Best Cartridges for the Money You've Experienced

I'd like to ask those of you who have tried many a cartridge over the years to nominate ones that you feel are among the very best and are available today, new or used, at a substantially lower price than most of today's reference-level cartridges. Feel free to mention great cartridges from years past that still show up now and then on Audiogon.

I currently have a Koetsu Rosewood Signature mounted on an SME-5 arm. I'd like to go up from there in sound quality without having to rob a bank.
Hi,look up member"Rauliruegas" posts.He is a wealth of information on this subject.You should find many answers there on cartridges.Take care,KP
the audio technica 150mlx mm is one that performs incredibly, especially for the price.
Having gone through many a cartridge(Clearaudio Ref,Koetsu,Mysbi,Levinson,Symphonic,Dynavector and Benz),I find the baby Allaerts to have been the most satisfying.Not that the others weren't good,but the combination of virtues is extremely well balanced IMHO.
Thanks for the tip on "Raulirugas'" posts. I've never encountered anyone who's tried so many cartridges! This is just the kind of information I'm after. This line of discussion is especially good:
Shure V15 Type IV - best deal in the world...

Dear Bolson: Of course you can grow-up from your Koetsu for " penauts ", please take a look:

Regards and enjoy the music.
I'll take my DL-103 (note: NOT an 'R') any day over just about anything under $1K. The usual disclaimers apply.

"I currently have a Koetsu Rosewood Signature mounted on an SME-5 arm. I'd like to go up from there in sound quality without having to rob a bank."

From the level of an Koetsu Rosewood Signature I think it's hard to find anything substantial better...but you have a lot of choices which sound different....people who tend to buy 5000$+ carts, in the first place to have the most expensive toy, might say something different.

I have listened to different Koetsus, Kiseki, SPU's, Ikeda, Audio Note, Shelter, Benz, EMT, Transfiguration...

Imho from a certain level of performance it's more a question of taste and not of absolute quality...not to forget system and component matching.

If you want something good from the past...I would recommend to watch out for Kiseki's and I can also reccomend there step up Transformers. I use a Blue Goldspot and the matching MCT-2 step up.
Raul, I was wondering if you could recommend a cart alignment device. I have tried a couple, but the only one that work well for me is the Graham that allow me to align with the arwand off the table.

What device do you use? Thank you in advance.

Bolson, I am un unashamed Denon DL103 fan. I use mine in wooden bodies obtained from a gent in Belgium name Uwe. For the $400 odd all in costs, they are simply amazing.

The plastic body of std DL103 and DL103R really dtract from their performance.

All cartridges have their personalities..I've heard lots of them. The top Benz's are more like Koetsu's because of that lucious an added bonus, they track well, have good lows and highs, and great dynmics. The Koetus and the Benz's are very musical as opposed to analytical, cerebral, etc., etc.
I concur with Paul above, just installed my ebony head shell on my 103r this evening, completely changed the 103r, gone are all the bad points that were irritating. In retrospect, the 103r is a terrible sounding cartridge in stock form.

This is a tremendous cartridge when you get a wood shell around it, replacing the factory plastic one.
Dear Pauly: Over the years I used several ones like: Dennesen, DB, Mobile Fidelity, ADC, SAEC, etc, etc.

Today that I'm using only removable headshell tonearms I'm using the one from Dynavector, Technics and Pionner, all these for the overhang and obviously are out of tonearm with the cartridge/headshell on " hand ": easy.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Shure V-15 Type III and Type V

both of these cartriges were purchased 30 years ago and they sounded great. I haven't heard one in over 20 years.
Having owned van den Hul, Benz, Koetsu, Shelter and Grado, I have concluded that Lyra makes the best-for-the-money catridges. I now own both a Helikon and an Argo i and they track like not others with those line contact styli.
Curious as to why Raul doesn't seem to have tried any Grados?
Dear Kitch29: Well as a fact I did and that Grado ( The Tribute that is the one I own. ) is one of the stellar graded MM type cartridges.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul, thanks for the reply. I missed that mention. Not familiar with the Tribute.

I ask because the last ten years I've only used MCs: Talisman Virtuoso, DV 10x5, 47 McBee and now Benz Ace Low. The McBee was killer but a review sample now gone. Have only distant memories of MMs.

Thinking about a Grado Reference or Sonata because of the luscious mids (maybe too luscious?) of the Sonata and Platinum I heard recently. I'm also thinking higher compliance because of the SME III currently mounted. The top end of both seemed somewhat rolled off, tho', especially the Platinum so I'm not sure. I may soon go for the $800 low output Grado, never remember if it's Statement or Reference. Your recommendations would save me a ton of money.

You're comment on 100k loading is interesting and it's easy enough to try. My Nova Phenomena has a 100k setting and my Cornet2 is a simple 2 resistor switch.

What about the suspensions of these older cartridges you advocate? Don't they get brittle?
Dear kitch: +++++ " What about the suspensions of these older cartridges you advocate? " +++++

Till today, either MC/MM, I never have any single trouble that I can say " it is due to the cartridge suspension ", so no one has to worry about.

Yesterday I receive a MC Technics 305 build in 1980 and performs beautiful!!!!

Regards and enjoy the music.
I'll give you Agoners a little heads up exclusive. I've had a cartridge in for review that is unique in the world. It's loved by Frank Schroeder and another major turntable maker who is a Very Prestigious Individual. It's The Voice by Soundsmith, Tracks at 1 gram and is a high output. What EVER cart you now have, you need to hear this if you have any kind of high end table. I'm using it on my TW Acustic Raven One and Graham Phantom. Just a heads up....
Dear Jimaxp: Well not so unique, that cartridge ( that is a great one ) is a MM type design ( moving iron ) and its design comes from the very similar B&O cartridges and in specific the MMC 1.

For a long time Sounsmith was the retip and refurbish " oficial " dealer of B&O very fine cartridges. They build similar B&O cartridges but with different cantilever material build.

The Voice is the top of the line ( and very special hand selected ) on the Soundsmith B&O type cartridges I never hear it but maybe I decide to buy one: Peter is a " fanatic " on it and love the music and the way " to make music " through cartridges.

Please if you can share with us your findings about.

I own some top original B&O cartridges and I already heard the Soundsmith ones ( two of them ) and all are really good. Take a look:

Regards and enjoy the music.

Thanks much to everyone who's responded, and especially to Raul for the gold mine of information. Now to buy a few cartridges!
General Electric variable reluctance ($10 NEW price 1957, $25 USED price 2008, stylus still avaiable at Radio Shack for $10.)
If you set up your turntable properly, there is no "up" only a trading of differences at your stage. Go spend your money if you must - mail me a check while you're at it
I think there is "up" but it's a matter of taste.
I suppose my check is in the mail...
..just for your information....I had a Grado Sonata low output. I thought it was wonderful until I replaced it with a Benz Ebony. contest. The Grado was grainy, brown and colored, limited bandwith, etc. The change was a jaw dropper.
02-18-08: Stringreen
..just for your information....I had a Grado Sonata low output. I thought it was wonderful until I replaced it with a Benz Ebony. contest. The Grado was grainy, brown and colored, limited bandwith, etc. The change was a jaw dropper.
At seven times the price, let's hope so.
I'm no expert on cartridges but I really like the Ortofon X5 on my Pro-ject RM5 table.
Zyx 100 UNIverse
Stanton 681EEE. Really, installed on a Stax UA7 arm on a Thorens 125, it was great, although considered expensive back then!

Bob P.
I would have to agree with TPSONIC, I've had many carts. Koetsu rosewood, rosewood sig, Ureshi, RSP, Onyx plat. helicon, accuphase ac1,and several Clearaudio's,but just having acquired an Allaerts mc1 eco I am TOTALLY blown away. This cart. is the most musical, fullest, most spacious, least hi fi sounding device I have ever heard!!! The sound stage is canyon like, musicians appear in the room with you in three dimensions, detail is outstanding and backing vocals and chorus singers are heard as individual images not homogenized masses of sound. If this is the bottom of the line model, I can't imagine what the higher models sound like!!!!!
Your original question seems to imply an interest in the issue of "value". I have a Sumiko Pearwood Celebration on my SME V arm. It cost only $1500 and is available for $2K today in an updated form. It competes well with more expensive cartridges on that arm and is considered one of the better "values" out there. It may or may not sound better than your Rosewood, BUT Sumiko is currently developing a $3K+ cartridge which should sound much better than the Celebration and it will be voiced on the SME V.

As you know, the cartridge/arm combination is critical, and my decision to buy it was based in strong part to the Celebration being developed on that particular arm. The new Sumiko Anniversary/SME V may be a great "value" combination if it can compete with the $5K and up cartridges out there, but you can't yet buy it. And it won't "break the bank" as you say.

Raul has also commented favorably on the value of the Celebration and on the combination of it on the SME V.
I had both the Shelter 501 and the fantastic 901. Both of these can deliver analog magic for a song. My ears and other fellow audiophiles tell me that if you don't listen too critically, you won't hear much of a difference between the Shelters and those megabuck pickups from other manufacturers.

My cartridge experience is thin compared to others. I loved the old shure series of MM cartridges(v15 series) and felt they were a great buy for the money at the time (mid 70 to 90's). I finally upgraded to a Van Den Hul frog, zyx airy3s and finally a universe. I think for the money the airy3s is a great cartridge, but the universe is better cartridge. Now having said that, the shure v15 type 3 was a great cartridge for 10% of the cost of the airy3s.
Koetsu Tiger Eye Platinum Diamond...
It is no surprise at it's retail ( who buys at retail though!). But to actually hear it...It replaced my ZYX Universe which I thought before that I will never part with. The immediate effect is that you turn off your sub - you get all the bass that you will ever need through your speakers. It brings about much bigger sound stage. Then is the lush, musicality and warmth which Koetsu line is so famous about. Nothing equals life performance but this brings you MUCH closer to it. It more than matches the dynamics and lower level details that the Universe is so good at.
If there is something better I'd LOVE to hear it! Anybody?
Lyra Argo

Several months ago I would certainly have said Denon DL103. However, the increase in performance for the money is unbelievable when going to the Argo. The Argo has the punch, life and boldness of the Denon with added refinement and resolution I would not have expected for this price.
The Audio-Technica AT440MLa I just bought. Wow! What a difference over some other cartidges I've used, including some higher end makes that should be ashamed of themselves. This is the real thing!

The magic of this cartridge is it's ability to play the tracks towards the end of the record without the inner groove distortion that I hated so much. I can't explain how happy this makes me! Another great thing is it's very light tracking force, which saves on both record and stylus wear. The only drawback is that it's so light it can skip easily, from vibrations, so now I'm going to have to find a way to isolate my table better. No dancing just yet!

I've heard complaints that this cartridge is too bright and CD like, but that doesn't bother me because some of my LP's needed to be brightened up, and I don't despise CD sound anyway.

Probably the best MM cartridge at any price. If I decide to upgrade, I'll probably stick with this brand.
"Probably the best MM cartridge at any price."

I appreciate your enthusiasm for your experience with the AT but, have you really tried ALL the available MM cartridges that you can even begin to say such a thing. I'm sure Raul would add that the arm/cartridge relationship needs to be considered as paramount.
Correction: "ONE of the best at any price". Realistically though, do you think everyone can afford to try ALL MM cartridges available? I'd rather collect LP's than cartridges, and I've found one that sounds great and does what I want after trying some others that should have performed better than their reputation or price would indicate. I've found the level of inner groove distortion on these unacceptable and no better than the generic cartridge that came with my table!

At $179 the AT-440MLa is not cheap in my opinion, but worth it. After that price level it starts moving into MC territory, which then becomes a different story and is where most of the attention is. I think any gains in performance from a $500 or $3000 MM over this one would be very minimal at best, and at that level most audiophiles wouldn't even consider looking at a MM anyway.

So I think it's fair to say this is one of the best MM's at any price.

As you may know, there are a lot of choices in MMs up to $2500 if you count the Grados, and I think you'll find many who will disagree with your assessment that the differences between them and the AT are "very minimal at best." There certainly seems to be a market for them, the Clearaudios and Grados being quite popular.

No offense,and sorry to be so literal, but the fact that you're willing to comment so definitively without having heard them says more about your enthusiasm than the cartridges.
Dear Chris: IMHO I think and I agree with Piedpiper on the subject.

I know very well your MM AT cartridge ( that is a good one ) but through my experiences with MM and MC cartridges I can tell you that for its price ( IMHO ) is not the the best one and certainly not one of the best " at any price ".

I'm like you a music lover and always trying to be nearest to the recording. Through my audio experiences I find out that to say ( example ) " this cartridge is the best at any price " is a very controversial subject for say the least because that " best cartridge " performance is system dependent and very specific: tonearm dependent.

I own cartridges at a lower price than your AT one that beat it. I know that " today " you are really satisfied with it and this fact is what really counts for you ( and that's fine, nothing wrong with that ) but that fact can't support your " best..... " statement. As any one of us you will grow-up on audio experiences over time and maybe " tomorrow " you can find something better than your AT ( at any price. ), this is what makes our " hobby " so exiting and with a lot of fun!!!!!.

Regards and enjoy the music.