A cheaper cartridge doesn’t have to mean a crappy one.
With a few exceptions, you can run a high-quality cartridge well within a budget of 100 bucks.
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You can check out my pick of the best turntable cartridge, the Ortofon OM5e on Amazon. I like it for the value and sound.
Turntable Cartridges Under 100 Bucks – Comparison Chart
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|Product (click to see at Amazon)
|My Rating (out of 6)
|My Full Review
|Ortofon OM 5 E
|Ortofon OM 5 E Review
|Ortofon 2M Red
|Ortofon 2M Red Review
|Audio Technica AT95 E
|Audio Technica AT95 E Review
|Rega Carbon Review
|Ortofon Omega Review
|Audio Technica AT 92 ECD
|Not Available at this time
|Audio Technica AT 92 ECD Review
The Best Turntable Cartridge Under 100
I’ve mentioned this before but here it is again…
The source closest to your vinyl is probably the most important thing to consider. Then your tonearm and TT itself. And then your amp and speakers.
So here at RPP I’ve brought together a bunch of the best cartridges that give outstanding performance and won’t make your wallet sweat bricks!
Okay, they are not perfect – nothing is! So I’ll share the highs and lows of each one…
Ortofon OM 5 E
I love the Ortofon OM 5 E. It’s the cartridge I’m currently using on my old Pioneer PL 720 TT.
Sure it’s not Ortofon’s top of the range but it gives a great performance. And its price will suit any pocket.
The OM 5 E has an elliptical stylus which is ideal for tracking tightly in the grooves. And tracks at a recommended 1.75 g. From my experience, it tracks damn well!
In case you are wondering, the ‘OM’ stands for Optimum Match. There’s a tiny weight plate tucked into the mounting bracket.
Which makes the entire OM series compatible with just about any tonearm. So even if you have a low mass tonearm this baby will play nice.
I’ll be honest, I was a little worried that the OM 5 E would highlight the imperfections on my older records.
But while I’m writing this, I’m listening to a vintage pressing of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Bark’. And I’m pretty darn happy with its presentation.
To begin with, I tested it on a ’90s pressing The Doors. And to me, the sound was strained. Almost shrill-like on the highs (and you know how Jim liked to shout sometimes!). The lows also had no definition.
I know The Doors is demanding music, so chalked it up to the suspension needing time to loosen up.
After breaking it in with about 20 hours of play I’m impressed! Especially for a price tag under triple digits.
Even something like Portishead which is bass-heavy has definition through all the ranges.
It’s really got a great range and good channel separation. And I’m in love with its warmth and depth.
Also, there’s no splatter in the semblance that I can detect. I listen to records every day and I can tell the sound is improving even more as time goes on.
Overall I’m loving the OM 5 E at the moment. It’s kind to my older records and my new pressings alike. Which is great since I loathe switching out carts.
I’m definitely going to go with the Ortofon OM 5 E as the best turntable cartridge under 100.
Sure, it’s not top of the range. But I think it’s value for money at the mid point of a budget. And offers damn good performance.
Audio Technica AT95 E
This cartridge from Audio Technica has a history spanning a quarter of a century. That’s a damn long time! And it still has an impeccable reputation.
You’ll find vinyl lovers all over the forums singing its praises as a go-to budget cart that still offers good performance.
Audio Technica’s AT LP 120 TT comes standard with this cart. And it’s easy to see why.
It’s a great choice if the cart on your lower end TT needs upgrading. You’re likely to hear a reduction in semblance splatter (any sounds the vocalist makes in the front of their mouth).
The recommended tracking force is 2 g. And for a cart in this price class, it tracks well.
Its highs and lows are outstanding. But you might be less satisfied with the mid ranges. Although they still do fairly well.
It’s very merciful on old records and tends to hide the impurities.
The output voltage is 3.5 mV so it tends to be quieter than other carts like the AT 100 E for example.
Some folks have complained that it’s tricky to remove the stylus from the cart body before mounting. But honestly, I’ve done this several times with no issues whatsoever.
It’s worth noting that some folks did complain about lousy packaging. Although, from my research, it’s the exception, not the rule.
If you have a higher mass tonearm the AT 95 E is likely the best cartridge choice under 100 bucks.
And if you’re playing older records you’ll like the performance from the conical stylus.
The Rega Carbon is the cartridge that comes standard with Rega’s RP 1 turntable.
Considering that, you might think this cart is somehow special. But in fact, it’s a hybrid Audio Technica AT 91.
Basically it’s an entry level Audio Technica cart with a carbon fiber cantilever. Where the stock standard AT 91 has an aluminum tube cantilever.
The carbon cantilever performs well to offer up a velvety sound. And it tracks pretty well too. This makes it’s kind to older records with scratches.
The recommended tracking force is 2 g. But I’ve seen folks say 1.5 g to 1.6 g provides better sound.
It’s got good bass too. Although it’s got a sharpness to the treble you might not like.
The Rega Carbon has a conical stylus which I’m not fond of. But some folks love the highs it gives.
From my own experience I’ve found that the suspension on the AT 91 is weak and tends to fail quickly.
So for me, I don’t think the Rega Carbon is worth the money, even if it has a carbon fiber cantilever.
It’s not the worst cartridge out there. But I think for the price there are better options out there.
The Omega is a low budget cartridge from Ortofon. But don’t let its low budget rep fool you.
It sounds more than decent and performs well. And tracks like a bloodhound. Which is great if you have old records.
Ortofon is known for its low wear carts and the Omega is no different. So you can be sure that it’ll treat your new pressings with care.
Overall the sound is nicely balanced. Although the bass is not overwhelming if you enjoy more bass in your music you’ll love what the Omega has to offer.
You might be a little disappointed with the mid ranges though – they won’t stun you. But they are still clear.
Like with any cartridge, I do recommend a period of ‘breaking in’. With a minimum of 20 hours play to give the suspension time to loosen up.
It’s at this point you’ll start enjoying the sound from the Omega.
Some folks on audio forums are calling the Omega the deal of the century considering its performance and price.
And I don’t think they are far off. It’s a good choice if you’re ready to dip your toes into the higher quality cart but still want to stick to your budget.
It’s worth mentioning that Ortofon doesn’t offer a replacement stylus for the Omega. But you can pop just about any other Ortofon stylus on the Omega body.
Although, if you like the Omega and budget is important, you can pick up a new one for next to nothing.
I like the Omega as a cart that performs well in the sound and budget category.
The only downside is some folks have complained about their cartridge arriving in poor packaging. But luckily Amazon has a great return policy and you can have a new one sent out in no time.
The Omega by Ortofon is a more than decent cartridge and its price point is rather sweet. It’ll even leave you with enough greenbacks to buy a few records too.
Audio Technica AT 92 ECD
The 92ECD is not available so check out the Audio-Technica AT85EP at Amazon.
This cartridge from Audio Technica is specifically for P Mount tonearms. But with the help of an adaptor, it can be used on standard half mount decks too.
It’s got a bonded shank which means the stylus is glued onto the cantilever.
This will add a small amount of extra weight to your setup. But I don’t think this makes any difference when it comes to performance.
I like the fact that has an elliptical stylus. Which in anyone’s books tracks better and is kinder to records in general.
Audio Technica recommends a tracking force of anywhere between 1.0 and 1.5 grams.
It’s high compliance which means overall higher quality sound. But even at the lightest tracking force, the body rides low.
Because of this low riding body, I don’t recommend this cart for a standard half mount tonearm. The added weight from the adaptor could throw everything off.
So if you have a universal half mount tonearm, give this one a skip and consider other options like the Ortofon OM 5 E. Or the Ortofon Omega instead. And if you’re after a conical stylus which plays nice with older records then the Audio Technica AT 95 E is a good option.
Also, I think this cart is much better suited to a low mass tonearm. So if you have a mid or high mass tonearm this one should be avoided – in my opinion.
And if your turntable doesn’t have a setting to adjust the tracking force then avoid the AT 92 ECD. Anything heavier than 1.5 g will make the body scrape your records.
The AT 92 ECD offers balance over the sound spectrum. The bass is hefty and the mids aren’t muddy.
But like other Audio Technica carts you might find the highs very bright.
But if you like bright highs then you’ll be happy with its performance here. It does take time to break in and loosen up the suspension.
Other users have reported low surface noise, especially for a budget cart. And even with older records with surface scratches this baby performs well.
One downside to mention is that their overall lifespan is short. So if vinyl is your primary source of music, this cartridge might not be for you.
In my opinion, the AT 92 ECD is a great choice if you have a P mount tonearm. It’s sound quality is decent and it’s got an elliptical stylus which is a nice touch for a budget cart.
Ortofon 2M Red
I’ve written about the Ortofon 2M Red before. So I’ll just touch on the most important features here.
If you want to dig deeper into this cart, check out my detailed review of the Ortofon 2M Red.
The 2M red will hit the top end of your budget. But it’s a worthwhile cart to consider.
It’s a bonded shank so it’s a little heavier. But with the light tracking force of 1.8 grams, it’s still super light.
And even although it’s light it tracks like a dream. But it plays best with low and ultra-low mass tonearms.
One of the main features I love about the 2M Red is you have some awesome upgrade options with its body.
If you’re like me and love to ‘feel’ the rhythm of tracks the 2M Red will give you just that. It’s especially fond of guitar riffs.
Although some folks say the Ortofon range highlights flaws. Personally, I haven’t found this to be the case.
The Ortofon 2M Red is a budget choice in the higher quality cartridge category. And it should definitely be on your radar if you’re planning some upgrades in the future.
My Favorite Picks
Like I mentioned, I think the Ortofon OM 5 E is the best pick out of the bunch. It performs well in the quality and price range. Although it’s limited for upgrades.
If you’re planning some higher end upgrade for the future I’d say the Ortofon 2M Red is the way to go.
The Audio Technica AT 95 E and the Ortofon Omega fall into the same class in my opinion. The AT 95 E is only slightly more expensive but it has a conical stylus.
The Omega has an elliptical stylus. But Ortofon doesn’t offer replacement styli for it. So you’ll need to buy a whole cart and stylus when it’s time for a new one.
The Rega Carbon is my least favorite of the bunch. The cart itself is an AT 91, I think you can do a lot better for the price.
And if you have a P mount tonearm, the AT 92 ECD is a decent cart if your budget is under 100 bucks.
Now you have a pretty good idea of what’s out there to suit a budget of 100 greenbacks or less. So making the right choice for your needs should be a breeze.
Keep spinning that wax!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Will any cartridge fit any turntable?
A. Short answer is no. Each player is different, so they each may have a different requirement. For example, the turntables with moving coils don’t usually have the ability to change the stylus so it is required to replace the entire cartridge.
Some turntables are only compatible with one cartridge type.
It is best to read the manual.
Q. What does the cartridge do in a turntable?
A. The cartridge is a device that translates the grooves of your record into a signal that can be amplified to produce music.