Inexpensive MM Cartridge

Hi All.  I'm helping a friend who has a late 1970's Pioneer PL12 turntable. The manual TT is in good working order, bearing and motor lubed, etc. We need a MM cartridge to mount on the stock S-shaped tonearm.  Budget is up to around $300.  Suggestions please!  Thanks, and Happy Holidays!
Buy a Grado for around $90 - $150. It is a moving-iron (MI) type with output of about 3.5 mv. It is not affected by cable capacitance, unlike MM types with high coil inductance. Consequently a Grado has a wider frequency bandwidth and faster transient response. Grado does make some nicer-looking wood-bodied models for $300 and up. In your case a lower-priced model will do just fine!
yogiboy I think the Peter had this in mind.
This cartridge here actually has a better stylus and punches way above it's price point. I use this when playing other peoples records.
My bet would be a Goldring GL2100 and if you can stretch your budget a GL3100 or a Nagaoka MP200. Grados are fine but there is a chance to produce light hum on a vintage TT. AT95ATV is fine too with plenty of punch.
Stylus shape is the important criteria for good/better/best groove contact/fidelity, good info here

Advanced shape: ML Microline; LC Line Contact; Shibata; SAS all in that advanced category. They cost more, but last longer, so calculate the cost per hour for a sense of cost over time.

A bit over budget at $329. very good channel separation and channel balance, both help with better imaging,

in budget, $249. (same specs, except 740’s innards better?)

or: Less costly now, $200.perhaps sell the TT soon, move up, or, this for MM, try Moving Coil sooner

Audio-Technica makes this cartridge body, and it offers 6 interchangeable/replaceable/upgradeable stylus,

It’s Shibata version is only $200.

However: the 95 line channel separation and channel balance are not great, I bet it sounds great, but the 540 and 740 will definitely produce a tighter center balance, refining locations, and the wider channel separation improves imaging as well

consider signal strength, higher lets you keep your preamp/amp volume controls lower, less power needed, less noisy perhaps, nearly always a good thing.

consider tracking force, around 2.0 g my preference, some cartridges can track lower 1.0; 1.25; 1.50 etc, but I wouldn't make that a primary choice, just be aware. 

I don't think you need a $300 cartridge for one of the cheapest old Pioneer belt drive turntable. For $300 you could actually buy a whole new direct drive turntable with better tonearm. 

If you need just a cartridge for that old Pioneer look for Audio-Technica MM cartridges under $150  
@chakster I made a small typo - I meant a Pioneer PL-512. Nothing special, but still rated as a very good TT. I get the sense that it is on par with modern entry level TT’s. Does anyone think differently? I think replacing the TT and cartridge would cost between $300-$600, most likely used. Worth considering???

@yogiboy and @roberjerman, I had a Grado Black mounted on it and was not too impressed. I noted a hollow sound with poor resolution. No hum at all though. Is there notable improvement up the line?

@petg60 how about a Goldring 1042? Elliot, I will check out the AT offerings.

Other recommendations or votes? Thanks, Peter

@petg60 how about a Goldring 1042?

Just bought a Goldring 1042 as a backup to my Soundsmith Zephyr. I’m very impressed. Highly recommended. Beats my old Grado Red with 8mz stylus by a long mile.
@bkeske  A source of concern with the Goldring is the following:

1) The Cartridge is very sensitive to capacitive loading. Some experimentation with it will be necessary to get the best match to your system. I ended up with 51 kOhm resistive Load and 120 pf capacitive load (plus the Tonearm cabling - probably another 50 pf or so).

2) The cartridge is a little more than usual sensitive to VTA (Vertical Tracking Angle) adjustments (for a Moving Magnet Cartridge), so experimentation is on order.

For this setup, there is not adjustability to cabling or capacitance in the phono preamp, and the tonearm has no VTA adjustment.  Perhaps there is a cartridge that is less sensitive to these non-adjustable features?

Best cart  under $300 is Nagoka 150 .
Don’t underestimate the AT95e. Cheap and a lot better than you think. Your pal will be grateful you saved him/her a pile of notes and the sound will be awesome.
Dear @peter_s  : @noromance  advise isway better that any one in this thread could think till they own and listen in their room/system.

I own 3 versions: 95e, 95ex and 95ml.

Any one here can try it, is really inexpensive and I'm totally sure all will be nicely surprised of its really good quality sound levels.

For you is so inexpensive that if you don't like it you still have 250.00 for other alternative.

In the other side this statement posted here is totally false:

"  Stylus shape is the important criteria for good/better/best groove contact/fidelity ".

That gentleman has no clear idea what he is talking about.

Anyway, give a try to the 95.. You can't lost nothing at all.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,

+1 on AT microline
Good luck finding one.

RE: Goldring 1042

I have a SOTA with a Jelco 850 Mk II arm. Am still running my Mani as a phono stage (yes, even with the Soundsmith), so capacitance is preset within. I’m running at the Standard 47k and 42db gain. It’s a ‘hot’ cart, and wish I could select closer to 38, but 30 is my only other choice (or higher). Haven’t tried 30, but that may be a bit too low.

As far as VTA, yes, it takes some fiddling, but most all carts need that. Not really a big deal. I’m still experimenting, but pleased.

Anyway, it sounds great even with my modest Mani. Again, very happy with the Goldring and its performance, tone, detail, etc. Better than I was expecting.
i run ortofon 2M blue on my fluance, w emotiva xps1 gen2 phono stage w great results....budget killers

it's easy to find this cart under CAD150 in bulk pkg....lists CAD299

I think the AT VM95 series gets the most votes here. I personally think the ML version has the best stylus. For a $170 dollar cartridge it is an unbelievable stylus. In this situation I see no reason to spend more money than this. I do not think you get significantly better until you get to $400-$500. Even Raul agrees and that says something. After using one of these I firmly believe that AT makes the best economy cartridges. 
I have a Pioneer PL-530 which is a couple of steps up from your model. These tables with their S-shaped tonearms are not capable of extracting the most from very expensive cartridges. If the table was originally bought with a cartridge included it was probably a Shure budget model. On my table I have a Grado Gold cart. Works well given my setup. Well under the $300 budget. However, the phono stage in the system is just as important as the cart.

Auditioning cartridges is almost impossible unless there is a return option. Probably hard to find. Best other forums and try to find other opinions for that particular table. Good Luck.
Thanks everyone for your excellent advice!  This is a thread I will keep aware of.  I ended up getting a really good deal on a demo Nagaoka MP-200 from a trusted dealer, but from the posts above, it may be better than the rest of the system benefit from.  Oh well.  Perhaps there will be another TT that comes into the throw, and we can swap cartridges. I think this thread will help others in a similar situation.
peter s. Good luck in your searches. Turntables are one of the most challenging items in the analog world. Tables can be bought with a preinstalled cartridge. If from a trusted dealer then those cartridges can be mounted in a correct manor. However, mounting a cartridge is a most important thing. Factors such a overhang, alignment, tracking force, and others are critical as to how the end sound is. Switching a cartridge from one table to another takes all these factors into account.

Buying a cartridge to see how it performs, and if it's not satisfactory, then getting another turntable and installing the "before" purchased cartridge may not be the best path to pursue. May or may not sound better? An upgraded cartridge on your table may not be any improvement at all. Then...where to go? It all comes down to the rest of the system. Importantly is the phono stage, whether it's a stand alone or built into the amp? Does the Pioneer table, although recently serviced, have an upgraded power cable and interconnects?
So many things to consider. If I were given those options I would try to audition a new table with installed cart with the existing system. That's the best way to determine the path to take.

I think the Grados are highly overrated, with a tendency to murkiness with a subdued high end.  The A/T's may be a better choice in this price range.  Or the Ortofon 2M Blue.
Peter_s, I've been very happy with my Nagaoka MP-200.
It didn't take long to break in and it's a lot of cartridge for the money.
Shure  v15 on the used mart. The best you can afford. No brainer with that tt. 
Depending on you musical tastes, I always find myself coming back to the "OPUS 3 TIMBER"  for $275.00. I believe it would be a fine match with your TT.  Now, I don't know if this would interest you but I have in my possession a SHURE V15 type Vx MR. It was a lab standard at Shure. Never played, never mounted, so it is essentially "NOS" . I have it listed as is for $500 on US AUDIO MART. If you are interested I'll let you have it for $300. My only caution is that I do not have original mounting kit. I would include all the hardware I have. I do hope that you have experience mounting cartridges. If interested email at
@mwinkc - thanks for your encouragement.  I am hopeful.

@jrpnde - I would agree that there are some advantages to pre-matched cartridges and arms.  Not that I trust the manufacturer's to provide the best sounding cartridge (there is a bottom line to protect, after all) - but I do expect that the cartridge compliance will properly match the arm effective match, and (if there is no VTA adjustment) the cartridge will match the required VTA.  There is no VTA adjustment on my TT, nor did I know the effective mass of the arm to match the compliance (hope I didn't shoot myself in the foot there).  But I think it's also possible that the cartridge I purchase will exceed the stock, and I do know how to set up a cartridge (despite my transgression above).  We shall see....
Update: it's pretty much impossible to find effective mass value for the Pioneer PL-512 S-tube tonearm. The  Nagaoka MP-200 seems to be a low compliance cartridge (though I read that Japanese specs for dynamic compliance are taken at 100hz rather than the required 10hz - the whole things is a spaghetti mess!).  I can always use a test record to determine resonance frequencies and if I need to increase the tonearm mass use some blue tack to optimize and then order a heavier headshell to increase the effective mass.
I have owned quite a few entry level vintage TT's. I find that the old AT cartridge format works well with the heavier S shaped tonearms. I had an older 440 OCC body with a newer ML stylus mounted on a similar Technics TT (to the Pioneer 512). I think these carts were developed around the same time as the Pioneer and mat have been used as the reference. 

Audio-Technica with MicroLine stylus is definitely better than any Nagaoka with Elliptical tip. Also AT is fairly mid compliance, Nagaoka compliance is too low for MM and this is strange. However, you can use heavier headshell is your tonearm counterweight can work with higher mass. 
Chakster, he bought the Nagaoka. be happy for him instead of your usual BS about cartridge choices of what is good and what is not. 
Hi Peter,

Congratulations  on your purchase. This is a great choice! I also have a late 70s vintage tt, Technics 1900. Currently using it with Nagaoka MP 110. It costs 130 which is a 100 less than my previous Orthofon Blue but sounds much better! From most direct comparisons between budget cartridges Nagaoka comes on top. Forget the technical specs, when you hear it you’ll be blown away. Please, let me know how it sounds with the vintage turntable.

I'm late to the party but when it's time to try a newer MM cart, I can recommend the Audio Technica VM740ML
Also the AT7V is a very affordable but enjoyable cartridge.
Chakster, he bought the Nagaoka. be happy for him instead of your usual BS about cartridge choices of what is good and what is not.

We’re talking about technical things here than you @mr_m do not understand, probably. I’m sorry for you. You can send your Christmas Card to the OP if you want to celebrate his purchase with him!

I’m talking about something that every cartridge designer understand better than you. It’s obvious that MicroLine profile is superior to Elliptical profile, because it’s not only last 3 times longer, but it reads the groove much better and reproduce music with noticeable extensions on both ends (such ass much deeper bass and crystal clear highs).

The OP noticed than Nagaoka cartridges are low compliance Moving Permalloy carts!

Actually the MP-200 is not bad, it’s better than entry level MP100 with bonded conical tip, or MP110 and MP150 with very low dynamic compliance at 6 cu (100Hz).

The MP200 dynamic compliance is 7.2 cu @ 100Hz which is about 12cu @ 10Hz - this is still a low compliance. This may be one of the reason why the MP200 frequency response is very models 20Hz - 35kHz, not to mention its average 0.4 x 0.7 Elliptical profile. And it’s not just about specs in the manual, it’s about cartridge limitations in real life.

Higher compliance Audio-Technica with MicroLine stylus tip on Gold Plated Boron cantilever is a better cartridge than low compliance Nagaoka MP with Elliptical profile on Boron cantilever.

The AT-ML170 and the AT-ML180 in my opinion are the best MM cartridges ever made, they are not available today, but newer AT cartridges available at very reasonable cost (many people admitted that in this topic). The best MM/MI cartridges are normally high compliance, the tracking abilities of those high-ish compliance carts are simply amazing. 

This thread has been very helpful, and should be useful to many others in the future.  For me, it was a toss up between the Nagaoka 200 and the AT740 and perhaps the Goldring. Truth be told, I probably could have gone with lower cost models in the same lines.

@chakster - I just want to point out that the dynamic compliance of the AT740 is 10, whereas the Nagaoka is 7.2 (they do not actually state 100hz, but that's probably a reasonable assumption).  On a scale reaching up to 35, the difference b/t 10 and 7.2 seems small. Yet 10 is still almost 50% higher than 7.2.  Anyhow, if necessary, I'll add mass to the tonearm. If I were really seeking a higher compliance cartridge, perhaps the AT740 wouldn't be enough of a change?  Thoughts?  Here is a scale from Ortofon Support:

Low compliance < 10 cu.
Medium / moderate compliance 10 - 20 cu.
High compliance > 20 - < 35 cu.
Very high compliance > 35 cu.
Note: Dynamic compliance @ 10 Hz.

Thanks everyone. 
So Chakster, how do you explain Soundsmith's decision to make low compliance, low output moving iron cartridges. What could possibly be the advantages over "The Voice" which is high output (2.12 mV), high compliance other then matching high weight tonearms? What are your favorite styli. I like the Gyger S to which Soundsmiths OCL is very similar.
Dear @peter_s  : Nagaoka is not a low compliance cartridge but a medium one: 12cu.

Nagaoka was not so stupid to design an MM/MI low compliance cartridges.

As a fact other that the cantilever-less Igeda LOMC cartridges and perhaps Decca cantuilever-less just does not exist true low compliance cartridges and only people with very low knowledge levels almost ignorant ones could think in that wrong way.

Your MP-200 will works really fine and is very good cartridge with very good cartridge motors and competes against AT and any orther MM cartridge. Nagaoka is not a newcomer and even they made and makes cartridges for other companies/OEM.

Thanks @rauliruegas   I had reported the compliance in the specs (7.2), but the specs didn't reference the frequency, and I didn't know how to convert a 100hz dynamic compliance to a 10hz value (roughly double, I now read).  Looking forward to the  Nagaoka!
Get the Shure m97xe and upgrade to the vivid stylus. A fantastic combo.
Post removed 
Get the Shure M97 Era IV with the $45 Swiss nude elliptical N97ED. Blows the M97xE with the $114 VL out of the water. I have both combos.
Dear @peter_s  : These links confirm what I posted to you in the thread. You or any one can't go wrong with Nagaoka, only ignorant/extremely low knowledge levels persons:


Chakster.  Specs aren't everything. Try listening to the comparisons for once instead of your technical diatribe. I don't ignore specs, but like anything else in this hobby the proof is in the listening. I have had carts you have mentioned specifically the Stanton 881S with Stereohedron profile. My average lifespan for that cartridge tip was about a year to a year and one half with average use. I've had elliptical stylus that have lasted WAY longer than that, and guess what? They sounded much better that the Stantons. I know I have mentioned this many times before, but the Nagaoka bested my beloved Soundsmith Boheme cart which cost me $1200. 

I may not be a professional, but I do know how to set up a turntable, been doing it for 50 years. You can spew specs all you want but as I said, the proof is in the listening. Do you bother doing  that???
Nagaoka MP110. Look this up. Spend the rest on a Shiit Audio Mani phono preamp. If you ever decide to upgrade sell it as a whole TT setup. If you would like you can buy the cart mounted on the head shell. I have this as my AT LP120 setup. Right now I am auditioning a Rega P6 with an EAT eglo petite. Quite a step up from my TT. I might keep both. Sometimes I fall asleep while listening to records. My setup is full automatic. 
The Nagaoka MP110 and Schiitt Mani is a incredible bargain for the money.
You can not do wrong buying any Nagoka .
Shure m97xe or sumiko moonstone. Also the vessel from lp gear. 
Dear @mr_m and friends  : I agree totally with you and your experiences about with the 881, I own the top 981 that’s hand calibrated and had same experiences than you and not only with Stanton but with any vintage top cartridges that I re-tipped as Technics EPC100CMK4 ( stand alone version ).
Btw, a gentleman that’s an Agoner and that owns the Lyra Atlas re-tipped too ( through VdH. ) that same cartridge model and guess what not only performed better than before but he posted that likes it more than his Atlas.

Don’t waist your time with that person that is not a true audiophile but a seller and he takes advantage of the high compliance of Agon but he is truly dishonest not disclose he is a seller and that’s why always try to dimish every other cartridges that he has not on sale and always comes with that bla, bla, bla of pictures, stylus shape, specs and the like but with no facts.

All what he knows about vintage cartridges he learned through the long Agon MM thread. Again he is not a true audiophile he are behind the money and nothing wrong with that if he disclose whom he really is.
His opinions always are 100% biased to what he has for sale and nothing else and that’s why he posted what he posted on Nagaoka and in other threads all what he post: sale biased.

I don’t care of him what I care is that he is a lier and he is spreading lies and for new comers with out experiences gaves untrue information: this is not fair for those gentlemans.

Any seller has the rigth to be a seller, just disclose it. Which the problem?

when there are other manufacturers/designers(sellers that post in Agon as: J.Carr, Atmasphere, PNB and even re-tippers as SS but all of them disclosed their status. They are honest gentlemans.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,

Seems like a good choice, it's a wonderful feeling to move on.

For others following:

The elliptical have the advantage of succeeding with less than perfect alignment. That is a reason they are good choice for someone without tools and skills. 

Many of us it seems have had darn good experiences with that Shure M97xe elliptical. Shure's also has the advantage of the brush, damped for warps and/or springy floors, and to pick up dust prior to the stylus.

The advanced stylus shapes need very careful alignment not only to perform to their increased potential, to avoid groove damage if improperly aligned.
Dear @mr_m  and friends : This is a honest seller not like the person you was talking about that's dishonest one:

Thanks Elliot for your information. Good to know that an elliptical stylus is more forgiving of setup issues. Although I have the tools and knowledge to properly align the cartridge, this turntable (and many other budget tables) does not have VTA adjustment.  I wasn't planning on trying to adjust VTA, so hopefully this flexibility will help.  Thoughts?
chakster - I just want to point out that the dynamic compliance of the AT740 is 10, whereas the Nagaoka is 7.2 (they do not actually state 100hz, but that’s probably a reasonable assumption). On a scale reaching up to 35, the difference b/t 10 and 7.2 seems small. Yet 10 is still almost 50% higher than 7.2. Anyhow, if necessary, I’ll add mass to the tonearm. If I were really seeking a higher compliance cartridge, perhaps the AT740 wouldn’t be enough of a change? Thoughts? Here is a scale from Ortofon Support:

Low compliance < 10 cu.
Medium / moderate compliance 10 - 20 cu.
High compliance > 20 - < 35 cu.
Very high compliance > 35 cu.
Note: Dynamic compliance @ 10 Hz.

Thanks everyone.

Look if you think they did not actually stated 100Hz then it’s 10Hz in your opinion ? But it’s even worst :)

Do you understand that converting from 100Hz to 10Hz dynamic compliance will only increase?

As I said million times on this forum the compliance of Nagaoka is extremely low for an MM/MI cartridge.

Audio-Technica are mid compliance cartridges, but my choice is not the model you just mentioned, anyway.

If Dynamic Compliance measured @ 100Hz as 10.0 then @10Hz will be around 18-20cu

Simply multiply on 1.7 or on 2

So Chakster, how do you explain Soundsmith’s decision to make low compliance, low output moving iron cartridges. What could possibly be the advantages over "The Voice" which is high output (2.12 mV), high compliance other then matching high weight tonearms? What are your favorite styli. I like the Gyger S to which Soundsmiths OCL is very similar.


Nothing new here, Pickering and Stanton designed and made low impedance (low output) Moving Magnet cartridges, but not a low compliance! You can ask Peter why he made a low compliance, probably for high mass tonearms ? Because you can ask yourself who produce light mass tonearms today ? Those arms from the 70’s are about 5g effective moving mass, remember? And cartridge compliance was 30cu average or even 50cu.

Here is a short sample from the review for Stanton 980 low impedance model:

"Aficionados of moving-coil (MC) cartridges will be surprised and pleased to learn that 980LZS is indistinguishable from the very best moving-coil (MC) types in the most rigorous laboratory and aural tests. Stanton’s is an impressive dual achievement. I was continually aware that 980LZS sounded like a moving-coil (MC) cartridge. The bass was well defined and tight with good sonic clarity, as well as transient response and applause definition. Transparency of sound was excellent when reproducing the high recorded levels present on most direct-to-disc recordings. At no time did I notice any coloration of the music. The 980LZS is also one of the very few phono cartridges that can cleanly reproduce the cannon fire on the Telarc DG-10041 recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1812." 

- B.V.Pisha (Audio Review, Feb.1982)

Stanton equivalent in Pickering line is XLZ-7500 low impedance version, low output, but high compliance.