Best Turntable Cartridges

It may be a small turntable component, but a cartridge’s build quality can deliver significant differences. You don’t have to be a turntable expert to hear the differences in cartridges that are made of varying materials and overall quality.

There is a long list of variations that come with a turntable cartridge, and it’s important to understand their purpose and what makes some better than others. This article is going to list the best turntable cartridges currently available that are bound to improve the sound and functionality of your favorite turntable.

Best Turntable Cartridges

Our pick: Nagaoka MP-200

Key features:

  • Moving magnet cartridge
  • Weight: 6.5g
  • Stylus pressure: 1.5 to 2.0g
  • Frequency response: 20 to 20,000Hz
  • Cantilever: Boron

Reasons to buy

Although there are many cartridges that can deliver a satisfactory experience, the Nagaoka MP-200 is our top pick as the best turntable cartridge for numerous reasons. It provides a fast response time, warm sound, and smooth functionality that’s honestly quite impressive. Many users of this cartridge feel like it breathes new life into older records, and it comes with a build quality that’s meant to last. 

It only weighs 6.5g, so it won’t drag by any means, and Nagaoka is known for its reliable craftsmanship. It’s important to remember the true performance of phono cartridges relies on other parts as well. Your speakers, tonearm, and phono preamp all have an effect on the performance of a turntable cartridge.

It’s an MM cartridge with a boron cantilever and offers a stylus pressure of 1.5 to 2.0g for an accurate read. You’ll notice excellent detail in the audio quality, and it has no trouble covering low and high-frequency ranges. Many turntable enthusiasts prefer this cartridge over many other MM cartridges, and it’s bound to deliver an unwavering performance for years to come.

Regarding the specifications of the cartridge, it offers a channel separation of 25dB(1KHz), and its channel balance is 1.5dB or less. 

Cons to consider

Of course, if you’re looking for high-quality cartridge upgrades, you can expect to pay a premium price. Most who bought the cartridge seem to be happy with the product, but its cost is enough for some individuals to look the other way.

It may provide substantial performance quality, but it still won’t track as well as a line contact. Some people think the cartridge doesn’t help with bass as much as some other cartridges, and if you need a replacement stylus, that can be an expensive fix. 

Overview

It seems that the Nagaoka MP-200 has won the hearts of nearly everyone who has had the opportunity to put the cartridge to the test. Overall, you should consider these potential cons, but none seem to be a deal-breaker for those with first-hand experience with the cartridge.

You may find another cartridge that seems more fitting for the outcome you’re looking for, but this is an excellent cartridge for anyone looking to improve the quality of their turntable’s sound quality. It may come with a high ticket price, but many people feel it’s worth it, considering its quality output and years of service. 

Best value: Audio-Technica AT-VM95E

Audio-Technica AT-VM95E Dual Moving Magnet Turntable Cartridge Green
  • VM95 Series dual Magnet cartridge with 0.3 x 0.7 mil Elliptical...
  • Aluminum cantilever
  • Specially wound coils increase output voltage

Key features:

  • Moving magnet cartridge
  • Weight: 1.44oz
  • Vertical tracking force: 1.8-2.2g (2.0g standard)
  • Frequency response: 20 to 22,000Hz
  • Cantilever: Aluminum

Reasons to buy

The Audio-Technica AT-VM95E‘s convenient threaded inserts make it easy to mount the cartridge with only two screws, and the specially wound moving coils do a great job at increasing the output voltage. It has a durable, low resonance polymer housing and a dual moving magnet cartridge that boasts an elliptical stylus.

You’ll notice low distortion and stellar channel separation for a tonal quality you can’t ignore. Although the lifespan of the stylus may vary depending on use, you can expect the elliptical stylus to last for about 300 hours of audio playback.

It’s an undeniable upgrade from most stock cartridges that come with turntables, and you’ll be able to hear a profound separation in the instruments of every vinyl record. The Audio-Technica VM95E cartridge is also considerably more affordable than some others on the market while providing an equal and sometimes better performance quality.

If you’re looking to take your turntable audio quality from average to pristine, many users feel this cartridge is an excellent upgrade. You’ll also notice that it delivers a uniform quality across its entire frequency range, so no matter what music you play, the performance quality will never waver.

Cons to consider

It may be a hit with many buyers, but some others feel differently about the Audio-Technica AT-VM95E cartridge. Some users have noted that its audio quality is a tad flat in comparison to other cartridges, and its setup can be somewhat of a challenge. You might have to compensate for the flat sound by turning up the high-end, but that may not change much in the overall quality of the audio itself. Others have reported that the bass simply isn’t there in comparison to the mid and high-range frequencies.

Overview

The Audio-Technica AT-VM95E cartridge is an excellent option for those who don’t want to break the bank and are looking for a step up from their turntables stock cartridge. Quite a few people mention the lack of bass it provides, but I wouldn’t say that it’s significant enough to be a deal-breaker. Others feel you could get a better bang for your buck by going with a higher quality cartridge, but with upwards of 300 hours of playback, this cartridge is suitable for most people.

Best all-around: Ortofon 2M Blue Moving Magnet Cartridge

Ortofon 2M Blue Moving Magnet Cartridge
  • Universal fit for most turntables
  • Upgrade to the Ortofon 2M Red
  • The Ortofon 2M Blue adds more dynamics and resolution, sounds...

Key features:

  • Moving magnet cartridge
  • Weight: 7.2g
  • Vertical tracking force: 1.8g
  • Frequency response: 20 to 20,000Hz
  • Stylus: Nude elliptical stylus

Reasons to buy

The Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge offers a universal fit for a majority of turntables and moving magnet-compatible preamps, and it’s made to capture more accurate sound and dynamics to your audio playback.

It comes with a nude diamond stylus, but it’s easily replaceable if you prefer a spherical stylus instead. The manufacturer ensures high rigidity, and the cartridge does a great job of eliminating unwanted resonances generally produced by motion.

The included stylus has the ability to withstand 1,000 to 2,000 hours of audio playback, and the design of the cartridge makes it easy to mount and align it.

Many buyers feel it offers an excellent frequency range and delivers a refined sound of each instrument on every song. People appreciate the balanced audio quality across all genres of music, and it offers a stellar read that can work with old and new vinyl alike, regardless of potential imperfections.

Cons to consider

Many people have mentioned that the build quality of the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge doesn’t hold up for very long. You’ll find many reports of the stylus not upholding for more than three to six months. Unfortunately, many others have mentioned that the needle may break off after minimal usage.

There are many positive reviews about the product, but the negative reviews repeatedly mentioned a lack of quality in the audio, even after testing it on multiple turntables. It’s apparent that audiophiles don’t seem to be too impressed with the cartridge, and considering the price, many buyers think it’s flat-out not worth the buy. 

Overview

If you enjoy putting on a record every now and then, the Ortofon 2M Blue Moving Magnet Cartridge is a solid choice that shouldn’t disappoint. Others who spend hours with their turntable and have a more critical take on various manufacturing specs seem to be let down by the cartridge’s quality.

Between the specifications and all of the reviews, some consider it an expensive cartridge for the quality you’re getting, but it’s surely not the worst option on the market by far.

Best moving coil cartridge: Hana MC Moving-Coil Stereo Cartridge with Nude Microline Tip – ML (Low Output)

Hana MC Moving-Coil Stereo Cartridge with Nude Microline Tip - ML (Low Output)
  • Hana MC Moving-Coil Stereo Cartridge with Nude Microline Tip - ML...

Key features:

  • Moving coil cartridge
  • Weight: 9.5g
  • Vertical tracking force: 2g
  • Frequency response: 12 to 45,000Hz
  • Stylus: Nude Microline Tip

Reasons to buy

The Hana moving coil stereo cartridge may come with a high price tag, but it’s definitely aimed at the meticulous audiophile. It delivers a pristine tone that’s hard to find with most cartridges, and it has no issue delivering across a wide frequency range of lows, mids, and highs.

The audio quality it provides with all genres of music is quite impressive, and it may be the last cartridge you’ll ever need, depending on usage. 

It boasts coil wire that’s made from high purity copper, its tracking capabilities are smooth, and it won’t skip with record grooves that may have minor blemishes. The cartridge is a clear winner with everyone who uses it, and the housing of the cartridge is beyond durable as it’s made from a blend of POM (Delrin) and brass.

Its frequency response can reach heights of up to 45,000Hz, which is over double compared to many other popular cartridges on the market. It might be pricey, but it also may be the best cartridge you’ll ever have the pleasure of using.

Cons to consider

As mentioned above, the price of this MC cartridge is enough for many people to look elsewhere, and it delivers a low output that requires a dedicated phono preamp.

Regardless of the quality and price range, nothing lasts forever, so you’ll want to expect that you might need to replace the stylus sooner than you’d like. Of course, this entails numerous factors, such as other components of your turntable, how often it’s used, and how you handle maintenance and care over time.

After further inspection of a wide range of reviews, the consensus seems to be that most people are ecstatic about the cartridge’s overall quality, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely perfect for everyone. Audiophiles may be more prepared to make the purchase as they know the ins and outs of a turntable, but if you’re new to the technology, make sure you approach it with an extensive review first.

Overview

I feel it’s evident that the pros completely outweigh the potential cons, and the Hana Moving Coil Cartridge is a winning choice for many people. This cartridge will be your best bet if a quality moving coil is important to you. Understandably, the price tag is quite high, but you’re investing in craftsmanship that’ll outlast a lot of the cheaper, higher output MM cartridges that are available.

It may be geared more towards the avid audiophile who has extensive knowledge about turntables, but its overall quality will put a smile on anyone’s face who loves a clean, full, and vibrant sound.

Best budget moving coil cartridge: Denon DL-103R

Key features:

  • Moving coil cartridge
  • Weight: 0.32oz
  • Vertical tracking force: 2.5g
  • Frequency response: 20 to 45,000Hz
  • Stylus: Square solid diamond

Reasons to buy

The Denon DL-103R cartridge is one of the most budget-friendly moving coil designs on the market, and many buyers feel it delivers a stunning sound that beats many other MC cartridges out of the water.

The cartridge doesn’t miss a single bit of a wide frequency range, and bass, mid-range, and high-range all coincide, while their unique qualities create a uniform and bold listening experience. 

Regardless of how you adjust the volume, the sound it delivers remains warm and crisp throughout, reducing the popping and cracking that many vinyl records are known for. After looking at many different reviews, it seems the cartridge works quite well with all kinds of turntable equipment. It provides a dynamic listening experience with each song from beginning to end.

Cons to consider

A few people have mentioned that the tonearm you pair with the cartridge matters, as it performs best with a high-mass tonearm. Although plenty of buyers are fine with its high-range output, many others feel it’s just not hitting like it’s supposed to. Others feel its quality across the frequency range is somewhat selective, but keep in mind this could also be due to the quality of their turntable’s other components.

Although there’s plenty of definition in the low and mid-range, the high range doesn’t seem to keep up for many users. Regardless of the cartridge’s price and claimed quality, it can sometimes sound shrill with certain genres of music that rely on the high range frequency spectrum.

It can be a profound choice for niche music genres, but I wouldn’t say it’s a top choice for every kind of music out there.

Overview

If you’re looking for the best budget moving coil cartridge, the Denon DL-103R is an excellent choice. These types of cartridges can be quite expensive, but this one offers a decent price point with substantial sound quality that many people love.

I’d say it’s worth the purchase if you aren’t looking to tap your wallet but prefer a high-quality performance that many other cartridges just don’t provide. It may not be an optimal choice for every style of music out there, but it does excel across the frequency spectrum with most genres of music, old and new.

What to consider when buying a new cartridge?

Woman in front of computer considering what turntable cartridge to buy

When searching for the best cartridge for your budget, it’s important to understand that these little devices are complicated. Small, seemingly insignificant features can have a huge bearing on the final sound output.

Here’s some quick advice on what you might want to consider before buying a new cartridge.

Determine if you actually need a new cartridge

This may seem obvious, but there are countless instances when people look to replace a cartridge just for the sake of changing it. Oftentimes, people don’t know what they have and end up buying a cartridge of lesser quality – especially in the case of buying used turntables.

Also, it’s extremely important to remember that the cartridges and stylus are two separate things. Yes, new cartridges typically come with a stylus pre-attached, but a stylus can be changed without replacing the entire cartridge.

You can save some major money if you already have a nice cartridge and just need to change the stylus.

Set a budget

Of course, we all might want to purchase ultra high-end MC cartridges, but not all of us can afford that. Consider what you’re willing to spend on a new cartridge and if that money might be better spent on something else to improve the listening experience like speakers or a phono preamp.

Moving magnet or moving coil cartridge

Another key distinction to make is between the two major kinds of cartridges: moving magnet and moving coil.

MM cartridges tend to have high output and work with a variety of different turntables and preamps. They do however tend to have slightly lesser sound quality than their moving coil counterparts.

MC cartridges, on the other hand, are low output and pick up incredible detail. They do tend to be more expensive, especially for higher-end models. Additionally, you’ll need a phono preamp that’s compatible with MC cartridges.

There’s much more to cover about this subject, so check out our guide about MC vs MM cartridges for more learning.

Wrapping up: The best turntable cartridges

At the end of the day, the best turntable cartridge is one that you can afford within this guide, you should be able to find an affordable budget cartridge all the way up to a high-end MC cartridge.

Remember, the cartridge and stylus are the contact point with your vinyl and the first area in a vinyl setup where the analog sound signals can become distorted. If you’re serious about vinyl, investing in high-quality cartridge upgrades is a no-brainer.

We hope you found this buying guide helpful. Thanks for reading!