Best MM?

I want to try a MM with my Herron VTPH-2a. What's the best one? Maestro 2, Zephyr III, AT VM760SLC? Something else?
The correct answer is always "something else", no matter what.  Chakster got it right.
The Zephyr Mk III IS, "something else", than a MM cart(and, yes- better than many):  Watch out for tonearm mismatches, before you pick a cart.
Thanks for the thoughts. Anyone have any experience with an Audio Note IO3?

Its so crazy that there’s no way to try out any of these cartridges before you buy.
Unless I am wrong Audio Note IQ MM is a refined Goldring 1042. I use this Goldring with Nottingham table/arm.
What was the cost of the IQ3 and where did you get it ? New, I assume, correct ?
+1 on the Zephyr. You get to use/check out different gain and other settings on your phono-pre than your MC. And it is a nice sounding MM “type”, but a moving iron. I used to have a Virtuoso Wood but IMHO the Zephyr is a better tracking and sounding cart. 
Nagaoka MP500
Ortofon Black
Pickering XSV3000 or XSV4000
Stanton 881S
Shure V15 IV or higher
Grado Sonata II or higher

 I used to have a Virtuoso Wood but IMHO the Zephyr is a better tracking and sounding cart.

Good to know. What's your phono preamp if I may ask?
Just put a new Virtuoso ebony in my system on Thursday. It's not broke in yet but is showing great potential. Other MM's I've tried that are very good:
empire 4000 diii with bliss stylus
Grado signature with XTC stylus 

That said, chakster & lewm have a lot more experience than I with MM's...
Virtually all Clearaudio MM cartridges are internally various Audio-Technicas. If I was after the Audio-Technica house sound, I personally would just get the top of the line VM760SLC, save some money, and call it day.
Inna - New from Audio Compositions.  Retail is $1025 now.  You can email them for a price.

+1 on the Shure V15 type Vmr cartridge. I took a chance and paid $152.00 for the cartridge put a jico sas shure stylus in the cartridge, upgraded the head shell and tonearm wires and haven’t looked back...
My phono preamp, parks audio budgie tube phono preamp with upgraded vacuum tubes.

My personal vote goes to the Soundsmith/B&O MMC20EN. Technically a moving metal cross I know but it does sit in the MM category from a practical perspective.

The problem is that MM is out of fashion in the modern High-End world. You have to go back to the late 70s or mid 80s for the best MM which you can buy even NOS (unused) if you’re afraid of the used samples. Some vintage MM cartridges, especially NOS (New Old Stock), are better than any new MM/MI, and still cheaper.

The advantages of the vintage MM from the 80s is unique cantilevers like hollow pipe Boron, Beryllium. Those cantilevers are not available anymore for any cartridge manufacturer today.

Also some killer styli such as Stereohedron invented by Stanton is not available today.

Some vintage MMs are high compliance cartridges, like the Grace F14 LC-OFC for example. Great tracker, but must be mated with light tonearms.

You can’t go wrong with Grace LEVEL II (Boron/MicroRidge), Stanton 881/981 or CS100 top of the line vintage MM high compliance cartridges, they are superb!

More universal mid compliance vintage MM are Victor and Audio-Technica for example. You can’t go wrong with Victor X-1II (Beryllium/Shibata) or AT-ML170 and 180 (Gold-plated Hollow Pipe Boron / MicroLine).

All these cartridges made when MM was a KING!
In the golden age of analog.

Most of the modern MM are not even close, but normally twice the price compared to vintage MM carts. Up to you.

What is your tonearm btw ?

Dhcod, cartridges are very competitive; therefore, you are always speaking of the cartridges in a specific price range.

Would you ask someone who is the best girlfriend for you? Of course not, but that's what you are doing in a sense when you ask, "What is the best cartridge"?

While cartridges in the 1K range are very good, there are many trade offs for each brand. You will have to decide which "house sound" is most conducive to the aspects of the music that floats your boat the most. I mentioned the 1K range because that's as high as I am currently going, you might go higher.

For a music lover, nothing is more important than the cartridge; it can put your favorite female vocalist in the room with you, but maybe that's not what you want.

Another cartridge can rock your world, but nix the female vocalist. you see, unless you are in the vicinity of 10K, your cartridge will not do everything.

I have found happiness in the 1K range with a Grado Master; jazz is my thing and I love female vocalists.

Just like you will have to (or you had to) discover which girl was best for you by trial and error, you will have to do the same thing with cartridges. Suggestions from others on this forum is a good starting point, but inevitably you will have to make discoveries for yourself by trial and error; that's less expensive than living with the wrong cartridge for the rest of your life.
Would you ask someone who is the best girlfriend for you?

Try not replace a girlfried with a cartridge, this is the most important. 
And don't tell her how much you're willing to pay for a cartridge if it's more than $200 :)
I found this comprehensive cartridge review by Michael Fremer very useful:

Based on the above, and budget, I chose the Clearaudio Maestro V2 Ebony MM cartridge, sound is excellent IMHO. I have no plans to change out this cartridge.

Music is subjective while cartridge specifications and price are objective. It’s needless to compare a $200 cartridge with a 1K cartridge, but cartridges should be compared in the same price range to get anything meaningful out of the comparison.

Anytime someone comes up with a cheap cartridge that’s better than an expensive one, that conversation gets deleted.

In regard to cartridges, I have several points to make; each cartridge, in each price range, in each brand is unique, and there is one that will take you to "Shangri La".

Forums like this are a good starting point, but you will have to experiment for yourself; anyone’s claims that a cartridge is best, means that it is the best for him, or her.
Budget, FYI, is up to $1500. 

I guess it's just going to be trial and error.... starting with either the Audio Note IO3 or the Clearaudio Maestro V2 Ebony.
Vortrex, thank you. No, I am not going to replace my Goldring 1042 right now. $1000 is a lot of money in my book, besides I like some edginess in the sound, Audio Note might be too refined for my taste. No way to know, though, unless you try.
Nagaoka MP500 and the Audio Note cost about the same. I never really think German when it comes to analog.
Budget, FYI, is up to $1500.

That's enough for some amazing and very rare MM cartridges from the 80s in NOS condition, why do you want modern production of MM in MC era ? The problem is that you will lose money on it (if you don't like them), while the NOS or even used vintage MM heritage is only raise up in value in time, never lose.   

Dhcod, this is no game; if you are a music lover it is essential that you get as much as possible out of each and every time you play a record.

Since this is for the long haul, go to the max on your budget. The Clearaudio Maestro V2 Ebony sounds like a good start.

Cartridges are not an investment, they are for your supreme audio pleasure; bonds and stocks are for investment.

Dear @dhcod : If you are really specific on those 3 cartridge mentioned then you can't go wrong with either.

Something else? the Ortofon 2M Black, Audio Note Iq3, Reson Reca  and many more.


Inna, $1000 is a lot of money to me to, but trading in my Sonata for the Grado Master 2 turned out to be the right way to go for me, and I have never been so delighted.

I would try a new cartridge every other day if I had the dough, but that's not the case.

My line of reasoning was quite simple; if I liked the Sonata, I would like the Grado Master 2 even better.

I would try a new cartridge every other day if I had the dough, but that's not the case.

Why not? But only if you really like to discover some amazing cartridges.
Grado MI cartridges are good until you will find something better, it's always like that. At the moment the best Grado i've tried was Joseph Grado Signature TXZ, flagship model from the 80s. Here is a good documentary about Grado Lab
$1500 will buy one a London Super Gold. It's a Moving Iron, not Moving Magnet, producing an output voltage of 5mV! The Herron phono amp has enough headroom to handle the London's unusually high output; not all do. The cartridge is not for everyone, but offers an extremely dynamic, visceral, exciting sound.
Here's my take.
Koetsu Rosewood.....             Gone
Various Denon DL 103R variants. Stock. Nuded.  Midas aluminum body. All gone. Soundsmith top of the line ruby cantilever and diamond stylus replacements, ALL GONE !!
Grado Statement.    GONE !!

What's left.

My Audio Technical's AT150MLX. Incredibly good. But even better ( and the best I've heard )
Shure V15III ( not a type V,  the III was better), with a Jico SAS stylus.

Just unbelievably natural and realistic music. I can't imagine it getting better than this.

Nuff said,

Crazy Bill
$1500 will buy one a London Super Gold. It's a Moving Iron, not Moving Magnet, producing an output voltage of 5mV! The Herron phono amp has enough headroom to handle the London's unusually high output; not all do. The cartridge is not for everyone, but offers an extremely dynamic, visceral, exciting sound.

I wish! My SME M2-12R and the London don't play well together. I was really bummed when I found that out.
Very true dhcod. The Londons cause the SME knife-edge bearing to "chatter". Too bad, because the SME arm tube is a great one.
2M Black is my all time favorite cartridge. Listening to it will be an absolute trip. 

Chakster, thanks for the documentary on Grado Labs; their philosophy of quality, and consistently delivering a product their customers appreciate is one of the reasons I buy their cartridges.

Grado is called "the poor man's Koetsu" for a reason; it's as close as a poor man can get to a Koetsu. I heard a middle of the line Koetsu, and when my budget allows, I'll get one; however, in the meantime, I'm quite satisfied with the Grado Master 2.

Although I moved up from the Platinum, to the Sonata, and now I have the Master, I don't recommend Grado on this forum because it's not a Rock cartridge, and that's what most here seem to prefer.

In the beginning, I relied on this forum, and I was never satisfied; that's why I say each person has to make his own discovery in regard to the best cartridge for him.

Enjoy the music.
@orpheus10 I never tried a Koetsu, i’ve heard that old Koetsu is terrible cartridge in term of buid quality and Garrott Brothers in Australia fixed many of them back in the days.

I’ve been using Grado for professional needs for decades on Technics turntable and tonearms. In High-End system only Joseph Grado Signature XTZ was close to my favorite carts.

Rock is not my music, but Jazz, Funk and Soul is my choice. However, i don’t believe a cartridge is made for certain genre of music.

My point is that there are many cartridges on the market, much more than current mafunacturers can offer, especially the MM/MI. So it’s not necessary to stick to the modern MM/MI from well known 5 manufacturers, there are many more amazing cartridges from the past (from the golden age of analog media).
After a well regarded Audio Technica cartridge seemed skreechy in my system, a local Audio Salon sales dude I’ve known for years recommended a Sumiko Pearl, which at that time was their premier MM item...125 bucks...I like it enough that I’ve re-tipped it once...a great sounding cartridge for silly small money, doing great work on my Akito festooned Basik table.
Thanks for all the advice! 2M Black is what you are all saying, ridiculously good... even after only 2 hours of listening.

I started this process because my Lyra Delos was either broken or worn out or something. Turned out it was just dirt on the cantilever so the dealer is sending it back to me, good as half-new. It's going to be an interesting comparison because while I expect the Lyra to resolve way better, there's something about both of the MMs that I've listened to so far that's missing from the Lyra. 
2M Black is a masterpiece. It has drive and life and holography. I’ve owned a Delos and it couldn’t hold a candle. 
It's lovely. Without comparing, I'd agree it has drive life and holography but the Delos may have more timbre in voices and acoustic instruments but that's just my memory. I'll know more this weekend. There's nothing more I'd like to do than get out of the high priced mc world!
SME Model 10A turntable. It comes stock with an SME 309 variation tonearm.

All of the best mastering engineers from the golden era of music (60s-80s) preferred MM to MC. 

I’ve also personally compared MC and MM to many real actual master tapes. MC is severely EQed and distorted. MM is practically indistinguishable from tape.
Any of the Soundsmiths in that price range. Very neutral, dynamic SQ. I've had carts from Shure, Sumiko, Clearaudio, Dynavector, Ortofon and a few others in that price range and found the Soundsmith's worked and sounded the best in my system.
I use a JA Michell Gyro SE with the latest Gen Techno Arm and so far the Two cartridges I really love in the $1K range are the Dynavector 20X2L and the CA Maestro Ebony V2. Now these are both completely different in great ways....The Maestro is beautiful and detailed, rich with a heavenly sound that excels with acoustic and vocals...just a gorgeous sound. The Dynavector is much lower output and requires a proper phono stage. The sound is ALIVE and very dynamic in that leading edges and attacks seem to be more there, you can hear the snappy snare drum and feel it too, the 20X2 is very detailed and everything I play sounds different bad or good. So while both of these are great choices it comes down to musical taste and what sound your trying to get from your system. Also, I use a Manley Chinook phono stage so I was able to dial in both these cartridges very well.
Matt M