Best cartridge under $100 - vintage Akai TT

I recently acquired a vintage Akai AP-Q80 direct drive TT, fully auto, with a "S" tonearm, standard mount. (My Beogram 4002 crapped out.) It has an ADC Ser-III cart and it just doesn't sound very good. Stylus cantilever looks corroded.
I'm running it into a Proton 1100 pre-amp with nice sounding phono stage for MM or MC.
Cartridges I'm considering:
• Sumiko Pearl
• AT-440MLa
• Ortofon OM-5E, OM-10, OM-20, Red
• Denon DL110 (a little outside my budget)
• Grado - Pick a color

I'll be playing a mix of classical chamber and symphony (CBS Masterworks, digitally remastered), classical guitar. old rock, blues, Dizzy and Miles. (Some are noisy LPs.)

My budget is really at $100, but if I can get something that will do the job at $60... after years as a carpenter, my hearing is not as refined as it used to be. I'm a bit sensitive to upper register harshness.

Any help??
Thanks in advance.
Based on my experience with an Ortofon OM-10 and Denon DL-160 (and I also have a Shure M97xE and previous experience with Grado), plus reviews I've read, I'd go for the Ortofon 2M Red or the DL-110. I think you'll like their treble better than what I've read about the 440MLa, and either will do very well on the kinds of music you like most. These will do better than anything I could imagine at $60.

I also recommend you get some appropriate direct drive bearing oil and refresh the lubrication in the motor bearing. You can get a little tube of Technics bearing oil from for $4.95.
Thanks for the input on the motor bearings. I had gotten the impression that direct drive is more accurate than belt drive, but recently I've been hearing that the DD can have motor rumble transmitted through the system.

I've also gotten the impression, as you suggest, that the 440MLa can be heard as harsh in the upper register. -- Thanks Jonnyb53

I've read good things about the Sumiko Pearl, if anyone has experience with that cart, I'd like to hear it.

LP Gear suggested the "LP Gear Deft 2", is this essentially the Sumiko Pearl packaged for LP Gear?

TIA - Craig C.
If I remember correctly, this is a higher mass arm. The Grado does better with higher mass than the Ortofon. I've sold all of them at one time. Ortofon is very good sound, just did not handle heavier arms well.
Shure 97
Thanks for the responses, folks.
I'd love to hear from anyone familiar with the Sumiko Pearl.
Sumiko Pearl vs Denon DL-110

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
I have used the ShureM97xe on a Technics DD table and was very impressed. The Sumiko Pearl, not so much. But, if you can handle the extra money the Denon will not dissappoint you, much more coherent sound than the Pearl on my table. Take Johnny53's advice, he has never steered me wrong. Kevin at KAB USA would be the person to speak to about DD vs. belt drive and the issue of motor rumble. Care does need to be taken in isolating the lp from the deck, nothing that a good mat can't handle though.
Thanks Zenblaster - I appreciate the input.
02-24-09: Craig_c
Thanks for the input on the motor bearings. I had gotten the impression that direct drive is more accurate than belt drive, but recently I've been hearing that the DD can have motor rumble transmitted through the system.
That claim--that DD tables are inherently noisy because the platter is an extension of the motor spindle--has taken on the status of dogma among belt drive purists. I've seen it repeated in Stereophile and proffered by many audio sales people, but have never seen anything to substantiate the claim. In fact, the measurable signal-to-noise specs on the Technics and Denon direct drive turntables rival or exceed the noise specs on all but the most expensive (north of $20K) belt drive turntables.

Back in the '70s and early '80s there were probably some shoddy low cost DD tables that had compressed dynamics and a high noise floor, but even then I doubt that it was the motor. Most of the DD motors were made by the inventor, Matsushita, parent company of Panasonic and Technics, so their noise specs and precision would have been similar. In a cheaper implementation, however, that motor might have been mounted to an inferior plinth, accompanied by an inferior arm.

Probably what got this dogma rolling is that the Linn and AR turntables (and later, the better BDs that followed from SOTA, Michell, etc.) were suspended designs. Belt drive designs lend themselves to suspended designs easily; DDs do not. But it is easy to create your own vibration isolation platform for a DD that absorbs the turntable's extraneous vibrations and isolates the plinth from in-room noise and vibrations.
Thanks for the really good info. I know my Akai TT is not high tech. I'll get some lube for the direct drive.
I'm afraid I don't know what constitutes a "higher mass" tone arm as Celtic66 describes. I wish I was in the medium performance technology, like a $400 Pro-Ject turntable, but I'm a photographer looking to spend $2000 on a large format printer. Audio has to take a back page. I need the best bang for the buck. I hope my TT will perform adequately. I will see if I can spring for the DL-110. I see a seller that offers the cartridge for $101.00. It is a stretch in my budget, but may be worth the investment.

Too bad my Beogram 4002 with the MMC 4000 crapped out.

When the time comes, for $400, you're still best off getting a new Technics SL1200 or 1210. You can extract a lot of performance from those and there's an aftermarket guy ( that makes an upgrade path for them.

For now, I strongly recommend the 2M Red or DL-110. Don't worry too much about tonearm mass; yours is probably "medium," which will work well with any of the cartridges we've been talking about here.

I get better performance out of my home-tweaked SL1210M5G with KAB tonearm fluid damper than any Beogram ever imagined.
Johnnyb53 - Hey thanks. I really appreciate you good info. The KAB connection is especially helpful. Their website, though so 1993, is full of really great material that is helping me get a better handle on what is happening in the vinyl world.