I’ll admit it…
Listening to vinyl always gives me goose bump. And occasionally, tears in my eyes.
It’s all about the sound baby!!
If you’re in a rush, you can check out my favorite turntable cartridge on Amazon.
Or, check out a summary of my favorite picks.
Milking the best sound quality from your TT is all about the source.
What’s the source?
It’s the part closest to the vinyl – your cartridge and stylus.
Keeping this in mind, of course you want the best turntable cartridge for the money. Right?
So here at RPP I’ve brought you a roundup of carts that’ll give you the most bang for your buck.
Use the Quick Navigation and be magically transported to a review of each cart…
Quick Navigation Menu
- Audio Technica AT 100 E
- Audio Technica VM 530 EN
- Ortofon 2M Red
- Ortofon 2M Blue
- Ortofon 2M Bronze
- Shure M 97 XE
- Shure M 44 – 7
- Sumiko Pearl
Best Turntable Cartridge for the Money – Comparison Table
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See on Amazon
|Audio Technica AT 100 E||$||My AT 100 E Review||See the Audio Technica AT 100 E Cartridge on Amazon|
|Audio Technica VM 530 EN||$$||My VM 530 EN Review||See the Audio Technica VM 530 EB Cartridge on Amazon|
|Ortofon 2M Red||$||My Ortofon 2M Red Review||See the Ortofon 2M Red Cartridge on Amazon|
|Ortofon 2M Blue||$$$||My Ortofon 2M Blue Review||See the Ortofon 2M Blue Cartridge on Amazon|
|Ortofon 2M Bronze||$$$||My Ortofon Bronze Review||See the Ortofon 2M Bronze Cartridge on Amazon|
|Shure M 97 XE||$||My Shure M 97 XE Review||See the Shure M 97 XE Cartridge on Amazon|
|Shure M 44 - 7||$||My Shure M 44-7 Review||See the Shure M 44-7 Cartridge on Amazon|
|Sumiko Pearl||$$||My Sumiko Pearl Review||See the Sumiko Pearl Cartridge on Amazon|
Best Turntable Cartridge for the Money
Audio Technica AT 100 E
The AT 100 E by Audio Technica is a superb cartridge. It’s performance is decent at the lower frequencies. It shines most at the mid ranges. And the highs are pretty crisp.
Although, depending on your preference, you might find the highs to be too bright.
The AT 100 E doesn’t play as nice with scratched vinyl like the AT 95 does. So you’re likely to hear more cracks with this one. But it still offers good sound regardless.
It’s worth noting that the diamond tip is bonded to the shank. Which gives it a higher mass and this can cause inner groove distortion (IGD).
But most folks experienced IGD only on longer tracks. And it’s a nice step up from the AT 95 where the IGD is insane.
Tracking force for this cart is between 1.0 and 1.8 grams. But according to Audio Technica the ideal is somewhere in the middle at around 14. grams.
There was one complaint from a customer who got a faulty cart twice. Of course that’s super annoying and can be a deal breaker.
But in all honesty that was one complaint. So I’d chalk that up to just plain bad luck.
I hangout in forums a lot. And some folks are calling the AT 100 E the cartridge of the decade in its price class.
So if you have a mid mass tonearm, this baby should be on your radar.
Audio Technica VM 530 EN
2017 ushered in a total revamp of Audio Technica’s phono cartridges with the new VM series. And the beautiful VM 530 EN is the latest version of the AT 120 EB.
The ‘VM’ tech uses 2 magnets to match left and right channels in the groove walls.
The VM 530 EN also has a nude stylus. So the stylus and the shank are made from a single diamond.
This ‘nude’ design and ‘VM’ tech offers excellent tracking, channel separation and frequency response.
One noticible change is the 2 gram Vertical Tracking Force of the VM 530 EN. In theory the heavier VTF offers deeper bass.
From my research I’ve found folks are floored by the smoother and more detailed sound than the AT 120 EB.
My previous cart was the AT 120 EB, which is the discontinued version of this baby. I’ll admit it’s not merciful to older vinyls. But with the improvements I believe the VM 530 EB will perform better on weathered LPs.
The reduction of IGD is also notable, and the silences between tracks are also quieter.
Folks, did mention that the sound output of the VM 530 EN is much brighter though. This can probably be chalked down to a new stylus not being broken in yet.
But if you like bright highs or have ‘middle-aged’ ears, this shouldn’t be an issue for you.
The cart is a little on the pricy side. But it’s well worth the investment. And in my opinion the VM 530 EN falls in the category of best cartridge for the money.
Ortofon 2M Red
The Dane’s are die hard vinyl enthusiasts and Ortofon never gave up on vinyl! They still offer some of the best carts and styli out there!
The 2M Red is a budget cart by Ortofon. But don’t let this fool you.
It’s not entry level by any stretch of the imagination.
Like the AT 100 E stylus is bonded to the shank so it’s slightly heavier. But overall most folks do just fine with a tracking force of 1.8 grams.
The 2M Red works well with a variety of turntables. But if you have a low mass tonearm, this baby will play very nice. So it’s worth considering for those graphite arms.
One great benefit of the 2M Red is you have room to upgrade the stylus to the 2M Blue at a later stage. Without having to shell out for a new cart.
From my research the 2M Red offers a great deal more sound from the grooves. Re-discover new sounds is a phrase that pops up over and over.
But some listeners have reported that the 2M Red tends to highlight imperfections. While other folks report almost perfect tracking and no inner groove distortion.
There’s definitely more rhythm from the Red. And the sound comes across as warmer and clear.
If you’ve ever installed a new cartridge, you know how damn frustrating it can be.
One extra feature of the 2M Red I like is how easy it is to setup. Ortofon designed the 2M Red with threaded screw holes on top.
So you’re not fiddling to screw tiny nuts to the bottom of the headshell.
There was one complaint about a broken stylus within one week. But I’ll bet that was due to poor handling.
Some folks have commented that the sound is muddy and dull. This could be due to poor alignment or just a personal preference.
Although, a stylus only really reveals it’s true sound after 20 hours or so of play. So keep that in mind before making a call on the sound.
Ortofon 2M Blue
The 2M Blue is the big bro of the 2M Red. And another home run by Ortofon.
This one has a nude stylus, which is shaped from a whole diamond. This really opens up the sound specturm. So you’ll hear hefty bass without sacrifing on the crisp highs or mids.
The Blue performs really well on older vinyls and there’s a marked reduction in hissing from surface noise.
To fully enjoy the quality of sound, the cart does need at least 40 hours of break-in time according to Ortofon.
The Blue is a high compliance cart and does a superb job on a low mass tonearm. And the 2M Blue is a great upgrade from the 2M Red.
A bunch of folks I know on forums are running the Ortofon 2M Blue stylus on their 2M Red carts.
It’s worth noting here that proper alignment it essential to get the most out of the Blue.
So I recommend hooking yourself up with a protractor from vinylengine.com. They are super accurate.
Or pick up a stylus protractor off Amazon, which are dirt cheap.
It’s tough to find anything bad to say about this big boy. But if I had to find a downside, it might be the price.
The Blue doesn’t come cheap. But it’s a fantastic piece of tech. And can definitely be considered the best turntable cartridge for the money.
Ortofon 2M Bronze
The Ortofon 2M Bronze is desgined with a highly polished fine-line nude stylus.
This sleek profile means the stylus sits tight in the grooves and tracks to perfection. Or as close as perfect can get. Ortofon recommends an ideal tracking force of 1.5g.
The Bronze does a superb job of unearthing detail to the point where you can feel yourself standing inside the recording space.
It offers rich, deep bass and velvety midranges. And the highs are detailed but not harsh.
As Ortofon puts it, this cartridge is perfect for “extremely demanding material”. Think along the lines of Pink Floyd here.
And if you’ve got vinyl that’s seen better days, you’ll be happy to know that the Bronze is merciful on older vinyl. So there’s less of that annoying hiss, even during silent periods.
If I had to pick a downside to this cart it would be the 100 hours of break-in time it needs before it really ‘sings’.
Yup, 100 hours! But I think it’s worth the wait. Besides, time is one of the beauties of vinyl.
Also, I’d say it’s essential to get this cart set up correctly.
So the 2M Bronze is not Ortofon’s flagship cartridge. But some folks would argue that it outperforms Ortofon’s Black.
The Bronze is exceptionally pricey. But that also depends on what you’re willing to spend. Although, in my opinion, it’s one of the best for the money if you’re ready to make the leap into a different class.
Shure M 97 XE
Okay, so Shure doesn’t hold the lofty name it used to in the world of carts.
But it’s still a go-to for Hifi and DJ enthusiasts. And the M 97 XE is Shure’s offering for home Hifi systems.
The first thing I like about this Shure is it’s rep for being tolerant of vinyls that have seen better days.
If it’s set up correctly it’s a winner. And literally tracks like a hunting dog. Which makes it a great choice when you’re ripping vinyl to MP3.
And if you have a 78’s collection you’ll be happy to know that you can swap out the stylus for the N 78 S without changing the cart.
Which is a nice feature if you don’t have the nerves or steady hands to be changing out carts all day long!
And sticking with shakey hands…
If you have a manual TT you’ll appreciate the side guard system. It protects your LP if the stylus accidentally slides across the vinyl.
I think the Shure is pretty darn detailed for a cart in it’s price class. It offers warm, vibrant bass without being overpowering. And the trebel is confident too.
The mid ranges are first-class, offering fine detail without losing the tune.
Shure has added a screwdriver, mounting hardware, cleaning brush and alignment protractor to the deal. Which is a nice touch in my opinion.
If you’re after an affordable cartridge for your money, the Shure M 97 XE could be a candidate.
Although it’s worth noting that there are complaints about erratic quality control. Specifically dead channels, humming and bent needles.
And unfortunately, customer care is not what it should be for a name like Shure.
Shure M 44 – 7
Like I mentioned before the Shure name ain’t what it used to be. But that doesn’t mean their carts are crap.
The one main thread with Shure carts is they’re merciful towards older vinyl with more surface noise. And the M 44 – 7 is no different.
In fact, a lot of record stores use this cart on their TTs for customers to test LPs before they shell out.
Essentially it’s designed for DJ’s but it works a treat for the home Hifi setup too. And it can handle some pretty demanding conditions.
It’s high in bass and treble which makes sense since it’s a DJ cart. So if you’re not into a deeper bass sound, this cart might not be for you.
It’s a great cartridge though, but again, you might be missing out on the finer sound detail with the heavier focus on bass and treble.
From my research I’ve found it tracks like a dream – between 1 and 3 grams – with little to no skipping. And folks have reported low wear on their vinyls.
One drawback is the price of the replacement needle is steep considering the price of the cart and stylus combo.
Also there have been some complaints about the diamond tip giving up the ghost way too soon. This is rather annoying and speaks to the poor QC complaints about Shure.
But this can also be chalked up to poor user handling.
The M 44 – 7 isn’t a bad cart by any means. If you’re spinning old wax or deep bass gets your feet tapping, this cart is up your alley.
In my opinion the Sumiko Pearl doesn’t get the credit it is due.
Sumiko spends most of it’s R & D budget on their Moving Coil range. And that’s what they are best known for.
So, the Pearl is the flagship Moving Magnet cart by Sumiko.
Although, if you consider the mixed reviews on performance you’d think it’s a hit-and-miss cart.
Generally I’ve found that listeners rate the Pearl warm and capable compared to other carts in its price range.
It also offers low surface noise. Which makes it a great choice for older and weathered LPs.
Although, some listeners find the Pearl’s soundstage flat and lacking in depth. And there’s a loss of sound on the highs which can disappoint and performance is not great on the low end.
But keep in mind that any cartridge needs a minimum of 20 to 30 hours of break-in play. So it’s tough to make a call from the mixed bag of opinions.
But if you’re after an understated cartridge in a price class that suits your pocket, you might be pleasantly surprised by the Sumiko Pearl.
My Favorite Pick
My first choice for the best turntable cartridge for the money is hands down the Audio Technica AT 530 EN. It’s a pretty high end cart, that performs exceptionally well. And it’s great value for money.
Next in line would be the Audio Technica AT 100 E. Although it’s at the lower end of the spectrum, it offers a good balance between value for money and performance.
My next choice is the Ortofon 2M Blue. It’s a little pricier than the 2M Red. But it has a nude stylus so it really opens up the spectrum of sound. And it plays nice with older vinyls.
Personally, I would steer clear of the Shure carts. Only because of the poor QC complaints. Although if you get one that’s working perfectly and you like more bass to your sound, you’ll like either of them.
Okay, so you know what to look for in a cartridge. And I’m guessing you have a clear idea of how to find value for your money.
Now you can shop with confidence and pick the best turntable cartridge for your money and your taste.
Keep spinning that wax!