New Cartridge for SME 309

Need help. I've got an SME309/VPI HW19/Mod3A(28db gain phono). Using an AT150ML, twelve years old at least. Had a Dyna 10x4 Mk2 but I killed it. Anyway, getting back into the hobby and interested in a new cartridge.

Here's where I'm at. I was thinking going low output via KandK stepup. Looking at Denon 301 II, Dyna 20xL, Benz Glider. Are the more expensive cartridges worth the price you pay over the Denon? Same goes for the Dyna and Benz. I'm also contemplating going with a 10x5 and just upgrade my table instead. I liked the 10x4 it was music compared to the AT150. Especially important was how quiet it was. If you haven't guessed by now, I'm a cheapo and buy alot of used vinyl. So, that I can spend my money on other more important things, i.e other hobbies. Any other cartridges I should look at. Thanks.
A friend of mine has a 309 on an HW-19 IV. The 309 has the the dampening trough and the upgraded pivot bearings. This is a terrific arm/table combination.

I don't know about the specific cartridges you are looking at, but I can say that the table/arm combination is worthy of a top grade cartridge. My friend currently runs a Transfiguration Orpheus in his setup and this cartridge sounds very good. In fact, as far as tracking a Shure test record, it does better than the Orpheus in my Vector arm on my Basis Table (cost is several multiples of the SME/VPI).
Hmmmm... top grade cartridge? Gulp. You're making me go against my religion :). Coming from an AT150ml, I don't know if I'll be able to fully appreciate these cartridges. Small steps? Besides, it'll make too much of a dent on my tire and brake budget ;).

I do have the damping attachment on my 309, improves tracking markedly. What's nice about it is that you can turn it on or off, 'cause it doesn't always make things better. I didn't know you could upgrade the bearings. What I wanted was to upgrade the internal wiring, don't know if you can do that either, its sealed from the detachable headshell. I've got a ways to go to make my VPI a Mark IV. I was actually thinking going with a Michell or Oracle which also seems to have synergy with the SME. Any other tables out there?

I didn't mean to imply that you should go to a top grade cartridge, but that the arm and table certainly would do justice to ANY choice, even the best available cartridges.

As for upgrades, I don't know if it is possible to actually buy a particular arm and then have it upgraded later vs. buying an "upgraded" arm with better bearings, like the ABEC 7 bearings. Same thing with the arm wiring.

The friend with the SME/VPI does a lot of tinkering and also moves that arm and a Graham 1.5t between the VPI and a Technics table. On both tables, he gets the same basic performance (we both actually prefer the SME 309). I generally think that the arm, and certainly the cartridge, makes a bigger difference once you get to a reasonably good quality level. If the VPI has been giving you pretty good performance, perhaps you should think of upgrading it to the highest HW-19 status and spend the big dollars on a good cartridge.
Thanks. Its reassuring to know that my tonearm has that potential. It also good to know that turntable can be very good as well. However, I don't know if I can find all those parts here that quickly, may take awhile. Cost wise it might be just same as getting a decent used table. I'll look into sub $1000 cartridges, ZYX, Shelter.
If I recall correctly, VPI is no longer making the HW-19, so upgrade parts may indeed be hard to come by. As far as alternative tables, particularly the ones you mention, I've heard a cheaper model Michell with an SME arm.

To me there are two basic approaches. One approach is to try to dampen/drain all vibration, particularly the vibration generated by the cartridge itself. These tables are usually massive, and, if they are suspended, the suspension is heavily damped and does not jiggle much when the table is jostled. Some would say the sound of such a table is "dark" or that the background is silent and "black." Critics would say such tables sound dull and too polite. In my system, I like this particular sound because I don't need my table to ADD more zip and liveliness to the sound; such added life is, in my system, more akin to noise and is an annoyance because of its pervasive presence in all recordings.

Other tables, such as the particular Michell table I heard, are on the "lively" side. Typically, they are lighter in construction and have suspensions that are lightly sprung and move easily to the touch. In the right system, that added liveliness can be really addictive and add a whole lot of extra fun to listening. I recently heard, in a friend's system, a Linn table with a Naim ARO arm that sounded dramatically more lively than another table he had (Basis 2500 with Graham Phantom arm). In that particular system, I MIGHT actually prefer the Linn/ARO combination (I say might, because a lot of things that are more exciting and fun do turn to annoying in the long haul).

The VPI is, to me, sort of in the middle. If you are looking for more liveliness, the Michell or Oracle, or a Linn might do the trick. If you are looking for a more "refined" sound (more silent background, more weight, less hashiness) look at Basis, perhaps the SOTA Millenium (good table with a terrific vacuum record "clamp"). I have also heard an SME IV on two Avid tables, the Volvere and the Acutus, and those combinations sounded very good (like the VPI, sort of in the middle between the two types of sound).
Koetsu black. Worth the money
Update, Well... I went the other way. I got a Shure M97xe. Tsk.. tsk.. I know, I know. I owe it to myself to get a super cartridge and I will. I've been a good boy this year ;)

Anyway, about the Shure. I glued the needle to the body, major improvement. Also, I've got fluid damping on my SME. This works wonders on this cartridge. I don't use the brush on the Shure.