Best Cartridge for Less than $500

I have a SOTA Comet turntable with a Rega 300 tonearm and a Grado Gold cartridge. I would like to upgrade my cartridge and am looking for recommendations. My budget is $500. (The rest of my setup includes a Dynavector P75 phono-preamp and Aragon 8008BB power amp.)

Look at a pre-owned Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood for under $400. or stretch for a Maestro for up to ~$600. Both are tremendous values under $1K, IMHO.
My friend has Sota comet with RB 300 tonearm and Grado Gold prestige cartridge. He used the setup for a while, but he was not satisfied. After consulting with a seller of the table, he changed to Goldring Electra cartridge, a cheaper one. But he likes it better.

IMHO, Sumiko Blue point special MC cartrigde is one of the best at under $500.
I think the Dynavector DV 20XL would be perfect and it's supposed to be synergistic with your phono stage as well.
Check out the Denon DL 103R, a great value for the money (and well under $500)...
The Denon DL-103 works excellent thru the P75 "phono enhance" setting.
Thanks for the recommendations. A dealer tried to sell me a Benz Micro Ace - thoughts on that cartridge for my setup?
sumiko blue point evo special
First, the Dynavector mentioned is above $500.

Second, I wouldn't expect much of an improvement, if any, from the Benz Ace. It is somewhat lean and thin sounding which is not unusual for inexpensive moving coils.

If you insist on spending money, find a better moving magnet. At the Ace's price there are a handful of choices that sound better.
I think that the high output MC cartridges by Sumiko are superior to most MM cartridges. From the Blue Point on up, there's no lean, thin sound, assuming a quality phono preamp, of course.

The budget here probably precludes a Sumiko Blackbird, but I say that you should ask. If you've got a Sumiko dealer that you can visit, then do it and discuss and listen to the options to the extent possible (not all the options are likely to be mounted). The price I paid for my Blackbird was seriously close to $500 at my local dealer, trouncing the online prices.

So, it never hurts to ask. The probably applies to most other brands. Don't assume that the online prices are the lowest prices.

I nominate the Rega Exact 2. It's a dead-nuts compliance/resonance/alignment match for an RB300, price is in your ballpark, doesn't require anything fancy in the way of stepup transformer or hi-gain preamp, and in its element (i.e., on a Rega tonearm), is fast, open, relaxed, and very natural sounding.

Ortofon 2M Bronze or Black also.
Dear Adidio: With " that " kind of cartridge budget you could buy at least two very fine cartridges, please read the next link:

Regards and enjoy the music.
Thanks all - my fondness for "giant killer" products prompted me to go with the Denon DL 103R. I was able to find it for $315, including shipping, so for once I actually came well under budget. Hopefully, I won't be disappointed. Thanks again.
Dear Adidio: Hope things go well with that cartridge.

Btw, why don't look today on ebay for the Sonus Gold Blue ( MM ) and the Yamaha MC-7 ( MC ), both cartridges are new and you can buy both for less than the Denon price but the good news is that either of those cartridges ( IMHO ) beats the quality Denon performance that is a good cartridge but ( IMHO ) in anyway a " giant killer ".

Regards, enjoy the music and remember that: " High end is what you are not what you buy/have. "

I have to say, I do not think that the Ace is lean or thin sounding at all. Now, that may just be my system, or it may be the way my cartridge is set up, and to be honest, I haven't heard many other cartridges to compare it to.

If any thing, I would say the OPPOSITE! The ACE is rich in the bass department, with it's forte being the midrange. I have not heard the Grado, but from everything I read - the grado's generally have great midrange, but aren't great trackers and have rolled off highs and rolled off lows. It's hard for me to back the ACE whole heartedly, but I can say that I have been happy with it. It's a good tracker, it is nicely balanced, and smoothe to my ears.

I would love to hear the blackbird or the dynovector, but for you, they are both over $500, so unless you are willing to buy used, I would count those out, and If I were you, I would be very reluctant to buy a used cartridge. You never know in what condition it will be. That's just me.

Check out the review on Absolute Sounds website:

The reviewer there does mention to be careful to pair it with a medium mass tonearm or it may sound to lean...maybe that is what Audiofiel heard.....
I run a Audio Technica ATC OCC150 on my SOTA table with Rega 300 arm, and it sounds great BTW I like it better then my Dynavector 20L MC cart..........dont discount a few good MM carts over the sometimes blind loyalty to MC carts.
BTW my dad has the ACE and I think it is warm, mushy and pretty sounds fine but never thrills, it is way too polite.
02-06-08: Chadnliz
BTW my dad has the ACE and I think it is warm, mushy and pretty sounds fine but never thrills, it is way too polite.
It's very interesting how these things sound so completely different in systems.

The sound of my Ace is the antithesis of what Chadnliz described.
Audio Technica OC9 for $299

Great cartridge for the $$
By the way Adidio, there is a new ACE in town, which I have not heard. Benz just released new versions of their micro line - The "S" series. The prices went the ACE is now $700. If you could find an old benz cartridge to trade in that would get the price closer to $500.

Here's the link to the news on their websight:
If I had to choose the sound character of the ACE - I would choose Warm over lean, so I could see how Chadnliz might think that is sounds "warm, mushy and pretty boring". I am guessing that Chadnliz probably likes a more sparkley and lean sound. I would never say that it sounds mushy and boring. Warm...yes, probably more on the warm side than the cool side. That's why I was so surprised by Audiofiel's statement that the cartridge was lean and harsh.

Be careful what you match it with. I will say that I pared my ACE with a warm "Polite" integrated (Magnum IA170) and it does make the sound to warm and fuzzy for my tastes. I am in the process of upgrading everything and I will definitely be looking for a new amplifier.

As you can see, everyone has an opinion. A lot depends on how the cartridge is set up. A lot has to do with what components it is mated with. Anyway, good luck with your venture and let us know what you decide.
You need to be careful about forming an opinion about a cartridge too quickly. For one, they require a good bit of break-in to develop their true signature. Typically 60-hours and sometimes as much as 200-hours is needed. They'll start brighter than they end up. Also, VTA is critical and can make one sound hot or flabby, depending on the direction of the mis-adjustment.

Lots of components do better after break in, but speakers and cartridges can start out really ugle and later turn into a beautiful swan.

Is there a MM cart with the "Stanton" sound, but with a fine line rather than elliptical stylus? KAB used to sell one, but Kevin sold out of the fine line styli.
Thanks all - I went with the Denon DL 103R, which I found for $315. I am waiting for it to arrive.

In my brief analog career (6 plus years) I have not heard a cartridge that is the "crem de la crem" as my Denon DL 103 plain jane (no R designation)NO It's not perfect but what is? Having owned the Dynavector DV 20X-H (lovely cart btw, but overpriced)IT stays in it's case, Shure V-15 mkIV (I think) nothing allows you to merely enjoy the music with No FUSS,NO HYPE,with none of the Audiophile trick,mega-buck jargon having...BLAH,BLAH BLAH. etc,,, do yourself a favor and consider this cartridge as long as your pre can handle it's rather low-ish output 0.3mv...And DON'T make the same mistake I made and mount it within one of those beautiful ebony or panzerholz bodies!! forget it, ALL I CAN SAY IS WOW! these carts can be had for under $250 so do yourself a favor, stop here and spend the rest on vinyl,then as your sytem matures as your taste does, then consider other more substantial cartridges or MAYBE not
til then

just my two pennies
Braab8: Just to be clear on this, are you saying that mounting your 103 in an Ebony or Panzerholz body did NOT improve it? If that's the case, which body did you try and who did you buy it from?

No HDM that was just a feeble attempt at humor, :-))I currently own the plain jane 103 with Uwe's panzerholz body on an OL silver,twl's HIFI modin a word this setup is PHENOMENAL!! <---did I just say that outloud?) well worth the trouble of obtaining and going thru the painstaking (read SWEATING) process of nuding it then getting it into it's new body
now HDM got any ideas as to what SUT I can use?
The Zu Denon 103 (reviewed rather ah... favorably by Art Dudley recently) in an amazing upgrade over the denon 103. The Xacto knife nuding demo made me cough up the extra 50 bucks and I'm glad it did.