Ortofon 2M Red
For sound, the Ortofon 2M Red probably has the edge, but IME, for tracking, the Shure M97xE with the damping brush deployed (i.e., in the down position) will track almost anything, including poorly stored hideously warped records from thrift shops or your garage. I have hundreds of thrift shop records, and back when used Beatles records were typically fetching $15/disk, I got a double-disk Beatles album (Love Songs) for $1 because both records had a deep "dish" warp, making them nearly unplayable. But when I put on the Shure and flipped down the brush, it tracked right through with no drama. The only other way I could play this record was when I added KAB's fluid damper to my Technics SL1210.
As was previously stated, you can elevate the performance with the aftermarket JICO stylus, which also includes the damping brush.
Similarly you can upgrade a 2M Red to a 2M Blue by replacing the "Red" bonded stylus with a "Blue" nude stylus.
I stand corrected by Viridian with $90.00 for the mp-100.
Never heard the Stanton 500 so I cannot comment but it would be a no brainer provided it proves to be better than the 2M Red as Viridian claims it to be.
Shure m97xe is a wonderful tracker indeed.
The following carts seem to be the top choices under $100.00. All good, none perfect.
AT95e special edition black - $50.00
Shure m97xe - $70.00
Stanton 530.V3 (2) - $80.00
Nagaoka MP100 - $90.00
Ortofon 2M Red - $100.00
Your choice, happy listenning!
All this and no mention of the arm?
Also no mention of type of sound desired. What would go with the system, bright, bass heavy, balanced?
The Deft 2 has big bass and a big sound. Apparently it's the same as a Pearl or some Goldring cart, I'm not sure. There's an old thread on VE about it.
If you're looking for a balanced sound, consider the capacitance of your cables and preamp. Ortofon wants to see < 300pF total. AT wants < 200pF. M97 needs 250pF or you get a big treble dip. Too much and a rolled off high end.
The Shure, Nagaoka and I think Stanton are more bass oriented or "mellow". Looks like there's much love for the 2M Red, but there were many complaints about sibilance a number of years ago.
If you have a low capacitance input, the AT95VL (vivid line) or newer 100E, both for med mass arm, is a better choice IMO, but that depends on what you're looking for.
Everyone talks about the treble extension with the 440...but what about bass definition?...its staggering...punchy, articulate, and very clean...that's what sold me...hopefully the highs won't be a deal breaker in the end...how does the 2m compare? Bass articulation? One thing the m97 needed help with imho
$100 was his original budget, but I'm not sure that he got an AT440mla for that. Those were $100 in 2008 when the dollar-to-yen exchange was particularly favorable. That's when several people here (and I) got the AT150MLX for $250.
These days, the best price I know of on the AT440mla is $174.99 at LpGear.com.