Need help with phono cartridge selection

Hello all,

Hope everyone is having a great weekend. I am finally getting around to upgrading my phono cartridge and looking for some advice. I mostly listen to rock and jazz using the following setup:

Receiver - denon AVR 4306
Speakers - Polk audio 
Record player - Pioneer PL-630 with medium mass arm.

With all the reading I have done I am in information overload and not sure which direction to go. Current budget is roughly 500 or less. 

Current cartridge considerations:
Denon dl-110
Ortofon om20
Ortofon 2m Bronze
Nagaoka mp-200 or the 150
AT VM95E or ML
Hana EH
I am open to other suggestions as well 

Again, I am new at this so I appreciate your patience and your help. 



The Denon in my opinion. Although that table was made back then for cartridges like Shure, Stanton and Audio Technica, so the AT models should be good also. I always thought the AT carts were a bit tilted brighter - if you like that or your speakers are weak at the top end, then the AT are a really good fit. The Hana is a great cartridge, but not the best match for the table. 

Again, this is just my opinion and experience. I did own a PL500 series (I don't remember the exact model number) and used a shure M97 and a V15, but those carts are long gone, except as used/remanufactored.

Let us know what you end up getting!

This Grado OPUS 3 would be a good match with that Pioneer arm. My friend uses it with his Technics table and it sounds great!



It’s a highly personal choice, and somewhat system dependent, but after trying several ATs, Grado, Ortofon, and Nagaoka (among others) my clear choice would be the Nag MP200 (nude elliptical on a boron cantilever). It should have great clarity, really good dynamics, and a warmish but inviting lively overall presentation without treble you can upgrade the stylus down the road to the JN-P500 for a stellar overall cart.

If you prefer a bit more treble emphasis, perhaps the VM540ML or even the MP150 (JN-P500 upgrade is also possible with the MP150).

Considering your system, from your list of cartridges: Ortofon OM20 or AT VM95E or ML. All others would be overkill.

I am sure everyone who has responded is trying to be helpful.  Here is an analog to your question:  I have never painted my house before, what color do you think I should paint it?

Your question is really impossible for anyone else to answer for you.  You could put each of your choices on a 3"x5" file card, mount them on a wall, stand back and blind fold your self and throw a dart with the choice made for you by the dart.  Literally any of the cartridges on your list would be a fine choice for a first step and none is likely to cause the least trouble. 

I agree w Bill, except don’t put the OM series on the list…. I’m using a Bronze now as a spare…. a wonderful rock n roll cartridge as it has a whisker of saddle….

I like Audio Technica Cartridges, the sound, and several have very good channel separation and tight channel balance: combined they give excellent imaging.


I like the AT540ml for beginners, in your case, within your budget, I would move up their line to the VM750SH with Shibata Stylus

30 db channel separation, 1.0 db channel balance

soundsmith stylus shapes article


cartridge alignment?

do you or a friend have the few inexpensive tools and experience to mount and align a cartridge? any advanced stylus shape that will definitely give better performance requires careful setup.

+1 @billstevenson First, welcome to the ‘Gon!  Unfortunately I can’t help with your cartridge question, but I’d say for this and future posts you should always share what equipment you have now, what specific improvements you’re looking for, and what sound characteristics are most important to you.  This will greatly help people to make recommendations that are inline with what you’re looking for otherwise you’ll get stuff that’s all over the place and not necessarily consistent with your specific tastes/goals.  Put another way, the better/more info you give upfront the better and more effective recommendations you’ll get here.  Best of luck in your search. 

Of the cartridges you selected I think the VM540ML and the 2M Bronze are best. If you can push a little harder the Goldring 1042 is a dynamite cartridge. It has a Gyger S stylus on a boron cantilever punching way above it's price point. It is the equivalent of the 2M Black LVB at a little over 1/2 the price. 

I had a Nag 150 for years which I loved and with all the hype about the 200 I finally pulled the trigger since it was supposed to give me more of what I loved about the 150. However while the 200 was more detailed, it was too thin and lacked bass and mid range presence. I'm pretty upset about the purchase honestly. I think the 150 has the best overall balance and for some reason the dynamics are better, too. A real head scratcher, but I guess I learned something.  150 all day long and twice on Sundays!

You might consider a phono amplifier instead of the receiver's input. Try a Schiit Mani 2 into an aux input.

Hi all,

First, thanks for the solid advice and input.  After reading your comments and continuing to read article after article, I have narrowed my list down to (plus added a couple) to the following:

AT VM540ML - $279.00

AT VM740ML - $349.00

AT VM750SH - $449.00

Goldring 1042 -$699.00

I also realized I may have to increase my budget a little.😀

Does anyone see any issues with any of these cartridges being used on the pioneer PL 630?  
Just out of curiosity, have any of u had any combination of these that allowed you to compare them to each other?  Can you share if possible?
Are there any websites that has samples you can listen to besides YouTube?  Any suggestions?  

I really don’t want to spend a larger amount of money if the difference is not that noticeable. 

It really sucks that one can’t go to a store and test drive these….

Thanks for your patience and input.  


What are you using currently? What type of sound do you like? The Goldring is a bit warm while the ATs are more neutral–maybe a little bright–but not harsh. I use a VM750SH as a spare or when not in the mood for my more dynamic and nuanced Deccas. It’s decent and does everything well. It will need 10-20 hours to settle in, being a little bit brittle and thin at first.

noromance's avatar


9,415 posts


What are you using currently? What type of sound do you like? 

 Noromance, I bought the player used.  No idea how many hours are on the cartridge.  Listen to mostly 70’s and 80’s rock along with jazz.  

Anyone heard a Garrott Brothers p77i from Australia? They get Chakster's endorsement for the the best New cart value which has me intrigued.

I have a nag mp-200 and I am continually stunned by how amazing it sounds... I've had it for coming up on a year now and it remains outstanding (even more now that it's broken-in). 

My plan was always to start with the mp-200 so I could save a little money by using my Technics 1500's on-board phonostage (which is actually pretty decent). I always thought when it was time to replace the cart, I'd upgrade to a tube phonostage that could handle a LOMC cart and get a Hana. HOWEVER, the mp-200 sounds so good, I'm STRONGLY considering keeping my system as is and just upgrading to the MP-500. I might be Nagaoka for life...

I was bewildered why my MP-200 was sounding so thin and shrill, but as an experiment I put the 200 needle on my mp-150 cartridge and immediately the bass and dynamics were back. Not sure what's going on there, but my suspicion is that I bought the whole mp-200 with headshell and that nagaoka headshell was lighter than the standard Technics (so maybe Nags like heavier headshells?), I had to adjust the counter weight to compensate a tracking force of 1.8g. You gotta love Analog....

BTW, this whole conversation has got me researching affordable MC carts and probably the next one I would try is the Denon DL-301 mkii. I haven't heard one bad review of it and a couple vinyl rips sounded really good. Might also keep Denon in mind...

DS-Audio Optical cartridge and matching energizer. Try the entry level and thank me later.