The Best Turntable Cartridges 2021: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide

There is nothing quite as sad as having a terrible listening experience with your turntable and vinyl. It’s sad because it can be avoided. You can enjoy a more colorful and beautiful sound than a croaky one that results in ear torture.

While other factors determine how your vinyl sounds, having a great turntable cartridge in your corner makes a huge difference in your listening experience. You’d literally feel as though you’re in the front row of a live concert which the artist is singing at. Scratch that; it would seem like the artist stooped by your crib to give you a free performance. Awesome right?

Top 3 Picks the Turntable Cartridges

Best Overall

Best Budget Option

Best Sound Quality

Audio-Technica VM540ML Turntable Cartridge

Ortofon 2M Red Moving Magnet Cartridge

NAGAOKA MM (MP) MP-110 Cartridge 

But you see, choosing the right turntable cartridge can be a struggle. That’s why we have taken the time to gather some of the best turntable cartridges on the market. We also created a buying guide for you. Keep reading to discover the right way to shop for your next turntable cartridge.


Of course, we didn’t randomly curate our best phono cartridge list. We considered several things.

For starters, we considered the different cartridge and stylus shapes and the benefits they offer. For instance, the fine line styli and the elliptical stylus is a better option over the basic conical stylus. If you are looking for the best sound quality and frequency response, opt for specific stylus shapes.

Finally, we observed the mount and generator cartridge types. Before purchasing any cartridge, it is important to understand the mount type. It would ensure that the cartridge you purchase is compatible with your tonearms. The generator types are also a huge determiner in the sound quality of your vinyl.


Turntable Cartridges Detailed Reviews

1. Audio-Technica VM540ML Turntable Cartridge

Best Overall

  • This turntable cartridge would ensure that you enjoy every music you play. Its MicroLine Stylus ensures that you hear every detail embedded in the vinyl. It coats this in high sound quality that makes you easily yield yourself to the groove of your favorite songs.

The VM540ML is a premium cartridge in the VM series by Auto-Technica. Perhaps the reason is that it combines modern technology with bits and pieces from the past. This stunning creation is built with a dual magnet that produces an amazing frequency response.

Thanks to its MicroLine Stylus, it produces superior audio quality that is unmatched by other styli. It also doesn’t wear off easily because of its multilevel shape that the stylus follows. Possible distortions that could be produced from this are also minimal.

Key Specs

  • Dual magnet
  • The stylus has a multilevel shape
  • Designed with aluminum cantilever.
  • Has a 2.7k ohms coil impedance.
  • The output balance is a 1.0dB

The Pros

  • Produces premium sound quality.
  • Multilevel stylus shape prevents wear-out
  • Dual Magnet aids excellent frequency response and channel separation.
  • Less inner-groove distortions

The Cons

  • You might still hear minor groove distortions.

2. Ortofon 2M Moving Magnet Cartridge

Best Budget Option

  • If you’re looking for a cartridge that’ll deliver an optimum and dynamic sound, but you’re on a budget, opt for this cartridge. It is affordable but still comes with fantastic features you need in a cartridge.

The 2M cartridge is engineered with a superior engine that releases high-quality sound from your vinyl. It is referred to as an all-purpose cartridge.

You’ll find this cartridge easy to use because it is compatible with most of the turntables in the world today. Furthermore, mounting this cartridge is easy, thanks to its body design. Aside from the body design, the cartridge is designed with threaded holes. With these threaded holes, you can mount this cartridge on the headshells of your tonearm with ease.
It uses the moving magnet that generates flat frequency response all because of the split pole pins feature. The pin terminals are also color-coded.

Key Specs

  • Uses Elliptical Stylus
  • The frequency range is 20-22 000 Hz
  • 1.8g tracking force
  • 5.5mV output
  • Fit is universal for most turntables.
  • All-purpose turntable cartridge.

The Pros

  • Improved engine for high-quality sound
  • Easy to use thanks to the universal fit
  • Produces wider frequency response
  • Mounting is easy.

The Cons

  • The top-end range might be too bright for you.

3. NAGAOKA MM (MP) Cartridge MP-110

Why It Has the Best Sound Quality

  • The Nagaoka will help release sound that’s as smooth as silk from your record. This smooth, top-quality sound it releases is often associated with MM cartridges. The tonal accuracy it accomplishes is similar to the Moving Coil cartridge (which is superior).

If you feel your turntable has been sounding a little bit dry and lack inspiration, treat it to the Nagaoka MP-110 cartridge. It spices up the sound that your turntable produces. The frequency response is usually balanced and near perfect.

Nagaoka’s product is framed to deliver impressive sound quality on vinyl. Oftentimes, the sound quality it delivers exceeds the price tag placed on it.

Another feature that makes the Nagaoka MP-110 stand out is that you can easily mount it as it has an easy fit. It deploys the elliptical diamond stylus as a moving magnet cartridge that contributes to the epic sound quality that it delivers.

Get ready to enjoy a gentle and warm sound with zero harshnesses with the help of this cartridge. The best part is that you can listen to your favorite track for a long period of time.

The elliptical stylus is designed with a 0.4 x 0.7 mil radius. Its cantilever is lightweight. This is because of the aluminum alloy used to create it.

Key Specs

  • 5mV output voltage
  • Aluminum alloy cantilever.
  • 1.5dB channel balance
  • 23dB Channel Separation
  • 20Hz- 20kHz frequency response.

The Pros

  • The fit is easy to align and mount
  • Frequency sound is fully balanced
  • Great Sound quality at an affordable price
  • Produces rich bass sound.

The Cons

  • Not excellent in the upper mid-range.

Audio-Technica has been in the business of producing cartridges that deliver quality performance but at affordable prices. In essence, the brand lives by the rule; more for less. The AT95E cartridge lives up to the company’s policy.

It is a dual magnet mount cartridge that makes great contact with your vinyl to release every detail embedded in the sound. Each detail in a record is produced with clarity. This cartridge has been regarded as high-performance, perhaps because of its tight tolerances.

Another thing is that thanks to the elliptical stylus, you can hear your record groove with high accuracy as it produces impressive audio quality.

Like other Audio-Technica cartridges, it is not difficult to mount.

Key Specs

  • 0.4 x 0.7 mm elliptical diamond stylus.
  • Uses the ½ inch mount type.
  • ATN95E replacement stylus.
  • Alloy tube cantilever.
  • Greater than 20dB at 1 kHz channel separation.

The Pros

  • Produces each sound with detail and clarity.
  • Tracks record with audio accuracy
  • Easy installation
  • Offers great frequency response.

The Cons

  • The sound can get a bit bright.

The first noticeable feature of this cartridge is that it is a dual-moving magnet cartridge. In essence, it gives consumers the listening experience of a lifetime. With low distortions and impressive channel separation, the resulting audio quality is quite outstanding.

It deploys threaded holes that make it easy to mount with two screws on your tonearms headshell.

When it comes to the stylus type, this cartridge uses a nude elliptical diamond-type responsible for the impressive high-frequency responses it reproduces. When set on the groove, it follows the record with precision. The result is a pleasant phase and frequency response with zero to little distortions.

Also, mounting this cartridge on your tonearms headshell does not require nuts. As earlier stated, all you need for a smooth mouth are just two screws that come with it. The screws package that comes with this cartridge includes a pair of 11mm M2.6 screws, another pair of 8mm M2.6 screws, and two washers made of plastic.

The styli are interchangeable. Hence, when worn out, you can easily purchase a replacement rather than a new cartridge.

Key Specs

  • Half inch mounts
  • Nude elliptical stylus type
  • 22dB at 1kHz channel separation
  • 20-23,000 Hz Frequency response
  • 1.8- 2.2 G vertical tracking force.

The Pros

  • Has superior tracking sound
  • It follows a compact design
  • Produces audio with clarity and details
  • Replaceable stylus.

The Cons

  • It doesn’t work well with a low mass tonearm with a low mass headshell.

Buyer's Guide:

Anyone who is a sucker for old-school vinyl. If you are a genuine lover of vinyl and you’ve got yourself one of the best turntables in the market, you should totally go all out to get a turntable cartridge. Here’s why! Your turntable cartridge can easily be worn out after using it a couple of times.

The good news is, you don’t have to wait till your turntable cartridge is worn out before you start shopping for a new one. You’d miss out on countless hours of enjoying quality old school music, the old school way.

Besides, your turntable cartridge might be basic. Hence, you won’t fully enjoy the details in each vinyl and the high-frequency response. So, buy a top-rated turntable cartridge already and have an amazing experience.

ESSENTIAL FEATURES TO CONSIDER BUYING A TURNTABLE CARTRIDGE

CARTRIDGE AND STYLUS SHAPE

We all know the stylus is attached to the Cartridge. Together, they determine the audio quality that your vinyl produces. Now, different companies have different Cartridge shapes. You should bear in mind that the Cartridge you choose should ensure that the stylus connects smoothly with the record's groove. The rule of thumb is to have a smaller contact radius.

When it comes to selecting your stylus, note that you have to be precise about the stylus shape that meets your needs. Generally, there are three stylus shapes. They are the elliptical, fine line, and conical. Each stylus shape performs a different function. For instance, the elliptical stylus is quite common and versatile in the production of details in music. It also prevents the record from wearing out. The frequency and phase response of an elliptical stylus is also impressive, and it produces lower distortions. Consequently, your record player would release a sound that is richer and deeper, all thanks to an elliptical stylus.

The fine line styli are perfect for dishing out more information about the music you’re playing. Like the elliptical stylus, it produces sounds with lower distortions. It is pluralized “styli” because it offers various impressions, including the Shibata, Contact Line, MicroRidge and MicroLine. There’s less pressure on the record with the fine line styli, ensuring that record wear is greatly minimized. Yet, it offers better contact with the record’s groove. The frequency response is definitely superior. It delivers perfect operation.

The Conical Stylus is quite basic and cheap. Unfortunately, basic record players adopt the conical stylus. While it has its advantages – if your groove walls have damaged parts, a conical stylus wouldn’t pick it, but it performs poorly about high-frequency signals. In other words, in the face of high-frequency signals, the conical stylus produces heavy distortions that are not pleasant to the hearing.

GENERATOR TYPE

Another thing you should consider is the generator type.

There are two major generator types for turntable cartridges. They are the moving magnet cartridge (MM) and the moving coils cartridges (MW). It’s usually better to opt for moving coils on a basic level because you’ll get superior and better sound with it compared to the moving magnet. However, for some reason, more and more people tend to use the moving magnet cartridge as it has become quite common. Perhaps the reason is that moving magnet cartridges are less expensive when compared to moving coil cartridges.

Although moving coils produce better details and high-frequency response, it does not go to say that a moving magnet produces poor quality sounds. You’ll still get great sounds from a moving magnet cartridge. In fact, the moving magnet offers a more traditional way of playing a record.

MOUNT TYPE

The mount type on your turntable cartridge is another essential factor to consider if you want to have a swell time listening to your vinyl music.
There are three mount types. They are the standard mount, the universal mount and the P-mount.

These mount types are the tonearm and cartridge compatibility determiners. In other words, they determine which cartridge is suitable for your tonearms. The standard amount is also referred to as the ½ inch mount and it is quite common. In this type of mount, two screws are used to attach the cartridge to the tonearm's headshell.

The P-mount uses a single screw to secure the cartridge to the tonearm after plugging it directly into the tonearms’ headshell. This P-mount works best for cartridges that are longer and skinnier in shape.

For the universal mount, you need an adapter to connect the cartridge to the tonearm. This mount type is universal because it can be used on both a P-mount and a standard.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What’s the lifespan of a turntable cartridge?
    A cartridge is durable and doesn’t need to be constantly changed. Hence, if you’re careful with using your cartridge, you won’t need to bother about buying a new one until after 50 years. Yes, a cartridge has a lifespan of close to 50 years.

  2. How do I know my cartridge needs to be changed?
    The first symptom of a damaged cartridge is that it messes with the sound your record creates. You start to hear a raspy noise that doesn’t get better after attempting to clean your stylus.

  3. Is it bad to keep using a worn-out stylus?
    Yes, it is. If you keep using your worn-out stylus, it would gradually damage your vinyl. So, if you care a lot for your vinyl, change your stylus as soon as you notice that it is bad or worn-out.

  4. How long is a Diamond Stylus designed to last?
    Generally, a diamond stylus is designed to last for one thousand hours. However, your stylus would only last that long if it is of high quality and you make use of it very well.

Final Thoughts

If your turntable cartridge is bad or you want to enjoy better sound quality, our best turntable cartridges list would help you make a well-informed decision. Regardless of the cartridge you choose, ensure it is compatible with your tonearm.

Also, there are so many great phono cartridges that fit whatever budget you have. Just ensure that you pick the best cartridge for your budget.

Nevertheless, don’t forget that with cartridges, better sound quality is what you should aim for. You want to hear all the musical details recorded in the song, right? So, it would help if you got it right with your cartridge. Our buying guide's careful observation is a great way to unite you with some of the best cartridges on the market—cheers to a wonderful music experience with your best tracks.

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