Of all the equipment in audio the cartridge hits the point of diminishing returns first. One can buy a well designed cartridge for under a hundred dollars. One can buy a very, very, good cartridge for a few hundred dollars. Beyond that the improvements, if any, get very expensive indeed. Generally the additional money would be better spent elsewhere.
So, an $800 cartridge is WAY beyond the point of diminishing return!
Depends on the tonearm.
It is impossible to evaluate and/or give advice for any cartridge(s) without the tonearm.
The tonearm/cartridge and amplifier/speaker matches are the most critical in any audio system.
Table/cartridge price ratio is not a useful measure.
I've never heard two cartridges that sound the same so generally you will never get the same results with two different cartridges in the same rig.
The only component I hear more variation in from model to model, vendor to vendor, is the speakers.
I think that once you have a very good cartridge, the differences are largely a matter of taste, like with speakers.
I think good cartridges these days start in the $250 range or so for MCs, less for MMs. Either are capable of good performance, though I tend to prefer MCs as a group over MMs.
I'd have to say in my experience I totally disagree with Samujohn. There is a huge difference between 500 and 3000 dollar carts, more money gets you more magic usually. Now you can have a great time with a 300 dollar cart, just don't fool yourself into believing that the 3000 dollar one sounds just about the same IT DOES NOT! That said I don't know that you'd want to spend that kind of money when you are playing with a 1500 dollar table/arm setup. You may be better to upgrade that and stay reasonable with the cart for a while. So no 800 for a cart for your setup would not be overkill.
I also agree with Audiofiel. Diminishing returns is a concept, not a specific dollar amount or an instruction table. For example, an inexpensive Rega arm might well benefit from a cartridge that cost more than the arm itself. A little knowledge and help with specifics may be required.
I feel that the cartridge is more important than the turntable. I have tried several cartridges in the Shelter line. Each time moving up the chain and always appreciating the sonic improvements. Like many products in the Audio industry, sonic differences and personal preferences define the various brand names. You need to figure out which brand of cartridge fits your taste in music. Some are more detailed and others more fluid. Then purchase one in that line that fits your budget. Why is it ok to spend $1500 on the turntable but only $800 on the cartridge? Usually its the cool look of the table that justifies the expenditure. Just because the appearance of the cartridge does not make a statement doesn't mean the sound improvement is not there. In fact its probably even greater. Good Luck.
>>I think good cartridges these days start in the $250 range or so for MCs, less for MMs<<
In this price range moving magnets almost always sound better than moving coils.
I think in most cases its more that the person buying a less expensive turntable is mostly due to shallow pockets and will also have the same issues buying a cartridge..I realize there are other factors for some,but many trade up to a more expensive table before buying a more expensive cartridge..It just makes more sense,not that you won't get better sound with a better cartridge.
The MCs I'm thinking of starting in the $250 price range are the Denons (hard to find) and Sumiko Blue Point line. MAybe Grados but never heard their MCs.
Other than these, yes, audiofeil, you are correct, you will probably have to spend more for a good MC to match a good system. I've tried various MMs I've accumulated over the years in the Linn Axis on my main system and either MC was to superior to any MM, though granted these were older MM cartridges that had seen prior use (grado, ortofo, Shure type IV, etc).
I have an older MM Goldring in my second, smaller system (Dual 1264), and that system is sounding the best ever now since I inserted a vintage Yamaha receiver that seems to have a very good phono stage. IT was not very spectacular with prior receivers tried, vintage NAD 7020 and Tandberg 2080. This revelation convinced me more than ever that all phono stages, even in higher end brands, are not created equal, so I think that has to be taken into consideration as well when matching tt and cartridge.
Haven't tried the Goldring on my Linn yet though.
Price is no indicator of good sound.
You probably have not heard the Grado MCs because no one has; they don't make them. All Grado cartridges are moving iron. Interestingly, Joe Grado had the patent on MCs in the US, but never enforced it.
As for the rest of it. It is hogwash, the cartridge is a transducer, it converts mechanical energy, into electrical energy, the loudspeaker is the only other component in the hi-fi system that does that, unless one wants to go back to the recording chain and throw in the microphone. Depending on the system, very expensive cartridges can be used to good effect on very cheap turntables, though the other way around usually yeilds more satisfying results.
Then there's the further complication that how good your cartridge sounds also depends on how good the phono stage is. I just upgraded my phono stage from the one built into a 1980s Amber to a modestly priced outboard Cambridge Audio 640p, and I never imagined that my humble little Denon DL-160 was grabbing that much sound out of the groove.
johnnyb53..i used to use a CA 640p with my dl-160, and yeah, it didn't sound bad. after reading Hdm's posts about dialing in db gain, i decided to give a phono pre, with adjustable gain and load, a shot. i was able to get a musical surroundings phonomena used for $325 on audiogon. when u dial in gain (44db on the phonomena) the sound becomes more effortless and natural sounding. my system played bright and i loaded it down from 47K to 300 ohms to tone it down. the phonomena also has an adjustment for capacitive loading. when i switched from 100pF(?) to 200pF the background became blacker and i was able to pick up more detail. i don't understand how this happened because, supposedly, MC's should be unaffected by capacitive loading.
anyway, what i'm trying to tell ya, is that your humble dl-160 can sound even better with a not so big bucks change. (u could get at least $140 for the cambridge the last time i looked here at audiogon) and maybe our dl-160's are not so humble at all....if u go over to pink fish media, you'll find that quite a few brits are using them on $2000+ tables!!
Would you get the same result from a cartridge that is in the $800 range with one that is in the $1200 range
Assuming the cartridges match the arm specs, of course the two cartridges will sound different!
As a rule, using a good cheap cartridge on a performant table yields better results than the other way round. It's simple: the engineering on a cheap TT is too poor to support the superior engineering of the cartridge.
The cheap Denons, while good performers in principle & for the money, are quite limited in application (very low compliance, output, etc).
If you have a phono stage that is up to the task, a high performance cartridge can work well with a decent TT/arm. You are building a portfolio of equipment by investing in the highest yield upgrades that address specific areas for improvement. Although purchasing an expensive cartridge now may not provide all the benefits possible, if you are planning to move up the table/arm down the road it could make sense.
>>a high performance cartridge can work well with a decent TT/arm.<<
Well sort of. A "high performance" cartridge requires a tonearm capable of optimizing its' abilities. Furthermore you must match the strengths of each component in order to garner maximum performance from the combination.
It's very easy to take a great cartridge and great tonearm only to have a gross mismatch.