After my wife and kids, my vinyl collection is my most prized position. Many people are getting into collecting vinyl these days and want the best sound. Well to get the best sound you need a good phono cartridge for a turntable. No matter if you are a guy who just loves listening to music or a DJ, you need a good phono cartridge.
Most of the time when someone buys a record player from a thrift store or gets one from a buddy the sound is not great, most of the time getting a new phono cartridge can fix this. I was given the chance to check out some of the best phono cartridges on the market and I want to share my thoughts with you on them.
Why You Need A Phono Cartridge
Do I really need to buy a phono cartridge? This may be what you are asking, but yes you do! You know the little needle that touches your record? Well, what that is connected to is the phono cartridge and having a good one is key to bringing your music to life. If someone tells you that you need a new needle for your turntable as it is not sounding right, you need a new phono cartridge.
Are There Different Kinds Of Phono Cartridge
When looking for the best phono cartridge for turntables between 300 to 400 bucks, you may notice people say, P Mount and Standard Mount. It is quite easy to know the difference so do not worry and think that it is complicated.
P Mount Phono Cartridge: For most people, this is the way to go. You find one that will fit your turntable, you plug it in and you are good to go. There is no messing around and it could not be any easier.
Standard Mount Phono Cartridge: A standard mount will require a little more work from you in order to install on your record player in regards to making sure it is aligned correctly.
8 Best Phone Cartridge For Turntables Between $300 To $400
- Denon DL-103R Moving Coil Cartridge
- Denon DL-301MK2 Moving Coil Phono Cartridge
- Soundsmith Otello Acrylic Hand-Built Hi-Output Moving Iron Phono Cartidge
- Denon DL-110 High Output Moving Coil Cartridge
- Rega – Elys MK2 MM Phono Cartridge
- Ortofon – 2M Bronze MM Phono Cartidge
- Ortofon – 2M BLUE MM Phono Cartidge
- Ortofon 2M MONO Cellule Phono
As I said in the intro, I was lucky enough to be sent some of the most popular phono cartridges to test out. Five of these I have actually personally tested and will give my honest review on. The other three are ones that I have not personally tested, but I think they look cool and they have a lot of good reviews.
1. Denon DL-103R Moving Coil Cartridge
- Has a really cool design
- Sound is very clear and crisp
- Even older records are brought to life by this
- Works with any turntable
- Denon is one of the best!
At around 380 bucks this one here I have actually been interested in for a while, but it usually goes for over 400 bucks so it is great to see the price coming down. I think for a phono cartridge like this, the asking price is very fair and I would not wait for it to drop anymore as the price drop could mean this is about to be discontinued! Many regard this as one of the best phono cartridges for turntables and I can see why.
The design is really cool and I love how they have gone for a somewhat retro design and I think that it will fit in with more classy looking record players very well. If you are someone who wants their phono cartridge to be a bit of a showcase piece, you will be very happy with the way that this looks.
While it looks good, the sound is equally as impressive. What I really like about this phono cartridge is that the first few records I tested (Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits by the way) really did sound crisp and just generally amazing. I would say that I had to have tested around 10 albums with this phono cartridge and the best compliment that I can give it is that it did its job so well, that you kind of forget all about it. To me that is exactly what you want in a good phono cartridge, you want it to just “work” and work this one did.
- It is close to 400 bucks
- Can take a little while to assign just right (but it is well worth it)
I really did give it a good workout as I tested some newer vinyl along with some older stuff and it all sounded good. My older turntable that I have upstairs even worked with this and sounded great. I feel that for under 400 bucks, this is a fantastic phono cartridge and one any audiophile will really like.
2. Denon DL-301MK2 Moving Coil Phono Cartridge
- The golden and brown design is really nice
- Sound quality is great
- Works well with older turntables
- Live albums really come to life
- Asking price is very reasonable
The next one that I tested out was also from Denon and I am sure that the first thing that grabbed my attention is the same thing that grabs your attention, the design. Denon has given this a very shiny, golden kind of design and I love it. I get that some may think it looks a bit tacky, but when you are holding it, it really does have some class about it.
I have an older wooden, very 70’s style turntable upstairs and this fits it like a glove. It really does look great. I get that the golden and brown design may not be to everyone’s taste, but I love it and if you have a wooden or a darker colored record player, I would say that this is the kind of style you want to go for.
In terms of the quality, I was very impressed. Denon actually says that this has a special elliptical tip. I will be honest and say that I do not know exactly what this is, but man it is super smooth and fits right in the groove of your records and the sound that it produces is just phenomenal. For some reason, I tested out a few different live albums with this and was very impressed.
I have a pretty rare Bon Jovi live album from Japan and I can hand on heart tell you that I have never heard it sound so good as with this. I have heard some people say the sound is a little flat, well that must be the way they have set it up as for me the sound is truly wonderful. Also, the asking price is around 320 bucks and for a phone cartridge of this quality, I really do think it is a good deal.
- Set up must be done right to get the best sound
- The gold and brown design may not suit all turntables
Just know that you will have to take your time connecting it in order to get the best sound.
3. Soundsmith Otello Acrylic Hand-built Hi-output Moving Iron Phono Cartridge
- The design is very modern and cool
- Works well with any turntable
- These are apparently handmade
- Gets better the more you use it
- Not too hard to install
At just under the 400 bucks price range, this is one of the more pricey phono cartridges that I was given to test out. This actually has a ton of great reviews and Soundsmith are aiming this at people who are just getting into vinyl records but do not want a cheap phono cartridge, but at the same time do not want to spend anything close to a grand.
With that in mind, I must say that the price is a little high for an entry level phono cartridge. As far as the style goes, Soundsmith clearly has made this to be as cool as possible, I like the red and clear plastic design and think that it is ideal for a DJ or someone who just wants something that is a little more on the cool side. The good thing about the color scheme of this is that it will fit in with any kind of turntable.
As far as the sound quality goes, I really had to give this one a good working out, but thankfully my collection of Iron Maiden albums (originals from the 80’s by the way) were more than willing to take the job. I have used a few phono cartridges that require a little bit of breaking in and that was the case for this one.
At first, the sound was fine, but nothing remarkable, but by the fourth record, it really came to life and I was very impressed with the quality, so much so that I even tried an album I listened to just an hour or so early to see if I could notice the difference.
- You will need to break it in
- Asking price is a little high
In all the sound is very good, just know that you have to make sure it is aligned properly and you will have to break it in (which gives you an excuse to listen to a ton of music) to make sure it is at its very best.
4. Denon DL-110 High Output Moving Coil Cartridge
- Very affordable
- Really cool, blood red design
- Works with most turntables
- I had no trouble installing it
- Diamond Stylus
Here is another one from Denon, but this one is a little different as they have gone for a more modern approach in the design. The asking price of this is right around that 300 bucks mark so it is certainly ideal for our best phono cartridge for turntables between 300 to 400 bucks. I think this is a very price for a Denon phono cartridge.
The design is very interesting in that they have gone for this almost, blood red design. I really dig this and my main turntable is all black, like every part of it is black and the red really does go very well for this. I do have an older record player and with that one, the design does stand out a little bit more, but I still kind of like it.
I read that this has a solid diamond stylus so I was very excited to give this a try. The one thing that I have to mention about this is that sometimes vinyl can crack and crackle when you are listening to it, I noticed very little of that with this.
Some people love this about vinyl and my turntable upstairs does do this, but when I want to listen to my music in really high quality, I like very little background noise and this phono cartridge does that very well. If you are the kind of person that really likes to experience their music, you will love how your records sound when using this.
- Design might not be to your taste
- Sound is not the best I have ever heard
In my opinion, I feel that this is the kind of phono cartridge that is aimed at people who want great sound quality but with a lower price tag. It is not the greatest phono cartridge I have ever used, but the design and the sound are good enough so I can say that for the money, this is great value.
5. Rega – Elys Mk2 Mm Phono Cartridge
- Price is right
- Easy to install
- Comes with a nice long warranty
- Colors may be perfect for your turntable
- Stylus is actually very high quality
The last one that I got the pleasure to test is once again at the lower end of the pricing spectrum as this one is a hair under our 300 bucks limit. Rega is a company that I had not heard of so I was interested to test out their phono cartridge. It has a blue and silver design and I feel that it is not quite as spectacular as any of the other ones on this list.
I think that if it fits in with the color of our turntable, then great, but for me, it just has a bit of a lower end look to it. Which I think maybe a little harsh, but it does not capture your attention like some of the cooler looking phono cartridges do. It is seen as one of the budget priced, but still good quality phono cartridges on the market and I think the design shows that.
But what about the sound quality? I have heard that some people have used this for about 30 hours before the sound really reaches its peak. Before I could write this review, I never had the chance to use it quite that much, but I did give it a good testing with around 8 different albums. I have a brand new pressing of Appetite For Destruction from Guns N Roses and it sounded great on this things.
- May need some serious breaking in
- The blue looks a little cheap
So while I can hand on heart say that new vinyl sounds awesome, my older records did not sound quite as good. Now they did not sound bad, but out of the five that I tested, this one had the most crackling, but I do have a feeling that had I been able to give this a good couple of week’s worth of play, it would have sounded a lot better.
6. Ortofon – 2M Bronze MM Phono Cartridge
- Awesome bronze design
- Lots of positive reviews
- Ortofon is great!
- Live music sound amazing
- Will be easy to install
I have never actually had the pleasure of using this phono cartridge from Ortofon, but man this is awesome! It is regarded as one of the best phono cartridges for turntables and while it does cost a little more than our $400 target. I feel that it is worth talking about as it is held in such high regard.
The design is fantastic and the bronze look of it I feel will make any turntable that it is connected to look that extra bit cooler. When you read the reviews, people really do rave about how high quality this feels. If someone would be good enough to send me one, I can tell you for sure!
While I have not actually used this, Ortofon is a company that I know well and have used their phono cartridges in the past. This is one of their better phono cartridges so I can only imagine how good the sound is. One thing that the Amazon reviews really praise about this is how good live albums sound.
- Price is higher than you may like
- Made for real audiophiles
Now of course if live albums sound good, regular albums will to, but I am a lover of live music and anything that is going to make that bass sound extra deep and the vocals really crisp is something I am into.I know that the asking price of this phono cartridge is not cheap, but if you are willing to spend that little bit more money, I do feel that you would be better doing that than going for a cheaper one that is not as good.
7. Ortofon – 2M Blue MM Phono Cartridge
- Price is very, very fair
- Sound quality is said to be great
- High quality
- Transparent blue looks really cool
- Fits pretty much any turntable
Ortofon is a company that I love and you know how much I wanted to try out the other one we just talked about. This one here is a cheaper phono cartridge from them and it is actually way under our 300 bucks price range so if you are new to vinyl or just want a cheaper phono cartridge for your spare turntable it is ideal.
I really like the blue design of this one and while I was not keen on the blue for the Rega one, Ortofon has done it right. They have used dark black and dark blue, but the blue they have used has some transparency to it and I think that really does make it look cool. I think that this would look awesome if you have a black turntable.
This is one of the cheaper mid range phono cartridges from Ortofon, but the sound quality is said to still be very high quality. As you would expect, some breaking in time is required. But what impressed me most about this is that the people who have used this have said that it actually sounds good as soon as you install it… yet the best is still to come from it!
- It does take some breaking in
- I need to test it to really see how it sounds
I think this sounds very interesting and honestly, I really would love to give this a try as it sounds like one of the best lower priced phono cartridges out there. If you are a little tight on funds but want to get the best sound quality possible, you will struggle to beat this.
8. Ortofon 2M Mono Cellule Phono
- Love the white design
- Costs under 400 bucks
- Has that Ortofon quality
- Will be easy to install
- Nude spherical stylus
Now this one is pretty interesting as it is one of the newer phono cartridges from Ortofon, but there are not any reviews for it online yet. I would not worry about this though as in all the years I have been collecting vinyl, I have yet to hear someone say a bad word about an Ortofon phono cartridge.
From what I have read in my research there was a real effort from Ortofon to make a phono cartridge that is very easy to install. Which it looks like they have, but to be fair this is the case for every phono cartridge I have tested from these guys so I am sure this one is the same.
It is under the 400 bucks price range and I am confident that it will sound just as good as the other Ortofon phono cartridges. I would think that there is some breaking in time with this, but that is all part of the fun. What really makes this stand out for me is the design. They have gone for a white plastic here and I really like that. It will go with any kind of turntable and that gives it some real universal appeal.
- Price may be a little high for some
- Not many reviews for it online
So while there may not be a lot out there about this phono cartridge, it is one that I would advise you keep your eye on.
What Is The Best Phono Cartridge For Turntables Between $300 to $400
Out of the five phono cartridges I tested, I was very impressed with four of them (the Rega didn’t quite do it for me) and all four did a great job. In the price that we are talking about, you really could not go wrong with any of them. The one thought that slightly stood out from the rest is the Denon DL-103R Moving Coil Cartridge. I love this thing, it sounds amazing, has a great look and was very easy to install. The real kicker is that it is now being sold for under 400 bucks which is why I feel it is the best phono cartridge out of the ones I got to test.