15 type cartridges suffer from a non-linear distortion problem that an honest reviewer would mention ( some do ). The Stanton has a much shorter and more rigid cantilever. This results in faster tip speed, more detail due to a shorter path to the motor assembly and less distortion due to the cantilever not flexing. The frequency response is more neutral and there is less "grundge" in the upper mids and treble without sounding near as "closed in". The 881 will also track BETTER than the Shure on high amplitude passages with a lot of vertical deflection. A good source for the 881S Mk II is Kevin at KAB Electro-Acoustics. Sean
I cannot recommend a classic Denon DL-103 (NOT current production!) highly enough for use in the Rega tables. Outstanding performance and a gol-darned steal. Only caveat as previously mentioned is that it is an MC with just 300uV output, so you need a low-noise, high gain phono stage to use with it. The EAR 834P (with NOS tubes) makes for an outstanding combination. Just my 2 cents...
Is the Denon 103D the black one with the conical stylus sold back in the mid to late seventies? It is nice unit but I am amazed the rubber suspension parts have aged that well even unused in the box. Its a smoooth number. Sean the Shure(I am confident you have herd every version) sounded better in my table than I could get the Grado Platinum VPI version to and it couldn't track with bloodhounds, no $300-500 cartridge is perfect. They don't make my favorite cartridge any more and I couldn't afford it anyway if they did, the ones still out there are decrepid by now. The Tallasman Virtuoso Boron, but I am confident you have some comment about that, perhaps a Pickering "smokes it". Wish I knew everything too!
Maxgain, sorry if you took that personally. While i did specifically respond to several points that you commented on, i was simply trying make an alternative suggestion. As such, i made some direct comparisons between the Stanton and the Shure. Since the V15 series has always been somewhat of an "industry standard" and your comments seem to echo the general consensus amongst end users, i used them as a reference / comparison point.

The Shure V series cartridges have all been highly regarded even though they have some serious flaws in them. As such, i suggested the Stanton as i know that it is both a better performer ( in pretty much every aspect ) and is available for well under $200. It is an often overlooked gem amongst MM type cartridges.

For the record, i do have several different Shure's in my possesion, some of them dating back almost 30 years. Shure is less than an hour's drive away from me. The fact that i've found their customer service and lack of parts availability for specific models rather frustrating at times is completely besides the point.

As to the Pickering's, no, i don't think that they've ever "smoked" anything. They do bare a physical resemblance to some of the Stanton's, but that was about it.

As to the Denon, yes, they used to market a 103C and 103D back in the 1970's. They still make a model using the same number but i don't think it is a duplicate of either of the aforementioned models. Sean

PS... i know just enough to know that i don't know it all. I'm working on that though, so keep the info coming... : )
Thanks Sean,I did. Have you listened to the latest version of the Shure, as I NEVER thought I would use one of their cartridges. The V15III was popular but you would never have caught me dead with one in my table as the sound was very middle of the road mid fi. Out of desperation I bought the latest one(V15VxMR) a month ago and it has been a surprise. Although it is not my first choice it was a matter of ecconomy. I tried to repalce an expensive MC with the $300 Grado, It sounded very nice but seemed to hate my arm and the elliptical stylus exagerates noise to a point where it was difficult to enjoy. My suggestion was for a cartridge that would allow for a VTA base to be purchased (which the Stanton would accomodate)within the budget and not hum in the Rega. The VTA base is a must have item, you may be able to mount a cartridge and find a point that sounds OK with the spacers, but you will never know if a point in between sounds alot better. VTA adjustments that are microspopic can make profound differences in the sound of a system with some resolution. The latest V15 uses a very stiff and very low mass ultra-thin wall(0.0005-inch) beryllium tube cantilever combined with a very low mass highly polished MR diamond. Something about objects in motion...? It's not your fathers M91ed any more. If the Stanton is anything like the ones I remember the cantilever looks like a short frameing nail. This too may have changed, as have the Shures. I would take almost any cartridge with a Micro Ridge over a cartridge with an elliptical in my own system just due to the noise. I like the thing,I like my Shure! I admit it, it seems to be one of those things you need to hide here I guess,"Don't ask, don't tell" It is one of those dirty little secrets, like saying you listen to MIT cables and like it.(I do that too! but that is another story) I guess I am out of the Audiogon closet. No, the V15VxMR would not be my first choice if budget was not a consideration, but I can enjoy my record collection again.
I agree wholeheartedly with the majority of your observations. I also shouldn't be "knocking" any comments regarding trying to help someone or promote the use of vinyl. For that i apologize.

Since many people are jumping back into vinyl with "cold feet", i was simply trying to provide them with an alternative viewpoint. My experience is that if someone can spend less money and get better overall results, they are all for it. This is not to say that the Stanton is the "end all" product, only that it is a very worthwhile contender for their cash. As everyone knows, there is always room to move in audio.

As you mentioned, the newer Shure is a big leap forward from their older cartriges and i think that most people that have heard it agree. The biggest difference seems to be in the upper registers. Improvements in air, space and overall "open-ness" are duly noted. They have basically "cleaned house" and you are left with a cleaner, less congested presentation.

As to the cantilever design, i think that this is what was hurting them in the past. Their last design made use of a thin walled telescoping design to minimize tip mass. As with any telescoped design, there is a certain amount of "play" between joints. While the basic idea was there, it obviously needed refining.

They were obviously trying to reduce tip mass but forgot about a few other factors. While low tip mass is a good thing, flexing of the cantilever is not. This tends to produce non-linear distortions and smearing of detail. This is the problem that i heard with the earlier Shure's. It became more obvious as dynamic range increased. This is due to greater vertical deflection of the cantilever which would have caused greater amounts of flexing. As such, the louder the recorded passage became, the greater the amount of distortion generated. If one played mostly "quiet" recordings without a lot of dynamic range ( chamber music, highly compressed recordings, etc...), you might not notice this.

I will give Shure credit in the fact that their older cartridges never sounded "offensive" ( bright and edgy ), made use of low surface noise tips and would work in a wide variety of arms. As such, they were always a "safe" albeit less than optimum choice.

The Stanton approach was much the opposite of Shure's. They chose a very rigid cantilever that may have been slightly heavier, but kept it short as possible. This not only reduced the overall weight, but kept it as rigid as possible. With the shortest path possible from tip to motor structure and flexing reduced to minimal, the result is a greater amount of detail being directly modulated from the groove with less distortion and a more linear output.

As with any cartridge though, you can play with loading characteristics to obtain the best results. The difference in tonearm wiring, interconnects, etc... all need to be addressed if you are going to make an attempt at "vinyl nirvana". Sean
No sweat Sean, I would love to try the Dynavector 10X4 "Gold" that Music Direct sells. Under $500, Boron cantiliever, micro ridge stylus and available in a 2.5mv output version. It was a limited edition and may no longer be available. I usually love the boron,MR,MC's with a bit of output and Dynavector makes great cartridges.I am very interested in the Clearaudio MM's as well, like the Virtuoso Wood. I can't find reliable info on what sort of tip profile Clearaudio uses on these though. I have seen different info evry where I look, some say elliptical, some claim VanDenHul, some say fine line(another term for MR if I am not mistaken) what the hell is it?
Try contacting Clearaudio directly or call Bes at Music Direct. I had a brief conversation with him about these cartridges as i too was somewhat interested in them. From what he described them as sounding like ( nothing like the stereophile review and recommendation ), i decided to leave well enough alone.

Music Direct supposedly has a new "demo room" now with a small selection of the electronics that they carry set up. I'm going to have to stop by there sometime soon and see what's new and exciting. They are about a 1/2 hour drive from me, which is pretty convenient to say the least. Sean
I have a used (200 hours) Grado The Reference ($1200 new - $500 used), and it sounds fabulous with my Rega P25/R600. I have not had ANY problems with hum, and it seems to be a good fit without needing VTA tweaks.
Allison2, I know it may be pushing your budget, but for $650 you can get a Shelter 501 MkII, which is a substantially better cartridge than any of the ones listed above, and indeed competes with cartridges costing $2-3k. If that is a little too far out of your budget, the Denon DL-103 or DL-103 Pro is a good second choice.