Best Phono Cartridges Under $1000

Whether you’re a newbie or a pro in the world of turntables, phono cartridges are a mechanism you have to get properly acquainted with.

Just as you might expect, it is quite risky to buy a phono cartridge without an expert guide by your side- and to eliminate the possibility of failure, we’ve put together our ultimate guide to buying the best phono cartridges under $1000.

In addition, we’ll add a guide at the end of our list to help you know just what exactly makes a good phono cartridge as well as how best to use one to ensure that you get your money’s worth from it.

Ready?

Let’s dive right in.

12 BEST PHONO CARTRIDGES UNDER $1000

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Shure M97XE High-Performance Magnetic Phono Cartridge

Shure M97xE High-Performance Magnetic Phono Cartridge

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Very low stylus mass
  • Elliptical diamond tip stylus
  • Very high sound accuracy
  • Very low record wear
  • Dynamic Stabilizer Brush
  • Dynamic Stabilizer

REVIEW

  • The SHURE M97XE is one of the highest-rated phono-cartridges on the market. Not only does it emit high-quality sound, but it is also designed durably and doesn’t hurt the ears after long listening hours.
  • It might be pricey, but it certainly packs the right features. It tracks with a wonderful accuracy and has a flat frequency response.
  • The phono cartridge is paired with an aluminum alloy stylus cantilever and is finished with a smoothly polished and high-quality elliptical diamond tip.
  • Due to its high quality, the cartridge reproduces even difficult and complex musical passages with ease and finesse.


Pros

  • Finely polished elliptical diamond tip
  • Reproduces difficult musical passages with accuracy- especially in the high-frequency range
  • The Viscous-damped dynamic stabilizer is designed so that there is an equal distance between the record and the stylus
  • If the cartridge mistakenly moves across the LP, the side-guard system is in place to protect the stylus from damage
  • The accompanying die-cast aluminum mounting block also includes a cleaning brush and a mounting hardware


Cons

  • If you have a differential pre-amplifier, you might need to manually and very carefully remove the jumper as users with differential pre-amplifiers have reported that the jumper makes the body hot.

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Audio-Technica VM540ML Microline Dual Moving Magnet Stereo Turntable Cartridge Red

Audio-Technica VM540ML MicroLine Dual Moving Magnet Stereo Turntable Cartridge Red

SPECIFICATIONS

  • VM dual magnet cartridge with MicroLine stylus
  • Aluminum cantilever
  • Paratoroidal coils that help improve the generating efficiency
  • The center shield plate is located between the left and right channels. It helps reduce any crosstalk
  • Cartridge housing is  made of durable low-resonance polymer

REVIEW

  • The Audio-Technica VM540ML is one of the few phono cartridges that has no hate. It is as perfect as perfect gets.
  • It is equipped with dual magnets. These magnets perfectly match the right and left channels of the record. This gives it a superb channel separation and extends its frequency response. Its stylus is designed to very accurately trace the record grooves. This gives it a nuanced audio reproduction that is in a class of its own.


Pros

  •  It has dual magnets that match the right and left channels. They help with channel separation.
  • The stylus has a multilevel shape. This reduces the wearing of your records

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Ortofon 2M Bronze Moving Magnet Cartridge

Ortofon 2M Bronze Moving Magnet Cartridge

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Designed to fit most turntables
  • You can upgrade to the Ortofon 2M Blue and 2M Red with an Ortofon Stylus 2M Black
  • Improved resolution and details
  • Nude Fine Line diamond

REVIEW

  • The ORTOFON 2M BRONZE is an MM cartridge that has a Nude Fine Line diamond stylus. Nude Fine Line diamond styluses are designed to be able to keep up with heavy work. It is designed to expertly track very high-frequency information.
  • In simpler terms, it allows you to hear the sweetness of all the parts and instruments beautifully.
  • Ortofon’s 2M series is simply amazing. The cartridges in the series feature split pole pins and the ORTOFON 2M BRONZE is no different. The split pole pins give the cartridges a flat frequency response.


Pros

  • Very light and easy to use
  • The stylus is easy to care for and gives about 2,000 hours of use
  • Great at tightening the bass and clearly separating other instruments


Cons

  • The sound can be a bit thin until you break it in

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Audio-Technica AT33PTG/2 Dual Moving Coil Turntable Cartridge

Audio-Technica AT33PTG/2 Dual Moving Coil Turntable Cartridge

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Long-Life Microlinear Stylus
  • Refined coil impedance
  • 1000 hours lifetime
  • Shortened cantilever that has also been thinned down
  • Neodymium magnet

REVIEW

  • The AUDIO-TECHNICA AT33PTG is a highly rated phono cartridge and this is for many deserving reasons. Its cantilever is made of advanced tapered boron. This, in addition to its coil weight which has been reduced, helps the record give out high-quality sounds. This feature is very noticeable and most appreciated when it comes to higher frequencies.
  • The AUDIO-TECHNICA AT33PTG also features a permendur yoke as well as a neodymium magnet which greatly increases the magnetic energy. The Pure Copper by Ohno Continuous Casting coil allows the signal to be transferred undiluted.


Pros

  • Improved moving coil cartridge features Microlinear stylus delivers full-range audio
  • This cartridge has an average lifespan of 1000 hours
  • Thinned down and shortened cantilever

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Denon DL-301MK2 Moving Coil Phono Cartridge

Denon DL-301MK2 Moving Coil Phono Cartridge

SPECIFICATION

  • Stylus: special Elliptical tip
  • Output Impedance: 33 ohms
  • Output: 0.4 mV
  • Frequency range: 20 Hz – 60 kHz
  • Tracking force: 1.2-1.6 G

REVIEW

Although Denon is not so popular a brand, their phono cartridges are amazing. The Denon dl-301 II MC phono cartridge is a revised version of the dl-301. The dl-301 was such a hit that improving on it seemed like a great idea- and it was.

The body style is different. It has been designed with a lighter frame to improve sound accuracy. It delivers clean, clear, and precise audio.


Pros

  • Improved tracking ability
  • Special Elliptical tip

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Audio-Technica AT-OC9XEB Dual Moving Coil Cartridge with Bonded Elliptical Stylus

Audio-Technica AT-OC9XEB Dual Moving Coil Cartridge with Bonded Elliptical Stylus

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Type: Dual Moving Coil
  • Body Material: Aluminum
  • Channel Separation: 25 dB (1 kHz)
  • Stylus Type: Bonded round shank
  • Stylus Shape: Elliptical bonded
  • Frequency Response: 20-30,000 Hz

REVIEW

  • The AUDIO-TECHNICA AT-OC9XEB is made of independent coils, each belonging to the left and right channels. This allows the channels to be easily separated, thus improving sound quality. The coils are arranged in a reverse V-shaped formation. This means that less pressure is placed on the stylus, thus reducing distortion.
  • The cartridge is pre-threaded and this allows users to mount it onto the integral tonearm. You can mount it on the integral tonearm or the headshell with only two screws.


Pros

  • It features a neodymium magnet coupled with a pure iron yoke which given a heightened magnetic energy
  • The aluminum body of the cartridge is designed to minimized vibrations and preserve the record’s life
  • The coils are made of pure copper by the Ohno Continuous Casting Process. This keeps the sound clear

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Hana SL Series Moving Coil Cartridges

Hana EH High-Output Hi-Performance MC Cartridge with Elliptical stylus - MADE IN JAPAN

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Stylus Nude Diamond Shibata
  • Aluminum Cantilever
  • Output Level: 0.5mv/1kHz
  • Output Balance: <1.5dB/1 KHz
  • Vertical Tracking Force: 2g
  • Trackability: 70 µm/2g

REVIEWS

  • The HANA SL is the most talked about and reviewed phono cartridge from Hana. Not only does it look good, but it also gets the job done. It features a Shibata stylus that is mounted beautifully on an aluminum cantilever.
  • This phono cartridge is designed to offer tighter channel balance, an improved handing of high-frequencies, and a greater separation of channels.
  • The HANA SL has nothing but absolutely good reviews. It also needs to be broken in. usually, knowing that a cartridge needs to be broken in to be enjoyed isn’t good news. However, with the HANA SL, it is. When you start using this cartridge, it would be hard to think that the sound can get better. However, it does indeed.


Pros

  • After it is broken in, it sounds even better
  • It presents bass, mids, and eve high frequencies very well


Cons

  • You’d need about 100 hours of use to break it in and maximize its potential

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Clearaudio Concept MM Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge

Clearaudio Concept MM Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Output voltage: 3.3 mv
  • Body material: aluminum
  • Total mass: 8.6g (± 0.2g)
  • Frequency response: 20hz – 20khz
  • Channel separation (1khz)- 20db
  • Channel balance (1khz) 2db
  • Tracking ability: 80μm
  • Recommended tracking force: 2.2g ± 0.3g

REVIEW

  • The Concept v2 MM is not your average phono cartridge. It is a high output phono cartridge designed to combine elegance and clarity.
  • This cartridge is made of an aluminum body. This cartridge features a frictionless magnetic bearing design. It features an elliptical cantilever and is a top-mount cartridge.
  • One thing you will notice with this cartridge is its superb sound quality. Bass, mid, and high-frequency audios are delivered with a precise finish.


Pros

  • Beautifully packaged and designed
  • Improved tracking ability
  • Gives out clear and defined audio


Cons

  • The Concept v2 MM isn’t as durable as we would like

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Hana EH High-Output Hi-Performance MC Cartridge with Elliptical Stylus – Made in Japan

Hana EH High-Output Hi-Performance MC Cartridge with Elliptical stylus - MADE IN JAPAN

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Stylus: Synthetic Elliptical
  • Aluminum Cantilever
  • Output Level: 2mv/1kHz
  • Output Balance: <2dB/1KHz
  • Vertical Tracking Force: 2g
  • Trackability: 70 µm/2g

REVIEW

  • Quality-wise, the HANA EH and the HANA SL are quite similar. If you’re looking to take a step above beginner-grade phono cartridges, you’re in the right place.
  • This cartridge is lightweight at 5 pounds and has a special cross-coil generator. This helps it give out quality bass sounds especially. It has really good tracking abilities, just like the HANA SL.
  • The HANA EH sports a unique shade of green that makes it memorable to the sight. It features excellent sound dynamics as well. It also features an elliptical stylus that can be easily mounted on its aluminum cantilever. The cantilever is very rigid as is coupled with crossed armatures.


Pros

  • It gives out a great bass sound
  • Excellent audio dynamics
  • Rigid aluminum cantilever

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Audio-Technica AT150SA Dual Moving Magnet Cartridge

Audio-Technica AT150Sa Dual Moving Magnet Cartridge

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Frequency Response: 20-27,000 Hz
  • Channel Separation: 28 dB (1 kHz)
  • Vertical Tracking Angle: 23°
  • Vertical Tracking Force: 1.8-2.2 g (2.0 g standard)
  • Stylus Construction: Nude square shank

REVIEW

  • The VM740ML features dual magnets. They are placed to fit the right and left channels. This helps the record with channel separation. It also gives the record an extended frequency response.
  • The stylus on the AUDIO-TECHNICA AT150SA is a MicroLine® stylus. This enables the cartridge to track with a beautiful accuracy. The stylus has a multilevel shape which gives it more durability, much to our delight. This means that your records will last longer.


Pros

  • It features paratoroidal coils. They help to improve the generating efficiency
  • The center shield plate is placed between the left and right channels. This helps to reduce crosstalk
  • The AUDIO-TECHNICA AT150SA has a die-cast aluminum alloy housing. This helps to reduce vibration, thereby giving the cartridge a natural electrical shield

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Clearaudio Performer V2 Ebony Hi-Output MM Phono Cartridge with Ebony Body

Clearaudio Performer V2 Ebony hi-output MM Phono Cartridge with Ebony Body

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Output Voltage:(1kHz, 5 cm/s): 3.3mV
  • Channel Separation:(1 kHz): >20 dB
  • Channel Balance:(1kHz) 1.5dB
  • Tracking Ability: 80 um.

REVIEW

  • The CLEARAUDIO PERFORMER V2 is a moving magnet cartridge. Each cartridge is carefully analyzed, measured, and hand-picked into four different performance levels.
  • This cartridge gives out tip-quality channel matching with the littlest phase errors and distortions. It gives a really good flat frequency response as well as an impressive dynamic range.
  • The bass is firm and direct. The treble, on its part, is not harsh and hits its mark. All in all, the CLEARAUDIO PERFORMER V2 provides amazing audio quality.


Pros

  • Full-range Audio Reproduction
  • Excellent Left and right Channel Separation
  • Pure Copper By Ohno Continuous Casting coils
  • Die-cast Metal Body
  • Tapered Aluminum Cantilever
  • Rigid and lightweight stylus

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Sumiko SongBird Reference Series High Output MC Phono Cartridge

Sumiko Songbird Reference Series High Output MC Phono Cartridge

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Cantilever Material: coated aluminum pipe
  • Wire Material: pure copper
  • Load Impedance: 47kΩ
  • Frequency Response: 12Hz – 40kHz
  • Output Voltage: 2.5mV
  • Channel Balance: <0.5dB @ 1kHz
  • Recommended load capacitance: 100pF – 200pF
  • Vertical tracking angle: 20°
  • Tracking Force: 1.8g – 2.2g
  • Recommended Force: 2.0g

REVIEW

  • The SUMIKO SONGBIRD is one of the best cartridges in Sumiko’s Reference Series. The design is pretty simple; it has an open-architecture moving coil cartridge. This means that the cartridge can work harder to provide rich audio that represents the bass, treble, and mids well.
  • It features a long 7-Micron stylus face. This allows it to adequately handle different cutting angles. The cartridge weighs 8.5 grams and has a recommended force of 2.0 g. The SUMIKO SONGBIRD has a vertical tracking angle of twenty degrees.


Pros

  • Features an open-architecture moving coil cartridge
  • Gives audio an extra boost

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WHAT IS A PHONO CARTRIDGE?

A phono cartridge is one of the important parts of your turntable. In order for your turntable to work, a tiny diamond is driven through the grooves on a record. Due to the driving, vibrational energy is created. This is where the phono cartridge comes in.

It converts that vibrational energy to sound in the analog version. The quality of that sound largely depends on how good the phono cartridge is.

How to choose the right cartridge for your turntable

TYPES OF PHONO CARTRIDGES

Phono cartridges are classified according to their generator types which gives us two main types.

  • Moving coil: MC cartridges usually offer a lower output. To use an MC cartridge, you would adjust the preamp to an MC setting, specially made for MC cartridges. They are more expensive than MM cartridges
  • Moving magnet: They are also the most common.  They do not require any special preamp settings and are more affordable.

HOW TO PICK A GOOD PHONO CARTRIDGE

Here are some of the things you should look for in a potential buy:

  • The shape of the stylus: The shape of your cartridge’s stylus will affect how it touches the groove. A narrow contact radius will ensure that the stylus tracks modulations better.
  • Trackability: This simply has to do with how the stylus tracks a modulated groove. The trackability is affected by the shape of the stylus, tonearm compatibility, and cartridge alignment. The higher the trackability, the better for your record.
  • Cantilever: A stiff and light cantilever will help ensure that the vibrational energy is transferred as effectively as possible. The cantilever is usually made of aluminium alloy, carbon, some copper alloys, and boron. The size and construction of the cantilever are also important.
  • Mount type: A good phono cartridge should be a standard mount. This means that they are secured to the record’s tonearm with the use of 2 vertical screws. The screws have exactly half on an inch between them.  The screws have four little posts that connect the tonearm leads.

FINAL THOUGHTS?

Picking the right phono-cartridge is no easy job. It can make or break your record’s audio quality. Be sure to go with recommended brands as they are safer and less likely to give you problems.

Feel free to pick any of our 12 options. You can’t go wrong with them.

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