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Better Sound Is Right Around The Corner

So… you’re looking to upgrade your cart. Good…because there is more to be heard and enjoyed on your records with a better phono cartridge. So, in this Best Phono Cartridge Under $200 post, I will review various cartridges to help you make the best decision for yourself.

If you were like me, buying a better cartridge can significantly improve your speakers’ pleasure. I was blown away by the amount of detail and overall improvement in sound quality by simply installing a new cartridge.

I bought an entry-level turntable over ten years ago that didn’t have the best phono cartridge. However, purchasing a better cartridge and replacing the stock cartridge allowed for more musical information, thus bettering my listening experience. So worth it!!!

Stricktly $200 & Under

For this list, I will only list the best phono cartridge that currently, when I am writing this, is at or under $200.00. I understand keeping at a price point and sticking to it. So, between $101.00 to $200. There are cheaper phono cartridges that fall under the $101.00 mark, but I will leave that to another post…maybe. Keep in mind prices often fluctuate.

phono cartridge on record

This is an easily affordable price range that most people would feel comfortable spending.

Also, something to remember about the price point, especially in this price range, is that if you pay slightly up (say between $200 and $300), you can get a better cartridge. For example, I list the Ortofon 2M Red in this list because it falls within the price range, but just roughly $40 more past the top end of this list, you can get an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge—a much better cart for sure.

It always comes down to how much you are willing to spend and your budget—just some points to consider. The more you pay, the more you get.

There Are Two Different Types Of Phono Cartridges

There are two types of phono cartridges: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). For this price point ($200.00), a moving magnet is the only option, as moving coil cartridges are generally more expensive due to the design and don’t fall in the $200.00 price point. Moving magnet cartridges are cheaper to design and build and thus naturally fall in this price range.

So basically, in this price range, a moving magnet phono cartridge is your only option.

Phono Cartridges Do Wear Out Too!

Cartridges do wear out and eventually need replacing over time. This can happen for many reasons, but it is essential to check the manufacturer’s information about how long their cartridge will last. I believe you will start to hear the high-frequency details begin to get distorted. This is the time to replace it. This can be another reason you might need to replace your cartridge and not just upgrade.

The time (hours) you spend playing records determines their lifespan.

Phono Cartridges

Audio-Technica AT-VM95MLaudio-technica at-vm95ml phone cartridgeAudio-Technica At-VM95SHaudio-technica at-vm955sh  phono cartridgeGoldring E3purple and black phono cartridgeNagaoka MP-110yellow and black phono cartridgeSumiko Olympiablack and green phono cartridgeOrtofon 2M Redortofon 2m red phone cartridge
Cartridge TypeMoving MagnetMoving MagnetMoving MagnetMoving MagnetMoving MagnetMoving Magnet
20-25,000 Hz20-25,000 Hz20 Hz – 20 kHz
12Hz – 30kHz20-20.000 Hz + 3 / – 1 dB
Output Voltage3.5 mV (1 kHz, 5 cm/sec.)3.5 mV (1 kHz, 5 cm/sec.) 3.5 mV (1 kHz @ 5 cm/sec)
5mV (1kHz, 5cm/sec)
4.0mV5.5 mV
Ch. Separation23 (dB at 1 kHz)23 (dB at 1 kHz)20 dB at 1 kHz23dB 

30dB @ 1kHz
 22 dB
Ch. Balance1.5 dB (1 kHz)1.5 dB (1 kHz)1.5 dB at 1 kHz 1.5dB1.5dB @ 1kHz1.5 dB
Stylus Size/Shape2.2 x 0.12 mil Microlinear2.7 x 0.26 mil Shibata0.3 x 0.7 mil Elliptical0.4 x 0.7 mil Superfine elliptical0.3 x 0.7mil EllipticalElliptical
Load Impedance47,000 ohms47,000 ohmsNL47K Ohms
47K Ohms
47 kOhm
Tracking Force1.8-2.2 g (2.0 g standard)1.8-2.2 g (2.0 g standard)1.5 g – 2.5 g (2.0 g recommended)1.5 – 2.0 g1.8g – 2.2g1.6-2.0 g
Cartridge Weight6.1g6.1 g (0.22 oz)6.9 g
6.5 g
6.5 g7.2 g
Aluminum pipe

Aluminum pipe
Aluminum AlloyAluminum AlloyAluminum PipeNL
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Audio-Technica AT-VM95ML

Audio-Technica AT-VM95ML Dual Moving Magnet Turntable Cartridge Red

This is a moving magnet phono cartridge with a nude micro linear stylus. The ML in the name stands for the micro line referring to the stylus shape. This helps minimize inner grove distortion, extends the frequency response, and improves detail resolution in the middle and high-end frequency response. A micro line stylus mimics the stylus shape that is used to cut the master records.

Audio-Technica has stated this micro line stylus should have a lifespan of 1000 hours. This is one of the most extended lifespans I’ve seen for a phono cartridge.

Audio-Technica is versatile and upgradeable because all of their VM95 models (six currently) are interchangeable and compatible. So, you could easily swap out any VM95 stylus without changing the cartridge body.

audio-technica at-vmn95ml

The AT-VM95ML micro-line stylus is a detail-revealing phono cartridge that sparkles with high frequencies and luxurious mids. The low end is not as present. Execellent trackability. It’s straightforward to align. Overall, it has an immaculate and neutral sound. Great for jazz albums.

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Audio-Technica AT-VM95SH

Audio-Technica AT-VM95SH Dual Moving Magnet Turntable Cartridge Brown

This is the next step up from the previous cartridge (Audio-Technica AT VM95ML) both in price and performance, as this has a nude Shibata stylus. As you can tell from the SH at the end of its name.

Audio-Technica has stated this Shibata stylus should have a lifespan of 800 hours.

This is a very responsive cart with a smooth spectral balance. It is a little more complicated to align than other carts properly. It’s an excellent cart for rock or heavy metal fans.

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Goldring E3 Phono Cartridge

goldring e3 cartridge

The Goldring E3 is a moving magnet cartridge with a bonded super elliptical stylus. This cart tracks well and also has great stereo separation. It is a very musical phono cartridge that delivers rich and balanced sound.

This is a physically big cartridge that is quite wide. This can also be easily swapped out with other Goldring carts—a very warm and detailed cart.

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Nagaoka MP-110 Moving Magnet Cartridge

NAGAOKA Cartridge MP Series - MP-110 Record Stylus

The Nagaoka MP-110 is a moving magnet cartridge with a bonded superfine polished elliptical stylus. This stylus has decent clarity, so listening fatigue shouldn’t be a problem. The MP-110 has a very natural sound and makes a great choice for upgrading your phono cart, offering a balanced and well-rounded sound.

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Sumiko Olympia Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge

Sumiko Olympia Phono Cartridge

The Sumiko Olympia is a moving magnet cartridge with a bonded elliptical stylus. Smooth and warm sound are the Olympia qualities, along with being a good tracker and providing good separation.

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Ortofon 2M Red Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge

Ortofon 2M Red Moving Magnet Cartridge

The Ortofon 2M Red Phono Cartridge is a moving magnet cart with a bonded elliptical diamond stylus. Ortofon phono carts are some of the most popular cartridges on the market. This meets the minimum threshold, coming right at the bottom in terms of price. So, it is a very affordable cart.

This phono cartridge also has a removable stylus, so you can easily replace it with another Ortofon 2M Red or even upgrade to 2M Blue, 2M Bronze, or 2M Black. This is a nice feature that makes swapping them out with no lengthy cartridge alignment process. They snap in and out, making it super easy.

The 2M Red has a punchy bass with decent details. This can be a pretty hot cartridge. It’s a great starter cartridge that many people have started with. It is a good cartridge to cut your teeth with.

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Does Upgrading Your Phono Cartridge Really Improve The Sound?

Yes. I was quite impressed with my upgrade, and I noticed details of records I hadn’t noticed beforehand. It also makes you love the hobby even more as it makes it more enjoyable. You find more pleasure, and I often find myself getting more lost in the music.

I purchased the Nagaoka MP-200, which replaced the cheap stock cart that came with my turntable. I am so glad I did, as it really improved my whole listening experience. I want to play records more often, which adds to my enjoyment. If you want to read more about this, head to my post here: Best Phono Cartridge Under $500.

There Is Also A Break In Period For Your New Cart!!!

Yep…typically, it is roughly around 20 to 40 hours of play before your new cartridge is broken in. But once it is broken in, it will start to sound and perform better. The sound will be more open and reveal more detail.

record player playing 45

This is a normal process, so expect great sound to come out of your speakers immediately, but it will gradually get better around the 20 to 40-hour mark.

The Final Groove

Finding the right phono cartridge for you is a lot of hard work. Especially if this is your first replacement cart; after all, there is much information to know to make a clear choice on what to get.

Some many opinions and reviews can muddle a clear and concise decision. You will have to make a choice and then stick to it. Just be well-informed and open to learning more; hopefully, you will find the right cart for you. Your sound system will also affect how the phono cartridge sounds.

Better sound is just around the corner…

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