Need some Cart recommendations, $300 - $700 (New/Used) range…warm, full, yet great def.

As always…all thoughts welcomed…but actual experience is preferred.



Background: I want my records to sound like records (full, organic, etc.) not cds (I say this because I’ve had and heard several hi end turntable/cart combos that sounded sterile and analytical… I hate that). I don’t care if it’s coloration I’m seeking or not. If you have a problem with this notion…that’s ok but please don’t debate it here.

Right now I’m very satisfied with all aspects of my system…just want to have an extra cart to rotate in.



I have the following

-Turntable is Vintage Kyocera p701 (think old HK, AR suspended design…uses ceramics to dampen) it’s an awesome table worthy of even very high end carts.

-cart is a Hana SL …which I really really like after wasting a lot of time and money on other carts. (And no, not ruling out the ML…but wouldn’t mind a bit of a different sound signature)

-Phono pre- PS Audio Stellar- love this too…landed on after many disappointments and wasted $. My pre should accommodate most suggestions and it’s not going to change.


I am open to MM, MI, or MC…but seems like we are moving toward MC?


As mentioned/implied above…I like FULL/LUSH sound


Carts I’ve liked: Shelter 201 (awesome for the money!), Shure Vintage Carts (M95ED?), Hanna SL

Carts I think I’d like: Nagoka, Grado

Carts I haven’t liked: dynavectors, ortofon red, blue, bronze, and, omg, Rega Exact (yuk!) 😉


re. Grado…sounds like these may be my exact cup of tea…but, possibly foolishly, from what I’ve heard, I worry about hum and weight… Definitely would love some input from folks with actual experience here! I am intrigued by Grado.


I’ll try to find some specs in mean time.


Thanks in advance.





Update…looking at table/arm specs:


recommended cart weight= 3 to 10 grams

recommended stylus pressure = 0-3 g

theres no effective mass or the like listed.

Perhaps you'll like the sound of SPU cartridges, but you'll need to make sure you have proper tonearm matching. 

What is wrong with the 2m Bronze? Did you pair it with a tubed phono stage? That is what it likes and needs. I’ve done so and it is superb.

Aside from that, maybe you should try an ortofon Cadenza moving coil, wait, you said you don’t like Ortofon. How about the goldring moving magnet 1042? Or alternatively, the goldring eroica h or Lx? Just so happen to be selling the Lx $699, brand new, retails now for $829.

How about trying your Hana with an SUT? Assuming of course that it is not a high output version of that cartridge, if that exists. The hana’s do well with the auditorium 23 SUT, designed with the denon 103 in mind. Hana’s specs are similar to the 103, very close at least.

Also, a more affordable SUT option would be the Jensen Mc-2rr-L. I bet the Denon 103 moving coil would also make a good choice, on the cheaper end of the spectrum. Available for only $299. Very musical cartridge, not overly analytical, and would Pair up well with the Jensen Mc-2rr-L SUT.

The Jensen was designed in and around the 103, and would work a treat with it. I use the Jensen SUT with my Hana EL and it sounds excellent.

Thanks for the responses, guys!

Kenny…wow those are interesting…will def look into.


Audioguy…sorry…my op wasn’t as clear as It should have been…very happy with the Hana through my Ps audio stellar…so don’t need an SUT.  Def some good suggestions though…thanks!


@ml8764ag I nudge you not to be so closed minded about the use of a SUT,

I have a Phon’ with a Built in Phonostage that is quite impressive and a Group of individuals that have been demonstrated it and loaned it really like it, but it is preferred with a SUT and Head Amp as a partner, and I agree to this as well, and will say the SUT is the preference for myself.

I also have a MM Only Phon’ that is used with a SUT as the main ancillary and a Head Amp is attached occasionally when I want to have a different flavour to the moment.

My experiences of being auditioned a Hybrid Design Phonostage, is that the built in MC Section, is usually produced from parts that have a similar sonic characteristic and most present with a similar sonic character, albeit a designer may choose where the frequencies are most prominent as a presentation.

A SUT or Head Amp can offer an alternative to a typical presentation.

I have been involved in many comparison demonstrations between SUT’s and Head Amps and have reasonable understanding of how the differences from each during a demonstration are perceived.

From my own experiences undertaken in my listening room, I have deducted that the SUT’s used, will inject a little colour to the presentation, add a hue of tone of richness, to the point with certain SUT's there is undoubtedly a Rich Tone presented.

The Head Amp does not create this perception, the Head Amp's I have been able to use, are more anchored to a Transparent presentation, but can be a tad forceful with a certain frequency.

In a very recent listening demonstration on a system I am quite familiar with, a SUT was brought along by an attendee, from a Brand that was unknown to myself, the impression made was quite a surprise, as it was not expected to stand out for its qualities being presented over the resident SUT used on the system.

If the OP could be successful in arranging a loan of a SUT or Head Amp, to experience the contribution these can make to their replays, there might be enough detected to from the added richness, to extend the trials of using ancillaries with the Phonostage of choice.

I researched, for my first MC cartridge I chose AT33PTG/II

. Microline on Boron cantilever.


got lucky, love it. my system provides excellent imaging, so I wanted advanced stylus shape for better groove contact; boron cantilever; wide channel separation and tight channel balance. I won’t go stiffer than boron, too easy to break more brittle stuff. not just me, everyone loves it. I/we compare it to my MM Shure V15Vxmr body with new Jico SAS on boron;

MM AT440ml microline on aluminum; my friends MC Goldring Eroica LX gyger II stylus; MC Denon 103 elliptical

It sounds so good I wore it out. Didn't even consider another. One advantage of buying AT: they sold me a replacement cartridge for trade-in price of $249.

Charisma Denon 103...EMT HSD006 (may be a bit out of $ range), but discounts are generally possible. You could consider an EMT Tsd series used. Have you tried the Dynavector 20X. It's a much different sound than the 17D for instance...Of the above, I have a TSD 75, and have lived with the 15 it replaced. Full body sound with plenty of meat on the bone...not warm/colored, but certainly not cool/dry or thin. Paints with a broad brush...Same with the Charisma (Denon), but much lower output, and maybe the EMT is a bit more refined. Splitting hairs...the Charisma is a gift for the money. I believe the retail was $700 US when I bought mine. I believe you are on to something with Grado...and perhaps the Nagaoka. BTW- the Charisma tracks a bit lighter than a standard 103, for which it shares nearly identical specs. It worked fine on a Well Tempered arm for me. It also played nicely on my Kuzma arm. Have fun. 

Thanks for the wonderful suggestions.  

re. Dynavector 20x…yes tried that one….liked it but didn’t love it (been a while, but ifI recall…it may have been pleasant but didn’t grab me)it wasn’t until I got the Cheap Shelter that I knew I was onto something I really liked. Then the Hana SL …and here we are.

ohh…and unfortunately I have to admit…unfortunately, this whole SUT thing does sound VERY interesting….however, after my budget…I’d still have only one cart.

 Tried to find more mass info for my tonearm…having difficulty.  Makes me kinda fear going Down the Grado path (I’m going to try to post a picture link or update my profile with my tonearm…I think it’s an early Jelco…configured specifically for the table…seems medium mass at best.  Maybe some can I’d it..etc.   I don’t usually worry about such things  (frankly, I think we throw pennies around like manhole covers when it comes to vinyl) but do want to ensure within spec for my arm…for best results.

Re. Grado…any thoughts on the Sonata 3 vs. platinum 3 …I think retail is $600/$400 respectively? 

Lots of good stuff here…scratch the Grado question…my motor location may not be great for MI after all.

The Denon 103R keeps coming up…hmmm…attractive pricing too.


The Garrott Bros p77i is ~$500 USD.
I like that a lot, but there are lots of options in that dollar range.

Denon is what you are looking for but then all you do is a add wood body to it and you are set.  No need to spend another penny more.  Believe me, we have tried so many and this one still is the best value and competes with much higher priced models.



Enjoying a Nag MP-200 as I type this. Have about 100 hours on it now and it is my favorite of the following carts that I have compared it to:

Grado Timbre Opus-GREAT low end but lacks the definition in the mid and upper        frequencies.

Shure V15mkii-Nice all around, but doesn’t have as much “meat on the bone” as the Nag.

AT VM740ml-seems a bit shrill and shallow to my ears. 

Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong ;)

@elliottbnewcombjr is spot on with the AT33PTG/II 👍

If your system is well balanced then the time spent on a good setup will be most enjoyable with this affordable jewel.

Regardless of what I pick….I’m learning a lot from this thread…unfortunately lots more options than I dreamed…I am researching them all.


Elliottb, boothroyd, I know this is pushing it…but any idea how the at33 sounds compared to the Denon 103R? Anyone?

Regardless of what I pick….I’m learning a lot from this thread…unfortunately lots more options than I dreamed…I am researching them all.

Just to add more to it…
I also added a Korf headshell.


Empire cartridges may provide the sound you seek. Grado is good but beware the Grado hum. Soundsmith is also quite nice. 

DL103R pros:

Very easy to set up with it’s forgiving conical stylus. A musical presentation that exudes the flow of music while displaying density of tone and smoothness.

DL103R cons;

Conical stylus prone to quick wear. Once worn, sibilance is more prevalent after the inner alignment null point is passed - IMO a good reason why they are typically seen on tonearms in the 12” length range even though numbers don’t explain.

AT33PTG/II pros:

With it’s advanced elliptical stylus, the increase in resolution & transparency is easily appreciated once dialed in. A case in point of why the DL103/DL103R upgrade retip business is so brisk! Another not to be overlooked feature is it’s rare tapered cantilever which is a very effective mechanical diode at preventing reflections from going back down to the stylus tip. This rare bonus results in a very clean & organized presentation of music that is never harsh yet highly resolving - quite unique at such an affordable price point.

AT33PTG/II cons:

Can be a bit fiddly to optimize in a tonearm in order to get all of its performance due to the advanced stylus profile. Displays slightly less leading edge definition of mid-bass notes compared to DL103R.

Summary down & dirty is that in an optimal setup, the Denon plays more to the heart while the AT equally engages the head.

Thanks boothroyd…tried to pm you…but may have been blocked due to my overuse of ellipses!

In this price range and given what your looking for I think you’d have a hard time beating the Hana. I was also looking at the Grados at one point but never pulled the trigger - so no experience there. I think the 103R would be a good fit, but without a SUT I’m not certain how it would work out. Looking at the specs for your phono, it appears there is a custom loading option. For whatever reason I find the 103R performs best when over loaded and then pinched - so 30 ohms and as much gain as you can muster. A 1:40 works well - but you may be able to enjoy it with 60 ohm and 72 db gain. With both the Hana SL and the 103R in rotation, I typically go to the Hana for newer lps and the 103R for older or cheap lps - largely because of the stylus shapes. 

I have and listen regularly to a Grado Sonata, Benz Micro Glider, London Decca Super Gold, and a Denon 103r. The Denon is my least favorite. The Glider and Super gold are stellar- you may want to look into them too.

Anyone, Everyone:

How in the world can you buy/have premier audio system, a premier TT, premier Arm, and put less than an advanced stylus shape on it?

How could you possibly use a Conical Sphere on a modern LP groove?

Why would you settle for a standard elliptical when Microline, Shibata, SAS, Gyger, Van den Hul .... have been around so very long?

Conical in Hand Carved Petrified Wood, found only below the body of a Mastodon. oh boy, what the ????


Is it lack of skills or apprehension of aligning the more advanced stylus shape? What else could it be? Tell me please.



Do you have the simple tools and skills to align an advanced stylus shape?

boothroyd is correct about the AT33ptg, but that caution is about ANY advanced stylus shape. Not perfectly with a microscope, but done right: overhang, null points, azimuth, vta, tracking force, anti-skate. bit by bit, it’s not hard unless you are a klutz, then get a friend.

Anti-skate. There are some deniers out there, but it is simple and true physics, and it needs to be set correctly for any, and again, more importantly for advanced stylus shapes. The blank record method is visionary!

Someone, dealer, friend, me, you has to simply acquire the simple and inexpensive tools and skills to do it for the rest of your life.

For your budget and stated desires, you want an MM or MI cartridge.  Not a cheap MC. For only one example, a Grace F9 or Ruby retipped by SoundSmith with their LC or OCL stylus.

Geez sooooo many options. I find the Rega, "Exact" to be a HUGE value and was surprisingly really terrific on a vintage Thorens, 160. Also have a Van den Hul, "MC One" on my Luxman table. It's amazing too but will take more than your budget allows (worth searching). GL - lots out there to wade through. 


Check out the Soundsmith web pages lots of great cartridge information.

I snagged a used Carmen MK2 with low hours on usaudiomart and it sounds fantastic.


Sumiko-Amethyst Came up in another discussion, never heard it, sure would like to. Only 2.5mv, is your system quiet at the raised volume that might need?


I would definitely consider an AT33Sa (MC, Shibata, .4mv) . I run it through a passive pre and st-70 tube amp...glorious detail with all the warmth.

I'd consider Soundsmith.  I recently upgraded from a Shure V15 with a Jico SAS to a Soundsmith Zephr MKII.  I was lucky to find one used with low hours for $480.  Re-tipping is less than a typical moving coil, which also helped in my decision.  I'm using my receiver's phono stage and am very happy with the clarity and roundness (or fullness).  It's been a great upgrade for me.  

Wow this has been an awesome experience…reminds me of how agon used to be….a community which gladly offer help and insight.  As mentioned before, I will investigate all suggestions.

Thanks to everyone…sometimes for me, the research is half the fun!


@bdgregory Ineresting…if inclined….what did you like about the glider and London Decca better than the 103?



Both the glider and super gold are more detailed, musical, and delicate. The denon is very good, but not the same level.

+1 Decca Super Gold. I have a number of Decca cartridges and they are outstanding. Not sure how it would work on your turntable/arm combo however. 

@bdgregory @noromance , others


Wow…did some research on the “Decca” carts…definitely something I’m interested In trying at some point….however, I basically have the turntable they warn against…. Although awesome….my table is sometimes referred to as “the poorman’s LINN….” They specifically caution against the LP12 (and other similarly suspended designs) in reviews…apparently the resonance frequency of the table/suspension can conflict with the cart. The arm may be a little light too.

I don’t know whether to be happy or sad….as the line of carts is not cheap.



@ml8764ag: Though I too am a Decca/London enthusiast, I refrain from recommending them as they are somewhat of a high-risk proposition. Not for the faint-of-heart!

By the way, Schitt includes a Decca position on the gain control in their Mani phono pre-amp (30dB), and Zesto a Decca setting on the impedance control in their phono stage (15kHz).

By the way, Schitt includes a Decca position on the gain control in their Mani phono pre-amp (30dB), and Zesto a Decca setting on the impedance control in their phono stage (15kHz).

Is that what someone running a Sound-Smith should use?

Sumiko-Amethyst Came up in another discussion, never heard it, sure would like to. Only 2.5mv, is your system quiet at the raised volume that might need?

I recently switched from an Ortofon Blue to the Amethyst. Honestly one of the best bang for the bucks upgrades I've ever made. Just hits the right balance between accurate and warm. 

Marantz TT-S1 > Mobile Fidelity Studio Phono

For your budget I would look for a used/broken Denon DL-103 cartridge and send it off to Steve at VAS for a basic elliptical tip rebuild. That puts you at about $250 for the cartridge. Than go on Yahoo Buyee and set up an account, this lets you purchase off of the Japanese market. Use Google translate to read the descriptions. Your looking for a Denon AU-340 SUT, they come up often, are very well built and use Tamuri transformers. This SUT offers 2 gain options, is a perfect match for your rebuilt DL-103 plus has a pass through switch. One of the best bargains around.

For your budget this will yield a very high value/dollar option and deliver just the kind of sonic's your looking for. There is a reason the DL-103/SUT has such a cult following. No other cartridge has been in continuous production for almost 60 years, must be a reason.



You already own the clear class leader with the Hana SL. You might get different with a Grado or a Soundsmith, you might get value from an AT or Nagaoka or a Denon, but you're not going to get better than your Hana from any of those. That said, I think I'd try a wood-body Grado and see if it hums. If not, you might like it - a lot. Or a Soundsmith. Both are moving-iron designs with low moving mass. Soundsmith has quite a dissertation on the subject posted on their site. Full Disclosure: I started out with a Grado Sonata on my VPI , but it hummed, so I returned it for the Hana. Zero regrets. I might have gone for a Soundsmith Carmen, but the green body was a boner-shrinker, and the Zephyr was over my budget. Maybe next time.

Oops. The impedance position on the Zesto phono stage for Decca's/London's is 15k Ohms, not Hz!

Thanks to everyone….definitely continue to contribute to help others…but I have more than enough to proceed. It may be a few months before I get something…probably in the form of the proverbial “anniversary/birthday” present.


I’ll report back this thread…

gonna reread the whole thread and all suggestions carefully….but some takeaways so far.


*honestly didn’t understand that having a competent phono pre-amp did NOT preclude an SUT (this, as they say, is bittersweet…love that I learned something and that there are some other avenues to “tune” phono sound… the bitter side: that solution adds extra pieces of equipment, adds extra cost and increases permutations for me to obsess over 🤪

*confirmed that the Grado stuff can definitely be very nice…but may not be a good match for my table/arm

*omg-so interested in experimenting with the “decca” carts..if I had the money/table I’d dive in tomorrow (maybe some day though)

*really like what I’m hearing about the Nagaokas, D103 and the Benz carts …Shelters still in the picture too.






I have the low output version of the Grado Sonata and it sounds like it has just the traits you're looking for and at a good price point.

Fwiw, I have a similar sound preferences and can speak to many of the carts OP mentioned.  I have an old Thorens TD 150MkII, so similar sprung table with a mid weight arm. I Have owned:

Grado Prestige Black - fun, warm, rubs off a lot of defects in records.

Grado Prestige Blue - more detailed, better bass, but lacks some of the Black’s magic

Grado Platinum (1) - very nice cartridge, good with vocals and good bass.  Problem with resonance on this arm. 

Shelter 201 - nice cartridge for the money. Less resonance, but still there.

AT VM750SH - this is a great cartridge, but maybe not your cup of tea.  Detailed, honest, good bass.  But not warm.

Nagoka MP110 - excellent for the money.  Makes me want to try the 200 or 500.

I had hum problems on the Grados, but good power conditioning erased that.  Current pre is a ProJect Tube Box DS with Gold Lion Tubes and linear power supply.

good luck,