Best cartridge/stylus under $80?

Hi all,

I finally got my TT (Denon DP-31L) installed and put a new AT95 cartridge in it, which has performed pretty good thus far but the more I listen the more I start to wonder: would this music sound better if I had bumped up my budge to $80 instead of the $38 I spent in the AT95.

I know that $80 is still a laughable budget to some for something as important as the cartridge, but I'm still in school (story of my life) and would prefer to not rack up more student loan debt with audio equipment purchases. So whatever cartridge I get now, I want to be a step (or multiple steps) above the AT95, and in 2 years I'll upgrade to something better.

Not sure if my music preferences would be a factor in the cartridge recommendation, but here is is just in case:
classical (piano, cello, violen), classic rock (CCR, Clapton, pink Floyd, Beatles, Dave Mathews early stuff etc.) and anything with good vocals (rich raspy type voices like Adele). One thing I know they all have in common is a richness with the sound, if that makes sense? I hate nothing more music that hearing a song that should have a deep full sounding cello that has no feel/hollow.

Denon DP-31L --->rigged Sony receiver to use Phono inputs and output via "tape out" direct analog---> Cary Audio AES AE-3 tube pre---> McIntosh 2125 amp---> Klipsch RP-5 towers

prospective cartridges: AT100E, Shure M97xE, Ortofon 2M Red (that might be stretching the budget too much though)

thanks in advance!
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This should fit the bill.
Thanks Yogi, you think that's a better option than any of those 3 options Isited above? Should there be a noticable improvement in all these candidates vs the AT95 you think?
Hockey, I have always liked Grado . I can't comment on the others on your list  having never owned one. Give the Grado a try and if you don't like it you can always return it! BTW, I did own a Shure V15 and it sure did put me to sleep!
shure M97ed
Pickering XV15(various styluses may drive the total price)
Grado Black mentioned before. The great fact about Grado Black that you can swap styluses between 78rpm and LPs fairly easily. Also may advise to clean stylus and cartridge contacts after 20...30 hours of usage
Another vote for Grado Black.  As Czarivey notes, you can replace the stylus yourself and use either a Gold stylus OR an 8mz.  Some seem to claim the 8mz is better than the Gold.  They are both $150 at Needle Doctor.  So there's an easy upgrade path as funds allow.  Grado is reported to have a slightly "darker" sound - I can't speak for all their cartridges.  The Black did some "less sparkly" to my ear BUT given my system could sound a little hot/harsh and given I prefer buying old vinyl vs the so-called "audiophile" re-releases (do have a few of those) - Grado is a nice fit.  I am very happy with the sound.  On my SL1210M5G w/KAB damping trough it tracks just fine.  Good luck with your decision.   

Hockey, Depends on what kind of sound you like and what would go with your system. Grado is known for nice vocals. The Black has big bass and mellow high end. This entry level Grado obviously lacks the detail/finesse of its more expensive brothers.

If you like the balance of the 95E I have a great inexpensive upgrade for you. Go to the auction site where you can find an AT92E(CD) for less than $25. Remove the stylus and trim back the plastic so it fits on your 95. I used wire cutters. Then replace the stylus and reset VTF to 1.6g.

Allow a few hours playing time for the stylus to settle in. This should be perfect for your Denon, a more appropriate match for your arm. I use this combo with low mass arms on both my 95 and Virtuoso.


Thanks everyone, very helpful!
Grado or shure ,both excellence.
That's 2 name leading in best bang for bucks cart👍
AT for rock/pop, Grado for vocals , Shure for jazz and classical.
Sumiko for everything .
Tough call,  the Shure is fantastic at $80.... @ $105,  I really like the Nagaoka MP110. 
I believe that these will both be livelier than the Grado, It can be a bit dark in some systems,  but these all 3 are terrific cartridges at that $100 range.
With your equipment and no evaluation,  I'd lean toward the Shure. 
I hope this helps, Tim

timlub, I forgot about the Nagoka MP 110 even though I have one in my closet, i'm coping old age.
The Nagoka is a great all arounder and quality control at Nagoka is MUCH better than Shure or Grado .
After a new AT440 sounded way too bright in my system I stuck a Sumiko Pearl on my Akito a couple of years ago and have never looked back. This is a great sounding full range and (seemingly) accurate cartridge that really pulls the mojo out of the groove…and is generally either ignored (although Pro-Ject sticks ’em on some new tables) or lacks respect due to it not being expensive enough at 125 bucks or so. 
Hi hockey4496.... wolf's post got me thinking, I'm familiar with the cartridges that he spoke of,  for me,  I would normally prefer the AT440 over the Pearl... I started thinking of cartridge loading,  impedance, arm mass etc.... So I looked at your table... the DP31 does have a fairly low mass arm.  As much as I really like the Nagaoka that I mentioned earlier and that Schubert reinforced. The good news is that with your table, all of these will be decent, But I believe the Shure or Ortofon would be the safest bet to match for your arm mass.... The Nagaoka or the Grado won't mind a low mass arm. In a great set up,  I personally like the Nagaoka 1st, Shure 2nd, Grado close 3rd and Ortofon, very close 4th.   I don't think that you'll have a problem any way that you go.
I am a Grado headphones fan but I will agree that Nagaoka should be the best overall choice. Still not easy to guess right, though.
Thought I'd update this thread to mention I ended up getting a Shure m97xe. Very happy with the purchase, considering the price! The bass response is light years better than the AT95, I couldn't even believe it. I had to turn down the integrated subs in my Klipsch RP-5's down from about 35% to 20-25% after switching the cartridges. Very detailed, and zero noise.

thanks for all the valuable advice
Congrats, glad that you're happy with your purchase. Tim 

Thanks for posting your decision, Hockey.  Happens too infrequently that the OP will close the loop by posting about a problem resolution or purchase decision.  As timlub said, "glad that you're happy....".