Need some help picking my first MC Cartridge

I have recently purchased an Icon PS1 Mk II tube Phono Preamp. and was thinking of purchasing a seperate MC cartridge and head to interchange with my Nagoaka MP 300 MM cartridge, which I am very happy with. This is my first MC Cartridge so this is more of a chance to compare MC versus MM Cartridges. Some suggestions have been Denon 103 or the Hana Red, The Icon Preamp has a fixed MC load setting of 100 ohms. The Sansui SR 525 Direct Drive Turntable that I will be using has an interchangeable cartridge head, so VTA height, tracking weight, anti-skating adjustments may be required for each cartridge but should not take more than 20 minutes to adjust. I have read that some low output cartridges may be preferable to high output, but I am not sure how this matches up with the Icon Preamp. I am a little in the weeds here with the technical information when it comes to cartridges so be gentle.

My listening preference is more to the musical / warm vinyl side. Gear: Tube preamp, Class "A" amp , alternating with a tube Integrated, Wilson Benesch Square 2 Speakers, Rel Subs (x2). I split my listening about 50/50 Vinyl/Digital.

My Budget is up to $1500.00


Your Icon has the built in MC transformer that is optional?  Do you know how much gain the stage provides?  MCs vary widely in output so this sort of information is vital for making any sort of recommendation.

The Hana SL is a very good recommendation at ~$750. It is low output with a superior Shibata stylus (important). It needs a gain of about 60db for best signal- to-noise performance. That gain can be had from an active stage or a transformer. Since the Icon has a fixed load of 100 ohms it has enough gain for a low output mc cartridge like the SL. I would choose it over the Denon 103R (conical stylus) because the SL’s Shibata stylus is far better at detail retrieval and will last longer in use. Even though the 103R is less costly (~$340).

Low output mc cartridges have always been preferred over high output types. Lower moving mass gives them superior transient and tracking response. I had the Sumiko Blue Point high output mc in use for a while but didn’t like it and went back to the Denon 103 series. I have the 103R on the Pioneer PLX 1000 TT. On the Ariston RD11 I have the Coral Sleeping Beauty on a Fidelity Research FR 29 arm. Step up devices are various transformers (Bellari, Quicksilver...) and a Marcof PPA-1 battery-powered transistor head amp

On the Ariston RD11S I have the Denon 103 on a Grace 707 arm. I have several 103's in reserve, including a rare gold-body 50 year commemorative version. Other Denon's I have are the 301 and the 304.  They are good sounding reliable mc cartridges.

Just keep in mind that the Nagaoka MP series of cartridges are Moving Iron types, not MM. While you are at the task of selecting a new MC type, maybe consider also upgrading from MP300 to MP500.

I don't think that going from MP300 to MP500 is much of an improvement! While getting a good LOMC cartridge certainly is!

Your phonostage has 70 db's of gain, so you can use LOMC >.2Mv or so.

Audio Technica ART9 XA . Look to the XA not ART9XI(you could use either one, and be pleased) 

Audio-Technica AT-ART9XA Moving Coil Cartridge | LP GEAR

Plenty of archive praise for the ART9. Look it up.

A taste of "high end" LOMC at a "reasonable" price.

Do we even know if the OP’s phono stage is equipped with the step up transformer needed for employing a low output MC?  Something warm is the sound being sought, does that mean warmer than the Nagaoka?  If so, perhaps something from the Ortofon Quintet line, like the Orange.

You absolutely cannot go wrong with a Hana, EL, SL, or ML, since you have an appropriate step up device. I have also had A-T and Ortofons in that price range. I liked them both, for different reasons. The Ortofon had either greater detail or a more peaky high end, whichever way you want to look at it. I couldn't recommend it with a Klipsch or a Focal, but if your speakers have a fabric dome or are simply softer, it is a great match. The A-T was more neutral. In every sense of the word, good and bad. It tracked well wasn't overly bright, but it lacked any sense of excitement, or dynamics, it didn't 'draw me in' like the Ortofon or the Hana. It was utterly unobjectionable. Which is why I moved on.

The Denon 103 is probably the best budget choice.  It has a warm analog kind of sound but it doesn't offer the ultimate in soundstage or detail.  I think it is best with a Step Up Transformer and the Audiotorium A23 sounds great with it but it is a little pricey.  You could also use a SUT based on the Lundahl LL1933 and be happy.

I also own the ART9XA and ART9XI.  I think the ART9XA requires a better turntable than you have to really shine since it's improvements are primarily in soundstage and separation and the arm/table really have to be good to allow its virtues to show up.  It didn't sound special with a Technics SL1200GR.  But the ART9XI is fantastic with terrific dynamics and a very balanced presentation from bass thru treble.  However, I don't think anybody would describe it as warm.

I have never used it but the AT-OC9XML gets a lot of love and it is a much better price point than the ART9 series.

The Dynavector 10X5 would be another good recommendation.  This isn't the most resolving cartridge and the top end is a little rolled off but it sounds great and has a wonderful midrange.

Grado Moving Iron cartridges also have a very warm character but my Grado Sonata 3 is too rolled off in the highs for my tastes.

Also, don't get too hung up on all this.  Cartridges definitely make a difference but probably less of a difference than most reviewers/users represent.  Having said that my cartridge of choice at the moment is the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze.

@jasonbourne71 Wow, you're running an old-school, stiff MC in maybe the lowest mass tonearm ever. How's the bass? 

Would Lyra Delos work well in that arm with that phono stage ?

It's $2k, though.

I have  owned numerous MC cartridges over many many years, including, at one time, the Delos, I would not call the Delos warm sounding. To my ears it leans on the analytical side of the sound spectrum.

A major thing to consider in addition to preamp matching is tonearm compatability

 The cartridge needs to mate well to the the tonearm. Get this wrong and at best, you won't get the most out of your cartridge, at worst, you will have tracking error and distortion.

I don't know much about your Sansui but from what I gather it is a 70s vintage table with a typical S shaped tonearm. Although you have a $1500 budget, going up the cartridge food chain too much and you many have a cartridge too demanding to perform well in your tonearm. The Shibata sytlus on the Hana S might be too much for it. The Hana cartridges are a good choice but considier the E. Also  the Benz cartridges, they are quite musical and warm sounding as well.

So consider the Hana E, Dynavector 20x or one of the AT cartridges also suggested. Denon cartidges perform best on tonearms with a lot of mass, whcih yours isn't so I'd avoid those.

@alvinnir2 I have my Denon DL-103 on my Technics SL-1200GR.  Even after I bought a fairly heavy Ortofon LH-4000 headshell to use it still didn't sound very special.  But a friend suggested I add weight to the headshell so I Blu-tacked a nickel on to it and it sounded much better.  So you are right the Denon probably isn't the best match for the Sansui arm but there are work arounds to increase the tonearm's effective mass to better match the cartridge.

reviewing the unit’s specs, I see:

MC sensitivity 0.5mv

MC transformer X Factor: one choice: 10x

MC impedance: one choice: 100 ohms

MC gain 69db


I see three options:

a. high output MC, use MM Input

b. Low Output MC: fairly strong 0.5mv output: find a cartridge that works with the above specs and is happy with 100 ohms impedance

c. Get a SUT with several optional x factors and optional impedance settings, then feed that into unit’s MM input. That gives much more flexibility now and in the future.


I think the OP ought to limit his choices to true low internal resistance LOMCs, if he’s going to use the built in SUT in the Icon phono, which seems like a very nice unit, now that I’ve read more about it. Thus a Denon DL103 or any of several Benz LOMC cartridges would not do, owing to the fixed 100 ohm input load. (I am guessing the MC inputs must connect across a 10K ohm resistor in order to achieve a fixed 100 ohm load using the built in 1:10 SUT.) This the case if one wants to adhere to the rule of thumb that the input R should be about 10X the out impedance of the cartridge. That doesn’t work here for the Denon, some of the Benz, and some other LOMCs. Also, most HOMCs and most low output MI types won’t work optimally into 100ohms owing either to high internal R or high inductance, respectively. 


I have heard most of the carts you are choosing between. I am going to say go with the Hana ML. Part of the reason is sometimes cost is important. Especially when it comes to Hana. They punch 2x -3x their weight. The Hana ML is in your price range, has the warmth you are looking for, and sets up really nice at 100r. I have heard so many people go from the Hana SL to the Hana ML to the Umami Red. Thank god they developed the Umami Blue. At $2500 it’s over your budget. That being said. The Hana ML will make you happier right now because it’s more of what you are looking for. Keep the warmth and get more out of the pressings. It’s a win win. Good luck, if you go with the Hana ML you won’t need it. 

@lewm 1+

The OP has to limit his choices to cartridges with an coil resistance 10 ohms or less. The OP has not given us the amount he wishes to spend. At $2000 The Lyra Delos is very hard to beat. It has a reasonable output and a 6.3 ohm resistance. Above that at $3500 is the Ortofon Cadenza Black with 0.45 mv and a 5 ohm  resistance along with the Lyra Kleos. Below at $1000 is the Ortofon Quintet Black, 0.3 mv and 5 ohms. If the OP is feeling particularly frisky there is the My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent EX @ $7000. All these cartridges have modern styluses and cantilevers of Boron or Sapphire. The Ortofon Quintet Black stands out because of it's amazing tracking ability. The Delos is the best value but it's naked cantilever may scare the OP. 

Thanks for all the input and suggestions. Lots of options to consider.

Icon Audio PSI MKII Preamp. Other Info on the Preamp: (Sensitivity - 0.5 mv MC),  (Gain - 3000 MC/69db), (Load MC - 100 ohms).

One thing about the Denon 103 that is not discussed above - tweaking !

I started with the 103-conical stylus and loved it over the other MM/MI carts I had tried

But @jasonbourne71 is right about the Shibata stylus - it recovers more details

I had my 103 tweaked by Sounssmith - Ruby cantilever with the O.C. Contact Line stylus - so it still had the same warm characteristics, but the details were amazing

When I have it retipped in future I will go with the Shibata, because the O.C. contact Line requires extremely precise setup with the mirror protractor and a young pair of eyes - the Shibata is a little more forgiving and provides more detail than the original Conical Stylus

Another option is the Zu verion of this cartridge, which comes in an aluminum headshell for better performance

Regards - Steve

All well and good for DL103 lovers, but not for the OP with his Icon phono stage.

Josephina @ E.A.T. has a phenominal MC cart called the JO.5....It looks like a gigantic M&M Peanut...very unique looking....Rave reviews...I'm taking a serious look at an upgrade with this cart and a new E.A.T. Table.

I use a Goldring Eroica LX in a third system and have found it to be quite nice.  It is within your price range.

I had a chance to research most of the excellent recommendations including: the Denon 103 and variants, Lyra Delos which sounds very good, Various Dynovector options, Audio Technica Art9, Benz Micro Glider SL and a few others. I will add the Goldring Eroica LX to my research list. Most are very good options and have given me a short list of options to pursue in the future. Some are over my budget for this first MC but look very interesting for future investments. 

I am glad to have decided to make a further investment in my Vinyl musical option, I was sitting on the fence for a while, trying to decide whether to sell my Vinyl and concentrate on my digital side or to make further investment into my analogue side of the musical equation. So here we go down the rabbit hole once more!

First the new (to me) tube Phono Preamp, now I have decided to try the HANA ML, which was recommended by a number of folks here and by other I trust as my first MC Cartridge. It is at the top of my budget (a little bit over) and I feel confident the Sansui SR 525 can get the most from it, although .... a turntable upgrade may be next!

Many thanks to all the information and advise received.

The Hana ML is a good choice.  I have an SL but I am running it into 1kohm (100 is too low).  The ML should be fine.
My concern is the tonearm on the Sansui.  It would be a bit course for the very low ohm LOMC carts; you'll just have to see how well it works with the ML.
Don't give up on MM carts! At your price level (and considering the limitations of your table) there are some remarkable options (Grado, SoundSmith, AT, Ortofon to name a few). I have a MoFi Master Tracker which kills (kind of fits the high-end AT profile)!  Lately, I have been seduced by Grado and especially SoundSmith.  Your phono pre will probably have more synergy with MMs as well.  There's a certain warmth and smoothness in MM carts that gets into the tube gestalt.

Don’t mean to confuse this anymore than it is, but for $1500 I would suggest the Audio Note IQ3 MM cart. Can’t be beat for the money IMO.I believe you would need to spend a lot more in MC territory to get to the level you can with this MM cart.

Not to be a contrarian- check out a soundsmith fixed coil cart.  The zephyr is in your price range.  I swear by my paua- it’s the best cart I’ve owned.

Dear @pooch2  : Well, Nagaoka MP500 is even better than the Hana and if you really want to try an MC you must have to go for the Lyra Delos.


Btw, the Nagaoka is not a MI as lewm said it's a moving permalloy patented design.


Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,


Update: I have the Hana ML installed and, I must say, I'm very happy with the results! Although early days, I have enjoyed the relaxed presentation and clarity of this MC cartridge. I have also decided to upgrade my MM Cartridge to the Nagoaka MP-500 as I have been extremely happy with the MP-300, and stylus replacements are available for these. Thanks to all for their input!

I've been following this thread. I have my own Hana ML on it's way from Upscale. I dealt with Bill, he was great to talk to, good advice. 

I also ordered a Dr. F. alignment tool. These sausage fingers have installed only a couple of carts over the years, under $300 carts...

I'm a bit nervous. Bill suggested I practice on my existing MoFi cart a couple of times before I tackle the Hana. I thought that was an great piece of advice!

The Feickert is one of the easiest alignment tools to use, but it does make sense to go through the process once or twice in advance. It’s not rocket science.

@pooch2 congratulations on your 2 sonic uptick carts. Pretty cool that you both moved up to the top of the product line AND picked a Hana product whose numerous reviews report sonic performance that punches significantly above their price points. Great choices

Please report back on your findings, a 500 vs Hana comparison would be interesting. 


I just upgraded from a Grado Platinum MM to a Dynavector 20x2 low output moving coil. It's fantastic! So much more alive than the MM cart. Finally feel like I'm beginning to understand what all the fuss is about analogue. Up till now, I've been pretty underwhelmed by my results - my digital system (Denafrips Venus II) always sounded way better. Now they're in good competition with each other :)