@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.
JUST LOOK at THE AT-ML150 OCC SPECS:
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.
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.
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 :(
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.
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.
@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.