cartridge cost/quality/performance

I would like to see if there is any common experience among the members of this board regarding cartridges, performance, design and cost. So, to start out, I would state that the best performing cartridge I own, and have used in a number of arms and on different tables is my Lyra Delos. I have used it with SMe 309 and 345 arms, as well as Helius Omega. I have used it on my Sota Cosmos IV, Oracle Delphi V SE and Transrotor Fat Boy. All of these have run through a Simaudio LP5.3 phono preamp with PSX5.3 power supply loaded at 100 ohms.

So, why is it my best performing. Because it seems to hit all the bases as far as frequency response, clarity, detail, soundstage, musicality etc. Specifically, it seems effortless in its presentation, with no specific area that stands out as being better or worse than any other area of musical presentation. For me, that effortlessness adds to the realism of the presentation. The Lyra Delos lists for about $1500. It uses a fine line stylus and is a low output MC putting out about .2mv. The theory behind the Delos is to locate the coils centered in the magnetic field and therefore, the VTF of the cartridge is a much narrower range than most, not because it cant track outside that range, but because Lyra designed the cartridge to work best within a certain area in the magnetic field. I believe that principle helps achieve the effortless and linear nature of the resulting presentation.

I have experience with many mid/hi MC cartridges including Dyna 17d2, Monster Alpha 1 and Genesis 2000, Sumiko Talisman B and S, Benz Micro Glider, Coral EX777 and GAS Sleeping Beauty, Accuphase AC-1, Madrigal Carnegie One and ClearAudio Sigma. Each of those are excellent cartridges that I could live with, but none are quite as competent across the full performance spectrum as the Lyra Delos. I have to assume that a good portion of that performance is attributable to restricting the stylus movement to that certain area of magnetic field.

My experience with MM cartridges in better arms and tables is more limited. I currently use an Ortofon 2m Black in an SME 309 on one table. It is very good also, and very linear, but not quite as effortless as the Lyra. I have also listened to Shure V15mxr, Stanton 681eee and some other cartridges and have found them to lack energy. they play the notes, but don't touch me in the same way. I realize that words like effortless and energy are not very technical, but they are the best way I can describe what I hear and why I prefer one over the other.

Note that all of my MC cartridges would fit into the lower to mid range price zone. Most of my MC cartridges would be considered vintage, whereas the Lyra is a current model. While part of the difference may be due to age, I have no way to allow for that in my listening.

That being said, I recently bought a dynavector Te Kaitura Rua, a cartridge I have long had an interest in, which was recently available for a fraction of its list price. I have only listened to a couple of albums with this cartridge, and am still trying different loadings, but it seems promising. Hasnt yet surpassed the Lyra.

So, for the purposes of this discussion, I'd like to know what cartridges forum members have owned or listened to extensively in their own systems, what cartridges they decided worked best in their system, and why they think that cartridge was better than any others they tried.
After owning, Grado, Benz, Koetsu, Shelter and van den Hul cartridges, Lyra, since 2007 has become, by far, my favorite manufacturer simply because I believe they are making some of the finest styli, magnet structure and coil motors out there. They track wonderfully and have an overall coherence of presentation, are very dynamic and are bandwidth balanced (yes, I am aware of the slight rise in the highs). But for detail retreival and punch that is smooth and engaging, in my mind Lyras would be hard to beat. Having said that I am sure there are other excellent manufacturers out there too, but at this point, if the cartridge doesn't use a line contact stylus, I probably wouldn't be interested.

I have both an Argo i and a Helikon i and am hoping the Delos recently ordered to replace my long-in-the-tooth Argo will also be a joy to behold; it certainly gets much positive attention around here.
Lyra may select stylii, but I don't believe that they make them. IMHO they are from Namiki.
There is a high end store in my town that has a great sense of component synergy. They carry some of the best stuff out there at various price points--PSB, Magnepan, JL, Vienna, B&W, and Wilson, Classe, ARC, VTL, D'Agostino, SME, Ayre, DPS, Linn. Two vendors they rely on consistently are Transparent for cable and Lyra for cartridges. Whenever their LP setups captivate me I check the cartridge and it is invariably a Lyra.
So what is it about the cartridges you prefer that sets them apart from others from a design or engineering standpoint. Is it the stylus, body, cantilever,coils or what?
Just a correction - the output is 0.6 mV. This is rather high for a LOMC. So choose your SUT with that in mind, if you use a SUT.

Aside from that I agreed absolutely with your initial post. I have used at least half dozen cartridges in the $800 - $2400 range and the Delos is by far the best so far. I have been running it for about 8 months and am still stunned at times with its performance. The enormous natural detail doesn't grow old. It just inspires repeated admiration. I have become entranced with large-scale orchestral pieces because the compromise between a live performance and a recording is so much less with this cartridge. And small scale works are conveyed with an intimacy that I have not heard from other cartridges.

09-13-12: Manitunc
So what is it about the cartridges you prefer that sets them apart from others from a design or engineering standpoint. Is it the stylus, body, cantilever,coils or what?

For me it's none of the above; it's results. How easily do I slip into a state of virtual reality where I forget the gear and am emotionally moved by the music? That's the level where the Lyra cartridges work for me.

The most relevant engineering info is whether the cartridge weight and compliance are compatible with the effective mass of my tonearm. The remaining engineering facts may help explain why the Lyra works so well. But then, whatever my second choice is, that brand's construction and engineering might be entirely different.

Disclaimer: As much as I like the Lyra MC cartridges, I don't own one as they're a bit rich for my blood. If I had the means, I'd have a Lyra Skala in my headshell.
I didnt mean that you would prefer a design or engineering feature. What I meant is that if you prefer a certain sound from your cartridges, is there a common feature about them that might explain the sound you are getting.
for instance, you might prefer moving coils, so that is a common feature. Or you may prefer cartridges with line contact styli, or boron cantilevers, or alloy body,or wood.trying to find if there is a common thread or feature that just seems to sound better regardless of the manufacturer.
Oh, OK. In that case, I'd have to say I like the MicroLine stylus on my Audio Technica AT150MLX. Most ML stylii are on $2K+ LOMC carts, but here it is on my MM cart. I find this stylus shape to be quiet, digs a lot of music out, and is particularly good at finding unspoiled sections of the groove on old used records.

I also--AFAIK--like the 150MLX's tiny V-configuration magnets at the interior end of the cantilever. AT claims that it improves channel separation, and separation and channel balance are certainly strengths of this cartridge.

I also like--on carts with bodies--a well-damped body over a ringy plastic one. The AT150MLX has a fairly thick aluminum body with some thick plastic parts around it which probably dampen it further.
Outstanding Performance....Is it the stylus, body,
cantilever,coils or what?

it is Knowledge (about music in general and how to link the sonic qualities of
the material to create a matching "Living Presence" unit)
Pure Luck (with Parts selection)

no more
Big Lyra Delos fan here too Manitunc...
I think this cartridge is all about compromises. Its healthy output means it isn't quite so desirous of a £20K ultra high gain phono stage. It doesn't go for the ultimate high-res stylus profile either but doesn't seem to lack resolution.
Really an example in sensible design and a top bang-for-buck value cartridge.

Also think you've made good choices with the Simaudio.
I am currently trying a Dynavector Rua. Cant say its better or worse yet than the Lyra. It is different. Need to play with cartridge loading a bit. Another interesting design.
Nothing matters more than tracking performance. 

Especially that final furlong as you approach the run out groove...

Everything else is just a matter of taste.
My best performing cartridge has been my Ortofon Jubilee in terms of reliability, performance - detail retrival, midrange texture, and authority in the bottom end.  Great tracker.  

Perhaps my favorite has been Transfiguration Proteus which takes the performance of the Jubilee up a notch in the area of detail and nuance in the top end.  Solid tracker, unfortunately at about the 500 hour mark it developed an issue I have not been able to resolve.  I have replaced with the Jubilee and will try the tranny again when I get in the mood.

I use a Vector 4 tonearm on a Basis 2200 signature into an Allnic H3000 phono preamp.  My next cartridge venture I am leaning towards is an Ortofon Candenza Bronze which I have heard several time at shows but never in my system.  From what I have read it should be a great match for my Thiel CS6’s or 3.6’s.
Nothing matters more than tracking performance. Especially that final furlong as you approach the run out groove..
Actually, it's not inherently difficult to track an LP runout track.  It's common for audiophiles to claim a cartridge "tracks well" just because it doesn't skip or sound especially distorted, even if they've done nothing to actually test tracking performance.

Many LP test records have bands especially for testing tracking performance. It's high frequencies, and high excursions from transients and LF, that test tracking.