Budget Cartridge Questions

Funny thing -- a few months back I got back into vinyl, buying a Thorens TD-320, and purchasing a new Ortofon Super OM20. I've been enjoying the experience a lot, but.... I recently got curious and switched from the OM20 back to the Shure Premier that came with the table. I found that that old cartridge produces better details in the mids and highs and seems to produce a bit less sibilance. The OM20, by contrast sounds more veiled. So I checked with Shure and they tell me that the Premier was a low-grade model years ago, the equivalent today of their entry level M92E ($40). Now I'm thinking that maybe I should try a different cartridge new? MY budget is about $100. I've read good (and some bad) about each of these: Shure M97xE and Audio Technica AT440ML. They're both available new online for about $90. Has anyone compared these with the OM20 and/or with each other? What would you recommend? Obviously, I'm a low-budget guy so I'm not expecting the world, but clarity and detail across the spectrum, with some warmth, would be nice. Thanks for any help....
I've used the AT on an old Fisher TT, and was kind of surprised. If you can't stretch your budget, I'd say go with the AT, but I have no experience with the Shure.
I tried the Grado Red and liked that in my Thorens 165. However, with Thorens and Grado as a combination there was a little bit of hum. Both are unshielded (the Cartridge and the Thorens motor).

I got mine for $89 at www.almostmusic.com.

Very open sounding, lots of good things to like about this cart. If you don't mind a little hum -- hardly noticable over the music.

Paul Green
PS. The Denon 103d is supposed to be great for cheap too. Except that it's a MC low output cart and you'd have to have the proper phono stage.
I own a Shure M97xE--it's my spare but I had it on my old AR Turntable/Linn Basik for over a year. I recently replaced a flawed Clearaudio Aurum Beta with a Beta S, but was without either for an interim of 2 or 3 weeks and had the Shure back on my Gyro, so it's still fresh in my mind.

The M97xE is not a bad budget cart. It tracks well even with low VTF and the stabiliser brush is nice particularly for a 'table like mine with no dustcover--even though I clean each vinyl on my VPI 16.5 before each play, it really does sweep alot of dust away! Sonically, the mids aren't as well defined and the high frequencies don't have the "airy detail" that more expensive carts do, though the bass was quite big and relatively punchy for a low-cost cart--again, I wouldn't call it "clean," but it did better than expected. I thought it showed a good soundstage at its pricepoint. Generally speaking, I'd recommend it, particularly if you can find a really good price, though if you can in any way stretch your budget to aorund 200 you could get your hands on the V15--a classic cart! Shure carts, much like their microphones, are workhorses and although they're not mega-buck world-class performers, they simply won't let you down.

I have also spent some time hearing the very inexpensive Grado Black and was very impressed with it--I've never heard a cart at the price do as well as it did, especially in the middle and mid-high frequencies. I found it a bit smoother than the Shure, but, adjusting for differences in the rigs I've heard these on, I'd say one isn't better than the other, just different. Depends on your tastes. The Grado MMs will hum on some 'tables (the Black did hum a little on the VPI HWs I heard it on) but generally, if you're on a tight budget, and a Grado will get along with your rig, and you can do without the brush and what-not that the Shure has, you'd do well to consider one.

I have not had experience with the others you mention, so won't comment there. Hope you find this helpful in some way, and good luck!
Shure never made a bad cartridge. The M97 is an excellent choice, but I also suggest that the V15MR is about as good as it gets short of Kilobuck MC units and their similarly priced preamps.
Thanks for the feedback. No opinions yet on the AT440ML -- how does it stack up against the OM20 or the M97? I sure wish I had the money for the V15MR, I wouldn't be in this situation in the first place! But it's 3 times more expensive than either the M97 or the AT440, so I can't really go there. I think one sold here used recently, but it was for $200, still twice as much as I can afford right now.
There was a recent review and discussion of the AT440ML on Vinyl Asylum, the vinyl section of Audio Asylum. Check it out.
Other cartridges in your price range (mostly quoting MSRP); you may get it cheaper:

Goldring Electra - $100
Goldring Elan - $70
Stanton 680HiFi - $99
Stanton 500E MkII - $49
Sumiko Pearl - $95
Sumiko Black Pearl - $75
Sumiko Oyster - $55
The Denon DL103D is no longer available. I tried for a couple of weeks to source one with no luck and was advised by Denon it is no longer in production. Three of them went very, very quickly at around 200/ea on Audiogon a couple of weeks back.

A DL301 or DL103R, both good cartridges (the 301 is more compliant and the cartridge weighs less; both require step up) is available on the net. I bought one of each from Audio Cubes for just over 200/ea.
I would highly recommend the AT440ML. It tracks extremely well, has surprisingly deep & tight bass, a clear midrange and extended highs. It will be unforgiving on bright recordings, so keep that in mind with your electronics.
Also look at the Denon DL-110 or DL-160. I have never heard them, but I know many in the UK have swapped Rega Exact cartridges ($400) for these inexpensive Denons and prefer the Denon. Once my old Linn K-9 finally dies I will be getting a DL-110. There's even a guy on a british Hifi board that recommends the 110 and will buy it off you if you don't like it.