Try a tried and true classic. The Denon 103. It's under your budget, and every self respecting audio nut should own one. You'll probably do like the rest of us and keep it forever.. Also keep in mind that most of us own several cartridges. Fun to swap out or add tone arms. In a few years you'll have a few moving magnets and a few moving coils. This stuff is so addicting. Have fun.
What kind of phono stage do you have?
The 2M Black and 2M Bronze are moving magnet carts with a pretty high output, (5mv).
The Zu/Denon 103 is a very low output moving coil (.3mv).
If you have the gain, the Zu/Denon is a wonderful cart. I have one on my Oracle Delphi MKIV and love it.
If you have only a MM stage, the Ortofon 2M Black is great. I have one of those also on a different table. I upgraded from a 2M Bronze and it was a worthwhile investment, although the Bronze was no slouch.
The Audio Technica AT150MLX is another excellent MM cartridge.
I know that several members really like the newer Audio Technica MC carts, like the AT33 and the OC9/III, but again you need the gain for these. The Audio Technica ART9 is supposed to be really nice also, but sells for around $1000.
Thanks for the feedback. I am pulling my old audible illusions pre out of mothballs if I get a mm cart. If I go the zu denon route I will probably order the Vincent poh8. I will move up the food chain later and if this whole vinyl,revival is all I am hoping that it is I will move up to a better cart. I am just trying very hard to not break the bank at this point.
i'm not big fan of very low output cartridges. simply they don't make sense to me. it's an urge of either using ultra-high gain phono preamp(preferred) or step-up transformer(extra unnecessary expense -- i'm cheap freak). ultra-high gain phono preamps(over 60dB of gain) may also be either very expensive or noisier than moderate gain ones by nature. i also like in general performance of moving coil cartridges better than mm. therefore i'd recommend medium or high output moving coil cartridges within .5 to 3 mV. on my list it would be pioneer 6mc, Denon DL160.
If you like Ortofon look for vintage Ortofon M20 FL Super and you will be on heaven! It’s a top quality cartridge with Fine Line stylus. Don’t buy modern MM cartridges - they are overpriced, low quality and easily beats by top vintage MMs from the 70s/80s (you can still find NOS). If you want to learn more about it simply read Raul’s thread here on audiogon. If you can find any from his list it will be a top performer for reasonable price.
Any vintage MM can be retiped/recantilevered and improved by Axel in Germany (he works fast and charge less than others like Soundsmith etc).
You don’t need MC cartridge to start with, proper modern MC will cost you $3000 (and each 1500 hrs it must be retipped), but proper MM will cost only $300 and you can change stylus. Vintage MC are cheaper, but worn out and the limit of enjoyable listening experience is probably 200 hrs (then must be retipped). Add step-up transformer or head amp to the cost of low output MC and the budged will jump up to crazy amount. Think about the rest of your system. Start with MM cartridge and save money for something else, you will not lose anything!
P.S. I would NEVER buy Denon 103, even Denon 107 MM is better. Both will be creamed by any MM/MI from Raul’s list, i’ve tried many of them and many others experienced agon members aproved them too.
thanks everyone. I hate to sound lazy, but can you link to the thread by raul? is there a vendor that handles nos cartridges?
i figure a description of my system might help as well. i have an emotive audio sira custom tube pre-amp (as well as the aforementioned mothballed audible illusions), janszen za2.1a hp electrostatic speakers and am awaiting the arrival of the VPI super scoutmaster signature that should be here next week.
I want to stay around the 500.00 mark for this first cartridge. crazy cartridges may come later if i find audio nirvana. i am not married to either mc or mm. i do value immense soundstage and engaging over the ability to hear a cricket fart so hopefully that helps.
@2out2sea sure, you are welcome, i’m sure it will take a year to read everything but it worth it!
The vendor who can fix any cartridge is Axel Schürholz in Germany.
I got my Technics EPC 100cmk3 and Glanz FMG-71L from him not so long ago, feel free to contact him email@example.com
For under $500 you can grab Glanz 31,51,71, Astatic MF100 and MF200, Garrott P77 or P77i, Ortofon M20FL, Grace F9 Ruby, Victor X1, Pickering 3000 or 4000, Audio-Technica AT-ML150 OCC or AT-ML160 ... just to name a few. They are all extremely good!
Original Garrott P77 is my favorite at the moment!
For a bit more you can find Technics EPC 100cmk3 or 205cmk4.
I have Technics 100c mk3 for sale (retipped by Axel).
P.S. thanks again to Raul and all the contributors! I’ve been using $4000 modern MC but now enjoyin’ vintage MM carts (along with some vintage MCs).
I'm going to be a bit of contrarian and say that if you go MC, I would avoid the HO carts. The extra output is obtained by more windings on the coil. More windings = more mass = more inertia = slower response = smeared transients and diminished microdynamics. You're basically sacrificing the characteristics that MC carts are known for.
Check out the KAB cartridge gain calculator on line and plug in anticipated overall system gain. If your amp and/or pre is high gain, the MM stage may work just fine. Also, there are phono stages w enough gain that you don't need a separate step-up.
OTOH, if you're just dipping your toe in, then a lot can be said for a good MM or even an MI cart from Soundsmith, using your current AI phono stage which is reported to be quite good.
If you're using the Audible Illusions preamp phono section, you're pretty much locked into an MM. I happen to like it a lot (I had one for years), but it is (or, at least, was) optimized for MM/MI without the flexibility to adjust capacitance or gain. It will probably work well with some HOMCs, but not so well with others.
That still leaves lots of good choices in your price range. I assume that you're using the unipivot VPI arm, so a good match there is important, too. You might think about the Grado MI carts which are IIRC reputed to be good mates for VPI.
My first "real" cartridge was a dynavector 10x5 and it can be had for $500. I was very pleased by it for a long time. My previous cart was a $35 junko that came with the regs rp1 table. I ran the dynavector for a year or two, and then I stepped it up to a Lyra Delos. Anyway, I can recommend the Dynavector. It's a solid piece of gear.
I have been reading the posts and looking at the options. I think for my first cart I am sticking with something new not nos. That way I can rely on the vendor for setup assistance, etc.. I am also leaning towards getting either an ifi micro or ckearaudio nano phono stage.
I recently set set up a new mapleshade Samson rack with 4" shelves and honestly don't have the real estate for anything but a tiny phono. I don't want to have to pull my current preamp out of the rack. Plus my audible illusions limits me to mm only. The ifi and nano both allow some experimentation and adjustability will all carts.
so now it's narrowed down to which phono stage and which of the following cartridges; Zu modded denon, dynavector 10x5, ortofon 2m bronze, sound smith otello or audio technica (and which one the oc9 or is the at33 worth the money)?
For a while I used the Dynavector 10x5 with a PS Audio GCPH. That combo can be had for $1k, if you buy the phono stage used, and the cartridge new.
I think MC is the way to go. I am not an expert, but I seem to think investing in a MM setup is limiting yourself.
if you go with a setup like this, it gives you the flexibility to upgrade phono stages at some point, and stick with the MC Dynavector.
I was a dealer for and have personally owned everything listed above except for the SoundSmith.
While I'm a HUGE Dynavector fan, (probably my favorite cartridge manufacturer), the 10X5 is okay, but not in the same league as the other carts listed. If you could afford a higher end Dyna, like a 17D3 or above, that would be my choice.
This is strictly my opinion, but I have a massive amount of experience in the turntable/arm/cart arena. Okay, my list, (of the carts you mentioned above) would be in order:
Audio Technica OC9/III
Audio Technica AT33
Zu/DL103 is just a stock low compliance Denon DL103 or selected Denon DL103R with replaced stock plastic body. It's still Denon sound. Maybe it's fine for the fans of low compliance Ortofon SPU monsters. It's strange to see Audio Technica OC9/III next to it as it's totally opposite and more detailed sounding cartridge (higher compliance).
Well I found http://paradoxpulse.com today and they had two dl103 left from a batch. 359.00 shipped was worth trying. Feel free to flame away. I have no experience so based on research and some recommendations I went the denon route. I will report back what I hear. This cart comes modified and burned in for either 50 or 100 hrs I can't remember which. I am hoping it is a good sound. If not then I will be glad to try other recommendations.