If you’re in the market for a new turntable cartridge, you may be wondering where to start. There are many different cartridges on the market, and it can be hard to determine which one is the best for your needs. You should consider the type of music you listen to, the type of turntable you have, and your budget before making a decision. Here are a few tips to help you find the best turntable cartridges under $200.
Different Kinds Of Phono Cartridges
Before jumping into our list, some background knowledge about the types of cartridges is needed.
When buying a new cartridge, you’ll likely come across two main types: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). For a more in depth look at cartridge and stylus types, make sure to see our how to choose the best turntable cartridge post.
Moving Magnet Phono Cartridges
Moving magnet phono cartridges are a type of phono cartridge that uses a magnet to move the stylus. These phono cartridges are often praised for their lack of noise and sound quality.
A moving magnet phono cartridge require a break-in period in order to achieve the best sound quality. During this time, the magnet inside the cartridge body will move the stylus back and forth, gradually breaking in the cantilever.
In addition, a moving magnet phono cartridge has a smaller size than other types of phono cartridges and are often praised for their ease of use and setup. When comparing budget phono cartridges, MM are usually less expensive than Moving coil and will dominate the best phono cartridges lists for achieving the best vinyl sound on a budget.
Mounting types for a MM cartridge include standard / half inch mount as well as p mount cartridges. You will want to make sure to choose the right phono cartridge mount for your specific tonearm.
Below is the full list of cartridges reviewed in no particular order. Scroll down for details on how each cartridge sounded.
Moving Coil Phono Cartridges
A moving coil phono cartridge is designed to make your vinyl albums sound as good as they can. The price of this type of phono cartridge is higher than a MM cart, but it is often worth your money.
One of the main benefits of a MC cartridge is it has a low floor noise so it achieves very little noise from the background creating a neutral background sound making vinyl sound awesome.
Break in time for a MC phonograph cartridges will vary on the model but usually plan on 30 – 50 hours. Due to the cost, it is unusual to find MC record player cartridge when looking at phono cartridges under 200.
Regardless of the type of cartridge, make sure you learn how to ground your turntable and cartridge to avoid any potential problems.
Different Types of Stylus
In addition to cartridge types, the stylus type is also an important consideration. There are four main types of turntable stylus: spherical, elliptical, hyperelliptical and micro ridge. This ranges from budget and premium options to play your records perfectly.
Elliptical styli are the most popular type, as they offer a good balance of sound quality and price. These styli have an oval-shaped tip that tracks the record grooves well and provides good sound
Spherical or Conical Stylus
A spherical stylus is a type of pen that has a rounded tip. These types of pens are typically used for writing and drawing. The rounded tip allows for a more natural and fluid writing experience.
A conical stylus is a type of pen that has a pointy tip. These types of pens are typically used for precision work, such as sketching or detailed drawings. The pointy tip allows for more precise lines and shapes.
This type of stylus is often placed on the cheapest phono cartridge and you will find the other stylus types will have a better sound quality and more detail.
This is the most popular of all the stylus types as it offers a good balance of sound quality and price. The elliptical stylus has an oval-shaped tip that tracks the record grooves well, providing good sound reproduction.
A hyperelliptical stylus is an elliptical stylus with a longer tip. These styli are designed for use with high-end turntables and provide superior sound quality. However, they are also more expensive than other types of styli. You will see this type of stylus referenced as shibata, fine line, or stereohedron
Micro Ridge Stylus
The micro-ridge, often known as the microline, stylus is the most cutting-edge option. The tip, which was developed on a computer, resembles a cutting stylus used to make master discs. This stylus, with its multi-tiered “ridge” design, provides superior high-frequency performance and longer record and stylus longevity (when aligned correctly). As a result, they come with a high price tag and are difficult to produce but have an accurate sound and can sound fantastic.
Stylus Shank Form Factor: Square Shank or Round Shank
There are two main types of stylus shanks: square and round.
Square shanks offer more precision than round shanks, making them ideal for detailed work. However, they can be more difficult to control and may require more pressure to use.
Round shanks are easier to control and require less pressure to use, making them better suited for general use. However, they are not as precise as square shanks and may not be able to produce as fine of a line.
Stylus Shank Construction: Nude or Bonded Stylus
Nude styli are made of a single piece of material, such as diamond. These styli offer superior sound quality but are more expensive than bonded styli.
Bonded styli are made of two or more pieces of material that are fused together. These styli are less expensive than nude styli but do not offer the same sound quality.
How We Tested
Since system synergy is important when trying to find the best phono cartridges we tested these cartridges with a vintage system that offered a neutral sound but remained in an affordable price.
We used our Marantz 6300 for most of the testing but also used a newer turntable in the U-Turn for a modern take of how the cartridges would perform. We used the budget phono preamp, Pro-Ject Audio Phono Box DC, from our earlier review of the best phono preamps under 200.
For a mid-fi reference, we compared the phono cartridges under 200 to the sound produced by the Ortofon 2M Bronze to compare the difference of stepping up a level in price and quality.
In the end, we found that the overall sonics were very close between all of the below listed best phono cartridges and you cannot go wrong with any of these considering the affordable price. Your personal sound preferences and system synergy will play a big part in which of these suits you best.
Best Turntable Cartridge Under $200 Budget
Below are our picks for the best phono cartridges
Goldring E3 Phono Cartridge
The Goldring E3 Phono Cartridge is one of the best phono cartridge under $200 budget. It is made of bonded aluminum and elliptically profiled to provide optimal musical reproduction. The Goldring E3 Phono Cartridge has a nice, big violet tint on them which is aesthetically pleasing.
The Goldring E3 Phono Cartridge is one of the easiest to setup and use. You just need to connect the four wires to the ground and terminals of your phono preamp, set the tracking force, and you’re good to go. While the E3’s cantilever is made of aluminum and its tip is elliptical (0.3 x 0.7mil), the base model’s cantilever is made of carbon reinforced ABS (basically a fancy plastic) and its tip is spherical (0.6mil).
We tested this model with a vintage system and it performed quite well. It had a nice, warm sound with good detail retrieval. After a few days of background play, this Goldring is a really well-rounded performer. We threw everything from classical to rock at it and it handled everything very well. The grandiose opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is delivered with all the clarity and strength it requires, sounding clean and accurate.
While the E3 is primarily concerned with maintaining order and composure, it nonetheless possesses sufficient dynamic power and scale to be satisfying with music of this type. It has a well-structured sound that doesn’t get lost in the midst of a plethora of different instruments. When playing “Baba O’Riley” from The Who album ‘Who’s Next’, the E3 had no problem differentiating between the various instruments and keeping everything tidy.
Tonally, this Goldring walks a fine line that is walked expertly by the composer. It strikes a nice middle ground, with adequate treble extension and low-end weight to please.
The Goldring has no trouble handling Nirvana’s Nevermind when it’s played on the Marantz. There is a respectable amount of assault, as well as a deft handling of rhythms. Added polish makes even the most harsh recordings bearable.
Even while the E3 isn’t as powerful as some other options, it still manages to provide a unified and musical performance.
Vocals are heartfelt, drums pound forcefully, and there’s a healthy dose of vitality all transmitted via the Goldring. The audio it produces is crisp, educational, and entertaining. At this juncture, there isn’t much more we can ask for.
NAGAOKA MM (MP) Cartridge MP-110
The NAGAOKA MM (MP) Cartridge MP-110 is a great choice if you are looking for an affordable phono cartridge. It offers excellent sound quality and has a rugged design that can handle loud music.
This is a half-inch moving magnet design. It has an elliptical shape with a radius of 0.4 x 0.7 mil, making it a diamond bond stylus. It contains a powerful dual samarium cobalt magnet. The cantilever is built of an aluminum alloy to keep the weight down, and the housing features an anti-Ferro shield. Another lightweight feature is the carbon fiber reinforcements added to the plastic shoe.
The music is soft and soothing, with no roughness at all. This cartridge is perfect for marathon listening sessions. Some people have called into question the sound quality of the NAGAOKA MM (MP) Cartridge MP-110, but many people still enjoy it. It is a great option for those on a budget.
Some of the greatest rock bands, like Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, we played on the record player to test. The sound was robust and clear, as if the cartridge were made specifically for rock music. Switching over to Sarah Vaughn, and suddenly everything was soft and comforting. Then we moved on to Chaka Khan, whose midsection rhythms were particularly noteworthy.
Here, the harmony between the various tones really stood out. The nostalgic appeal of these songs is fully appreciated when played back on a turntable. The music is fantastic. In addition, the sound produced by this cartridge is incredibly full. While it may not have the same depth as other tunes, it nevertheless manages to provide some memorable moments. In other words, that “wow” moment.
There’s no need to speculate about what the original recording must have sounded like. Just relax and take a look; the answer is plain to see. In other words, this takes into account all the subtleties that modern “perfect” digital recordings tend to leave out.
Some may find that the bass is understated. It’s soft and almost imperceptible in its subtlety. One of the most glaring examples is on Fleetwood Mac “The Chain” when it misses the mark compared to the higher end Ortofon Bronze. You may find yourself longing for McVie’s thunderous bass lines, which have become an integral part of that music.
In addition to having a warm quality, the sound includes a small roll-off at higher frequencies. Even when turned up loud, the high frequencies are not grating or jarring. Some may feel that it may benefit from some fine tuning at the very top. However, they fit in with the rest without any problems especially if you have a system that gets fatiguing.
Ortofon 2M Blue
The Ortofon 2M Blue is a popular moving magnet cartridge that is under $200. The Ortofon 2M Blue has a large contact area with the groove, which results in a more accurate and forgiving output. The Ortofon 2M Blue has a high-than-average output of 5.5mV and is affordable. The Ortofon 2M Blue is universal due to its downforce of typical 1.8g. The Ortofon 2M Blue stylus is easy to replace and affordable.
Unlike the diamond tip on a metal mounting found on most cheap needles, the nude elliptical stylus type tip is a full diamond glued to the end of the cantilever. The Ortofon demonstrates the high quality of vocal recordings such as Norah Jones during our tests and offered extraordinary ability to deliver melody with her voice and fretless bass.
In comparison to a digital rendition of the same song, however, using the cartridge improves the timing, but the bass isn’t as strong, thus additional clarity in the sound would be welcome. The Ortofon, despite this, provides a genuine sensation of life and is one of the best cartridges for vinyl records in this price range.
The strength of the Ortofon is on full display in Radiohead OK Computer, but it doesn’t quite have the potential of the Audio Technica AT-F7 MC when it comes to revealing visual depth. The ambient noise also isn’t as low as it could be compared to the 2M Bronze. Overall, a great phono cartridge under $200.
The 2M Blue body is the same as the Ortofon 2M red cartridge, with the only difference being the stylus used on the 2M red cartridge.
Another great cart from Sumiko and one of the best phono cartridge under $200 with a clear upgrade path. In stock form, the Sumiko Olympia mm cartridge is a great turntable cartridge that will provide hours of listening pleasure. Smooth, full sound is available right out of the box thanks to the elliptical shape of the stylus. With its output, the Olympia is best suited for any phono preamps.
The cartridge features an elliptical stylus mounted on an aluminum cantilever. Compared to the stock cartridges included with the majority of players, the Sumiko cartridge will be a noticeable improvement.
The green Olympia cartridge’s pin’s sound is ideal for upbeat, rhythmic music like pop, rock, and dance. Some may hear echoes of the Grado Gold 1’s sound, but the bass is much more tightly controlled and dynamic range is expanded. Which comes close to having the same body. The depth and dedication of Tori Amos’ “Ocean to Ocean” come from the full sound that surrounds the instrumentation.
Olympia places less emphasis on specifics and instead distinguishes itself through its rhythm, dynamics, and timbre.
For an upgrade, you can later move into the Sumiko Moonstone Stylus.
This is a huge sound and detail upgrade that will move your cartridge up to the same sound quality we would expect from our Ortofon 2M Bronze or 2M Black. To give your playback more oomph and believable realism, the Moonstone is a cheap high-performance moving magnet cartridge that makes use of the moving magnet’s tremendous mechanically-generated electromotive forces. The Moonstone’s stunning dynamics beat many less expensive moving coil cartridges without the need for a substantial investment in an MC preamplifier due to the cartridge’s exceptional balance and dimensional density.
Ortofon 2M Red Moving Magnet Cartridge
The Ortofon 2M Red cartridge is an excellent example of vintage Ortofon quality. The 2m red treble is designed to give the best sense of air and space to the sound, and the cartridge mid-band is also open and clear.
The Ortofon 2M Red cartridge bass has an extremely wide tonal range, and with its excellent clarity, dynamics, and balance, it is ideal for any style and an excellent budget cartridge.
The 2M Red has color-coded pin terminals and has a maximum frequency of 20 Hz to 20000Hz.
It cares about your stylus, gives you the best performance without lagging up to 1,000 hours, and sounds pretty good.
The highs are crystal clear, giving the music a wonderful sensation of air and space. Certainly, the cartridge does not lack in this area. In the majority of cases, this will improve the recording. On the other hand, bright recordings may reveal a lack of treble refinement and sensitivity, which can be problematic in bright systems. I ran a test of this cartridge on a pair of Thiel 3.6 speakers which are good for revealing flaws and found the highs to be fatiguing.
In addition to a transparent and open high and low end, the mid-band is also crystal clear. Clearly influenced by the treble, which adds complexity to vocalists,. The midrange lacks the 2M Blue’s excellent quality. In my opinion, the sibilance treatment of the vocals is better than average.
The bass has excellent depth and power. Although not as forward or deep as with some of my other Ortofon cartridges, the quality is superb for the price; the texture makes it easy to pick out the tones of bass instruments, and the dynamic delivery provides the bass genuine impact.
The Ortofon 2M red has a clear upgrade path as you can later swap out the Ortofon 2M red stylus for the 2M blue stylus creating 2M Blue cart. The Ortofon 2M red and blue share the same body.
Audio-Technica AT-F7 Moving Coil
Audio-Technica AT-F7 Dual Moving Coil Cartridge
The AT-F7 stereo cartridge features Audio-Technica's dual coil design and elliptical stylus (0.2 x 0.7 mil) for class-leading sound quality and reliability. It offers outstanding clarity and transparency of tone, along with improved frequency response and precise stereo imaging. The cartridge is...
The Audio-Technica at-F7 is a high-quality and affordable cartridge that is designed for vocalists. It delivers a smooth and rich sound with clarity, transparency, and frequency response from vocals.
The Audio-Technica at-F7 is best for those who prefer to immerse themselves in their music and music alone. The AT-F7 cartridge comes with a stainless suspension wire of 0.07 mm thickness that is carefully designed to be used in a high-quality moving coil phono cartridge, which transfers sound at higher frequencies.
This particular product is a great option for those who are looking for an affordable way to improve their sound quality without breaking the bank. It is also a great choice for those who want to upgrade from a lower-priced Audio-Technica cartridge.
We tested a p mount compatible phono cartridge. It was one of my favorites for pop music. It was really well-balanced, rendering nice richness of detail, nicely focused midrange, and decent dynamic contrast.
Since it is a moving coil cartridge, you will need a phono amp for this entry level cartridge. You will need to take this into consideration as the cost of the phono preamp is not included in this 200 dollar budget.
The AT-F7 is a good option for those who are looking for an affordable way to improve their sound quality and get into the MC market without breaking the bank. It is also a great choice for those who want to upgrade from a lower-priced Audio-Technica cartridge.
Note for 2022: When I originally purchased this hi fi cartridge it was at our $200 price range. In 2022, it looks like it runs more in the $250 and up range. You can find some bargains in eBay and can still order directly from AT and .
-Clear and transparent sound
-Frequency response is great for vocals
-Comes with a high-quality stylus
-Great value for the price considering a MC under $200
-May not be suitable for all genres of music
-Some users may find the sound to be too smooth
– Hard to find at the price
– Lacks some punch in lower bass compared to other models
Audio-Technica AT440MLB Phonograph Cartridge
Audio-Technica VM540ML MicroLine Dual Moving Magnet Stereo Turntable Cartridge Red
2022 Update: The Audio-Technica AT440MLB has been replaced by the Audio-Technica VM540ML MicroLine which is over our $200 budget. You can still find NOS AT440MLB carts on eBay. We have not tested the 540
The Audio-Technica AT440MLB Phonograph Cartridge is a fantastic phono cartridge. It is easy to install and brings all the subtle sounds of a record to life. The sound quality of the AT440MLB Phonograph Cartridge is just so, so good.
Some people report that the sound is a little tinny, but this is not just down to the phono cartridge, but to the overall set up a person has. If you find your system is on the dark side, this cart may be the perfect addition to brighten it up. Records with a few scratches can sound a little rough as the stylus does pickup a fair amount of surface noise. For records with low record wear the actual stylus does a great job capturing the raw sound of the vinyl records on most turntables with the phono stages we tested.
Sumiko – Pearl MM Cartridge
The Sumiko – Pearl MM Cartridge is designed for audiophiles and is perfect for older style record players. The cartridge is just good, not great. It is designed to be a phono cartridge that is going to be great all along the sound spectrum and keep the noise down to a bare minimum.
The cartridge has a classy design that works great on both old and newer style turntables. The Sumiko – Pearl MM Cartridge just does its job incredibly well and will certainly bring those old records of yours to life.
I originally got this as a stock cartridges on one of our Pro-Ject record players and the Sumiko is a great match for these decks and easy to setup for even a novice. It’s a wonderful tracker that has a powerful sound with a smooth, punchy bass. Good channel separation is produced, and the system is surprisingly receptive to cracks and pops on older records, making even mono recordings sound fantastic. This cartridge sounds like a cross between a Grado Prestige and a DL103.
However, the stylus is of poor quality, being a generic glued elliptical on a thick aluminum cantilever. The suspension is also not very good. Retrieval of specific information is poor, while tracking performance is average.
Bass is exagerated, but it’s not too bad, and the anti-skateboard measures are toned down, resulting in greater clarity.
Clearaudio Concept Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge
Clearaudio Concept MM Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge
The Clearaudio Concept MM Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge is a great choice for those on a budget. It requires some breaking in before it produces great sound. However, once it is broken in, the design results in amazing sound that covers all ranges.
The spherical-stylus profile employed by Clearaudio is the standard in this price range. It’s the cheapest and most straightforward stylus option. The firm claims that the tip is perfectly polished and that it uses as little moving mass as possible. Neither of these assertions, however, is out of the ordinary. The MM industry standard for recommended tracking force is 1.6g, hence the 2.2g recommended is significantly greater.
One of the most appealing things about vinyl is the sense of immediacy that you can get out of it with a good record player. It’s something that digital systems often struggle to compete with and a key reason why the format sounds so musically compelling. Unfortunately, it’s not something the Concept MM is obviously good at.
It’s not really a balance thing; tonally the Clearaudio is fairly even. It’s more that the bass is a little lacking in precision and clarity, and the midrange could do with being more open.
It is very easy to set up compared to the other best phono cartridge under $200 and takes minutes to do so. The price is over 200 bucks but it is worth it for the amazing sound it produces.
Upgrades – Phono Cartridges Over $200
If your budget allows you to go a bit out of the $200 range from saving money using our vinyl deals page, consider these picks to take your vinyl record collection to the next level.
Denon DL 103 Moving Coil Cartridge
Denon DL-103 Moving Coil Cartridge
Over $200 Upgrade to Consider
The Denon DL 103 Moving Coil Cartridge is a great option for those looking for high quality sound without spending a lot of money. This cartridge requires a breaking in period, but once it is broken in it offers fantastic sound quality. The Denon DL 103 Moving Coil Cartridge is perfect for audiophiles who want great sound without spending a lot of money. Additionally, this cartridge is excellent for older looking turntables.
Different styli can be used with this low-output moving-coil cartridge. Both the standard DL-103 and the more advanced DL-103S have spherical tips, while the latter has a Shibata shape and is 0.5 mil in diameter.
The sounds are not too similar to one another. Similarly to the sound of the Supex 900E, but not as overtly rich-sounding as the Supex, the DL-103S is exceptionally clean-tracking, with a light, airy high end, a tiny zizz on string tone, and a very slightly withdrawn character.
The DL-103 sounds somewhat like a very fine Decca with amazing tracking ability, albeit it is significantly less clean on very loud high-frequency modulations. The spherical version sounds more like a master tape since the extreme highs are slightly less harsh than in the Shibata version. The spherical shape was much more to our liking than the Shibata’s.
These are still moving-coil pickups, but they have more output than other moving-coils and may overdrive the input stage of many preamps when used with a head amp. Their output is sufficiently powerful that they may be plugged straight into many standard preamps, but at a somewhat higher volume setting than is typical.
Ortofon 2M Bronze and Black
Ortofon 2M Bronze Moving Magnet Cartridge
Over $200 Upgrade to Consider
If you are looking for an upgrade while staying with a MM cartridge, the 2M Bronze and Black are two of the best phono cartridge you will find in the next price range up. They are compatable with most turntables and produce a clear and detailed sound with awesome bass.
The 2M Series features improved versions of the well-known OM Series moving magnet cartridges. The new models are designed to offer optimum value for money without compromising on quality or performance.
The 2M Black is the top model in the 2M Series, offering outstanding sonic properties thanks to the use of nude Ortofon Diamond as a stylus tip. The 2M Bronze uses an elliptical stylus and produces a warmer sound from your record player.
I love using the 2M Black for listening to remasters of new music album releases. It points out any flaws in the mastering process which can often be the case with new music. The sound is open and airy, yet still detailed and well-balanced.
Things to Consider When Choosing the Best Phono Cartridge
There are some factors to consider when trying to find the best phono cartridge on a budget, regardless if it is a mm cartridge or a mc cart.
Budget Cartridge that is best value for the money
When looking for the best turntable cartridges under $200, it is important to go through reviews and guides so that you can make an informed decision. You should also be aware of the different types of cartridges available in order to make a decision based on your specific needs.
The specifications of manual turntables usually include a range of acceptable values for things like tracking force, vertical tracking angle, and overhang. It is important to have been able to compare data in order to balance the total weight of the tonearm and cartridge for accurate groove tracking.
Some factors that you may want to consider when making your decision include: how much use the cartridge will get, what type of music you will be playing, and whether or not you need a replaceable stylus.
Cartridge with the best sound quality
Of course you want the best sound quality possible, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money. There are plenty of great sounding cartridges available at budget-friendly prices.
When choosing the best turntable cartridge under $200, it is important to keep in mind the type of music you will be playing. If you are primarily a classical music listener, you may want to look for a cartridge that has a more mellow sound. On the other hand, if you are into Rock or Hip Hop, you may want to look for a cartridge with a punchier sound.
Best tracking ability
The ability to track without sibilance is a very important factor when choosing the best phono cartridge under $200. Sibilance is that harsh “S” sound that can occur when a cartridge is not able to track accurately. If you are a classical music listener, you will definitely want to avoid cartridges with sibilance issues.
There are many different factors to consider when choosing the best turntable cartridge under $200. Be sure to do your research and read reviews so that you can make an informed decision. With so many great options available, you are sure to find the perfect cartridge for your needs.
Good tracking and a proper setup will also cause less record wear. If you want to keep your record collection in good shape for many years to come, it is important to choose a cartridge that tracks well in addition to having a great record storage system.
Long lifespan and is the most durable
The last thing you want is to have to replace your cartridge every few months. When choosing the best phono cartridges under $200 for your record player, be sure to choose one that is built to last.
One of the most important things to consider when choosing the best phono cartridge is the stylus. The stylus is the part of the cartridge that actually comes into contact with your records. If the stylus is of poor quality, it will damage your records and degrade the sound quality.
Be sure to choose a cartridge with a high-quality stylus that is designed for long-term use. You should also look for a cartridge with a warranty so that you can be confident in your purchase.
These are just a few things to consider when choosing the best turntable cartridge under $200. Be sure to do your research and read reviews in order to make the best decision for your needs. With so many great options available, you are sure to find the perfect cartridge for your record player.
About Budget Vintage Cartridges
A vintage phono cartridge can be a great way to get a great sounding cart with a high frequency response on a budget. Typically when purchasing a vintage cartridge, I budget in buying a new stylus as it is on very rare occasions that the stylus will not be worn.
Some of the best vintage cartridges are from Shure and Ortofon. Take a look on eBay and see what you can find. Just be sure to do your research so that you know what you are getting yourself into.
Final Words for Best Turntable Cartridges Under $200
I hope this article was helpful in choosing the best turntable cartridge under $200 for your needs. Be sure to do your research and read reviews of the phono cartridge before making your final decision. With so many great options available, you are sure to find the perfect cartridge for your record player.