Cartridge Database - what have you used/owned and your opinion of it

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  • Full Member
  • Posts: 407
  • AR turntable rebuilder/modifyer
Not even one mention of Micro-Acoustics? Technologically advanced, with a carbon fiber body, a beryllium cantilever, a nude laser aligned stylus, gold plated pins, internal gold wiring and something altogether different, neither a moving coil or moving magnet, an electret! How did they sound? I don't know, I never auditioned one.

I own a MA 2002.  Considered a top shelf cart in its day. I also owned a Sonus Blue at the same time.
Both got parked by a Grado. I moved the Sonus over to the PS-X7 table for the wife to use. That cart along with the table are now distant memory. The MA requires a very light arm.


  • Newbie
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I am just getting back into Vinyl after a 20 year gap. Since there is so much interaction between arms and cartridges, I will list the arms I have used with the cartridge.

I am currently evaluating several cartridges (and some from Memory).

1) Denon DL-103D in Signet XK50 tonearm...this is a classic Denon from 25 years ago. At the time I had this, I had access to a stereo store stock and could try out lots of cartridges. The 103D is a different animal from most of the 103 line. For a MC, many times you can get a hot high end, with the Denon that wasn't there, although it definitely was quick. The midrange was the most pronounced feature to me (I used Magneplanar MG-III and Apt preamp back then) and was fantastic. The Deep bass was just a bit lacking (besides the speakers) but overall was my favorite cartridge back then.

2)Signet TK5 in Signet XK50 tonearm...this was very fast, but  the highs were too harsh (sibalant?) for my taste.

3) AT20SL in Signet XK50 tonearm... this was a good combination...lacked the midrange warmth of the Denon DL103D.

Now fast forward 25 years:

4) Denon DL-304 in Linn EKOS SE Arm....took about 100 hours to break it in but WOW, what inner detail and accuracy. Good bass without being heavy, very good imaging and soundstage. Would have kept it except looking for what I rememebered that DL-103D midrange to be.

5) Denon DL-304 in VPI 10.5i tonearm (on VPI table)....still sounded great, but lost some of the life the Linn LP-12 gave it. Felt it was less "modified" than the Linn though. Still wanted better midrange.

6) Dynavector 20XL in VPI 10.5i tonearm (on VPI table)....Definitely lost a lot of the innner detail and microdynamics of the DL-304, but got the midrange. Bass is good and the highs are there, just not as accurate (cymbals have a bit of sibalance).

7) Lyra Delos in VPI 10.5i tonearm (on VPI table)....I heard this at a stereo store and decided to buy one to try it. Will post impressions once it is broken the store it was very good to my ears.

I have found the MC preamp to also affect the sound (everything does). There are so many variables. This is a never ending quest, I feel :)


Hi & Welcome Rubidium,

Nice selection of carts - both back then and now  :thumb:

Are both the Dyna and Denon newish with equal mileage?
I actually found the Dyna to be a bit more dynamic than the Denon and just as crisp up top?
Currently running the Denon DL-S1 and prefer the fuller sound over the 304.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Lyra.



  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 49
Ortofon X5 MC (original lower tip mass version, later versions increased tip mass) nice balance detail and imaging, bass competent, fairly typical HOMC treble rise coupled with a slightly lean tonality, good tracker, occaisional wind instrument difficulties. Worked magic in my warmish system of the time.

Benz Glider- very good but I was expecting a huge jump from the ortofon X5 and did'nt really get it, which told me how good the Ortofon was, a very good cartridge though. Output level wasnt quite enough for me. The most expensive I ever bought.

Dynavector 20XH- For an HOMC a pretty warm and full balance. Bass strong with a thick lower mid/upper bass, treble well behaved, maybe even a little softening going on (the "softened magnetism"?), wide stage. Not as detailed as X5MC.

AT 440ML- Great tracker, somewhat recessed mid allied to slightly bright treble and a bass that is less than full. It was very nice with rock and classical, I did'nt like it for jazz, especially trumpet and saxophone. An excellent value nontheless.

At150mlx- At's MM statement is nothing to sneeze at and offers performance and sound quality you would expect from a top Japanese MM. Better w/ used vinyl surface noise than Ortofon 2M's.

Goldring 1042- God damn that thing is a bitch to mount. Excellent all around performance, plays noisy on used Lp's.

Roskan Corus black- way easier to mount than goldring, ditto everything else.

Rega Exact- Good dynamics, a tiny bit warm while remaining an exciting listen. soundstage is smaller scaled and less open than an ortofon. Little bit of hum.

Ortofon 2 M black- Very detailed with excellent imaging. Foward balance. This thing really pulls the information off the groove. One reviewer called it "forensic". I agree and it will find any imperfection on the vinyl surface also. Healthy output. Maybe one for a tube phono stage?

2M Blue- Good "modern" sounding cartridge. Surprising bass reach and grip at the price. I preferred overall to 2 M black. Good value.

Ortofon OM20- little bright, other than that very good performance in every area, good value.

Ortofon OM 40 ditto 20 except increased imaging and detail, as well as less "forgiving".

Grado Gold- Nice tonality. excellent midrange. Open but not obviuosly so. Only fair tracker, can be succeptible to hum w/ some set ups/tables. Forgiving of less than NM condition LP's as well as less than stellar recording quality-
Grados sound good and are good value.

Ortofon MC3 Turbo- Less bright than X5 MC, Bass stronger, maybe too strong w/ some Lp's. More "relaxed" than "analytical". Never offensive, polite sound. A little more output than other HOMC's, PDG cartridge at the price.

Grado gold Longhorn- Ditto grado gold, add improvement in bass "tightness", and imaging. Minus a little midrange warmth of stock grado.

Shure M97xe- Took me a long time to get around to try a Shure (too bad I never got a V15). The packaging, performance and build quality of this thing is astounding at its 58 dollar "street price".


Hi Trover,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a nice selection of carts  :thumb:

So what's your top 3 and why?



  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 49
Hi Trover,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on a nice selection of carts  :thumb:

So what's your top 3 and why?


If I had to pick just 3, I'd say-
The ortofon X5MC
It was the first real "high end" cartridge I used (not that I think "high end" or more expensive is better). I have fond memories of the whole experience. A friend who worked in the business at the time brought it over and aligned and installed it for me, I had a listen, then I wrote him a check for the cartridge. It worked excellent in my system of the time and I'd still recommend it for any warm leaning set up- providing a little over 2mv output is'nt a problem.

Because Grados sound good and are a good value.

Shure M97Xe -
Because it is among the all time audio bargains IMO (at the 58 dollar "street Price"). As far as getting the thing and seeing how well it is packaged and accessorized and how well it performs, it was one of the more satisfying cartridge purchase experiences I've had at any price. For contrast the 600 dollar Dynavector 20XH had cheaper packaging and was not even supplied with a screwdriver! I did not have any quality control problems with the Shure as far as channel balance and whatever else.


Thanks Trover

Do you still have the DV 20XH?
If so I'd heartily recommend trying it at a lower resistive load if you can.
I too found it a little fat and lacking refinement at 47k ohms, running it at 1k transformed it on my rig.



Has anyone used the Zu Audio Denon 103? 


  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 49
Thanks Trover

Do you still have the DV 20XH?
If so I'd heartily recommend trying it at a lower resistive load if you can.
I too found it a little fat and lacking refinement at 47k ohms, running it at 1k transformed it on my rig.


I sold it quite awhile ago, wish I had known about that as I did have an adjustable stage then. I didnt learn about the effect of loading (despite what is recommended in the owners manual) until later. It was also the older elliptical stylus non threaded body version.

Doctor Fine

  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 16
At Least 50 carts.  First high end purchased in 1963 was 1962  Weathers FM Capacitance complete with oscillator box mounted on Micro-Touch tone arm and (AR turntable-like) Weathers table.

It was "like new" and the entire rig---table/arm/cart cost $25 at HiFi Associates in Coral Gables, Fl.  Tracked at one gram, first mini motor table made, no rumble, sounded lean and very very clean.  Response to 30,000Hz!

Frankly the ones that stand out in memory are the really outstanding for the price ones.  The ones you told your friends to try as a cheap "upgrade."  These are:

SHURE M95.                   Simply a great full sounding all round high output MM.

ORTOFON 10-20-30.       Similar to Shure but treble becomes more evident as you go UP.

                          And Best Deal Of All:

DENON DL-103.              This is absolutely worthy of legendary status IF you run it on a heavy arm so it has something to "push" against.  You can add weights to a Technics SL1200 for instance putting them on the headshell and the counterweight too.  This will help get the mass UP and lower the resonant frequency down to 10Hz.  You will need a direct drive table to pull the darn thing through the grooves otherwise your motor will wobble and create wow if you use a rubber band type belt-driver.

Sound is basic no-frills-added reference quality without any distracting shortcomings.  Perhaps not very zingy sounding or brilliant but very satisfying and lively with fair amount of "bloom."   Excellent power, drive and tight clean bass. 

Try Lundhal step up transformers from K & K if you want to keep on a tight budget.  My rig has zero hum at full volume you have to press you ear up against my mains to know they are even on.  I am running four subwoofers.   It took a while to track down all the hum initially, some was in the transformer setup, some due to nearby wall warts, and some was simply a matter of re-orienting the trannies for quiet. 

Anyway these are the carts I would take to the bank.

I could easily find reasons to upgrade the Denon for more detail and "bloom" but this rig already easily outperforms almost five grand worth of digital front end.  I love Vinyl.


G'day all, an interesting thread.  Well being the poor pensioner that I am, my favourite cartridge is the humble Shure M97xE with a close second being the Audio Technica AT95E that I dearly love with Classical music for the beautifully colourful sound picture that it paints. 

However the M97xE is my general purpose 'workmans' cartridge.  I've had a lot of fun with this cartridge.  As others have also realised, it does not show its best at 47 k, although 47 k with the recommended 250 picofarads of shunt input capacitance, sounds quite good. 

I use 62 k resistive loading with low input capacitance (150 picofarads or less).  As I DIY build my own phono stages, customising the input loading, is easy for me and the treble really opens up beautifully at 62 k.  I also have a Jico SAS stylus for my M97xE's which a very precise and detailed stylus working at 47 k, however if anything the standard Shure stylus working at 62 k sounds more like 'the real thing', if that makes sense!  Superb tracking at 1.25g and if the general set up is optimal (cartridge overhang/alignment etc), it is an excellent and musically satisfying phono cartridge.  Regards, Felix.


  • Newbie
  • Posts: 1
I own both a Shure V15 III and Shure V15v xMR used in an SME 3009 SII Improved detachable H/S arm fitted to a Linn Sondek LP12. I think both are amazing cartridges - the V15v is slightly smoother/warmer whatever than the V15III but I'd happily listen to either.

A great pity that Shure stopped producing these wonderful cartridges.

I also have a Bang & Olufsen MMC2 fitted to a Beogram 6500 tangential turntable - like all B & O catridges it is very susceptible to the slightest imperfection/dust mote on a record which can make listening a somewhat trying experience. A beautiful piece of design but give me either of the Shure V15s any day.


I am rather new to vinyl, but have tried several tables and cartiges.

Started with a Project Debut III with Ortophon Red... Lowsy sounding cart lean and lifeless.

Upgraded to a Grado Gold on the same table, found this cart was an improvement, lots of body however still lifeless flat sounding.

Next I tried the Shure M97XE found this to be a well balanced cartridge good response nice sound, although not overly holographic.

At this juncture I upgraded my Table to a Project 6.1SB, and retested several of the previous cart and got the near identical impressions.

Next I tried a Sumiko Blue Point and Blue Point EVO Special both carts were a serious improvement over the M97, which is expected due to the price bump. I found both Blue points easy to live with , nice tonal balance good imaging and occasionally surprising.

My next venture was a clean used Benz MC20e2, this cartide although a bit leaner than the Blue point EVO had improved hf nice midrange good imaging and balance, overall a great cart for the $$$.

Lyra Helikon-Retipped by Soundsmith, this is perhaps my favorite cartridge, phenominal imaging holographic, good tracking however is a bit thin, however is great on my system. I really can comment on the sound of this with the original boron cantilever because it was on a different system though I do recall it sounded great on that one as well.

Next I made a table and Phono stage upgrades , some comparisons were done while I had both tables.

Phono stage PS-Audio GCPH
Table Basis Signature 2001 with Grahm 2.2 arm

Grado Reference Sonata, this is a fantastic reasonably priced cart, this cartrige offers great detail, full sound, nice balance and imaging, not as detailed as the Lyra but sounds more romantic. I was pleasantly surprised how much I like this Grado. I honestly gave up on Grado's due to my dislike for the Gold....Big mistake.

Its a toss up whether I prefer the Reference Sonata over the Helikon, however I wouldnt pay the price for the Lyra knowing the Grado for 1/4 the price is such a fine piece.

While I have both tables, I did several comparisons, and noticed very little difference, the largest improvement from table to table were the cart changes. The Basis table with the Grahm arm is much nicer to setup, and obviously my preference, however I was very happy with my Project table.



My first rig after getting back in (went cassette then CD starting in the mid 80's, came back to vinyl in 2008) was a Project with a Sumiko pearl. Sounded OK but not great. Next was a Rega P3-24 and a new cartridge, which I'm still using, a Benz H2 wood. I enjoyed this table then got a P7 6 months ago. I just had the Benz retipped ( by a guy here in the Seattle area who's great, and fast. The P7/Benz combo is outstanding though just a bit ripe on the bottom because of my phono stage (EAR 834P).

Ericus Rex

I've got the medium output version of that cartridge, the M2.  It really is an overachiever, isn't it!  Thanks for the link too.  Good to know folks other than Soundsmith (no issues with Soundsmith, just sayin') that offer retipping.  I like that he also works on watches and clocks.  What are his prices like?


  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 31
Another music enthusiast here - mostly 70s hard rock and prog style...

Various Rega MM carts on my old Rega Planar 3 with RB300, which is a good match of course...all great value for money.

Denon DL-110 and 160 - awesome value for money, both were an obvious step up from the Rega carts on the Rega TT.

Denon DL-304 - very low output but one of the best carts I've heard for rock and jazz, also on RB300 and RB700. It has a very thin and frgaile stylus (I read somewhere that it's especially good with MFSL pressings, and it sounded stunninf for sure...)...

Dynavextor 10x5 - I preferred any of the Denon carts, but understand why people think it's great.

...and my pride and joy - Shelter 7000 - a little better on everything than even the DL-304, and the best I've heard (although I haven't heard THAT many)...subltle and abrupt dynamics, palpability, imaging...I think it has some similarities with the feel of the's getting a bit long in the tooth so looking to have it rebuilt (by Soundsmith or similar). It was an awesome match with the RB700 (which is the best value tonearm ever, IMO), but sits in a Morch DP-6 12 inch red dot / Teres 255 with Signature motor and makes wonderful music.

I am curious to try DL-103r (which would be in the TT while sending the Shelter for rebuild) - I already have the alu-body :-)


  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 246
I favor MM cartridges with their ultra high compliance, ultra low dynamic mass, very low tracking force requirement, excellent trackability, flat frequency response, high output (relatively speaking) and low cost. They have it all. Mostly I stick with Shure and Empire. My most used cartridge is Shure V15 type V MR. Next is Empire 4000D/III. Also Empire 999VE and 999T/EX. I've got others including Shure V15Type II improved. I note that according to Wikipedia, when Shure discontinued production of the V15TypeVMR, The Library of Congress bought up all their remaining stock. I'd also buy TOTL ADC cartridges if they were still on the market. They can require equalization to sound flat for a paraticular recording in any given sound system and I have no problem with that. Their other advantages far outweigh this minor drawback. After all, you have to apply 40db of RIAA equalization to begin with. What's a few more one way or the other?


  • Full Member
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  • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
First cart Shure M55E back in 1965
Various Shure, then Shure V15Vxmr
Now I use Benz Glider and Dynavector17D3
I also have a backup Dynavector Ruby23


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  • “Blood makes poor mortar.”
Just put an 8MZ stylus onto a used Grado F1+ cart I pulled of a table I acquired. And it is AMAZING!!!

I can only compare it to other 'entry level' carts I've used like Soundsmith Otello, DL 110, AT440ML, Digitrac 300SE, Goldring Elektra aka MG-29E, and others. The F1/8MZ combo presents a vivid, rich, and clear window into the music with a mezmerising midrange. High and low frequencies are extended and tight so far with only 1hr on the cart. Tracks great so far with my Kyocera PL 701 table. For the $100 cost of the stylus and <$50 cost for a used Grado body, I am very very impressed. From what I am hearing so far it is another league beyond the Otello and DL 110. :o


  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 7
Hi all great thread! I've just bought a dynavector karat 19a to replace the clear audio virtuoso ebony wood that came stock on my marantz tt-15. This will be my first MC cart and I'm wondering what difference ill be noticing comparatively? My phono pre is a f117 nighthawk. Btw does anyone know how much gain and load I should be using with the ebony wood? (Or the dynavector for that matter)