If you’re new to the vinyl scene or getting back into it, then there’s an chance that you will need a turntable related item. A cartridge for example, which is what this article is all about. Many people see a turntable as the source and that’s all they need. Many users will look at the turntable as their source, and that’s it. I always like to keep an eye on my platter in case someone is grabbing too many drinks.
Turntables are many vinyl listeners favourite music players, and for good reason. They’re great for achieving quality sound from the grooves. But many of us forget about another important factor in getting the best out of the record – the cartridge. When I say ‘cartridge’ I mean the stylus and the piece of plastic connected to it. The entire device is the cartridge.
A stylus on the cartridge is what grabs the music from. If your cartridge isn’t up to snuff, it leaves you in a tough spot where you need to do the work yourself. There may be cheaper cartridges given away with turntables but usually they’re of decent quality which really helps when starting out.
Not everyone knows that a new turntable comes with a cartridge and you can replace it with one from another brand. And usually these other brands have better quality. That’s right, if you have a budget turntable, you can improve the sound even more by replacing the cartridge with a new one. It’s an easy and affordable solution.
What is a Phono Cartridge
When we first started with vinyl, we had a little difficulty understanding technical terms like phono cartridge and what it does. To be more clear, in this section, it will help to break down these technical terms and understand them in an easier-to-understand way.
Phono cartridges are mechanical devices that convert stylus vibrations from a record groove into an electrical signal. It’s then amplified, converted to sound and projected through speakers.
A cartridge has these 5 things: a stylus, cantilever, magnets, coils, and a body. The stylus touches the record and follows the grooves. It’s usually made of a diamond or some other pretty stone. There are two common stylus shapes: spherical or elliptical. Elliptical needles pick up more detail from the record groove while spherical needles sit higher in the groove and result in less wear on the LP.
The stylus is mounted on the cantilever which transmits vibrations to the coil or magnet assembly which generates the audio signal. The stylus is usually made of boron or aluminium. Cartridges, for example, can provide a ‘larger foot’ for the stylus to rest and track music on when playing vinyl records.
Top Turntable Phono Cartridges Below $100 Review
Ever heard of a player cartridge? They’re pretty important for your sound. If you’re looking to buy one and don’t know where to start, this article should help with information about the different types on the market & how much they cost. Below, I will describe and compare the best cartridges for players in the price range of less than $100.
They promise to provide you with outstanding performance. A budget phono cartridge doesn’t have to mean junk. Moreover, there are many affordable but high quality turntable cartridges which are worth considering. Enjoy it!
1. Audio-Technica AT85EP Turntable Cartridge with Elliptical Stylus P Mount
This Audio Technica model is very versatile. P-mount record players or any cartridge with a replaceable elliptical stylus can be used which means you’ll always be prepared for any problematic situations that may occur. You get the external simplicity that goes so well with the technological solution and high precision of cartridges, at a price you can afford. The needle sticks to the circular bar and cantilever devices of the unit are made out of aluminium. With all these features, this is a great investment.
This cartridge makes a cut that’s nicer-sounding than the tapered needles. It has improved phasing and increases in frequency, while distortions are at a lower level too. The needle also lets record player owners listen to decent audio without any kind of audio problems like squeaking, noise, whatever.
Audio-Technica AT85EP Turntable Cartridge:
- The design is toroidal, which makes the clarity and separation of sounds better.
- Its installation is simple because of the wonderful design that matches P-mount units.
- The cartridge offers crisp audio of cymbals and vocals. You’ll barely be able to notice any distortion in the groove.
- Sometimes songs skip during playback, it can be annoying.
- The plastic material of the cartridge smells weird.
2. GRADO Prestige Black3 Phono Cartridge w/Stylus – Standard Mount
Now, this is a popular American company that’s been around for a long time and known for its manufacturing of cartridges. Cartridges are well-known among audiophiles as they were created by this company. A lot of people don’t know that they invented the moving coil cartridge. If you are looking for a more affordable way to get a clear, detailed sound without any distractions, then the prestige line is perfect for you. And it’s difficult to find such a detailed sound while remaining under $100.
Honestly, this is their high-end option, but the construction is built upon the same principles as the other ones in the Prestige line. So design-wise they might look similar, but depending on your price range you’ll hear a difference. The magnetic field created by the black model’s fixed magnet coil produces a featherweight, pliable piece of iron which improves the level of sensitivity the company provides. It also pairs well with other amplifiers.
GRADO Prestige Black3 Phono Cartridge:
- The new screw system for mounting is much more convenient and fast. It will allow faster calibration and screw mounting of a cartridge without small bolts that would be necessary otherwise.
- The traction on the older floors is also good, and that’s because of how hard they are.
- Not only does it give you a reduction in the need for “vinyl records,” but it also saves money because you’re not buying as many.
- When the volume is turned up, it starts to fade out.
- The high inductance of the coil makes the pre-amp produce a lot of hiss.
3. Ortofon OM Pro S Single Pack – 1 x DJ Cartridge fitted with stylus
This OM Pros S cartridge by Ortofon is one of the most popular cartridges used by DJs in their initial setup. The price is an added bonus, but the sound quality is also top notch. When we talk about design it is pretty much the same as other models in this range from the same brand and they are. This ensures that you’ll have a good listening experience with the quality of sound you need from a record or CD. Most DJs include these sounds in their music.
OM Pros is one of the high-performing, but budget-friendly models that offer all the same features as more expensive cartridges. But don’t worry, there’s still unrivalled sound quality!
Ortofon OM Pro S Single Pack – 1 x DJ Cartridge:
- It has better sound quality than other products in the same price range.
- The spherical trademark design is great for amplifying vibration coming from the vinyl record to surpass other quality audio receivers.
- Pro-S is a DJ scratch mixer meaning that it’s built to handle this specific set of records. Different records will sound different on Pro-S, because the EQ is designed for scratching..
- It’s tracking forces ranges from 3 to about 5 grams. Find another one that would be better for scratching records.
4. LP Gear CARBON FIDELITY CFN3600LE Stylus
If you are looking for an inexpensive option, this one would be a great choice. LP Gear Carbon Fidelity CFN3600LE is one of the cheapest, economical and pocket-ready values in the market.
LP gear is manufactured by Audio Technica, and so you know they’ll be high quality with a low cost to match. This diamond stylus is a miracle of modern technology. It has an elliptical shape that provides accurate and smooth response, as well as incredible sound-quality for a reasonable price.
These sound clips are of much higher quality than the old steel cartridges and they’re lighter too, which makes them more agile (which is really useful). They also produce better sound quality than your standard tape. You’ll be blown away by the quality of sound this cartridge provides, even if it’s not quite up to the standard of some more expensive models.
CARBON FIDELITY CFN3600LE stylus:
- The sound quality is really crisp and the stereo effect is really natural.
- Installation is straightforward, and you will see some changes.
- The stylus is good for getting in the detail on narrow curves.
- The bass can get overwhelming.
- There are instances where there is some sound distortion in voices.
5. Audio-Technica ATN95EX Replacement Turntable Stylus for AT-LP5 Turntables
This is a good choice if you’re willing to spend a little more for the best of the best. The AT95EX is pricey as a complete piece, but still one of the more affordable ones out there. It has premium features like the dual magnet design that offers high channel separation. The stylus is made to be durable and allows you to listen to uninterrupted music for hours at a time.
ATN95EX Replacement Turntable Stylus for AT-LP5 Turntables:
- The product comes from a respected company or it has been around for a while.
- Its design is excellent.
- This top of the range shower enclosure will last for years.
- Offers the best sound quality.
- It can be used only on ½ inch mounts.
- It seems as though we don’t have a lot of information listed.
6. Ortofon OM 5E Moving Magnet Cartridge
This model guarantees to provide an amazing performance. It’s a great choice for anyone who’s on a strict budget. The stylus it comes with is suitable for close monitoring in the grooves and tracks quite accurately.
This turntable cartridge is compatible with any tonearm, so it’s great for anyone who has a low-mass tonearm. It can play records well, too. What’s more, this one lasts for 20 hours before it needs to be charged again.
The Ortofon OM 5E is a really popular cartridge because it has warmth as well as depth. And, the cartridge helps you sound better with every use. The Ortofon OM 5E is a moving coil which perfect for music lovers and audiophiles.
7. Audio-Technica AT95E Phonograph Cartridge for 1/2″ Mount Turntables
This brand has been around for a long time and is having no trouble maintaining it’s reputation. It also provides an affordable performance. This product is perfect if you do not need to put in too much work!
Some users have complained about the sound quality of this unit. It may have to do with what it’s designed to hide. The output is 3.5 mV, which is on the more quiet side when compared to other cartridges in the market.
It might not be easy to separate the stylus from the handle before mounting. That being said, it’s perfectly suited for those with a heavier tonearm. It’s also excellent for older records.
8. Rega – Carbon MM Phono Cartridge
The Rega Carbon brings a carbon-fiber cantilever. It’s designed to sound good. You can use it to play older records.
The device comes with a conical stylus, which provides more distinct nuances in the highs. Some earners said that this model is not durable and will fail quickly. For me,, it’s not worth the money and I won’t be interested in these purchasing it. It’s still listed as one of the best out there, though.
9. Ortofon Omega Turntable Cartridges – Twin Set
If you struggle with a tight budget, this basic model from Ortofon might be worth considering. It performs well and is perfect if you have some old records laying around. I can highly recommend getting it if that’s what you are aiming for – more bass in the music.
On one hand, some people would say that this model’s sound goes from loud to soft too quickly. On the other, it provides you with at least 20 hours of gameplay. Sure, the sound might not be the best out there – but for those who’ve just started mixing their tunes and want an affordable model: it’s a good option!
Some customers can get really upset if the box holding their cart arrives in poor condition. However, we offer a generous return policy. And the good news is we deliver it within no time, so you are always able to get a new one.
10. Ortofon 2m Red Moving Magnet Cartridge
The Ortofon 2m Red is the most expensive cartridge we’ve discussed, but it also produces the best sound. This model is heavier and more similar to old school ones since it has a bonded shank. That said its design makes it lighter while still having enough force.
With a low as well as ultra-low mass tonearms, this cart can operate well. And it’s also upgradeable with its body, so you may want to choose this model if you’re considering getting upgrades for your new gramophone in the future.
Take a read of this if you’re looking to get some advice on what type of phono cartridge is the best.
Buying Guide for Phono Cartridges
Choosing the right cartridge can be tough, as there are a few things you need to distinguish first. We’ve compiled a list of common considerations for choosing your next cartridge.
Elliptical vs. Spherical Stylus
The stylus is responsible for about 90% of the cost of a cartridge. The shape of the stylus also has an impact on cost, alignment precision, and wear. Spherical tips are the most affordable, user-friendly, and durable. They will not be as accurate or provide the best performance as elliptical tips, however.
There are 2 needle shapes: elliptical and spherical. All styli have diamond tips. Elliptical needles pick up more info from the groove and are popular with audiophiles. On the other, spherical needles sit higher in the groove and make it less likely to damage records while playing.
Half-inch (Standard) mount vs. P-mount
There are different types of cartridges and it varies whether your tonearm can take that type. Standard sizes are recommended since they give you a wide range of options and offer more control over installation. If you have a standard mount cartridge, you will need to attach it to the headshell using two tiny screws and then attach each of the four wires on the head shell to the corresponding posts on the back of your cartridge. Cartridges should have colour coded binding posts, together with clear instructions and diagrams.
P-mount cartridges are usually found on turntables that are on the cheaper side because they don’t offer any adjustments. You can use them with a standard mount if you have an adapter, but it takes a lot more work to do so. If your tonearm accepts P-mount cartridges, you can just plug it in and tighten the screw.
Buying Within your Budget
They usually come with a stylus, so don’t worry about buying one. You’re better off ordering them online because shipping won’t cost too much. You can either buy a cartridge from Amazon or go to specialty shops for a sale.
It’s always a good idea to check out the reviews of their most popular pens before you buy one. It can cost as little as $25 or up to $15,000. A decent entry-level cartridge that is often recommended is the Shure M97xE. However, there are other options like Audio-Technica that are also very good and come in at a lower price.
If you’re not sure of how much you should spend, a price comparison can help you decide. If that’s the case with your budget for a TT, for example, you might want to spend more on upgrading your turntable before spending a hundred dollars on it.
If you’re using a higher-end turntable, then you’ll want to invest in a quality needle or stylus. If your gear is already high-quality, then getting an upgraded stylus or cartridge for your turntable will make a big difference.
Moving Magnet (MM) Cartridges vs Moving Coil (MC) Cartridges
Modern pickups have been replaced by magnetic cartridges. These cartridges use either a Moving Magnet (MM) or a Moving Coil (MC) technology.
Moving Magnet (MM) Cartridges
Generally, you’ll get a better value and lower cost when you choose a moving magnet cartridge. This type of cartridge features a small permanent magnet that’s sandwiched between two sets of fixed copper coils to form an electromagnetic field. When the stylus is drawing the shape of a record in the groove, it makes the magnet vibrate and this small current is induced in these coils.
If you want your records to sound their best, a moving magnet cartridge is what you need. They provide deep, rich sound and can be found in a ton of different shapes, sizes and degrees of quality. Moving magnet cartridges typically work with any type of phono input and are compatible with stereo systems.
Most moving magnet cartridges have a replaceable needle. Their high voltage output capability and availability of spares for the needles make them an excellent choice for newcomers and seasoned audiophiles alike.
Moving Coil (MC) Cartridges
Moving magnet cartridges operate in a similar way to moving coil ones. The primary difference being that of the stylus vibrating the small wire coils around a magnet which will create electrical output in the form of music. Many audiophiles prefer MC-specific setups. They tend to have better tonality, transparency and imaging and are more resistant to distortion.
A moving coil actuator is also called a tiny electromagnet and is used to control the actuator. They use coils attached to a cantilever that move within the field of a permanent magnet. Even though the receiver coils are smaller and thinner, they still play a vital role within the circuit. Due to their low current output and high reactance, phono stages with exceptionally high amplification rates can be necessary to produce optimal results.
Moving coil cartridges are usually more expensive, but audiophiles usually prefer these cartridges because they sound better to them. A major difference between moving magnet cartridges and moving coil cartridges is the weight of their internal parts. Additionally, because it is more sensitive to higher frequencies, moving coil cartridges are the preferred choice of record players.
Moving coil cartridges are more suited towards experienced listeners. For these, you need someone with a lot of experience in audio setups and equipment, to be able to set it up properly. These types of cartridges also won’t work with certain pre-amps.
Replacing your Phono Cartridge
The stylus will get worn out over time if you use it on a lot of records. Beyond a certain point, the sound quality will become bad and won’t be as good.
Your ink cartridge is indicating that it doesn’t have a lot of ink left. It will start generating a diminished or noisy sound, and produce a level of channel imbalance with signal-to-noise ratio dropped to too low. It’s pretty easy to tell if your turntable is scratched too – a stylus bouncing on records would be an indicator for a new one, for example.
You can also put the needle head to your lips, touching it with your tongue, and if you taste a bad taste or feel a gritty texture, then it’s time for a new stylus. Using an old worn-out stylus is only going to damage your vinyl collection more. It’s a good idea to swap the stylus before playing any more records.
It’s not easy to predict how long a stylus will last before it needs to be replaced. The manufacturer and the materials used can have an impact on lifespan, as well as the cartridge life. Lower-quality ink cartridges have a lifespan of anywhere from 150 to 200 hours. In sharp contrast, with high-quality cartridges, you can expect their lifespans to be much longer such as 1,000 hours.
If you have a magnetic particle type cartridge, you can usually replace the tip of it if it gets worn out. All you need to do is change the front end and keep listening. You may even want to consider upgrading your turntable’s stylus with a nicer version. While some moving magnet cartridges don’t have a user-replaceable stylus and you would need to replace the whole thing, there are a few that you could replace the stylus on.
If you’re using a cartridge with a moving coil, a worn stylus is more ultimate. As the cantilever is more fixed than the stylus, you will need to either replace the whole cartridge or find and break-in an entirely new one.
The stylus can sustain wear if it’s not cleaned regularly. Dust will build up, which lowers the quality of audio. It’s important to keep your stylus clean. We recommend using a stylus brush or cleaning solution and not playing records that are excessively damaged. This will help you avoid replacing your stylus for many years.
All the units we’ve mentioned previously are the best considerations for you when it comes to the best phono cartridges under $100. We recommend the Ortofon 5 E. It has great sound quality 🙂 The Ortofon 2M red is a good alternative for anyone who might have been interested in upgrading. However, if you don’t want to upgrade your cartridge currently, this article should help you decide what it is that you want to do.
FAQ for Phono Cartridges Below $100
What are the benefits of using a phono cartridge?
A turntable phono cartridge is a device that converts sound into electrical signals. It is also called a “pickup” or “transducer.” It is usually placed at the end of a tonearm in order to convert the vibrations from the stylus into an electrical signal, which can then be amplified and processed. A cartridge consists of two main parts: the stylus (or needle) and the body or housing that contains magnets, coils, wires, and other electronic components.
- Clear sound quality
- High level of accuracy
What are the disadvantages to using a phono cartridge?
There are a few disadvantages to using a phono cartridge. The first is that it can be difficult to clean. It can also be hard to find replacement parts for the unit. The needle is also delicate and prone to damage.
How do I know which phono cartridge to buy?
The phono cartridge is the part of your turntable that converts the vibrations in the record into an electrical signal. This signal is then amplified and sent to a speaker.
There are three main factors to consider when choosing a phono cartridge: the type of turntable, the sound quality and price, but for most people, the best way to find out is by asking around and reading reviews online.
Do all phono cartridges have a stylus?
No, not all phono cartridges have a stylus. The phonograph cartridge is the part of the record player that converts vibrations from the stylus into an electric current.
How do you clean a phono cartridge?
There are many ways to clean a phono cartridge, but the most common is to use a needle and some rubbing alcohol.
Is any phono cartridge fit any turntable?
Well, some turntables come with moving coil carts. These models typically don’t bring a replaceable stylus. That’s why you may need to replace the entire cartridge. In fact, some models of turntables out there are suitable for only one cartridge type. Others are capable of working with moving magnet or moving coil carts.
Is grado cartridge good?
These cartridges are famous for their excellent midrange as well as perfect vocals. This model is warmer a bit compared to Shure’s range. This cartridge can help you get a more classic vinyl sound. However, it may not satisfy those who are familiar with higher-end cartridges. You can buy Grado cartridges with a price ranging from 100 to 200 dollars.
When do I need to replace a turntable stylus?
According to most manufacturers, it’s essential to change stylus at around 1000 hours of use. It means you need to replace your turntable stylus every couple of years if you are using your device for 1 hour per day.
Besides, this task also depends on the material the manufacturers use to make their products. We recommend you to check the lifespan recommendation of the manufacturer when getting it.