Also look for A&R (Arcam) P77, if you can find an old Ortofon M20FL Super under $200 go for it.
For a bit more Stanton 881S
Gentlemen/ladies, thank you for your input. Appreciate it. I have been completely neglecting my analog rig - also includes an Akai GX-4000D reel to reel, and mostly trying to make my (separate) streaming/CD set up sound good. I spent this last weekend just listening to my LP collection - roughly 1200 LPs, last of which I bought back in 1981 when I left college, and some tapes (@7.5 ips), and I was truly smittened. Even with this average quality turntable/deck I felt the music just sounded good. I don't want to turn this into a rabbit hole but just want to make it better while considering how often I actually sit down and use the system. Just as an aside, I'm discovering the limitations of the Tidal library along the way. Last night I listened to a couple of David Gilmore LPs and neither are available on Tidal.
Sorry about the long post.
Ignore the specs, it’s very bad idea to compare cartridges!
Look for cantilever material, stylus tip, moving mass (and compliance for your tonearm).
To spend less and to get much better quality look for vintage MM cartridges recommended by experienced users. Modern MM carts are crap compared to vintage MM carts (with just a few exceptions).
You can maximize performance while staying within your budget if you choose the Shelter 201 MM cartridge and buy through a Japan-based storefront on eBay.
When the 201 was introduced via authorized dealer to the US, it was priced just a little over $200. Over time, rave reviews seemed to result in the MSRP creeping upward. Now it's $310 from a US authorized dealer. However, there are several Japan storefronts on eBay that offer the Shelter 201 for under $180 with free shipping.
I bought mine 13 mos. ago from this vendor. It was $166.97 at the time but the slight increase is probably based on dollar-to-yen fluctuations.
The important things are:
o Shipping was free and prompt with no hassles or hidden fees
o It was in Shelter factory packing
o It's well within your budget
o It sounds *fabulous* (after break-in) and excels on a wide variety of material. And by that I mean rock, small group jazz, big band, chamber music, large-scale orchestra, solo cello, Frank Sinatra, female vocals, etc. It is lush with great presentation of solo voices, provides fully-fleshed out tonality, good soundstaging, and ambience without the detail swallowing up the essence of the music.
o It's cheap to own. The Shelter 201 replacement stylus is only $100 through authorized US dealers such as NeedleDoctor. By contrast, the Ortofon 2M Blue stylus is $204.
"Modern MM carts are crap compared to vintage MM carts (with just a few exceptions)." Can´t agree more.
On of the best if not the best exception is Audio-Technica AT150ANV, limited edition premium VM cartridge:
It´s no budget of course but a top quality product from a respected classic manufacturer. Unfortunately it´s very expensive nowadays, it was half the price a few years back.
Or you can try to find vintage gems such as ACUTEX M320 STR III (short nose, the best of Acutex), AT 20SS, SHURE Ultra 400. Good luck !
@inna not all vintage cartridges are great at all, but those cartridges tested my many of us are definitely great and superior to most of the modern MM cartridges and to most of the overpriced modern MC cartridges as well. The demand for the MM cartridges are not so big today, especially among audiophiles. The technologies and materials are way different, no more serious competition between the big companies for the best MM design like it was before. And finally we’re living in the digital era. I think the market for MM/MC cartridges is much smaller today compared to the 70s. Have you noticed the prices for the best MC cartridges? Then you can check the prices for the best vintage MM cartridges on secondhand market, some of them are similar in price to entry level hi-fi MM cartridges. It’s been said that we lost the craftsmanship in some way, an old masters are no longer available. It make sense to seach for vintage MM cartridges, because the price could be lower, but the quality most likely will be much higher. For $500-700 everyone could find outstanding vintage MM cartridge today (and 10 years ago they were much cheaper). An era for high compliance cartridges has ended, so i doubt modern MM cartridge can be as good as the vintage ones. Many manufacturers disappeared from the market in the 80s/90s. When people are talking about modern MM carts they are often mention same 3 models as robots in every post, but there are 30 more amazing vintage cartridges still available used, some of them are rare, but worth to try. That’s my arguments.
The name of this topic is "budget MM cartridge...", considering "best buy for less money" anyone should look for top vintage cartridges as the best option to get better performance level for lower price.
P.S. I just received Ortofon MC2000 in mint condition, i don’t think i can buy any better modern MC wihout paying 10 times more (i have owned some in the past). So this is also good argument to buy vintage MC cartridges.
Chakster is absolutely right, we have been living in the digital era already nearly thirty years and a very few cartridge manufacturers of today have no idea what an MM or MC cart should or could be soundwise, I doubt that they have even listened to a truly great cartridge from the Golden Age of High Fidelity, late 70´s - mid 80´s. I wonder have they even born then. Anyway, the enthusiasm and knowledge, all the passion was then.
And as for giant killers, a humble Entré-1 LOMC outperforms many carts both MM and MC, also vintage. Its sound is very powerful accurate and above all, very balanced without usual high register emphasis common with many MC´s. And not a hint of sibilance. It´s that good. If I remember correctly Raul likes it as well. Sorry for this MC off-topic, I just couldn´t resist mention good old Entré. I personally prefer MM´s for many reasons but I mention a great MC when I have listened to one.
Audio Technica AT7V, direct from Japan to LpGear (so it's an authorized US dealer):
o Nude, square shank elliptical (.0002 x .007 inch)
o Uses the same cast aluminum body as the AT150 series (which is a great improvement sonically over the plastic-bodied units)
o PCOCC coils and terminal pins
o Only $158.
And read the user reviews.
"New" GLANZ MFG-310LX
I had one thirty years ago and I highly recommend because it´s surely better than "budget".
Another great vintage MF cartridge, actually the second best from ASTATIC for low price ;)
And yes I have one and I highly recommend.