New Phono Cart with Character Needed

I want to replace a Rega Ania MC phono cart on a Rega P3 because the current setup is lifeless, flat, and un-engaging. Phono stage is a Pass Labs XP17. The music produced currently is full of detail, very lifelike, instruments all sound very real, good upper end extension, but there is no there there. I can plug my phone into my multibit DAC and stream Jazz Groove and have a better experience because the sound is richer and has more oomph. I want warmth, oomph, texture, and wows from my analog. The Ania is just too flat, clinical and dry. I want to trade that for some color and a little more strength behind the notes. Budget is $1000. I mostly listen to Jazz. All suggestions are welcome.

Rega Ania MC Cart specs: Input Load Impedance 100 Ω, Output Impedance 10 Ω, Nominal output voltage 350 μV, Tracking Pressure 1.75 - 2.00 g

Rega P3 has been upgraded with GrooveTracer delrin platter and subplatter. 


Flat, clinical and dry could be a tonearm/cartridge setup issue such as VTA, alignment, etc. 

I’m partial to SoundSmith cartridges, although in my experience, they tend to be neutral and very accurate. If you’re looking for a cartridge that adds color or ‘warmth’, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Here’s a good article on how to select a cartridge,

There are some that say that their analog and digital systems sound the same. I don’t know how this is possible any more than an apple and an orange is the same. 

I like them both but not necessarily for all recorded music. I also listen to a lot of jazz that was originally recorded in the 50’s and 60’s. Most of the time I prefer the vinyl LP if it’s in excellent shape. 


At that price point a Moving Magnet cartridge is going to be better. I think the Goldring 1042 will meet your needs. The Clearaudio MM cartridges are also on the warm side. IMHO moving coil cartridges do not come into their own until the $3K mark. 

When it comes to this problem, I think you can blame the phono stage (or its match to a particular cartridge) just as likely as you can the cartridge itself. Tube MM stage paired with a good SUT is the easier path to "fun" sound, in my experience.

Some cartridges are naturally more analytical - that’s been my repeat issue with higher end Ortofon MCs over the years - though their older Kontrapunkts and Cadenzas below the Black have a much more fun sound, btw. But these too can be improved on this front by the tubes + SUT path. Here are some particularly "fun" cartridges I’ve enjoyed: Van den Hul Frog Gold, Air Tight PC-7, various metal body Shelters. Koetsus are always hella fun to me, but too warm for some systems and some ears. Van den Huls above Frog seems to focus more on resolution and transparency. Benzes are pretty good all-rounders, definitely not analytical or dry - here too I find the middle and lower ranges of the line more fun than ruby plate models that focus more on resolution and refinement. In general, I prioritize a cartridge's engagement factor over ultimate resolution and refinement. 

Audio Musikraft Lithium head shell loaded with guts from a Denon DL-103 or 103R. Simple set up, awesome sound.  Audiophile Magazine "A" rating.

For around $300 or a little more get the Denon DL-103 and get a wood body installed.  We use the Gold Bug cartridge (also I think made by Denon), and expensive but once you place the wood body on the Denon, it will compete.  No need to spend any more.  PLUS the money you save can be used to upgrade better parts in your ph0ono stage.

Happy Listening.

The Grado Prestige Gold, in my experience, is a there there cartridge that may provide what you seek. The cash outlay is negligible and the company has been around for quite some time. Grado may not be as fashionable as a Soundsmith or a Hana yet may provide your listening senses with everything needed.

Straight up good old ortofon black mm cartridge. Very dynamic and engaging. 

Hana SH high output MC. Hanas have the dynamic punch that MM carts just can't quite deliver, without the exorbitant cost of most MCs. Grado Sonata is another good choice, but they are prone to hum in some rigs. Soundsmith Carmen, like Grado, is a moving iron design, and both offer different takes on what you're looking for. Finally, the Dynavector 10X and Sumiko Songbird are worth considering, although the naked stylus of the Songbird makes many folks nervous, myself included. All these are high output, so no additional expense in Step Up devices and extra cables are required.

What kind of "wows"?  The Denon DL-103 is a very musical warm enjoyable cartridge but it isn't going to blow you away with its 3D soundstage.  I never used it with my P6 and it might not be a good match for the P3 tonearm but there is a reason why people have loved it for decades.  The Ortofon 2M Black is very dynamic and punchy with more of what I consider a "wow" factor but arguably less musical.  The AT-ART9XI is a better, more nuanced, more 3D sound vs the 2M Black and it is musical while having great top and bottom end extension.  It is above your price point but you should be able to get a lightly used one for <$1000.  That would be my first choice.  And if you wait around you might be able to pick up a lightly used Ortofon Cadenza Bronze for just over $1000 that would be the best of all worlds, warm, resolving, dynamic, huge soundstage and generally full of goodness.  I also own the Ania and I like all those cartridges better than it.

Word of caution. Be careful chasing a sonic characteristic that does not exist on the recording. 

Nuff said. 

Lots of great recommendations here. I’m looking forward to putting this list together and researching each one. 
Pinwa asked what kind of wows I’m looking for.  I think I’m after the wow factor you get when you buy a new pre-amp or other component and it juices up the music with a little electronic color.  It could probably be described as euphonics as well. I think my current setup would really please the flat response crowd but it’s so boring I just say “yep, that was music” at the end of an LP and put it away. A new cart might not be the best approach, but it is the most budget friendly and the right size move for me at this time.  A new cart might also pair better with my XP17 and produce some magic that way.  I’ve tried every load and output and tracking weight combination under the sun with the Ania and just can’t get the sound to go where I want it to.  My analog doesn’t sound like analog. It sounds more digital than my digital. 

I just upgraded to a Hana Umami Blue cartridge since Hana was running a 20% off promotion and I was surprised how impressive the change was in bass and treble extension as well as immediacy, color and imaging. Even with the discount I'm sure $2K is outside of your budget and not the right match for a P3. But I did find it interesting when I recently read that Ortofon just released a new version of their MM cartridges that are made to fit on the Rega turntables. I haven't owned an Ortofon cartridge, but I thought that it was exciting that there is another choice for direct replacement cartridges for Rega turntables now that don't require shims:


I have a bit of a Vintage, or Golden Age fetish, and a limited source of funds. I'm very happy with my Shure V15 cartridges. V15 III is a good entry point. Don't buy from someone who doesn't post coil continuity in the description, stay as close to matched as you can. Stylus is not a consideration as you will be going on line to JICO in Japan for your stylus. It's not a fair comparison, but my Type IV  V15 with a JICO SAS is superior to my Ortofon Bronze. I had an AKG top of the line, I'd have to get up to check... P8E, which was a very good cart, but needs a re-wind (which, sadly, I don't think it is going to get). I see used P8E carts on ebay for under $200, and I have a new stylus... Stanton, Goldring, AT, Grado, Pickering, Empire, Shure, all left the market with CD killer carts, but the CD wave was a tsunami. Some came back, notably Grado and AT, Sumiko and Ortofon never left. There are two pitfalls with Golden Age cartridges, mismatched or open coils and weak or deteriorated suspension/damper systems. Usually the damper is in the stylus assy (the black goo on Grado styli DO NOT REMOVE, it is intentional), and the suspension positioning the magnet in the field, is in the body. I am very curious about the Technics EPC-100MK3 MM integrated shell, and all the 100C series which use magnets for suspension and damping, I think, I could be wrong w/ damping... which seem to be on the Japan market in the 1K+/- range. I remember there was a golden age for MM carts and many of the premier brands went extinct during the CD uprising. But most can still be revived with a replacement stylus, which to my amazement are plentiful again. But not all styli are currently being built to OEM specs or above (quality, like JICO, pays dividends). There are jewels out there. I've been wanting to try the Ortofon 2m Black (I have a Bronze and will replace the stylus) on my KD 500, for which I have tonearms I can experiment with, but will probably go with Grado again. I have a Mono MC from AT which I bought when discontinued. I also have a Pair of Denon 103's, one stock, one hot-rodded with new shell, lead shot, re-tipped, etc The MC carts play through my, Kenwood KD 550, re-capped, stock arm, tonearm re-wired and converted to DIN, a new to me, Parasound V.2 system, and a, new to me, Mo-Fi phono stage (don't ask me model numbers, for the most part I don;t care about where the play-back electronics fit into the landscape of the hierarchy, just that they play nice with each other. I do know most of the brands I have, though  ;). Speakers, btw, are a pair of, again, new to me, Totem Arros (small room--study/library former B-room), and the jury is still out. Didn't take me long to lose my train of thought, did it? There are some excellent new MM and MI carts out there around the 1K range. As I have learned, a mid to top range (500 to 1K)  MM usually has no problem outperforming an entry level (1K) MC, all things playing on a level field. CLEAN RECORDS, proper phono stage (built-in amp or pre or stand alone, with proper set-up and compatible loading and uf), meticulous set-up of the cart and arm, decent cables and wiring/connectors, a dead level platter and arm, a broken in but not worn stylus (brushed correctly before EVERY side I choose not to expose my styli to magic potions, formulas, and elixirs, which is what I have decided on after a couple decades experimentation). Invest in a good test record, very handy for azimuth and anti skate. Feel free to tinker with all the variables. I think people who are serious about vinyl will end up with a cartridge collection and their favorites. I don't think there is a Single "Best" cartridge, or a Paramount Cart for every situation, Very very good, yes. I have 4 TT's set up right now, half DD half belt, there is a belt drive sporting a Ortofon 2m Blue that gets the first play, after cleaning, of my hunting trip trophies, and some of the older more worn, scratched and abused members of the collection, (which get replaced with a CD, when replacement vinyl is too$$$). If you must have new, and a 1K price point, ClearAudio, Mo-Fi, Sumiko, Nagaoka, Ortofon, AT, Grado and others all have pinnacle models. And even above 1k it's a crowded market. I don't own a television, listening is how I chill. I have a Good-Better-Best line-up (just like the old Sears catalog) and they get used every day. And now that the CD has lost some value, I spin more of those, and am delighted to find my odd ball small run Avant-garde, experimental, "World Music", free jazz, Prog, fusion, classical, regional artists, lost/forgotten and private issue (CDr) discs... which I covet, and mirror my record collecting.  (have CD's become democratic?)

For me, this whole thing is about having fun, exploring what has been before, and discovering the new. I try not to get lost in the forest of tools, no reason to spend on a Titanium hammer when all my old hammer needs is a new handle to pound in this nail right here (it might be nice to own, though...). And I'm not afraid of mistakes and missteps, just about everything can be recycled to a new home. Zevon said, "Eat every sandwich".  I say, "Try every cartridge."

So go forth, my sons and daughters, and joyfully engage in total recreation!

Dear @mward  : You can do it with the Nagaoka MP-500 And take care with what @chocaholic  posted:


" Word of caution. Be careful chasing a sonic characteristic that does not exist on the recording. "



Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,



I think usually when people are looking for a "warm" sound they are looking for an amplitude response that is tilted towards the low end or in other words the OP is trying to avoid a bright cartridge. Perhaps his system is already on the bright side and he is trying to melo it out. I have not heard the Nagaoka MP500, but my understanding is it neutral leaning towards bright. It is certainly a fine cartridge. Lew certainly likes it. 

I just ordered a Soundsmith Hyperion MR. Got an amazing deal on it. The highlight of my childhood life was getting a new cartridge. Some kids never grow up:-)

With the Rega P3, you will always be rather limited. The Rega I dealer that I dealt with recommended Linn cartridges with Rega, and I can confirm that the Linn Krystal sounded much better than the stock Rega cartridge in my Rega P8. Try calling Accent on Music in Mt Kisco, NY. They were very helpful to me when I owned a Rega. I would go with their recommendation, as they have many years of experience with Rega. Realistically, you will want to upgrade your turntable eventually…

Weak link is the Rega table.  Trade it in on a real turntable / arm combo.  

"Forward! Into the Past!"

🤦‍♂️ ;)  I got spoilt by a MC cart long ago.....about as long as seeing 'MI' to describe a cart....

As for what's available....runs the same gambit as choice of speakers....which intimates listening to the umpteenth power to different ones' on different arms through different equip in different spaces....

...and budget, or >pick your ceiling<... ;)

Happy listening....

I think I’m starting to lean toward the Soundsmith Carmen mklI. I’ve always heard good things about SoundSmith. Pass Labs says it would be a fine match for the XP17. 

I was in search for a replacement for my original Stanton 981HZS and after going through Denon, AT, Ortofon, Goldring, and various stylus re-tipping options and reading feedback...I settled on the Nagaoka MP200.  If I was in your shoes I would seriously consider the MP500 which has the same boron cantilever but goes to a line contact diamond instead of the nude superfine elliptical on mine.  The time I heard one it sounded slightly brighter with same warmth to my ears...but yours may vary. Good luck.

Your issue might be the GrooveTracer upgrades you did.  Frankly, the bearing is inferior to the original and wears out much faster and the Delrin platter or any of the plastic platters dull the sound of a Rega.  The glass platter has a livelier sound.  @rchermanjr  liked the Nagaoka MP200.  I don't know what table he has but I own one of these and a Rega 3 and it's a nice combo but you will have to play with the height adjustment a bit on the arm.  It can sound a bit rolled off on the top but when adjusted correctly, it's a nice lively sound but again, that's with the glass platter.  I also like the Hana SL and ML cartridges plus they were on sale earlier.

I disagree on the GrooveTracer upgrades being an issue.  I switched back and forth between stock and GrooveTracer and heard a noticeably better sound.  I can usually hear the difference between belts and even different record weights.  I opted for the Reference sub platter option which is described below.  I know Rega has its own lightweight system that they say works together and is necessary to achieve the best Rega sound, but I prefer the upgrades.  I won’t argue that an entire table upgrade wouldn’t help though. 

GrooveTracer sub-platter description:

“The hub is machined from 6061-T6 Aluminum and the bearing axle is constructed from hardened (RC 62) and ground steel. The third component is the record spindle which is machined and polished from Stainless Steel.”

”(it) incorporates a sapphire thrust plate (integral with the bearing shaft) that rotates on a zirconia (ZrO2) ball.”

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@vitussl101  am running it on a old original Denon DP59L that I bought in 80s...have it on the S tonearm for the slightly higher mass...and an acrylic mat...otherwise stock.  Using phono preamp on my Pioneer Elite C90 I also bought in 80s along with the M90 Main Amp and comes out a pair of recapped Klipsch Cornwalls from 1978.  My Stanton was on the straight tonearm but the recommedations from most was to use the S tonearm if I had one for the MP200.  Is still in breakin stage as only had on about 2 weeks with maybe 20 hours on it so far...but very pleased.  It was more sensitive to proper setup than my stanton though....had to really get it dialed in on balance, tonearm height relative to record, tracking force....etc.    Good luck on the search....

IMHO, you might find it impossible to find any cartridge, that would be close in performance to your phono stage, AND your TT could give it a justice. Short way to the answer to your question would be to ask other who have same phono stage (and at least speakers) what they use, but that would be misleading. What I can understand, you need something that will be more engaging - something that will make you listen to the music, not your system. Unfortunately, in this case "the source" in your system is not only the cartridge; it has to be looked at as a system consisting of cartridge, tonearm and turntable.
1. Rega turntable and tonearm is most likely the weakest link in your system - judging by your phono stage
2. Rega tonearm and its overall capabilities is too restricting 
3. XP-17 is a very nice piece, and it shoots way over your TT. It can accommodate any and all of the cartridges mentioned here, from Sure to Koetsu. Is it one of the best phono stages ever? - definitely not, but it is damn good one
4. If you are emotionally attached to that Rega, Ortofon Cadenza Bronze might be the best choice here of all mentioned cartridges, if you can (and want!) to shim your tonearm to properly accommodate it
5. Any kind of the upgrade you can think of, including rewire of the tonearm, is not going to suddenly make your tonearm a "giant killer". Heck, it will be bested by a modest Jelco...
Before I went to Koetsu, I played with all kinds of upgrades to Denon cartridges. Best results I achieved were with DL103R dressed in closed black Ebony body and rettiped by ESUK with their TOTL boron / Paratrace rebuild; it is much better than factory 103R, it bested my Ortofon Quintet Black. However, I bought Koetsu Black Gold line - to see what is all the talk about - more or less for the same reasons I started buying all the Denon cartridges worthy of rebuild...
Soon after, I sold of all of my other cartridges - Ortofon, Clearaudio, Sumiko, Denon... Now, my daily driver is Koetsu Rosewood Signature. Is it the most "correct" cartridge I ever had? - no. Most expensive? - no. But with it, I enjoy music the most.
So, save a bit more and invest your money into the turntable, tonearm AND cartridge upgrade. It does not have to be something really extravagant, exotic and expensive - but it might. When it makes you forget your system, you are there.

My Apheta 2 / RP-10 combo was dry as well. I tried a DV XX2/2 and a Soundsmith Zephy and neither sounded special on this table. Then a Goldring 1042. It needed a 2 mm (arm base) shim and careful alignment. Crosstalk checked to within 10% it sings with rock or jazz.  Above 10%, although competent, the character evaporates completely.

Would love to try a Nagaoka.

An Incognito rewire of your tonearm will be a revelation. Because there will be a separate ground cable you will be able to use moving iron cartridges. With he common ground system utilized by Rega, there will often be a problem with hum. The wire utilized by Rega is not audiophile quality.

A demagnetizer for a moving coil cartridge is also a good idea.

I would consider upgrading the arm of the P3 to a RB880 (which has better wiring) from Rega. Back when I had a P5, I upgraded the arm to it from the older RB700 that came with it. Incredible difference. Even more than when I upgraded the table to the P8. Reducing distortion is the whole key, and arms make a huge difference, which Rega is know for. For the price they ask for the RB880, you can't touch it for probably 2-3 times the price.

Myself, I'm thinking the Shelter 501 iii may be a good choice. I buy a new Cartridge every two years. My 1200GR Tone Arm is not a good match for an SPU or Denon 103. 


Fremer did a review a few years back:

Myself, I’m thinking the Shelter 501 iii may be a good choice. I buy a new Cartridge every two years. My 1200GR Tone Arm is not a good match for an SPU or Denon 103.

Fremer did a review a few years back:

I absolutely love my Shelter Accord (warm, musical, fun) and Shelter 7000 (more incisive and detail oriented, but still rocks like hell). Harmony is excellent too, but I’ve learned the sonics of carbon fiber in analog doesn’t gel with my preferences. I wanted to buy a new 901 Mk III last year, but they couldn’t even fill the order. I’ve flirted with trying a 501 Mk III. Better get it now because Shelter seems to be winding down.

A couple of folks who have worked on hundreds / thousands of cartridges, every make and vintage imaginable - Joseph Long (aka groovetickler) and Delta667 (Russian cartridge rebuilder & designer on Vinyl Engine forums) seem MOST impressed by the skill, quality and consistency of Shelter’s coil windings. You can see examples from other brands that look like slop, but never from Shelter.