Audio Technica AT150MLX
Thanks for the responses. By coincidence, while I was waiting for some suggestions here, I was looking into the Virtuoso Wood, 2M Black, and the Dynavector 10x5. The Maestro may be too much money unless a good deal comes along. I was also was looking at a Nagaoka MP-50, and now I'll also check on the Audio Technica AT150MLX.
If I decide to buy a used cartrodge, what should I look out for before I actually buy, to be sure the cartridge is okay? Also, how many hours on the cartridge would be acceptable?
For moving magnet carridges (AT150MLX, 2M Black, Nagaoka MP-50/500):
The cartridge itself rarely fails. They're usually good for decades of use. What matters is the condition of the stylus. If you get the body cheap enough then you can go ahead and purchase a new stylus for it. If you're purchasing with the intent of using the included stylus then purchase from a trusted seller who can state the approximate number of hours on the stylus, or who can examine the stylus under a microscope to determine its condition. Otherwise it's a crap shoot at best.
Duvallite, allow me to add my two cents. I, too got back into vinyl after a few years away. I also had a Denon avr unit and i use Monitor Audio silvers ( s1 in my small room, s5i in my larger room). I have tried a number of carts from grado, audio technica, and nagaoka. When i finally upgraded to a seperate phono preamp and a decent Mc cartridge, i finally began to hear more of what a good analog playback system can provide. Today, my main system employs a Denon Dl304 cart into a simaudio moon lp3 preamp. If it were me, I would go for a Denon 301 cart or the audio technica oc9 on sale, and a cambridge audio preamp. both could be had for around $500, and you would have an excellent analog front end.
If you are not familar with the Cartridge and Tonearm Databases at Vinyl Engine, I'd recommend checking each cart recommended here to make sure that they are compatible with the cart you are interested.
You can usually find both your arm's effective mass, and the compliance of your cart there. Crucial factors when determining arm-cart matches.
One advantage of the Audio Technica AT150MLX among the cartridges discussed here is its MicroLine stylus. MicroLines are usually found on $2K and up moving coil cartridges. They also last longer than other shaped stylii according to an boutiquey analog-based stereo shop I frequent. He said that MicroLines often last 2-5 times as long as other shapes, and he's talking from the perspective of a small specialty shop that sets up hundreds of turntables and inspects stylii routinely. I have five years on my original AT150MLX and it still sounds and tracks like new.
As for where it sits in the hierarchy of affordable high end cartridges, I think that is largely dependent on system matching. This cart is often matched with a Technics SL12x0 DD turntable, creating the impression that the cartridge is to blame for a midrange glare. The real culprit (IME) is the resonant frequency of the tonearm tube and the knurled collar for the headshell. Wrap those in Teflon pipe thread tape and that glare goes away. The AT150MLX was Absolute Sound's 2011 Cartridge of the Year, and is often cited as one of the best sub-$1K cartridges out there.
Go for an AT440mla, superb cartridge at a price around $185 on Amazon. I have an almost new one, along with vintage Shure, Pickering and Stantons that I have replaced styli on, as well as a new Grado Sonata Reference and Ortofon Black, and this AT is as good as any of them. Superb tracker, excellent bass dynamics and clarity, silky midrange without grain or glare. This is an amazing cart and you would not be disappointed. It is as good as any $500 catridge you will find. Plus it looks very cool blue.