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Pick up for the best phono cartridge

Today it’s possible to update the turntable without serious financial loss and the necessity to buy a new device. Usually, the reason for malfunction is a disable cartridge. In such a situation replacement can be a way out. Moreover, with best phono cartridge reviews, it can be easy to find a perfect detail. All the phonograph cartridges, even those, which are produced of a modern and reliable material, wear down through use, so we propose a great assortment of great elements.

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How to choose the right phono cartridge?

Since the needle can turn even the simplest record player in a real high-level audio unit with the divine sound, its choosing should be paid a great attention. Speaking after the experience, having some detailed checking and correct accents determining the selection field reduced to several units. For easier selection process you can take the next pieces of advice:

  1. Determine your financial capabilities.
  2. Figure out the phonograph’s cartridge type (standard or p-mount).
  3. Figure out its type (moving magnet or moving coil).
  4. Select a stylus shape.

Set the budget for phono cartridge buying

First of all, you need to think about the financial expenses because today a market proposes various prices (100-15.000 dollars apiece). You should understand that if you have an expensive vinyl player, the costly, but high-quality needle should be preferred for a better sound. You are free to buy a record player cartridge under 300 dollars or a phonograph cartridge under 1000 dollars, but first, you need to read our reviews and to weigh the decision. .

Such a task is very responsible because the unit has to be consistent with the turntable tonearm. The best helper, in this case, may become an Internet or a manual because specifications usually include a range of acceptable values. Only after data comparison, it will be possible to balance the total weight of the tonearm and cartridge for the further accurately tracking groove.

Identity the cartridge’s type (from the first perspective)

For the next step, we will also need the manual. You should define which kind of cartridge (standard or p-mount) your turntable uses. If the physical or web-version of manual is not available, don’t become upset! It may be easy to identify the type correctly even without guidance. A standard unit is placed on the underside of the turntable’s tonearm and is fixed due to the special vertical screws. A p-mount cartridge is put in the end part of tonearm and perpetuated with a horizontal screw.

Identity the cartridge’s type (from the second perspective)

You have to make a decision. What is better: a moving magnet (MM cartridge) or moving coil (MC cartridge) type? The MM looks like a miniature electromagnetic generator, but unlike the MC, at the end of the needle holder, there are 2 permanent electromagnets. The MC cartridges are more expensive. Even the best moving magnet cartridge cannot be compared with the MC products in a sound quality (the last one sounds better). Moreover, they do not require additional devices for coordination with phono stages. You should remember: cheapest is the dearest, so all the disposable Chinese record player cartridges with fragile needles swept away immediately. We are talking only about certified and reliable turntable details.

Make a choice of the stylus shape

After solving all the listed earlier aspects, you should take care of stylus. On today’s market we can find spherical (also known as conical), elliptical (otherwise known as bi-radial), line (also known as fine line or linear contact), and Shibata. The type of stylus is very important because the surface contact between its tip and grooves of a record establish the accuracy and depth of a sound, reducing phase problems and distortions. Another important thing that your record player has to have is a phono preamp. Visit the link if you need it.

Standard cartridges reviews

Further I present to you the best phono cartridge reviews of a standard (1/2 inch) type. Such details connect to the tonearm with the help of visible wires. Moreover, they are secured by two screws.

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Moving Magnet cartridges reviews

Best phono cartridges under 100 dollars

Audio-Technica CN5625AL: an entry-level cartridge with a half-inch mount

Audio-Technica CN5625AL
The device sounds amazing in both low mass straight tonearms and medium mass S-shaped tonearms. With its help, you always have an opportunity to enjoy the vinyl records because the player hides all the codes and noises of pop-music. The build quality is solid due to the straight cantilever and greatly polished stylus. The unit is perfect for everyday use and for those people, who can call themselves audiophiles. I have to mention, that the CN5625AL has a conical shape needle. Moreover, I like its frequency response (20-20.000 Hz), which is enough to start the playback after successful installation and launching the vinyl player. Even with the budget phono cartridge, the unit demonstrates to me that the vintage jazz can sound adorable.

Pros
  • Stylus adjustment and cartridge body have a rectangular shape, so it is easy to perform a cartridge aligning.
  • Its sound is inviting and warm.
  • Sibilance demonstrates itself greatly.
Cons
  • The bass is muddy.
  • The sound is 2-dimensional and a little bit harsh (sometimes).
Audio-Technica AT95E: a breeze installation with a pop sound

Audio-Technica AT95E
The device establishes itself as a very sensitive audio unit. For installation, I was needed the fine tooling (small pliers), and a phono amp became a great addition. The device greatly extracts enjoyable music from old vinyl records. It smoothes out some surface injuries and produces very clean and deep sound. The cartridge is supplemented by an elliptical needle. Such detail is very thin and I even dropped it once. Thank God, the cartridge appeared to be very strong. Personally for me, the AT95E is the best phono cartridge under 100 dollars, but such a low-price product has an excessive emphasis on bass and not very presentable design.

Pros
  • The sound is great even in the inner grooves.
  • The AT95E fit to most existing headshells.
  • It has a very affordable price.
Cons
  • The aligning process is very long. I have to watch some specialized video on the Internet to perform all the operations correctly.
  • The accompanying documentation is hard to read and to perceive.
Ortofon 2m Red: a combination of the improved engine and increased output of 5.5mV

Ortofon 2m Red
The installation is easy. After “dropping the needle” on the first single, I paid attention to the wide dynamic range and very deep lows (but not muddy). Of course, clear and pronounced crisp highs don’t leave me indifferent. The cartridge has an elliptical shape needle. In the set, there are a screwdriver and a stylus brush. It is suitable for listening to modern electronic music. Thanks to a special tracking angle I can tune the head very easy. Among unusual disadvantages, I can name the necessity to take off the rose-colored glasses and to see, that some records can’t present the whole sound opportunities.

Pros
  • Stylish appearance makes the device the practical decoration.
  • All the tinkling bells, guitar chords, and bass fiddles are perfectly heard.
  • This cartridge demonstrates the great compatibility with a wide variety of phono preamps.
Cons
  • The set doesn’t include the easy-to-read instruction.
  • For Audio Technica LP120 turntable the device is too heavy.

Best phono cartridge under 200 dollars

Sumiko Pearl: it will fit devices with different tonearms

Sumiko Pearl
The cartridge has very standard sound. I made experiments with alignment and tracked forces from 1.5-2.0 grams 1/10th at a time. This helped me find the necessary sound without hateful crisps and destroying noise. It has very good bass and a palpable midrange. There are a few interesting things: the cartridge is rather tall and doesn’t fit easily with standard length fixtures. Moreover, the head has a needle with elliptical sharpening. The sound character of Sumiko Pearl is very rhythmic, with natural, well-developed low frequencies, and a very pleasant middle. It has a special airiness, especially noticeable when listening to acoustic recordings.

Pros
  • The setting process is easy.
  • The cartridge is perfect for classic and hard rock.
  • I truly enjoy the sibilance absence.
Cons
  • The sound is limited in range, especially on top.
  • The device produces an old-school sound from a negative perspective. The warm bass sounds very artificial at some moments.
Shure M97xE: it can handle even with difficult musical passages

Shure M97xE
The M97xE demonstrates to me the original sound of old tracks. The Shure’s novel Dynamic Dampener become a pleasant surprise. The device has an ellipsoidal needle surface. With its help, I can track some wrapped records. The cartridge sounds good enough even with old records, which has deep scratches. In my humble opinion, the Shure M97xE is the best phono cartridge under 200 dollars, but the medium price category includes other decent details, which have a favorable price/quality ratio in the market. I have to mention, that a manual includes a recommended distance from the tip of the needle to the headshell end.

Pros
  • It has an amazing stable frequency curve.
  • Due to the moving magnet and high-output design, the mentioned cartridge has me with a real universality. It easily cooperates with the vinyl player.
  • The build quality is at a high level. I replace the metal body and diamond stylus. seamlessly.
Cons
  • The AT cart is too bright for me.
  • I notice some unpleasant inter grove distortions.
Ortofon 2M Blue: a device from a well-known company

Ortofon 2M Blue
A cartridge’s shape and color attract my attention. They are just like a diamond. The body’s head is made of blue translucent polymer. It is important to say about a high rigidity and really great anti-vibration characteristics. The unit has a nude elliptical stylus type. Earlier I had Ortofon 2M Red, but modern Blue appeared much better. It demonstrates to me crisper highs and very solid bass. Moreover, I start to notice some “hidden” sound shades. Such a cartridge is a great substitution for middle-class players.

Pros
  • Quiet surface noise really impress me.
  • I don’t see a sound sharpness and such a peculiarity is perfect to me.
  • The setting process was really easy and took me nearly 10 minutes.
Cons
  • The small brush for cleaning is useless. I’m using non-specialized facilities.
  • For a better sound, I have to install special tube preamps, the purchasing of which became an additional waste of money.

Best phono cartridge under 500 dollars

Ortofon 2M Bronze: the accurate tracking and wide frequency range combination

Ortofon 2M Bronze
The device tights the bass up considerably. It separates the instruments. The unit has a removable insert, and with its help, I can replace the needle very quickly. All the tracks in the death/thrash metal style sound with maximum clarity. This device very accurately conveys the essence of the music recordings. The cartridge and its elliptical needle show only their best sides. In my opinion, I can say that the Ortofon 2M Bronze is the best phono cartridge under 500 dollars, which has one small disadvantage: too artificial high notes.

Pros
  • The design is unusual, but such an aesthetic solution helped me get truly visual enjoyment from the usage.
  • I easily mounted the cartridge according to The manual’s recommendations are very useful in the cartridge mounts.
Cons
  • Sometimes, the sound seems to be a little bit thin.
  • Vocals tune like in front of the singer’s mouth there are hands.

Moving Coil cartridges reviews

Denon DL 103 Moving Coil Cartridge: quality in each element

Denon DL 103 Moving Coil Cartridge
The device has a conical needle with enough radius to perform a very accurate tracking. I notice a single point suspension and a double needle holder, providing a great protection against resonances. I want to commend a manufacture for good bass levels and pleasant midrange. Moreover, the high-quality assembly is perfect. Due to its electrical parameters, the cartridge combines with popular models of phono preamps, including those with limited possibilities for the input impedance setting. A high-quality correctors with good sensitivity are a great addition to the cartridge.

Pros
  • Very transparent and dynamic sound is really a “gate” to another level of music perception.
  • It can be a great decision for both, old and new vinyl players.
  • Thanks to the preamp impedance changing I can easily configure the sound to my liking.
Cons
  • Jazz sounds are very artificial and superficial.
  • There is background scratchy noise on old records.

Audio-Technica AT-F7 Dual Moving Coil: the sound enjoyment is in details

Audio Technica AT F7 Dual Moving Coil
The Audio-Technica AT-F7 has the elliptical sharpening of the needle. They provide a wide radius of the envelope of the tip in the frontal part and narrow in the side, which in combination allows the needle to follow exactly in the center of the track. The Audio-Technica AT-F7 demonstrates to me the maximum level of the manufacturer’s responsibility because the unnecessary vibration is minimized. The whole “sound picture” is represented really vivid, natural and in detail. Due to the high quality of manufacturing, the cartridge has the necessary reliability for long-term work as part of a properly tuned vinyl player.

Pros
  • Plenty of sound details is a great surprise. I hear the smallest breathing moments of the vocalist.
  • The setting process is really quick and easy. The manual contains all the required information.
Cons
  • It is too light-weighted.
  • It is a fussy cartridge that only sounds good in certain tables.

P-type cartridges review

For reviewing below I chose the P-type cartridges, which have a special mount system to ease its changing and aligning. P-mount cartridges are placed into the relevant tonearm using four terminals and are secured by one screw. Such a system differs from standard one.

Shure M92Ea universal light-tracking moving magnet

Shure M92E
Such a cartridge isn’t a sight for audiophile ears. It has good sound with superficial hints. I hear almost every scratch on my record, so the first attempt to enjoy the music failed mercilessly. I perform all the installation operations correctly and place a right bi-radial diamond tip. Unfortunately, I did it after the second attempt. The bass is perfectly controlled and distinguished by its elasticity, composure and good “punch”. Some inner details fall out. I guess that the assembly quality isn’t good enough, but at the same time, such a “loss” doesn’t have a negative impact on the sound.

Pros

  • A great high-frequency response is a pleasant surprise for me.
  • It is a nice solution for old vinyl players, which have no need for the high-level cartridge.

Cons

  • There is a significant background hum (only at higher volumes).
  • I actually hear all the shortcomings in bass and treble responses.
  • The lack of crispness makes me sad.

Cartridges for DJ

Shure M44-7 Standard DJ: a product that was made especially for experts

Shure M44-7 Standard DJ
The bi-radial needle is perfect for vinyl saving during intense scratching. It has no visible usage tracks. I truly enjoy all the sound facets and the device endurance. This cartridge is managed to reproduce an even-keeled tonality which worked over a wide variety of records. The case of the Shure M44-7 is painted black, which ensures its good stylistic compatibility with various models of tonearms. The device greatly works with 78 RPM recordings and the original M44-designed diamond stylus. I’ve tried a lot of cartridges from the Sure, but for me, the M44-7 appeared to be the best turntable cartridge for DJs. It is able to build a wide and fairly deep soundstage.

Pros
  • The sound seems to be very deep and multilateral.
  • The cartridge perfectly fits both: mid-class and very expensive turntables.
  • It has a smooth tone and slightly high audio level.
Cons
  • Levels come in too loud.
  • The setting is very hard. I put a lot of effort into the reaching of great sound.

Buyers Guide

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A phono cartridge: basic information

Briefly, the phonograph cartridge can be called as an electro-mechanical unit, which converts the record groove’s data into an electrical signal, and can be increased for further music production. There are a lot of different cartridge types, but the most popular are mentioned earlier elements (MM and MC cartridges). A diamond stylus tip contacts explicitly with the record. As the stylus traces the motion of the grooves, it vibrates a cantilever. It’s important to notice, that the term “cantilever” refers to a rigid tube with a cartridge, placed on one end and a magnet on the other. Thanks to the rubber suspension, the cantilever is able to pivot so that the stylus can perform the grooves tracking. After the vibration traveling from the stylus tip to magnet, the magnetic field of the last one started to vary. Then a small voltage in the coils comes through a phono preamp, creating the sound.

What is the best time for a stylus replacement?

If turntable music includes some creaking and noise, it should draw your attention. The element replacement will obviate the need for the record exchanging. The basic indicator is cartridge’s skipping or bouncing on records, producing distortion, sibilance, hiss and other not very pleasant moments. One more signal: a needle head is deformed or coated. The reason for it may be different, starting from the detail’s age and ending with the bad cleaning. It is important to choose the best phono cartridge and make the exchange as quickly as possible; otherwise, the records may have serious damages and transform into a very expensive trash.

What is a working deadline of a stylus?

Usually, the maximum working duration reaches 800 playing hours. The minimum is 400 hours and the average rate – 500 hours. The ratio may depend on the correct diamond alignment, the skilled tonearm installation, and the whole calibration process performance. It’s better to use the device very carefully because one accident damage can reverse all the gains.

Cartridge or Stylus

Some medium price niche turntables have the non-removable cartridge. Such a peculiarity allows a stylus upgrading. If on the end of the cartridge’s arm there are some screws, the cartridge can be replaced, and if they are absent – it might be possible to change only the stylus. The manual can become an additional source of information.

Stereo and mono cartridges: the difference

A mono record player cartridge has no vertical compliance because its stylus moves only in a horizontal plane. Stereo cartridges usually use a modern elliptical stylus with the generator wired for mono. Both systems produce a great and very clear music, without annoying noise, but each of them has its own sound features.