Best Phono Cartridge Under $100 - Premium Options in 2020
Finding a cost-effective phono cartridge for your turntable? We found top 10 phono cartridges that aren't a lot of money.
by Helen Appling | Updated:September 23, 2020
Want to level up your original cartridge for more detailed and high-end musical experiences?
Look no further, but this list of the best phono cartridge under $100. You will find ten options of cost-effective and decent phono cartridges that fit well with both standard-mount and P-mount turntables.
Too Long; Didn't Read: Our 3 choices for the Best Phono Cartridge Under $100 are:
After spending a lot of time and effort in researching and evaluating phono cartridges, I will list out my ten best options below. Scroll down for the detailed specs, pros, and cons of each option.
1. Ortofon 2M Red Moving Magnet Cartridge
The Ortofon M2 Red phono cartridge is an all-purpose cartridge that addresses problems of the engine, body material, and stylus profile.
Inspired by the shape of a diamond, the Ortofon M2 has an exquisite look with a bold red color. However, it is more than just a pretty face with an improved engine that will produce optimal sound at the output of 5.5 mV.
The M2 Red cartridge is equipped with the Ortofon split pole pin, the latest technology that provide a moving magnet cartridge with a flat frequency response like a moving coil one.
Manufactured in Denmark, a country with a strong tradition in acoustics and high-end acoustics manufacturers, the M2 Red cartridge is optimized in both weight and dimension. Besides, it features threaded holes for easy mounting on tonearms and headshells without nuts. It provides excellent compatibility with most types of turntables on the market.
If you have a P-mount turntable, this Audio Technica cartridge is the most valuable choice in this price range. It is a 0.7mm conical cartridge that will produce an improved output of 5 mV.
It features a P-mount system that is exclusively designed by Audio Technica. This system will eliminate all the hassle of mounting and aligning the cartridge. You will be free from the tedious process of adjusting the cartridge with a P-mount turntable.
With the experience of a turntable manufacturer, Audio Technica knows what is the best to add in their hearing aid products. And this cartridge is perfectly optimized for both high, low, and mid frequencies.
It produces a balanced sound that top notes are crisp yet not too high, and the low notes are tight. It shines out when it comes to the mid frequencies with clear, detailed sound and fantastic performances.
If you look at the Rega Carbon cartridge, it might remind you of the Audio Technica AT-91 model. And yes, this model resurrects not only the design but also the excellent performance of the AT-91 cartridge.
It comes with a simple design of only black and white. Although it is a cheapie in the market, Rega doesn’t lower its performance. It has an output of 2.5mV at 1kHz and a ½ inch mount that is compatible with many RP1 turntables.
The square design with a right-angled front part of this cartridge makes lining it up with the protractor’s line ease. You will save a lot of time in installation and focus more on enjoying fantastic audio performances.
The only difference between this cartridge and the AT-91 is a carbon cantilever, as its name suggests. However, that change doesn’t affect this Rega cartridge performance.
If you are an entry-level user who seeks for a cost-effective cartridge, the Nagaoka MP-100 can satisfy you with its decent quality.
With a thoughtful design of a moving magnet with lightweight aluminum alloy cantilever, the Nagaoka MP-100 cartridge provides you with musical clarity and expression that you will hardly find in other competitors.
It has an output of 5mV and a conical diamond stylus with a 0.0006-inch radius. Besides, a tracking force of 1.5g to 2.3g is enough for music playing with turntables.
The Nagaoka cartridge flexibly fits any headshell of ½ inch. You can attach it to your old musical system with the help of its manual. And then you will experience fantastic audio performances with tight bass and undistorted highs.
Vintage and outstanding sound
Fit with any half-inch headshell
Take time and patience for installation
6. Sumiko Oyster MM Cartridge
Next on my list is the Sumiko Oyster MM cartridge with its high performance at a reasonable price.
This cartridge is the answer for those who are looking for the most cost-effective moving magnet cartridge. It is ideal for a lot of entry-level turntables. Besides, it performs excellently with both 45 and 78 RPM recordings.
Instead of paying attention to the look, Sumiko focuses on real-world performance.
With a spherical stylus and an output voltage of 4mV, the Sumiko Oyster cartridge allows you to have exquisite musical performances with detailed sound and exceptional clarity.
It flexibly fits with any headshell with a radius of ½ inch. Moreover, you will have a bunch of stylus replacement options with this compatible phono cartridge.
However, depending on your playing components, you need to adjust the tracking force to achieve the best quality.
Grado is a popular name in the hearing aid world with a long-standing history of producing and retailing equipment. And the Grado Prestige Black3 phono cartridge will not let you down with its decent performance.
It features the latest enhancements from Grado that brings this cartridge improved performance. With the high compatibility, the Grado Black3 fits with most standard-mount turntables.
If you are a real audiophile, this cartridge is an excellent option for you. With its outer housing dampening technique, it will offer a warm lushness that is pleasant and satisfying. You will fall in love with the vintage and delicate sound from this budget-friendly cartridge.
Although installing this cartridge might cost you quite much effort, you will be rewarded with fantastic musical performances that take you back to the vintage atmosphere.
Next on my list is a standard phono cartridge that offers you great value at a reasonable price.
Specially designed for house and techno music, the Vestax cartridge has accurate playability, which is ideal for high fidelity audio use. With an elliptical stylus, this cartridge produces more detail with broader frequency response.
This cartridge provides you with a high output level of 6mV and a tracking force of 2.5g-3.5g. Besides, it offers proper tracking and durability, along with premium sounds. Moreover, the installation is such a breeze with its installation-oriented design.
Many buyers confused about the quality of this cartridge as it is manufactured in China. However, it is made from high-quality materials that offer you a long lifespan.
Suitable for high fidelity audio usage
Great output level
Made in China
9. The Vessel A3SE Phono Cartridge
Next on my list is a decent cartridge which received a lot of price and is evaluated by many professional audiophiles, the Vessel A3SE phono cartridge.
With its fantastic performance, it is assessed as the 2017 Product of the Year in Sound Advice, a famous radio show on CBC Radio. It is an ideal choice to upgrade the original cartridges that come with entry-level turntables. You will experience a significant change in the clarity and fineness of music.
It produces an output voltage of 3.0 mV with a tracking force of 2.0g. Besides, the Vessel phono cartridge features a particular type of aluminum pipe that will level up your musical experience.
With the price under $100, it provides you with detailed sound without being fatiguing. It is one of the most cohesive cartridges that are highly praised by users all around the world.
Last but not least, the Arsvita phono cartridge is a strong competitor with its bottom-rock price and decent performance.
It produces a higher output for better sound quality and more detailed frequency characteristics. Besides, it comes with a greater stylus force of 4 to 6 grams for better balance and frequencies separation.
With excellent compatibility, the Arsvita phono cartridge is suited with most phonograph turntables with ½ inch mounts. It can be used to read 33⅓, 45, 78 RPM phonograph in the market. Generally, this cartridge is an all-in-one solution for vinyl lovers.
Moreover, the Arsvita cartridge is made of environment-friendly material. It is coated with an anti-scratch metal coating to avoid oxidative stains. Thus, it will offer you a relatively long service without any maintenance. You can replace the needle when needed.
Good craft for top-notch quality
Compatible with most phonograph turntables
Made of environment-friendly material
Require effort to mount the cartridge to the headshell
A phono cartridge body can be used for up to 10 years. Generally, the rubber suspension of a cartridge will suffer from aging and exposure to environmental elements. And how you handle the cartridge also affects its lifespan.
However, not the cartridge but the stylus need to be regularly replaced.
2. How do you know when your stylus needs replacing?
Depending on the manufacturers, a stylus can last from 500 to 800 hours of tracking. Some factors, such as debris in the grooves or massive tracking force, will wear the tip faster.
My personal way to determine whether your stylus needs a replacement is to play some challenging track and listen carefully for changes. If you experience distortion, it’s time for a new needle.
3. Will any cartridge fit any turntable?
Turntables have two primary types, P-mount, and standard mount. And there are also two types of phono cartridges, moving coil and moving magnet. Not to mention that some turntables require a specific cartridge type; no cartridge fits every turntable.
When purchasing a phono cartridge, you need to pay great attention to the variation that your turntable is compatible with.