Best moving coil cartridge for less than $200

Discussion in 'Turntables' started by pvh1987, Sep 6, 2007.

  1. pvh1987

    pvh1987 New Member

    I recently bought a Rega P1 turntable (actually an Argon TT-1 but it is a copy of the P1) with an Ortofon OM5E moving magnet cartridge. It sounds like it has some problems tracking the inner grooves correctly -- I can hear some distortion in the higher frequencies that I don't hear when playing the outer grooves. Also, on some newer audiophile 180 g LP's I've noticed some distortion in the outer grooves as well.

    So, I'm looking for a new cartridge. I am new in the turntable field so I have little idea what to look for. I asked some questions in a hifi store and he said that I should go for a moving coil pickup to get more detail and tighter bass.

    I listen to hard rock but sometimes I like listening to normal rock and even pop now and then, if that's important when buying a new cartridge.

    Where I live it seems like the only moving coil cartridge I can get for a relatively low price is the Denon DL-110 and Denon DL-160 which both is high output moving coil cartridges. Please comment on those if you know them but any ideas is welcome.

    I would like to know which cheaper moving coil pickup you will recommend that tracks good, sound clear and tight -- also in the inner grooves -- for about $200 or less. It doesn't need to be a high output pickup because I have a NAD PP2 Phono Preamplifier that does both MM and MC.

    Any recommendations and ideas are welcome :)
  2. Mr. Lin

    Mr. Lin Lunatic Member

    Hi there and welcome to AK! This is the best place to be if you're really getting into turntables, the people here are wonderful.

    One thing about your post immediately caught my attention, and that was the distortion issue you're having with all sort of records. I really think you have a setup issue here, and I highly recommend you stop playing records until you figure out what the problem is. They should not be distorting with a new cartridge, your alignment is probably off. The high frequency distortion at the inner grooves is particularly telling. Do you know how to properly align a cartridge? Did the P1 come with this cart. already installed?
  3. mhardy6647

    mhardy6647 AK Subscriber Subscriber

    I don't know for sure, but I would think whichever variation Denon DL-103 fits the price range would be awfully satisfying.

    FWIW, I don't care for the sound of the Sumiko Blue Point/Blue Point Special.

    As already mentioned, correct alignment of the cartridge (in all three planes) is very important, as is correct VTF (vertical tracking force) and (ideally) VTA (vertical tracking angle).
  4. Mr. Lin

    Mr. Lin Lunatic Member

    Again, I'm really curious if you installed the cartridge or if it came that way. If the latter's the case, perhaps it got knocked out of alignment at some point. And like mhardy just pointed out, pay close attention to the vertical tracking force. The cartridge should have instructions with a recommended VTF, or you can look it up online, but probably best to stay within the range they recommend.
  5. mhardy6647

    mhardy6647 AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Rule of Thumb: The high end of the VTF range is usually more "right", and more safe, than the low end.
  6. Sheddingskin

    Sheddingskin Active Member

    I know nothing about them, but HiFi had an article about the new Benz MC 20E2 cartridge that goes for $199.
  7. the-real-mandak

    the-real-mandak Super Member

    Yes, check if the settings are correckt.

    That said there is a world in difference from an Ortofon OM5E to a $200 MC cart. Manny seem to like the Dennon DN-103, but I will throw in the Audio-Technics AT-OC9 it seems to be on sale at the moment an ofers really good price/performance.
  8. Tedrick

    Tedrick Infinity-phile Subscriber

    First, welcome to AK.

    Before plunking down money on a new cartridge, heed Mr. Lin's advice and check your set-up, especially cartridge alignment. That could explain some, if not most, of the distortion in the inner groves (and the outer grooves, too). Vertical tracking angle (VTA) could also be an issue. While you're at it, might as well check tracking force, too.
  9. rwortman

    rwortman Active Member

    First off I don't think any under 200 MC cartridge is going to necessarily track better than a MM cartridge in the same price range. An OM5 is a very inexpensive cartridge. An OM10 or 540 will sound and track better as will some Grado's, AT's and others in your price range. I had an Ortofon X5MC moving coil that tracked well and sounded pretty good but I am not sure it was any better than some of the MM cart's in the same price range.

    Second I am not sure that you are hearing mistracking at all. Inner groove distortion is not just a playback phenomenon. It is a cutting problem as well. There is just not enough space to squeeze those high frequency groove undulations in there. Many audiophile labels stay well away from the label area for this reason. For a lot of LP's the inner grooves don't sound as good no matter what you play them with.
  10. Mr. Lin

    Mr. Lin Lunatic Member

    I don't think you can adjust the VTA on a P1, can you? I know with higher Rega models you can buy rings or something which allow for VTA adjustment. Seems crazy to me that $$$ tables don't have that option.

    I frankly wasn't aware you could get a MC cart. for under $200. I thought my $380 Dynavector was pretty much the bottom price point for moving coil. But yes, you will hear tremendous difference, and I would bet you'll hear quite a huge difference if you get the setup straightened out, I'm almost certain that's what's going on. Keep us updated, I'm interested in knowing.
  11. Mr. Lin

    Mr. Lin Lunatic Member

    Aha! Something else just occurred to me. Are you using a preamp? If so, is it a good one? When I finally upgraded to a really nice table I had very annoying issues with distortion, similar to what you describe. In the end it turned out the poor-quality preamp I was using was at fault. After replacing that there was almost no distortion. Then I bought some nice interconnects to run between the preamp and receiver, and that completely eliminated all distortion. Just a thought.
  12. clydeselsor

    clydeselsor Lunatic Member

    I had one and liked it more than the sumiko blue point that I had just before. I have to say that the high frequencies were really extended to the point that I thought that the sound was kind of cold. I have recently picked up Sure MM cart that I really like. It has a nice warm and detailed sound. I don't know about the cart that you using but it sounds like you need to get an alignment protractor. Especially if the stylus is elliptical in shape. A very common symptom of tangical tracking error is a distorted sound the closer the stylus gets to the end of a record. I have a db systems protractor that I bought from the needle doctor that I find very useful. I use it every time I mount a new cartridge. The adjustment is made by moving the cartridge back and forth in the slots on the headshell and the db protractor comes with a guide to give you an idea of how much adjustment is needed. It also comes with complete instructions on how to use it and if an idiot like me can figure it out, anyone can!!
  13. Mr. Lin

    Mr. Lin Lunatic Member

    Good advice, definitely invest in a protractor or download one. has nice glass ones for $20, that's what I use, but it's not really necessary.

    Clydeselsor, which Shure cart. are you using now? Funny, I've never heard anything good about that Sumiko Blue Point. Sorry off topic.
  14. clydeselsor

    clydeselsor Lunatic Member

    It's a Shure M97XE. I got it from a BPC rumage sale turntable that I bought for $10.00. I didn't want the TT, I just wanted the cartridge! I bought the Sumiko because of a recommendation from a friend and I should have known better as he really likes his sound to be kinda tinny! The Shure sounds nice and warm, more natural and neutral. -Clyde
  15. WopOnTour

    WopOnTour Hoarder Extraordinaire

    You've heard of "correctly matching the cartridge to the tonearm"? A very important aspect when choosing a cartridge is resonance matching the effective mass and stiffness (compliancy) of the stylus to "ideal" frequencies for improved detail and reduced influence from external vibrational interferences.
    Assuming your P1 has a Rega based arm (likely RB250/300) with it's relatively high effective mass (11.5g) you will find the DL103 is actually a very poor match for your tonearm from a resonance perspective (ala VanDen Hul "Bible") as it has too low compliance @ 5um at 8.5g mass.The Shures are at the other end of the spectrum and are generally TOO HIGHLY compliant (25+ uM/Nm) for the Rega arms.

    In your indicated price range (and assuming you still desire MC NOT MM) the DL160 (14um @ 4.8g) is actually a solid performer and a very good match with 10.37Hz. OR for a little more ($50-$100) perhaps an Ortofon MC3 turbo (13um @ 4.1g) Ortofon Samba (14um @ 7g) or Ortofon X5 (12um @ 9.5) as they would also be a much better MC matches to the Rega arms.The Dynavector 10X5 would be an outstanding choice/match, but alas it's almost double your stated budget.

    I had a link to a good online Java tool for this but I cant find the link right now.In the meantime, below is a good diagram for matching cartridges to your tonearm. Just add the effective mass of the arm ( is a good place to find specs for most arms) to the mass of the cart (good idea to add 0.5g for fasteners) then compare the compliancy values in um/nm attempting to achieve 10Hz +/- 1Hz


    Attached Files:

  16. cubastreet

    cubastreet Fiend

    All those denons the dl103, 110 and 160 are great cartridges and fantastic value for money.
    You probably already know this, you can only use the 103 or any other low output mc cartridge with a phono stage that is designed for them.
    If you are using an integrated amp, you can usually only use MM or high output MC cartridges unless you buy a separate phono stage.
  17. the-real-mandak

    the-real-mandak Super Member

    Might try this link, they have a few build in tools:

    cubastreet if you read the first post you see that he is running a NAD PP2 Phono Preamplifier, does both MM and MC.
  18. pvh1987

    pvh1987 New Member

    The Ortofon OM5E was installed when I got the turntable. Later on, I saw in the Rega P1 manual that I should roll the wheel all I could in the direction of the cartridge and set the anti-skating to 2 for matching the OM5E cartridge. I did, and it works fine.

    I've just tried to play my michael jackson "the essential" LP again (the only one i noticed distortion in the outer grooves) and with my new preamp it sounds much better. Maybe it's just recorded at higher volume (sounds like) and the older preamp didn't like that? There is only three songs on each sides so I think it has wider grooves -- maybe to extend the bass or something? Whatever - I don't think that's a problem now.

    I think my TT is setup just fine and I only hear a little inner groove distortion now.

    I'm happy to know that the DL-160 should be a good choice because it is easy for me to get, but if I can get anything better (that also fits my arm) for about the same price... anyway - I'm still interested in more recommendations

    Generally, is it possible to say anything about High-output MC vs. Normal-output MC?

    Thank you for all your replies so far :)
  19. Bigerik

    Bigerik AK Subscriber Subscriber

    One thing to keep in mind is the OM upgrade path that Ortofon designed into your existing cartridge. You can make some substantial upgrades just by swapping the stylus. Going to an OM-30 stylus would make a huge difference in sound. Even more so if you found an OM-40 stylus. Stylus shape makes a huge difference in the sound you are going to get. Although I am an MC fan, I don't think you really start to see the virtues of the MC design, for the most part, until you spend more money. Plus, a MM, especially like the OM30 is going to track better anyway. I swapped from a Grado Red to an OM30 and my inner grove distortion just disappeared. The fact that the OM30 uses a Nude Fine Line stylus certainly helps.
    Nice part about doing this is that you don't even have to remove your existing cartridge from the headshell. Just pull the old stylus off and slide the new one on. 10 seconds and you are done. If you hunt around, you should be able to get the stylus for less than $150.
    Oh, and if such things matter, the OM30 (and the 20) received editors choice awards from The Absolute Sound.
  20. Joey1127

    Joey1127 Well-Known Member

    I would have to say the Ortofon MC-3 TURBO. The problem with most "inexpensive" MC carts is that they tend to sound cheep. MC is a lot more dificult to do right so in the "less than $200 range" ...of all the ones I have heard, the Ortofon MC-3 TURBO was the best to my ears. I liked the Denon DL-160, but it tended to break up at the inner bands of the record on highly modulated passages which does not work for me!

    Again, check out the MC-3 TURBO.


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