What's your go-to cheapie cartridge?

Let's say $300 or less. This would be your "y'know, this thing is pretty darn musical even though I've got higher end carts" cartridge. In my case I'd have to say it's my 103R. Not as transparent or fast as a lot of my better carts, but it sails smoothly through the grooves and just sounds good. 
@stevecham u know it !!!!
A little north of your limit on price, but the  Denon DL-301MK2 is a bargain at $400.  I bought my last one for a lot less when Comet Supply was still selling them.
Have to be a vintage mm cart.
ADC XLM mk2 or ADC ZLM. or Sonus Gold Blue.

All judicious eBay buys at under $300.

All get rotated in turn with some newer lomc carts and give me great pleasure.

Now let’s just wait for Chakster and his cart nominations..
@tonyptony maybe not exactly $300, but very close to it under $450 if you're lucky:

Audio-Technica AT-ML150 OCC would be a perfect choice within your budget. It is a good start, two other upper models in this series are simply the best ever, but for the price you stated the AT-ML150 OCC is the best choice (imo) and far superior in comparison to Nagaoka or any new MM in the price range for up to $700 today.


Frequency Response (Hz): 5 - 42,000 !!!

Vertical Tracking Force: 1.25 +/- 0.3

Tracking Ability (microns) at center value VTF: 90

Tracking Ability (microns) at upper value VTF: 100

Channel Separation (dB at 1kHz/10kHz): 31/21

Channel Balance (dB): 0.5

Output (mV at 1kHz), 5 cm/sec): 4

Vertical Tracking Angle: 23 degree

Stylus Shape: MicroLine

Stylus Construction: Nude Square Shank

Cantilever: Gold-plated BERYLLIUM

Wire Uses For Coil: PCOCC

Recommended Load Impedance (ohms): 47,000

Recommended Load Capacitance (pF): 100 - 200

Dynamic Compliance @ 100Hz: 10.0

(* Dynamic Compliance @10Hz will be around 18-20cu)

Static Compliance: 40.0

Cartridge Weight (grams) 7.5

Replacement Stylus: ATN150ML


AT-ML150 OCC Vector-Aligned stereo phono cartridges feature an original design patented by Audio-Technica around the world. The key to this mechanism is the two magnetic generators arranged in the shape of a "V". These two magnets are positioned to exactly match the positions of the left and right channels in the stereo record groove. Major benefits of the Vector-Aligned cartridge include outstanding channel separation, very low distortion and superb tracing performance. As a final attention to detail, even the output terminals are constructed of PCOCC copper. This meticulous care and attention given to every minute detail in both the vibration and generator systems has resulted a significant improvement in the performance and sound quality.

Gold-Plated BERYLLIUM Cantilever.

It’s tiny, gold-plated Beryllium Cantilever provides an extremely rigid yet lightweight platform to which the stylus is mounted. Interestingly, the gold plating acts to damp what little resonance the boron produces.

MicroLine Stylus.

The stylus used is of the latest and most advanced design: Nude Square Shank Micro Line stylus more closely resembling the cutter stylus than any previous design, this shape produces better high frequency response with less wear or distortion than any previous design!


The latest technological advance is the utilization of a new, pure copper material in Audio-Technica’s exclusive “Paratoroidal Signal Generator”. Together with the laminated core structure, which minimizes loss in the high frequency region, this integrated parataroidal generator system operates at an efficiency significantly greater than conventional cartridges. The use of PCOCC wire perfects the performance of the advanced paratoroidal coil design. A special high-temperature extrusion die produces copper with virtually no transverse crystal barriers to impede signal transmission or color sound. Thus, the coils of the AT-ML150 / OCC transmit distortion-free sound in which even the most subtle details are reproduced with clarity and purity.

Great selections. Let me be clear and say again that the 103R is *my* go-to right now, although I've been curious about other carts in this price range. One thing I love about it is, frankly, the elliptical stylus. IMO there's nothing wrong with an elliptical if the cart is able to be musically satisfying. Still, technology and time do sometime provide for moving the ball forward (sometimes!), so finding out about these newer carts is always interesting. 

Here's another question for carts in this price range - is there one that could be considered "today's" 103R? Doesn't have to be MC necessarily. I have uber-carts for top shelf playing, but sometimes you want to just sit back with a reliable, dependable, cheapie and enjoy life. I'll have to read up on the suggestions made so far. 
Acutex LPM320 or M320.  Probably not realistic to mention these as they are very hard to find anywhere.  They are Induced Magnet types with stereohedron-like styli and titanium cantilevers.  Output is 2-3mV, I think.
I find my vintage Shure V15 type III a very satisfying listen. Was a superb cartridge in its day and still runs with the big dogs today.
Doesn't really qualify anymore since the cartridge can no longer be had for $99, but it was the Shure M97xe w/Jico SAS stylus (boron version). I like it far better than a popular cart that retails for $999.
Even my Hana SL was not a huge improvement over the Shure/Jico combo. 
My go to cheapie cartridge is the most expensive cartridge I've ever owned....Grado Black. About $100. Best sounding cartridge I've ever had!
I heard a Grado Black on a VPI Traveler TT in an audio store some years ago. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed that sound!
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Let me be clear and say again that the 103R is *my* go-to right now, although I’ve been curious about other carts in this price range. One thing I love about it is, frankly, the elliptical stylus.

You’re wrong, because the original stylus on DL-103R is CONICAL

103R Stylus: 16.5 Micron round tip, 0.2 mm square base diamond, crystal aligned, conical cut.

Also the complianbce is 5 cu @100Hz (very low compliance), so the highest possible tonearm mass is needed, do you have such tonearm? If not, then you ’re wrong with tonearm choice too.

The Denon 103 or 103R is like the Ortofon SPU and Fidelity-Research FR-7f designed for very heavy tonearms. The effective mass can be easily 35g.

How to match a cartridge and tonearm: click here

If you have the right arm for your DL-103R and willing to try a better tip on it just send it to SoundSmith and install Ruby Cantilever with LineContact stylus. With your budget this is probably the best you can do if you want to stick to low compliance MC.

But if your arm is not a high mass tonearm then you can change your oldschool LOMC cartridge to much better mid compliance MM like the AT-ML150 OCC with MicroLine stylus and Beryllium cantilever. This is a real killer for $350-450.   


Klipsch MCZ-7 Boron.

Where can you find the rarest Klipsch cartridge for $300 ?
I have Klipsch MCZ-7 Ruby and it will be impossible to find even for triple price. Actually those Klipsch are very rare cartridges, the OP’s budget must be exceeded many times to buy Klipsch, but the problem is that he may never find it :(

IMHO, the Denon 103 is a much better balanced cartridge than the 103R

@viridian, I’m interested in your opinion as to why. I've been very happy with what I hear from the 103R. Granted, it's been transplanted to aluminum body, and that helped it quite a bit. Thanks.

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ouch, so i am completely off-topic here with my recommendations 

I must say $50 for Klipsch MCZ is a steal, it's a $500 minimum, lucky you. I paid much more for my MCZ-10 Ruby, but at least it was factory sealed. 


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Chak, yes I know the 103R has a conical. My error in timing as I was looking over the HW VAS Nova elliptical that I was planning to (and have since) installed. I guess I was thinking about that when I typed. I missed the 30 minute edit window! :-)

What Craigslist do you peruse!
Nothing but total junk ever on mine ... Lol.
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Our secret......
About as far away as you can get here at Jacksonville Florida.
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Have been having fun with this cart this morning too so going to throw it out there.
Acutex m312 III STR 

Very fair price paid and so far it is proving to be very musical for want of a better term.
Another Grado Black user ($75 new) but replaced the stock stylus with an 8MZ ($150).  
Never tried Grado Black but I suspect it's a bargain.  I love the sound of my $200 Grado Gold on my early 1980s  Acoustic Research ES-1.
Grado Gold with 8MZ stylus is also a good combo, (I have a Black, a Gold and the 8MZ) albeit, the total price would exceed the OP's budget.
 @viridian all that rain, cold rain has an upside......

i rescuced a busted Sapphire recently....$2k...later..man i hope the Grado on it is worth a listen.....we shall see, she arrives from SOTA factory tommorow..

what have you in the cast off bin suitable for Sumiko FT-3 ??????
Grado Gold with 8MZ stylus is also a good combo

@stevecham, how would you say the Gold stock versus the Gold with the 8MZ compare?

The best Grado stylus for any Grado Black, Gold etc cartridge body is XTZ, huge upgrade, but expensive. The XTZ was designed by Joseph Grado for his Signature Grado XTZ cartridge (discountinued model), but the styli still available from Grado. 
The highs are more prominent with the 8TZ styus and I feel it tracks better than with the stock stylus. Overall the frequency balance seems more even. I’m sure the XTZ would be even better, but it’s out of my price range.

One thing I wish Grado, as a prominent phono cartridge maker would do, is provide the dimensional profiles of the styli used on its cartridges. They need to join the vinyl playback world in that regard. They say "elliptical," well what exactly does that mean? Feels like they’re trying to hide something.
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I took a chance and bought a used Shure V15VxMR MM cartridge for 220 CAN which ended up being $150 bucks US hoping nothing was wrong with it as they normally go for $500 and installed a JICO SAS VN5xMR stylus and to my surprise it worked just fine and have been using this setup for awhile now.

And this is after 'retiring' my Shure M91ED cartridge I bought for $35 and installed a JICO SAS N91ED stylus with boron.
Big fan of the Jico SAS stylus here too.
Have an old Shure M91ED too that gained new life with a Jico SAS stylus.
However at $200+ for a genuine SAS stylus it does push that total price up unless you got the cart for next to nothing to start with.
AT-14sa with OEM stylus.
I just mounted my old Shure M97xE with JICO SAS stylus on my "new" JVC QL-Y66F and it sounds great!  It came with a Stanton 981HZS cartridge, which was nice sounding also, but it seemed to be more sensitive to airborne vibration and was less forgiving of surface noise. 
Thanks for that, @big_greg . I was wondering about the Stanton 981HZS. 
@tonyptony The Stanton is not a bad cartridge by any means. Everything I've read about it is very positive. I don't have any history on the one I have, it came with a turntable I bought recently, a JVC QL-Y66F direct drive. No idea how many hours are on the stylus. As it is it's very detailed and has great channel separation.