More and more people are getting into vinyl these days and while you can pop online, pick up a record player for under fifty bucks, or you can head to a local thrift store and buy a vintage one for perhaps even less. The fact if the matter is, if you really want to hear vinyl in all its glory, you are going to have to upgrade or ever replace the phono cartridge that the record player you are using has. This is what is going to give you that crisp vinyl sound that we all want.
Knowing what is a good phono cartridge and why can be quite tough, but today we are looking at what a phono cartridge is and also giving you a little more insight as to why this is such a vital part of the vinyl experience. Also, we will be looking at some of the better phono cartridges on the market right now that cost under 200 bucks.
What Is A Phono Cartridge?
Now some of you more “audiophile” kind of people may be sniggering at this, but there is a whole load of people who are new to this awesome hobby of enjoying music on vinyl. You probably know what the needle on a record player does. It is what touches the record. Well, a phono cartridge is the whole thing, the needle and what surrounds it, although stylus is the actual term for the “needle”.
So when someone uses the term phono cartridge and suggests that you may need to get a better one for that budget priced record player you bought or that 80’s model you picked up from the Goodwill. This is what they are talking about. So do not worry, it is not something super complicated and many people will even just say needle when they are referring to a phono cartridge.
Are There Different Kinds Of Phono Cartridges?
Yes, there is a large selection of phono cartridges on the market, many look pretty normal, but there are some more weird looking ones out there. In general, though there are standard mount and p mount cartridges.
Standard Mount: Standard mount is the most common one that you will see when looking for a phono cartridge. There is a little bit of tinkering with these in regards to connecting them to your record player and making sure it is aligned properly. But when connected properly, the sound is fantastic.
P Mount: P mounts are designed to be easier. There is no messing around with these. You find the P Mount that is suitable for your record player, you plug the four little pins into the arm and you are good to go. There are some fantastic models of P Mount on the market and most people think they sound just as good as a Standard Mount, but some hardcore audiophiles may disagree with that.
Why Do You Need A Good One?
So that your records can sound as good as possible. While a huge part of collecting vinyl is all about the fantastic photos and artwork that are on the sleeves. The sound is the main reason that so many people love to listen to their favorite albums on vinyl. There is just such a pure and real, almost raw sound that comes from vinyl. To really get the best sound, you need to have a good phono cartridge.
How Do You Know What Phono Cartridge You Need?
With the vast amount of choice that is out there when it comes to phono cartridges, it may seem a little daunting at first, but once you find out the kind of record player you have, finding a compatible phono cartridge is very easy. One of the main benefits of getting into the vinyl collecting community is the community itself as there are many people out there willing to give a helping hand when it comes to getting the best sound possible.
The Best Phono Cartridges For Under 200 Bucks
As you have probably figured out by now, getting the best sound out of your vinyl does require you to have a good phono cartridge. Some people will tell you that you need to spend a fortune, but that is not actually true as we have a selection of great phono cartridges for under 200 bucks right here. If you have a tight budget, you can check out those below $100 here.
Our Top 9 Picks under $200
- Audio-Technica AT440MLB Phonograph Cartridge
- Ortofon – 2M Blue MM Phono Cartridge
- Ortofon: 2M Red Cartridge Mounted on SH-4 Headshell
- Sumiko – Pearl MM Cartridge
- Denon DL 103 Moving Coil Cartridge
- Clearaudio Concept MM Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge
- NAGAOKA MM (MP) Cartridge MP-110
- NAGAOKA MP-100 MM Cartridge From Japan
- Audio-Technica AT-F2 Moving Coil Phono Cartridge
Audio-Technica AT440MLB Phonograph Cartridge
- Easy to install
- Price is very reasonable
- Brings all the subtle sounds of a record to life
- Buries deep into your records
- Even older records sound great
The Audio-Technica AT440MLB Phonograph Cartridge is a fantastic phono cartridge. One of the main benefits that it has is as soon as you take it out of the packaging, you realise how easy it is to install. You may have to tweak it a little to make sure you have it just right, but a little patience and a test record (a record you are not sure into) makes it very easy. Once set up, you can start to have fun and bring your record collection to life.
When talking about the sound, it is just so, so good. The stylus gets in there very well and it really does make your records sound fantastic. Even older records can sound amazing on this thing! You really will be blown away and be hearing the instruments in a way that you never have before. One of the reasons many people are so high on this is the quality of the sound and “sounds like I am hearing it for the first time” is something you will hear many people say about.
What Could Be Better
- Damaged records can sound a little rough
- Some report the sound is a little tinny
There is not actually much wrong with this phono cartridge and we would say that the majority of people will not have any issues at all. But one that may come up and to be fair this is an issue with your vinyl more than the stylus itself. But if you have a record that has some scratches, this will really let you know about it. It may make your records sound great, but the flip side of this is that it really does bring out any flaws in the actual vinyl.
Slightly tinny sound is something that has been reported, but to be fair this is not just down to the phono cartridge, but to the overall set up a person has. These are just a couple of minor issues and for the most part, the phono cartridge is going to have you with a big smile on your face when you are blasting out those 80’s Bon Jovi records!
Ortofon – 2M Blue MM Phono Cartridge
- Designed by award winning designer, Møller Jensen
- Looks really cool
- Has great highs
- Sold bass!
- Fantastic Clarity
Ok so this one here is a little over our 200 bucks limit that we are going for, but it is worthy of a spot on this list. The Ortofon – 2M Blue MM Phono Cartridge just has so much going for it that it really is one of the better phono cartridges on the market right now. This is a moving magnet style of phono cartridge and it really does its job very well. What you are going to love about this is the dynamic range that it offers you.
No matter what kind of record you are listening to, you will be amazed at how good the highs are and then how deep and strong the bass is and right in the middle it is just so consistent. It makes listening to something from a band like Pink Floyd or Dream Theater an experience that you will never forget. The reason we have this on here, as well as the great sound quality of course. Is that for a true audiophile even at the over 200 bucks, the asking price is a steal!
What Could Be Better
- It does need a little warm up
- It does cost over 200 bucks
Ok so there is only one “negative” that we really have with the Ortofon – 2M Blue MM Phono Cartridge, but depending on how you look at it. It is not actually a bad thing at all. This is known for needing a little “warm up” time. This means that you are going to have to use this for a good few hours until it really gets its groove.
What is amazing though about this is that it sounds great out of the box! So when you tell people it is going to sound even better the more they use it, they really are taken aback. But some people do have an issue with this. We though, think that this could easily be looked at as a positive.
Ortofon: 2M Red Cartridge Mounted on SH-4 Headshell
- Is known to work with many different turntables
- Affordable price
- Split pole pin gives a nice clean sound
- Has a cool red design
- Easy to install
At a little over 100 bucks the Ortofon: 2M Red Cartridge Mounted on SH-4 Headshell is the cheapest phono cartridge that Ortofon offer. It is a great entry level phono cartridge for a person that is looking to upgrade their existing one or even buy a new one for an older record player that they picked up somewhere. The sound quality this offers is very nice and to an average joe, it really is going to sound fantastic.
One of the things we like is how this is such a great way for a person to see why vinyl is so great, but without spending a fortune. While the sound quality is nice, of course one of the other benefits that this phono cartridge has is the design. It looks very cool with its red style and the headshell that it comes with just helps add to the overall style. If you want good sound at an affordable price, you cannot go wrong here.
What Could Be Better
- Treble can be a little on the nose
- Headshell is a bit light
For the majority of people out there the sound that the Ortofon: 2M Red Cartridge Mounted on SH-4 Headshell is offering is going to be better than the default phono cartridge that their record player already has. But if there is one thing that can be brought into question it is that the treble can be a little high on some records. Of course depending on the album you are listening to, this may not be an issue.
But if you are sensitive to changes in pitch it is something to known about. The only other thing that is worth noting is the headshell, while really cool looking, is a bit on the light side which can on very rare occasions see it jumping. This is not something you can expect to happen a great deal though and it is the headshell that causes this, not the actual stylus.
Sumiko – Pearl MM Cartridge
- Has a very old school kind of style
- Aimed at audiophiles
- Price is very low
- Stylus is perfectly cut
- Setting it up is very simple
Next up we have the Sumiko – Pearl MM Cartridge which is coming in at just a hair over 100 bucks. Made for audiophiles by audiophiles is the slogan of this phono cartridge and to be honest with you that is a great way to look at this. 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. It may at first glance seem a little bit basic, but that is by design as Sumiko have really tried to make this have an old school look and they certainly have achieved that.
Some of the more modern phono cartridges that are on the market try to look cool and they can look out of place on an older style record player. But this one with its classy design works great on both old and newer style turntables. The real draw with this though is that it just does its job incredibly well and will certainly bring those old records of yours to life.
What Could Be Better
- A little on the large side
- It is just good, not great
Ok so we know that “it is just good” sounds like a weird thing to say as a bit of a negative. But what we mean by that is the Sumiko – Pearl MM Cartridge plays the trebles good, the bass good and even hits pretty good highs. It does its job well, but it does lack the rich and awe inspiring sounds that some audiophiles may be looking for in a phono cartridge.
However that is kind of selling this short as for a person who wants a phono cartridge that gets the job done and sounds pretty darn good doing it, we would dare say it is perfect. The only other complaint that you are likely to hear about this is the overall size, it is a little bulkier, but this to be fair is by design and on an older looking record player it goes very well.
Denon DL 103 Moving Coil Cartridge
- Great sound
- Price for this kind of quality is crazy
- Has a smart design
- Simple to set up
- Awesome bass
While the price tag of the Denon DL 103 Moving Coil Cartridge may make your eyebrows raise a little bit. The best way to think of this phono cartridge is that it is offering fantastic and high quality sound, but at a fraction of the price some of the other “high end” phono cartridges are asking. The bass and treble sound incredible and no matter if you are rocking out to some Motley Crue or kicking back to some Barry White.
The sound is excellent, it requires very little set up and while this is something that is more aimed at the “audiophile” market. It is something even a novice would be able to install without any kind of issue. We really like the design as well and even on older looking turntables, it does not look out of place. But above all else, it is the sound that is really going to blow your socks off with this. You take the time to set it up just right and you will be using this for years to come.
What Could Be Better
- Does need breaking in
- Price may be a little high for some
Like some of the other more high quality phono cartridges that are on the market. The Denon DL 103 Moving Coil Cartridge is going to require you to break it in. So you are going to have to give it a solid 8-10 hours of use so it can be at its very best. What is cool about this though, is that even during this breaking in period the sound is fantastic. In regards to the price. We feel the price is very, very reasonable and know that some of you may be a little off put by it. But if you want high quality and do not fancy spending 400 bucks plus, you will have a hard time beating this.
Clearaudio Concept MM Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge
- Perfect size
- Design results in amazing sound
- Very little noise or grain
- Depth of sound is great
- Setting it up will take minutes
The Clearaudio Concept MM Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge has a rather basic look to it, but do not be fooled at Clearaudio have been making vinyl sound awesome for over four decades. We love the simple design, sometimes phono cartridges go over the top with their design, but the way they have kept it simple actually works to its advantage and is a huge benefit.
You see this is almost the perfect weight when it comes to making sure the stylus is at the perfect depth and that it does not move around too easily. This means you get far less noise and even on records that have a few scratches on them, they can play very well and not have the flaws in the vinyl be distracting. In all the sound quality is just amazing, it covers all ranges and no matter what your musical taste is, you will be very happy with what is coming out of your speakers.
What Could Be Better
- Price is over 200 bucks
- You need a great set up to get the best out of it
There are a couple things that do need addressing with the Clearaudio Concept MM Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge. First of all, it does require some breaking in, you are looking at around the 10 hour mark. While the sound is something we love, you do need to make sure that you have a good set of speakers and that your rig is all set up right. You take the time to do this and you will be blown away at the sound.
NAGAOKA MM (MP) Cartridge MP-110
- Costs just over 100 bucks
- Great for a first phono cartridge
- Ideal if you listen to rock and metal
- Great if you like your music loud
- Vocals really stand out
The NAGAOKA MM (MP) Cartridge MP-110 is one of the lower cost phono cartridges on this list and while it is easy to pass it off as “cheap” this is one heck of a phono cartridge. The sound quality that this offers is very good and many people do rave about it. But the design of it, really does make it something that has a special kind of niche, and that niche is your loud music like rock and metal.
So if you like heavy hitting stuff like Guns n Roses or even a little Free Bird from Skynyrd. You are going to love this. Not just because of the quality of the instruments, but it is the vocals as well that really stand out. It is perfect if you like to put an album on in one room, turn it up loud and then potter around the house.
Things That Could Be Better
- Sound quality has been called into question
- Does require some breaking in
We feel kind of hard saying anything bad about this, but we must say that it is best when it comes to rock and loud music. We know that some other people who listen to things like jazz and even some 80’s pop music say they have no issues with the sound at all and that is great so if you are not one of these people who analyse every little instrument, you will love the life this brings to your vinyl.
NAGAOKA MP-100 MM Cartridge From Japan
- Has a pretty cool design
- Can be used with most turntables
- Easy to use
- Sound is pretty good
- Great for beginners
At a pretty even 100 bucks the NAGAOKA MP-100 MM Cartridge is the most affordable phono cartridge on this list. Now the sound this offers to most people is going to be fine. Those who want to really savor every little sounds may not be happy with this. But those who are just getting into the hobby and want to hear the records they grew up with in a good quality, but at an affordable price are going to be very happy. We see this as an entry level phono cartridge. Something for someone who loves vinyl, but does not have a large budget to drop a few hundred bucks to enjoy it. NAGAOKA have also made sure that this is compatible with the majority of turntables that are on the market.
What Could Be Better
- Sound is not the greatest
- Is rather light
We feel kind of bad saying anything negative about this phono cartridge as the NAGAOKA MP-100 MM Cartridge is clearly aimed at people who want something affordable. But the sound is clearly not as good as you are going to get with a phono cartridge that is double the price, but at the same time it is not a whole lot worse either.
The weight of it is also a little on the light side so the stylus does not always get in nice and deep to get the best sound possible. At this price range though, we feel these are two things that will easily be able to be overlooked by the kind of person who buys this.
Audio-Technica AT-F2 Moving Coil Phono Cartridge
- Incredible design
- Sound quality is awesome
- Very interesting design
- Made for audiophiles
- Set up could not be any easier
The design of the Audio-Technica AT-F2 Moving Coil Phono Cartridge is so well done that you know the people at Audio-Technica are clearly audiophiles and have a love for vinyl. We say that because it is designed with making your albums sound as clear, good and amazing as possible. It is the kind of phono cartridge that for many people is going to make it seem like they are listening to their favorite albums for the first time.
The materials used, the angle of the stylus and the shape of it have all been chosen to make sure that any record that is played on it sounds amazing. Yes the price is a little higher, but the value for money here is just incredible. We would go as far to say that there are a few supposed higher end phono cartridges on the market that do not sound as good as this so that is a huge benefit to getting this.
Things That Could Be Better
- Price is a little over 200 bucks
- Around a 10 hour breaking in time
This is the kind of phono cartridge that is always going to make a list of best phono cartridges as it is just so well made. But at the same time it is not aimed at those just getting into vinyl collecting. We say this due to the price and the fact that while the sound is great out of the box. It does have a break in time of around 10 hours until it starts to find those grooves on your records perfectly.
Final Thoughts On Buying The Right Phono Cartridge For Under $200
So we have looked at some fantastic phono cartridges today and many phono cartridges for under 200 bucks as well. To be honest with you, we feel that the ones we have looked at today prove that you do not have to spend several hundred dollars on a phono cartridge to be able to enjoy vinyl. Many of the ones we have looked at today, will produce a sound that is rich in bass and really makes the vocals shine.
We feel that there is a good selection, no matter what your budget is. So if you are new to the hobby, you can see that you can get a phono cartridge that helps your records come alive, but it does not make your wallet cry. Even you audiophiles are going to be pleased with the quality of many of these phono cartridges we have looked at and again it goes to show that spending a ton of money is not always necessary. Should you have lesser budget, feel free to check out those below $100 in our previous post.