Cartridges: Complete Scam?

I’m very new to analog, and researching my options on forums I keep coming across the same sentiment: that past the ultra low-end cartridges, there is very little gains in actual sound quality and that all you’re getting are different styles and colorations to the sound.

So, for example, if I swapped out my $200 cartridge that came with my table for a Soundsmith, Dynavector, Oracle, etc, I may notice a small improvement in detail and dynamics, but I’m mostly just going to get a different flavor. Multiple people told me they perffered thier old vintage cartridges over modern laser-cut boron-necked diamonds.

It’s possible that these people are just desperately defending thier old junk and/or have never heard high end audio. But if what they’re saying is true, than the cartridge industry is a giant SCAM. If I blow 2.5k minimum on an Air Tight I better get a significant improvement over a $200 bundler — and if just all amounts to a different coloration, than that is a straight-up scam ripoff.

So guys — are these forums just BS-ing me here? Is it really a giant scam?
It's true but not a scam - it's called the Law of Diminishing Returns and applies to all sorts of things: wines, Scotch, sports cars, etc.

Just do a log transform on the $$ spent and it will all look linear

I’m amused by the rush-to-judgment-into-the-red-zone-sky-is-falling sentiment of the title of this thread. Why do you call it a Complete Scam instead of asking an intelligent question? Is it to attract readers who will respond?

This is a phishing exepdition that doesn’t deserve educated comment from readers who know about, and have experience with a variety of cartridges, including their relative value at certain price points, regardless of type and build. I’m not biting and I have a TON of experience here. I choose to save my input for a more enlightened and deserving poster.

Madavid: the whole audio industry is one giant rip-off so please, please stay far away and take up another pastime.

Are any of us getting as tired of the abject cynicism reflected in our time as I am?
Madavid0, I suggest you attend a music matters demo or one of the big audio trade shows where gear makers, sellers and reviewers have set up high end analog systems including state of the art cartridges in front of other outstanding equipment and hear for yourself if you think it sounds “colored” or only just as good as a “$200 bundler”.

My opinion, a decent $200 cartridge well set up and matched with arm in an excellent turntable can sound very, very good, and will allow you to hear why so many people get hooked on vinyl.  But a well set up and matched say, Lyra Etna, will place you at the original performance.  If you care about good audio reproduction, its kind of like trying to describe with words what its like to stand on the edge and look over the Grand Canyon.  You just need to go listen.  

And whatever you end up with, take time to set it up properly.
I wouldn't be so harsh and I have an advice - if your tuntable/tonearm/phono are good enough "blow $2.5k minimum on an Air Tight I" and see for yourself. Or do you want us to "blow" this kind of money and give you a free decision-making advice? What do you offer to contribute to this forum?
But yes, some do prefer some vintage cartridges to most or all modern ones, for whatever reasons, others don't and yet others have a more complex nuanced case by case opinion. Prices are high, true,
but we pay far more in taxes to our caring government to keep watch over us, so why not pay a little more ?
According to my mom I was not only the most handsome but
also the most smart kid in the whole world. Well our carts are
our babe's. But we all know the difference between objective
and subjectieve part of the game. So in order to give objective appearance to our subjective preferences we use technical arguments and talk about materials , styli shapes, exotic cantilevers and even exotic magnets.
Sometime the expression '''art''  was used instead but never elaborated. I would say ''painting '' is available to everyone but there is only one Michelangelo, etc. Consider the following list: Sugano, Takeda , Ikeda, Van den Hul, Allaerts , Andreoli (Magic Diamond),      Carr and Lukatschek (Benz).                                                                 I think that chakster mentioned in one of his latest post the ''case''       ''Fuuga''. The whole group of Takeda admirers who wanted to    
''copy'' his Miyabi standard. This was ,alas, not possible so they produced their own ''Fuuga'' asking + $ 8000 for their ''baby''.              There is this, uh, biological fact about man. They seem to want            to produce as many kids as they can. So among my babies
  there are Ikeda's, Takeda's , Andreoli's , Allaerts , Lukatschek           and Sugano. 


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They are and you shouldn't spend much when you put a new cartridge on your Crosley
One issue might be that IF the geometry, you know, the vertical tracking angle, is not perfectly correct, if it’s off by 1/10 DEGREE, the distortion will be more than 100%. Without even getting into azimuth, overhang, etc. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that records do not all have the same thickness. Therefore, you guessed it! The sound will almost ALWAYS BE DISTORTED. Hel-loo!
Wow Allow me to sum up your replies:

randy-11: "It’s a scam"
stevecham: "It’s a scam"
knownothing: "Not a scam"
Inna: "It’s a scam"
nandric: "It’s a scam"
jmcgrogan2: "It’s a scam"
jperry: "It’s a scam"
geoffkait: "It’s a scam"

Yeah, you pretty much set your threads up to get no real discussion. Your threads are basically polemics disguised as questions, with the seeming intent to prove to us how smart you are.

It's having the opposite effect
Not asking anyone to agree with me — in fact I’m inviting disagreement. "Nah those guys are full of it there’s a big difference when you move up the line," could be one response. But instead I’m getting roundabout confirmations. Only one responder has denied it, albeit in a very noncommittal way.

Multiple people told me they perffered thier old vintage cartridges over modern laser-cut boron-necked diamonds.

In the 70's Technics used laser technology to make a tiny hole in the hollow pipe boron cantilever to mount their nude diamond of untla low mass. This is an old technology, but hollow pipe boron cantilevers are not available anymore for the today's manufacturers. In the 70s this technology was utilized in Moving Magnet design! Today it is not available even for the multi-thousand Moving Coil cartridges.  

You may not understand what you're talking about, but in some point the vintage cartridges are indeed better and more affordable for "normal people". But it doesn't mean that very expensive modern MC are bad, sometimes the price is just 10 times as much if you are willing to buy good ones. So the question is $800 or $8000 ? For me it is not the question anymore, i would rather buy 10 vintage cartridges for $8000 than just one new MC for the same price. But in general those rare $800 MM from the 80s are very close or sometimes better than new $8000 MC in my opinion. The question is which one and that's why tryin' 10 different carts is better than hoping for full satisfaction with 1 overpriced MC.  
I take walks when I get annoyed, here lately I find myself so far from home I have to call a cab.
I agree with Randy-11 (above).  however, even though there may not be a dramatic step up, the difference may very well be appreciated in the listener.  Also, the cartridge has to be set up to its best advantage, and all the ancillary equipment must be complimentary.

From good to exquisite is a long way, and many thousands of dollars.

If you have a good rig, you only need a "good" cartridge, an exquisite one would be a waste of money. I assume you know that a chain is no stronger than it's weakest link, meaning that an expensive cartridge will do you no good without "expensive" matching tone arm and turntable.

Last but not least is, how good is your hearing? When you take into account all these factors, an expensive cartridge might be a waste of money for you.
For the record, for me, I categorically and respectfully disagree with your postulate.  OK?  My rebuttal is only soft in that you are free to disagree with me, but I would take it less seriously until you have done some critical listening yourself.  

Others here are posting based on their personal experience, and their level of experience with “vintage” cartridges and their implementation might be considerably greater than my own.  But I have carefully listened to a lot of high end systems starting in the early 70s, and the sum of the parts for a high end analog system sounds very different from then to now.  For me.  So of course is the price, which like everything has inflated due to monetary “inflation”, inflated expectations, inflated egos, and real advances in technologies, materials and effort.

In 1970, a “very good” but not SOTA turntable was $150, and a very good cartridge perhaps half to 3/4 of that.  In today’s dollars, that would be about $1500.  It is possible that you could buy a new setup with an mm cartidge for that amount that would sound as good as the 1970s combo, but I doubt it. In those days the vintage system would be played through the phono pre built into the amplifier and all gear connected using zip cord and skinny unsheilded RCAs.

Going the other way, a “very good” but not SOTA current analog front end with an MC cartridge and an outboard phono preamp would cost say $20,000 new.  That is about $3,300 in 1970 dollars, which would be an unheard of amount to spend on a part of your hifi at the time for anyone but a movie producer. Inflation of all kinds in effect here.

All that said, the current “very good” system would likely sound better connected to the same modern backend than the 1970s “very good” system.

The system I described in my first post as revelatory was set up by Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio and Michael Fremer of Stereophile and Analog Planet and was very high end using Lyra cartridge, SME table, ARC electronics, Transparent cables and large Wilson speakers (Alexandria?). It cost probably $350,000.  

That is $70,000 in mid seventies dollars.  My guess is that would be a reasonable investment for a midling recording studio at the time.  Home system?  You would be laughed off my island, but maybe you ran with a different crowd at the time. Nothing I heard outside of a well engineered rock concert or well designed concert hall in the 1970s could come close to what came out of the system set up by Fremer and McGrath.  Nothing else actually ever has.

So you ask “Cartridges: Complete Scam?  I say no. The upper end of MC cartridges today played in a very high end system will sound more neutral, revealing and faster than high end vintage cartridges.  In the middle range you really have to listen to different pickups in your system to decide what works and what does not, and where the value is.  For you.
Not asking anyone to agree with me — in fact I’m inviting disagreement. "Nah those guys are full of it there’s a big difference when you move up the line," could be one response. But instead I’m getting roundabout confirmations. Only one responder has denied it, albeit in a very noncommittal way.
Yes, but you don’t have to come at things from a vitriolic over amped negative standpoint as an opening motion.

If you tried this at a bar, with strangers, you’d probably wake up with a few missing teeth.

No need to treat people here, who are essentially strangers, with the same psychological launching stratagem.

You are making for a bad forum, and harming other people’s businesses and lives for no good reason. The only thing seen, seemingly, is a lack of awareness and the effect this lack has on others.

It might make for OK conversation with people you know and who know you and are right there in front of you. But good text as the single communication.... it does not make.
Saying “an expensive cartridge sounds great in an expensive system” isn’t answering the question, it’s simply punting it into the realm where the premise can’t be easily tested. In fact I do go to audio shows, most recently Capital Audiofest which was dominated by vinyl systems. I ended up buying a MoFi StudioDeck based on the performance of the MoFi room there that was running a $2k table + cartridge bundle. My StudioDeck is a $1,150 bundle with a $200 Studio Tracker cartridge. Here’s the thing: the MoFi room was also running TAD Evolution Ones and high end electronics, so OF COURSE it was going to sound good...I was impressed with such a “modest” front end was up to it though. The question is: would moving up from its $500 MM to, say, a $4K MC result in a significant sonic improvement...or not? Likewise, would moving up from my $200 cartridge to, say, a $2k range cartridge result in a significant improvement in sound?

There seems to be a strong sentiment online that NO, there wouldn’t be a large improvement. The sound may change, but not improve by any significant amount. If that’s true, that seems to suggest that the high-end cartridge industry is just peddling woo to vulnerable audiophiles.
OP- you got a lot of sarcastic responses to your original post, which many interpreted as trolling. Assuming that is not the case, then the answer is "It depends". It depends on the resolution of the rest of your system and how carefully it is set up. And then of course there is your own hearing and your own values. So properly set-up, on a properly matched arm of commensurate quality, on table of similar quality, with proper interconnects, fed into a good phono/ line stage and an appropriate amplifier properly matched to high resolution speakers, most people can "hear" the difference between a $200 bundled cartridge and a $2000 cartridge. OTOH, if you are dropping that $2K cart into an entry level TT with a $200 phono stage, you probably will not hear much difference. If you put top of the line tires on a Chevy Malibu, it’s not going make significantly better lap times on a race course. And yes, at the highest end we are talking different flavors of excellence. Maybe even the subtle distinctions between sirloin and rib-eye to make another analogy. Or between two different vintages of wine from the same vineyard. Some folks are happy with very good or even excellent, some folks want superb! It is also true that the law of diminishing returns is very strict at the bleeding edge. And that there are folks who automatically assume if it costs more, it’s better. T’aint so ;-)

If you are considering how to upgrade your analog front end, and you provide some additional info (primarily your phono/line stage, and amplifier) and what your budget is, you will get some good advice.  For example, the Denon 103R is considered by many to be in the sweet spot of moderately priced phono cartridges. It costs under $400.00.  But you have to have a phono stage with enough gain to handle a low output moving coil cartridge, or you have to buy a step-up transformer or head-amp to bring the 0.25 mV output up to the level that a typical phono stage can properly amplify. 
"Peddling woo to vulnerable audiophiles"

I'm touched by your concern for our sensitive selves, and presumably our pocketbooks. Be assured however that those of us that take the time to listen to a lot of cartridges and put our $ where we want can hear very substantial differences between different manufacturer's offerings and different points in the line

As others have pointed out to get the most from any cartridge setup and matching is absolutely critical and if you are going to spend four figures or up on a cartridge then you owe it to yourself to know how to set it up, and to invest in the tools for that purpose.

So I'm not at all sure where your strong online sentiment is coming from -- presumably from those who have never had the chance to spend a substantial amount of time with one of these transducers in their own system with commensurate ancillaries

For your delectation I leave you with the following link -- a review of a $12,000 dedicated mono cartridge, and personally I can believe it's worth it ... makes my $2K mono feel jealous
As prices go up, it is almost always diminishing returns at best. You tend to get more bling factor and maybe more muscle in some cases for more $$$s but the bling factor of a phono cartridge is, well, pretty low.

The dl103R I use in my Linn table is about as far as I would likely go. I mostly play records once these days to transfer to music server and that is it. CDs get ripped right up front and never get played anymore.

Those with pricier, good quality tables who still strongly embrace vinyl still are likely to look around at the more expensive parts to go with it. Some might even drop $150 on a fuse whose only sales pitch is that it just sounds better for reasons unknown. It all depends on budget and how extreme one is with these things.

Like most things, those who actually know what they are doing are most likely to get the better results in the end regardless of cost and optimizing playback of vinyl is about as tricky a game as there is. Its still a science first and an art second though.
When one first picks up an acoustic guitar, they would probably be hard pressed to identify much of a difference between a vintage Martin and a piece-of-garbage Esteban. (remember him?)  But with time and development, one may become aware of the differences between instruments.  Such is the case with audio.  Then again, you may never hear a difference, in which case buying an expensive cartridge is silly.  That's why they make cheap guitars, cheap pianos and cheap cartridges.  Yes - more expensive does not always mean better.   But unfortunately, in my experience, it often does.  
Dear @madavidO: """ I’m very new to analog """, no doubt about even if you did not posted about. Nothing wrong with be an analog roockie.

An analog roockie usually makes the wrong questions ( some one could say: stupid ones but in reality there are not stupid questions coming from a roockie. What it is is a very high ignorance level. It can’t in other way and I think you understand it. ) like you here.

In audio the word scam means different things for different audiophiles. What for me could be a scam for other gentleman can be a bargain or can be justified for what ever reason.

You made the very typical roockie mistake: bougth audio items like your MoFi rig at an audio show/fest.

""" the MoFi room was also running TAD Evolution Ones and high end electronics, so OF COURSE it was going to sound good...I was impressed with such a “modest” front end was up to it though. """

and because of what you listened you bougth what you have. You followed that post:

" The question is: ........ ", I think that before you ask what you posted there you have to ask your self: how good is the quality sound you are listening at your analog home system. Are you impressed?

Btw, MoFi does not manufacture cartridges and I think that MoFi buys from At and that your 200.00 bundler in reality is a 70.00 AT 90. Well, you are an analog rookie and you are starting in the analog learning curve, a very long long curve.

""" If I blow 2.5k minimum on an Air Tight ..... """

again wrong question/way of thinking. Two simple questions before that: have you the kind of money to buy that Air Tigth cartridge and what it needs? have you the rigth tonearm and phono stage to honor the Air Tigth cartridge?

Did you know that Air Tigth is not the manufacturer of the cartridges they has for sale?

As you for every one of us each single day in audio is a learning one.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,

Oh, yes the Air Tigth overblow your blunder by a very wide margin, not only diferent colorations as you say.

jperry nailed it.  The OP clearly gets more enjoyment from trying to prove that audiophiles are relentlessly scammed as they shell out big bucks for questionable returns in sonic improvement than he derives from listening and enjoying music himself.  He obviously believes that most here are victims of the industry, getting fleeced on a regular basis.  Herein lies his true hobby and source of pleasure....all thinly veiled as a question from a fellow lover of music, faithfully reproduced ;-)  
Wow Allow me to sum up your replies:

randy-11: "It’s a scam"
stevecham: "It’s a scam"
knownothing: "Not a scam"
Inna: "It’s a scam"
nandric: "It’s a scam"
jmcgrogan2: "It’s a scam"
jperry: "It’s a scam"
geoffkait: "It’s a scam"

czarivey: it's NOT scam.

Scam is just a label, but in reality it's clearly YOUR choice to buy cartridge for $10k or for $250 and there are tons of sleepers in that range that will make you think HARD before going any further to upgrade.
That is to say that my AudioTechnica AT140 is one of them along with ADC type III obviously if you have original stylus on them. Many people know only expensive ones therefore going for them, but why should I care when I can have more cheaper 'supply' and let everyone else buy higher priced one? Ignorance sometimes pretty healthy and beneficial ain't that?
Why waste time with this guy ?
he clearly has no relationship with a decent dealer who in an hour or so with his table could show him what a better cartridge could do in his system
.... or not
but then it would be solved for HIM

going to be a rough planet if he never understands the joy acknowledging the law of diminishing returns and for a few hobbies like scotch, wine, fishing boats, flyrod, etc living past the break point.

imagine a consumer reports world where nobody buys a Porsche Turbo

If someone asked you: "Would I see a major improvement in sound if I upgraded from my Elac bookshelves to a pair of Magico Q3s?" You would answer, absolutely yes you would.

Not: "You have to pair them with ultra high end amps and sources."
Not: "Some people can tell the difference but not everyone..."
Not: "Wrong way of thinking..."

It's very simple: Magicos are better than Elacs. The end. Anything other than that is just useless information that doesn't serve anyone. Magicos weigh 250 lbs, can you handle them, do you have the room for them, etc and so on -- useless info, anyone can read a spec sheet and understand the possible drawbacks.

"You have to pair them with ultra high end equipment..." Why? Will they lose their superior performance capacity because they're hooked up to a more modest amp? Will the extreme engineering techniques used to eliminate resonance across the audio band turn itself off because they're running from a $5k amp as opposed to a $50k one? Will their unique drivers downgrade themselves? WHY, exactly, are you responding to a simple question with a qualifying non-answer?

So. Can someone explain WHY a $1,000 table's tonearm can't be used to mount a $2-3k cartridge? What is the technical reason? Will it fail to transmits certain frequencies, or certain voltage swings, what exactly? Do cheaper tonearms not have the capability to hold the cartridge in the right angle and apply the right amount of tracking force?

What's going on here?
My my Mr Madavid do you have it all wrong. Magico Q3s will sound absolutely awful paired with the sort of amp any normal person would use with your Elac bookshelves. In fact in 9 out of 10 Hi Fi shows Magico Q3s sound terrible because they get paired with the wrong sort of amps. 

Getting the most out of a set of Q3s is just like getting the most out of a cartridge -- it takes a lot of careful matching and time spent on ancillary supporting components. Simply dropping them in to your system may cause you great heartache (see this thread for what I mean

And as you probably know, I run Q3s and what I really like is when people come to my system they often say "these speakers are great, they don't sound like Magicos [do at shows]"
Oh and to your question on why a $5K tonearm with a $5K cartridge.

A $5K cartridge usually means the designer has spent extra effort in minimizing problematic resonances and other sources of distortion. Mounting this on a $1K tonearm that itself is subject to all sorts of distortions and resonances is simply throwing this benefit away. 

I could go on but that's just one small example of the constant in this hobby how a change in one component often throws up problems elsewhere in the chain
Its very easy to get carried away by rave reviews of expensive cartridges. However, when you think about it, a cartridge is just doing one thing - its converting stylus movement into electrical signal. Therefore as far as I am concerned, tracking ability is paramount, it's everything. Yet the number of times cartridge reviews gloss over tracking performance..

As Randy-11 said earlier, there's definitely a law of diminishing returns at work here. The biggest step up is from conical to spherical stylus. After that you're on your own, though I do remember a ($250) Shure being commended for it's excellent tracking performance and electrical behaviour. As for other stylus profiles eg line contact, I don't know whether they offer any more.

In my own experience a Nagoaka MP11 Boron was as good as it got. Swapping to a much more expensive cartridge (Linn K18) just made the sound thinner and brighter. So yeah, tracking first and foremost.
According to this comparison exercise that compared sub-$1000 cartridges being played on a $1,500 VPI Traveller, the reference setup thrown in there as an ultra high-end control (almost $200k) came in SECOND to a Audio-Technica. And then there were all the people that voted for the really low end stuff. Guys, how on Earth does anyone explain this?
Plus one for folkfreak.

madavid0, you can think of cartridge - tonearm - table - phono pre matching like speaker driver - cabinet - crossover - amp matching.  They are part of a system, and swapping pieces in and out willy nilly can be an exercise in frustration.  

You would probably never think about replacing the drivers in a pair of Magico’s with something that is speced differently and assume you could do better than the designer.  Cartridge-arm matches are unfortunately a bit like that.  Many people (myself included) have gone up a rung on the cartridge ladder only to learn their old cheaper cartridge was a better match to their tone arm and/phono pre. It doesn’t mean the more expensive cartridge is a “scam”, just not the right one for your rig.  

But when you get it right, it is pretty great.  Missing this fundamental point can lead to asking the wrong questions in persuit of improved sound.
The biggest step up is from conical to spherical stylus.

Well, i’m not sure about it :)
Conical = Spherical, it's just two names of the same thing. 

I’ve had a strong liking for the Gyger II stylus profile. Being right at the top of the more extreme profiles (neck and neck with them), it does strut it’s stuff rather well, when the given cart is properly set up. It helps one understand why they want vinyl.
My approach is simple. I upgrade the cartridge last. For as long as I hear improvements while upgrading other elements of the chain I will not touch it. So, trust your hearing, be nice to your wallet and stay cool. When the time to upgrade comes, I will have a small problem because you can't buy them try them and return. Either I will do it with a few used ones or take my best guess with either new or used. Ideally I would want to upgrade arm, cartridge and phono at the same time, at least arm and cartridge. But if you have a Continuum with SAT tonearm and Ypsilon phono stage you better try just about anything regardless of price. A lot of work, but fun too. Poverty is not a sin but it sucks.
I have found that you can get good sound on the cheap, which is a good thing. I have also found that you can get great sound by spending more. However, I have found that not all good is cheap and not all great can be had with green. It takes work.

Benz Micro is a good example. Each step up their chain gives you potentially more. I've been able to get up to their Ruby 3 series and it is the best cartridge I've owned and worth every penny. It is not unltra expensive but it is not cheap. On the other hand their ACE low out put is amazing sounding and might be all one needs.
The ''classical economist'' (Smit, Ricardo,etc.) try to formulate             ''theory of value'' by distinction between ''value in use'' and                 ''value in exchange''. Something like ''the real value'' and ''prices''.       To illuminate the difference (the so called ''reduction of complexity'')     they used examples like water and ear. Both have incredible               ''value in use '' but no ''exchange value '' whatever. Both economist of course thought that UK represent the world. In the middle east        the next war will be about water while China is more threaten            by ear pollution then by NATO.                                                                Alas the theory of the ''real value'' was never ,uh, produced so           the only alternative still is ''theory of prices'' expressed in money         terms while there is no sensible theory of money at all.                      Nobody knows what the ''price'' of dollar or euro will be next
 In this thread   everyone has his own theory of value   with the
same distinction but according to his own interpretation of the             ''real value'' or ''value in use''.


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I would have to agree with others on this post was started by a rookie. The post started off strange and got worse by claiming that by using Magico speakers with a crappy amp the system would sound great just because of the speakers. Far from it!
This poster needs to understand that 1 piece of the puzzle doesn't make the whole puzzle. You can't buy a $500 amp and use a pair of $50k Magico's and think the sound will be any good.
It's called synergy! You can't throw darts at pieces of equipment and think they will sound sound as a whole. For example, you want to buy this $2k cartridge, does your phono preamp have the adjustability to make the cartridge perform? Does it have the appropriate gain needed? Do you need a head amp? 
Using your TT, IMO, you probably won't get better sound with a $5k cartridge. A better cartridge will need a much better tonearm, and a better tonearm will need a better TT. I moved up from the VPI JMW 9 tonearm to the $3k VPI 10.5 3D arm, which improved the SQ by quite a bit, and this was on my Hanns T-60 TT.
There are big differences between cartridges: MC/MM/MI, vintage vs. new, etc...  I remember using an Ortofon MC-20 back in 1978 which was a good cartridge back then. I bought a new MC-20 anniversary model 8 years, using a much better system than in 1978, and the MC-20 sounded pretty bad compared to the newer model cartridges. I sold it off pretty fast. 
There are diminishing returns in everything you buy in many different areas. But IMO, you have to get higher up in the audio equipment food chain before you can claim diminishing returns. 
Some think the premise of this thread may be antagonistic given other threads started by the OP. That may be a tad unfair given that this is a forum, and he is asking a question relating to value.
All said and done - what does he call value? Some believe a 'Ghetto Blaster' is the best thing in audio, and in terms of enjoyment one may find it hard to place a value.
Putting things into 'relative perspective' over £2500 there are diminishing returns, likewise I believe that so called top flight cartridges are effectively different flavours so to speak. A good example is that the BenzLP is commonly regarded as an astonishing performer at around £2500 and it can compete against anything out there so to speak.
But a £200MM ain't gonna cut the mustard against a top flight MC - (provided both given equal phono stages).
What value you place on the price is anybody's guess - a Lada Riva and a Ferrari are worlds apart in terms of price - indeed a LAda Riva is more practical than a Ferrari - but what are you looking for??? An ice plough (cheap MM for cheap turntable - phono stage - system) - a fact car (MC race track - great TT - phono stage etc). 
Value is in essence what one would pay for anything - if you think something is not worth it - so be it - you are right - but what are your parameters?
Scam = selling a customer a $2000 cartridge for a $200 turntable, while knowing the the customer has 20 albums without much of a plan to increase said collection. Now selling the same 2k cartridge to a vinyl lover with a growing collection of albums and say a nice VPI TT, then that's a bargain. See, there are too many variables and budgets. If you have a pair of $1500 speakers, and you're happy with them, no plans of upgrading them, then a $400-500 cartridge might make better sense. Not an easy answer that can be answered with a simple yes or no that applies to all end users and situations. Makes sense to anyone? 
Price/value analysis can be a tricky thing.  I have a friend who enjoys cognac, so I purchased a bottle of Hennesey Prestige for about $40 and it's fine.  Later on, I thought I would try a bottle of Hennesey XO at $125 and that it would be worlds better.  Tell the truth, for us it wasn't.   Head to head, I don't think I could tell the difference or whether the XO was just different but not better.  But I think it would be very ignorant of me to post publicly that XO is a scam because I couldn't taste the difference.  The only thing I proved is that I couldn't taste the difference.  And if I couldn't, I would wager that many people couldn't either.   But I'm certainly open to the possibility that there are many who could.  Maybe. 
The variety of definitions being applied to the word 'scam' amaze me. 

Upselling a product to someone who doesn't need it is not a scam.

Expensive products that people willingly buy and work as described are not scams.

Putting a high end component into a mess of system and saying it doesn't work does not count as a scam.

A scam is knowingly deceiving someone either by getting them to pay for goods or services that they will not receive, or that are not, in good faith, what was agreed to or advertised.
Why is it that more and more threads lately are opened with a pretty antagonistic header, what exactly does the op hope to accomplish with that besides a number of equally antagonistic responses or outright derision and the possibility of not being taken seriously at all.

Now I know under current handle I have a low post count and join date of 2013 but aeons ago I was a member but lost all the info and just easier to start again.

Back even 10 years ago the forums ( and the world in general) was a much more civilised and nicer place to be, just go skim through some older threads to see the type of discussion and the general level of decency and politeness involved.
Nowadays I see way too much vitriol and a lot of self important people who come across as it all being about me, me, me, rather than actually wanting any real answers or even to hear partial truths.

Just my 5 cents worth and my opinion only.
it is the same all over audio and many industries,  High performance comes at a price, but to get beyond that, the cost can be astronomical... 
You have a car that will run a 1/4 mile in 14 seconds, you drop $1000 in the engine and get it below 12 seconds,  you need to drop another $3000 to get it below 10 seconds.... how much to make it even faster?  
The tweaking and expertise to get better performance in a phono cartridge is no different.... 
a 12 second 1/4 mile car is fast, but is it worth an extra $3000 to get a 10 second car? 
Of course the numbers are just arbitrary,  but the concept remains true. 
So,  no, its not a scam, but minor differences in performance are expensive. 

Hey guys,

I´m not exactly new to analog, but I´m certainly a new kid on the block here at Audiogon. I would like to thank you all for your posts, this forum has been a valuable source of information (and entertainment) to me for the past couple years. On to the OP question: it is not a scam, but analog takes a lot of effort. We´re hardly talking plug and play stuff here and there´s a lot more into replacing a cart than there´s into replacing a DAC (or a cd-player for that matter). 

You may buy a cart that´s 10 times more expensive and get bad results if your tone-arm is not up to the task of handling the new cart. Things can also go very bad if your phono is not a good match to it. I have a love and hate relationship with analog, but that´s all part of the fun. Of course it is not a scam, much in the same way that power cords are not a scam. I don´t mean to be rude here, but I usually find that those kind of comments mostly come from people who are not willing to (or simply cannot) afford this kind of stuff. 

If everything else is working properly (tonearm and phono) with the new cart, the differences are instantly recognizable and not minimal. They´re quite addictive actually, but careful system matching is crucial and there are so many components in an analog rig that you can easily screw things up by replacing the cart (even for a much more expensive unit). 
Well this is a remarkable thread. I rarely agree with Raul :-) but this time he's hit it on the head. The OP doesn't seem to understand that we call it a "stereo SYSTEM" for a reason, and the most important component is himself - his ears, brain, and capacity to process information and learn as he goes (i.e. the linkage between the first two). If you want to gain real understanding, and maybe 'hearing' too, you have to work for it! and it's fun!  

And then there's a discussion about classical theories of commodity value. My only comment there is that "use" and "exchange" value were never seen as separate entities in themselves, but elements of a greater whole. So the relationship between them is always tricky, both for economists (some) and for the original poster. Certainly it's good to have a lot of skepticism in the pursuit of good audio, but patience counts too (oh yeah, and money). 
"Which is better, a Pass or an Onkyo?"

The Pass is better. Not, it's better if its paired with Pass pre-amp. Not, depends on your definition of use-value.

That MoFi system at Capital Audiofest sounded really good. That was a $2k table + cartridge combo using their $250 phono stage....running into TAD electronics and Evolution Ones...gear that probably costs well north of $100k. I guess stereo "system" "balance" only works in one direction! So, what are we looking at here...could it be that MoFi unintentionally exposed the SCAM behind the cartridge industry by pairing a $2k turntable and cartridge + $250 phono with high-end components which ended up producing a high-end sound -- among the best of the show? Does that mean you're a SUCKER if you pay more than $500 (the non-bundled cost of the MoFi Ultra Tracker) on a cartridge?

Or does it mean that this 23 lbs turntable and tonearm are the greatest value in vinyl history, and that it could have achieved stunning audio with an upgraded cart and phono stage?

So, once again. I have this MDF 19 lbs turntable. It's an AC motor belt-drive that uses a Derlin platter and pulley. It's got a 35g aluminum tonearm. It's running into a $500 ($300 special from Music Direct) battery-powered phono stage.  The large consensus on this forum is that installing a $2-3k cartridge will yield no or negative benefit.

So let's assume I'm not going "balance" my system by installing $200k worth of speakers, amps, cables and pres. How much do I have to spend on an arm, table and phono stage to mine the true benefit out of a well-regarded $2-3k cartridge? Since I have no idea if the MoFi arm can be replaced, should I just return the unit right now -- that no matter what I do, a $1k turntable won't benefit from a $2k cartridge?