Best cheapo Cartridge


In a bind, I have 2 cartridges that have seen better days.   My Ortofon Jubilee has at least 1500 hours on it and I’m starting to hear a drop in performance.  My Transfiguration Proteus only has 450 hours but is on the fritz and they are OOB.

I have too many irons in the fire to spend alot and need one to hold me over for a while.  Thinking about a MM, like Ortofon or Grado.  Would be mating with a Basis Vector 4 tonearm, Basis 2200 sig, and either Allnic H3000 or ARC PH 5.  Speakers are Thiels.  

Analog heads please give me some advice.   I have no experience with MM or MI or than many cartridges in my system  for that matter.  


pops
You can't go wrong with either an Audio Technica VM540ML (brighter) or Nagaoka MP110 or 150 for bang for the buck.
If you want something very special with huge potential over your expensive MC then look for vintage MM cartridges with the best cantilevers and styli. This is the best performance for reasonable price, none of the modern MM can compete with Audio-Technica AT-ML170 (Gold-Plated Boron Cantilever and MicroLine stylus), it’s cheap compared to overpriced modern MC, but not cheap compared to some modern MM (most of them are nothing special btw). On the lower side the next model to the mighly AT-ML170 is the AT-ML150 (Beryllium Cantilever with MicroLine tip). Both cartridges will destroy all that Nagaoka, Sumiko, Grado and bla-bla-bla.

Vintage AT-ML series (models 150,170,180) from the 80’s are killer MM. Industry professionals have been using them for disc mastering, read this article.

Look for the cartridges with Boron or Beryllium cantilevers and the nude diamonds with the longest life-span (such as MicroLine, MicroRidge, LineContact, Shibata). Ignore the cartridges with aluminum cantilevers and elliptical diamonds they will never get you there.

MM technology is not a trend of today, it was a king tech back in the 70s/80s.
Ignore all the cheap MM of today, it's just a waste of time 
@chakster is right. Except, the old classics are hard to find and relatively expensive considering you are looking for "cheapo cartridges." The 540 has a microline stylus.
The Audio Technica AT95, Ortofon 2M Red and the Nagaoka MP110 are all solid choices on the cheap...
The At-150 is a giant killer MM! 
Second vote for the Audio-Technica VM540ML. I have 2 of them and couldn’t be happier. Detailed midrange is one of its greatest attributes. But it’s a category killer in pretty much every respect. The micro-line-contact stylus is the crown jewel. 
Nagaoka MP110. Can't do better for $100
Thanks guys for the reponses, I will probably give both At VM540 and Najaoka a try.  @noromance and @chakster I am intrigued by vintage MM and will start investigating.  


Cheap modern MM cartridges is like listening to music with a blanket on each speakers. A waste of time in high-end system. Much better to pay more for a decent vintage MM if you really want to find out what this technology is all about.

What is "cheapo" in high-end world today ?

A $100-200 cartridge is like a free gift, some good MC cost $2k, some of them cost $5k and many of them cost $15k today.

I believe anything under $1k is a cheap cartridge for audiophiles.

Even a brand new japanese Coreless Straight-flux MI cartridge (invented by former Grace engineer few years ago) starts from $14k, they made two models :)

For about $400-900 you can find spectacular MM from the golden age. Audio-Technica is only one of them, there are Grace F9, Victor X1IIe, Stanton 881s, Pickering XSV3000 .... and these brand made higher models too, more expensive, but simply amazing.   

Good luck in your search and if you need help send me a message. 
Price is not an indicator of performance above $500 for MM cartridges and above $1000 for MC. Law of Diminishing Returns applies here. 
I 2nd the Nagaoka suggestions.  Just picked up an MP-200 a few weeks ago, and it's fantastic.

Super fine elliptical diamond stylus, and boron cantilever.  Quiet, smooth, and nice warm details.  Listening to it is a real joy.
The Audio Technica has great depth and etched high frequencies. But there's some grain or slight harshness in the rendition.

So I compared my AT VM540SH with my Decca Super Gold/Paratrace and Decca Garrott Export and both Decca's really are in another league. 

Dark, quiet backgrounds, voices that sound real, speakers disappeared, but most absolutely the difference is that the Decca makes music with emotion. No contest, notwithstanding the priced difference.
Dear @pops  : You don't need to look for vintage cartridges when you can own today really good cartridge performers coming from many solid and well regarded manufacturers as: Ortofon, Nagaoka, Grado, SoundSmith, Audio Note, Audio Technica, Goldring, Clearaudio and others. With the advantage that you have a manufacturer warranty for your unit and for the replacement stylus when you need it.
Only you need is to go to those manufacturers sites, here Audio Technica:

https://www.audio-technica.com/cgi-bin/product_search/cartridges/cartridges.pl?lang=eng  

Btw, @noromance  it's obvious that a 249.00 cartridge can't compete with that Decca but for its low price is better performer that what we can think. Audio Technica has all alternatives for any audiophile but other manufacturers have good options too. Audio Note MM are excellent.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
R.
@rauliruegas It's the 540SH - $400.
The Sumiko Pearl works for me (Linn Basik/Akito)...I like these enough that I've replaced the stylus once for 50 bucks or something, but for whatever they sell for now ($120 maybe?) as I assume they're discontinuing these things, they're a bargain as they're a great sounding MM cartridge that seems to suffer from the fact that it's so inexpensive.
"I believe anything under $1k is a cheap cartridge for audiophiles."

Couldn’t really disagree much more, unless "audiophiles" is used as a synonym for "people with delusions of grandeur and/or obsessive/compulsive disorder"

I’ve heard/auditioned a good number of Koetsu, Kisekis, Miyajimas and whatnot up through the years and frankly my ART9 gives them all a run for the money. Many of the former sacrifice precision and neutrality for obvious emphasis on midrange, "body" or whatever else the maker(s) subjectively consider desireable. If that’s what you’re after then that’s well and good, but to say it makes them "better" is simply folly of the highest order.

My current favourite by a very, very tiny degree is the Allnic Puritas, since it reproduces the timbre of stringed instruments and female voices better and more accurately than anything I’ve heard up until now. It’s a $5000 cartridge, but quite frankly I’d say it’s worth maybe a couple of hundred more than the ART9 purely in terms of its sonic qualities.

As far as I’m concerned an AT150MLX or Sa (no experience with the VM series yet) properly set up will provide sound quality equalling most MCs up to several times its price and take you most of the way to audiophile heaven. Provided, of course, that audiophile is used to mean what it actually means.

All in my opinion, with my (very good) hearing and in my system (or rather systems through the years).
Dear @agrippa @pops  : Yes, Audio Technica is synonimous of quality. Here we can read something about the VM new series owners opinions:

https://www.audio-technica.com/cms/cartridges/6637a2f0787470c3/index.html#showreviews

and here we can read what M.Fremer found out in a comparison cartridges review where a very humble AT95E was  one of the contenders and other AT was the AT95SA ( I still own this " baby ". ) with different stylus. It's extremely good performer even at that so cheap/low price:

https://www.analogplanet.com/content/nine-cartridges-compared-reviewed-and-voting-results

R.
I’ve heard/auditioned a good number of Koetsu, Kisekis, Miyajimas and whatnot up through the years and frankly my ART9 gives them all a run for the money.

Yes, it’s exactly $1k cartridge, considered cheap MC compared to ART1000 for example (or to those $15k new ortofon:) . AT is great with their exchange policy, much better than any manufacturers, considering the price for ART9, the factory exchange (when the stylus is worn) is great option (but only from official dealers).

AT150MLX is not even near the old AT-ML170 or AT-ML180 series.

The statement that all new cartridges are good is false and there is absolutely no reason to stick to the new production when old available in NOS or Mint. Curious people and true audiophiles are normally comparing different equipment. Everybody knows all new models , new cartridges, the list of recommended products is the same, always. But some vintage models are unknown to most of the audiophiles, i think it’s worth to mention some great discoveries on this forum. Those gems are vanishing slowly, why the shops are full of new cartridges and will be sull of them for decades in the future. 


I'm not sure what "a lot" is as far as your budget, but the Hana cartridges are really nice for the money.  I have the SL ($750). 

For really inexpensive I recently bought a used Shure V15 IV with a broken stylus for $135 and put a new JICO SAS stylus ($199) on it.  Sounds great! 

The Denon DL-301 MKII is also nice and can be found for around $300- $400. 

I have a Nagaoka MP-500 and admit that I've only tried it on one of my cheap tables (Music Hall 2.2) and got a good deal on it when Kazu was still selling them.  It's good, but for the money, these other options are as good or better to my ears. 

Please note, I'm not familiar with your gear so don't know how any of these would be from a compliance standpoint.
I bought a Nagoaka mp150 as a cheap backup cart and was shocked how well it performed.

So much so that it has not left my deck since I installed to see what it sounded like!
The pair of $1500 and $2900 MC carts are now the backups.

Great deals to be had on Nagoaka on eBay for sure.
Highly recommended!
I should probably try the Nagaoka on a better table.  I hate changing carts on that Music Hall table though, the leads are about as thick as a human hair and easy to break.
Can't go terribly wrong with an AudioTechnica OC9/II.  They have been re-released and are generally available again.  The OC9/II  does a LOT of things the very expensive cartridges do but they are not quite as refined.  
- Nagaoka MP-110
- Grado Prestige 2 series ~ Black2, Green2, or Blue2
- Goldring E3
"The statement that all new cartridges are good is false"

Has anyone actually made such a statement though?

"AT150MLX is not even near the old AT-ML170 or AT-ML180 series"

For that to be true the AT-ML170/180 would basically have to be the best cartridges ever made, by some margin, as to my ears the 150MLX/Sa are both reasonably close to being state of the art.  Maybe they are just that, as I've never heard either, but I kinda doubt it.  Or at least I doubt that it is anything even vaguely approaching an objective fact.

As far as reasonable & good cartridges go, the VM540 and the lower-end Nagaokas are no doubt among the better bets available today.
I have an old AT 440 ML body with a NOS AT 125 SLC stylus on it. It works well on my vintage Technics deck. I was using an Ortofon 2M Red, but it sounded somewhat flat. The Ortofon, however, sounded better on the Project deck I used to own. I think there has to synergy between tone arm and cartridge. I'm guessing that the AT was developed around the time my Technics was new and may have been the reference brand the Technics was developed around. I think low end Ortofons were used by Project as their reference cartridge as the OM5e was the supplied cartridge and 2M Reds are pretty standard on their more recent budget decks. When my 125 SLC wears out, I may try one of the new AT Microline or Shibata styli that fit on the old body designs. I think AT's are a safe bet for a sub 1K cartridge.
Uberwaltz: the MP200 BORON stylus fits the MP 150 for a great and easy upgrade
Fstein.
Thank you for the tip
As my cart is nearly new, well less than 100 hours I hope it will be a LONG time before I need a new stylus.
However I will look into it, maybe having an upgraded stylus might also make sense.
Thank you
The MP200 and MP150 bodies are not the same though, the 200 being an upgraded design. A 200 stylus will no doubt be an upgrade, but the result won’t be an actual MP200.

Also, given the above it makes more sense to just upgrade to an MP200, as the stylus isn’t that much cheaper.

If I remember correctly (seldom a given), the 110 and 150 share a body, as do the 200 and 300, while the body of the 500 is further improved.
Why not retip the Jubilee?  I believe Soundsmith can do it for around $500.  It's also possible that the Jubilee, as is, with 1,500 hours on it may still sound better than some of the models you're considering.
For that to be true the AT-ML170/180 would basically have to be the best cartridges ever made, by some margin, as to my ears the 150MLX/Sa are both reasonably close to being state of the art. Maybe they are just that, as I've never heard either, but I kinda doubt it. Or at least I doubt that it is anything even vaguely approaching an objective fact.

@agrippa They are the best, unfortunately all audiogon users who actually have them and compared them are not active anylonger here and instead we have just the basic recommendations for usual suspects. 

The difference between MLX series and vintage AT-ML series is obvious, the cantilever is completely different, the moving mass is different, the frequency response is different ... and so on. They are from the same manufacturer, but different legue.  

Highly recommended if you have not tried yet, even AT-ML150 with Beryllium cantilever is a killer MM (cheaper than AT-ML170). 

The AT made a lot of cartridges, my first one was ART-2000 MC, it was $600 cartridge (limited edition) and i was blown away. But the AT-ML series is much better. I am a big fan of AT, it depends how far we would like to go in upgrade. In case with MM it's better to go backward to the 80's.  

@agrippa

If I remember correctly (seldom a given), the 110 and 150 share a body, as do the 200 and 300, while the body of the 500 is further improved.


Nagaoka trademark called Jeweltone in Japan
just like JVC called Victor in Japan (different trademark for different region)

a $40 Jeweltone MP-10 is Nagaoka MP-100 but for a lower price, because it’s vintage model.

The Jeweltone MP-50 is nothing but the most expensive Nagaoka PM-500

If you like Nagaone look for Jeweltone and i’m sure you can buy it cheaper.

P.S. Another very cheap cartridge is Fidelity-Research FR-5e (or 5se) MM which can be found for $50 and on the right headshell can be very nice, best bang for the buck. 
Be hard pressed to find a good FR-5E for much less than a $100 nowadays Chakster. And nearly all I have seen for sale of late are in Russia or Japan, hard to find one here in USA.

And it is a very light cart so not going to suit all arms for sure.
Post removed 
I bought an AT150MLX back in 2008. I got a lot of good sound and good wear out of it for around 10 years. Then I got a bent cantilever. At that time, AT was having trouble getting boron for the cantilever, so they switched the cantilever/stylus on the AT150 to a tapered aluminum cantilever with a nude Shibata. Price was really good and I mail ordered it from Wal-Mart of all things. I've been using that combo ever since. I thought I liked the MicroLine stylus, but I *really* like the Shibata.

It stands to reason that the Shibata would be an even better tracker because that stylus shape was designed to track discrete quadraphonic LPs, which have the back channels modulated up to 40Khz. So my Shibata negotiaates every part of an LP flawlessly, especially when it comes to the inner groove area, where it tracks without a hint of fuzz or grunge.
Its really not the cartridge that makes that much difference in the 300 - 400 dollar range but the stylus type.

Here are roughly the stylus types in ascending quality order:
conical
elliptical
hyper elliptical
micro line
shibata
line contact

The break point is around micro line.  Get a moving magnet (cheaper and does not need expensive moving coil phono amps) with a microline stylus: VM50040ML
 
Check out the following:

https://m.media-amazon.com/images/S/aplus-media/vc/d8d67b8f-5ee3-455f-a9cb-a551423af5e9.png

PS: There is an argument as to whether shibata or microline is better.  I think they are very close:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eltkbgtr4O4






@uberwalts

Be hard pressed to find a good FR-5E for much less than a $100 nowadays Chakster. And nearly all I have seen for sale of late are in Russia or Japan, hard to find one here in USA.And it is a very light cart so not going to suit all arms for sure.

I’ve been there, tried it years ago, i think i sold mine for $100-120 to a friend. It was better than the new Grado in the same price range. It’s lighweight, but with 13g shell it’s fine. To my ears FR-5e was better that FR-6se. You’re right that Japanese cartridges are cheaper in Japan. But in the USA you have some nice Stanton / Pickering at garage sale i hope :) The 881s is great, but on ebay it’s more expensive.

@cakyol

Its really not the cartridge that makes that much difference in the 300 - 400 dollar range but the stylus type.

Not only stylus, but a cantilever type and effective mass also responsible for frequency response. It is possible to find vintage MM with Beryllium Pipe cantilever for example. But it’s impossible to find/buy any new cartridges with beryllium cantilever at any price (the closest is Boron).

@johnnyb53 

It stands to reason that the Shibata would be an even better tracker because that stylus shape was designed to track discrete quadraphonic LPs, which have the back channels modulated up to 40Khz. So my Shibata negotiaates every part of an LP flawlessly, especially when it comes to the inner groove area, where it tracks without a hint of fuzz or grunge.


Yep. Shibata is great, originally invented by JVC Victor, the X-1II was the best.


Thanks for all the feedback, just what I need.

@onhwy61 retipping is certainly an option.  In addition to SS, Ortofon offers a rebuild service on the Jubilee for a minimum of around $1200.  Not cheap.  

Also considering searching someone to possible repair my Proteus after only 450 hours.  That one burns a bit since for me it was ultra expensive.  Bought that one before I retired!
Dear @pops : I posted about MM cartridges because you ask for but in reality you own two LOMC cartridges that can't be outperformed by MM ones.

I owned the Jubilee and owned the the Transfiguration Temper and Phoenix S and listened the Proteus that is excellent performer.

To fix both great cartridges is the best alternative if you want that high quality level performance.

Other than SS exist other rettipers as Van den Hul or Northwest Analogue (  https://www.northwestanalogue.com/cartridge-repairs.html )
or Expert Stylus and some others out there. So you have option about.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
R.
Thanks Raul, that is what I believe as well.  I was hoping a less expensive alternative to the high priced MC's might be an option.


Raul, why/how do you feel that MM cartridges categorically cannot equal or outperform MC cartridges?
Raul,

A little off-topic...

On a Goldlatch cartridge, do you prefer the boron cantilever or the cactus spine cantilever?  I think the stylus profiles are the same, aren't they?


Dear @bpoletti  The only cartridge with cactus cantilever I listened was the Hyperion and not in my system.. It sounds very good but I have not really to much experience with and less with  cactus cantilever items.

R.

I have an old moving coil Denon 103, it’s a little dark for an MC, but the midrange is killer.

My other favorite is the Nagaoka MP-11 Boron, which to me sounds almost exactly like the Denon.  The MP-11 is MM.   I’m not sure they make it any longer however.

Everything Audio Technica makes sounds wonderful.  

N.
@normansizemore 

Nagaoka MP-11 does not have a Boron cantilever, it's the cheapest Nagaoka in MP series, the cantilever is aluminum, read more about this model: https://www.tnt-audio.com/sorgenti/nagaoka_mp11_e.html

Vintage MP-50 has Boron cantilever, it was thr top model back then. 
Chakster

Google “Nakaogka MP-11 Boron”.
This was a step up from the standard MP-11.  The cartridge body is Black and says BORON in gold letters on the front and sides. 

The stylus also says MP-11 Boron,
so I am pretty certain that Nagaoka made one. 

Email me [email protected]  and I will send you photos. 

Norman
Norman, thanks. Now i see this version, interesting, never seen before, wow.  Another reason why vintage is better, new versions with 3 digits number does not have Boron version for lower models. 
Chakster,

Someone mentioned that the 150 or 200 series has the Boron cantilever. This will fit any MP cartridge except the 500. 

Personally, I prefer the conical stylus from the MP-10 for my vintage jazz Micro-groove LPs. 

I dont think there is much if any difference between the cartridge bodies. Just the stylus type and cut along with variations to the cantilever.  This cartridge is super smooth, especially the highs. 
Its not expected at this price point which is why it was so popular years ago. 

Best
Norman
Current production of the Nagaoka MP-200,300, & 500 all have boron cantilevers.