Best Phono Cartridge Under $100

Best Phono Cartridge Under 100

If you are taking part in the vinyl craze, you know that a turntable with good components is an absolute must have in order to have a good sound system. It seems though that turntable creators will often choose to place a large amount of great components into the turntable while simultaneously sacrificing other components. More often than not, the cartridge will be subpar forcing you to replace it if you want to ensure that the sound quality is great.

This is not really all that surprising. Cartridges tend to be the most customizable part of a turntable because it is so easy to take apart and install a new one. The major problem for many vinyl and turntable enthusiasts, however, is that there are so many cartridges on the market, all of them really quite good in their own way. The key is to find the right cartridge for your turntable at a reasonable price. This article will help. The following are the best phono cartridges for less than $100, providing you quality sound at a price that won’t empty your wallet.


What is a Phono Cartridge?

Let’s start this with a definition that is as jargon-y as possible: a phono cartridge is an electromechanical transducer used in turntables to aid in translating vibrations into sound waves. In layman’s terms, the cartridge is a magnetic piece that fits on the end of a tonearm and has a stylus, or a needle, attached to it.

The stylus is placed on top of a spinning record, running over the ridges on a record, where the wires within the cartridge pick up the vibrations created by the needle and ridges. Those wires inside the cartridge transfer the vibrations to a turntable’s amplifier, which takes those vibrations and magnifies them. The magnified sound is then projected out of the speakers connected to the unit.

The source of top-quality sound starts with a cartridge that ensures that the vibrations from the album are picked up and properly pushed to the unit’s amplifier. A good cartridge and stylus will pick up only those vibrations from the record itself and not from any outside vibrations that could taint the sound. Generally the cartridge does not do this alone: rather, the other components help dampen outside vibrations, but the addition of a good cartridge will ensure that the vibrations from the record are picked up and amplified through the speakers.

The last thing that needs to be stated is that many cartridges that are on the market today differentiate between those turntables that are used for listening to records against those that are used for DJ work, particularly scratching. When reviewing these and other cartridges you may come across on the internet, check to see who the intended audience is, but don’t let this necessarily seal your decision. Some “scratching” cartridges can be used on normal turntables to make pretty good sound quality and should be considered.


The Best Phono Cartridges Under $100

The importance of a good cartridge cannot be understated. This applies to brand new turntables and to turntables that are already used with a cartridge that has worn out. When looking at these, consider whether you have enough experience with turntables to know what type of cartridge will work best for you and whether you will be able to install the cartridge. This can help you make your decision on a cartridge that will work best for you. The following are the best cartridges that you can buy for less than $100:


Ortofon 2M Red MM Phono Cartridge

Ortofon uses a trademarked split pole pin to boost and clarify the vibrations coming from the record. This breakthrough has not gone unrecognized in the industry: many higher-end turntables are coming with Ortofon’s 2M cartridge already installed. For those looking to replace the cartridge on their turntable, the Ortofon 2M Red MM is a great place to start. It ensures that the vibrations sent through to the amplifier are clear, doing as good of a job as cartridges that are priced much higher.

  • Pros

The series in general was designed with efficiency and quality in mind and has won numerous competition and praise from turntable enthusiasts for the quality of sound. On top of the trademarked split pole pins, the Ortofon comes with an elliptical stylus that prevents buildup of dust and debris that can attach to the record, potentially scratching the record and causing you more problems. With these two components alone, the Ortofon 2M is an all-around great product whose price seems far cheaper than it should be.

  • Cons

You should really consider getting this professionally installed. The inner components of the Ortofon 2M are very touchy and need to be installed in an exact manner, meaning that simply attaching it on your own may be out of the question. In order to get the best sound quality that it can present, it needs to be installed in a correct manner, which may slow some down who are considering purchasing it. While professional installation is encouraged, it does not necessarily mean that you can’t read up online on how to properly install it: this is always an option, but care should be given to making sure it is installed correctly.


Audio Technica AT95e Phonograph Cartridge ½ Mount

Audio Technica’s AT95e Phonograph Cartridge ½ Mount is getting really good reviews from sources around the audiophile world. It has consistently ranked near the top of “best buy” lists because of its affordability and clarity of sound. Attached is Audio-Technica’s diamond stylus that is specifically designed to pick up as many vibrations from the record’s surface as possible, which results in good sound clarity.

  • Pros

Audio-Technica are pros at creating turntables and turntable components that are expertly engineered and manufactured. When it comes to the AT95e, the cartridge itself is sealed so well that it creates an almost vacuum quality for the vibrations traveling from the record to the tonearm. Moreover, Audio-Technica’s diamond stylus, which comes attached to the piece, has become a favorite of audiophiles around the world because it is not costly and produces pretty good sound. One of the things about this piece that reviewers are raving about is how easy it is to install: simply attach it to the tonearm, make sure the tonearm is installed correctly, and then get back to playing your music.

  • Cons

You might notice that throughout this review, we have consistently used the phrase “good” or “pretty good” to describe the sound quality. You should know that what you are buying is a component that is inexpensive and provides pretty good sound. In no way does the sound it generates beat out some of the higher priced cartridges, which can pick up more vibrations, contain them better, and send them to the amplifier in a more efficient manner, resulting in great sound quality. For the price though, the sound quality is better than most.


Shure M92E Hi-Fi Moving Magnetic Cartridge

The bottomline when it comes to Shure products is that they are durable and long lasting. The M92E is no exception to this general rule. Because it is lighter than most other cartridges, it does not create as much strain on the record or on the cartridge, stylus, or tonearm and its other components. The cartridges lightness and method of construction ensures that it captures the music coming from the record efficiently while lasting for a longtime.

  • Pros

Not only is the durability of the product a pro, but its ability to fit both types of tone-arm mounts today has made many purchase and love this product. Tipped with a diamond stylus, the combination of lightness and great engineering ensures that the sound from the record is as true as possible. Ultimately the combination of all of these products makes this piece produce really efficient sound that will last you a long time.

  • Cons

Just like the Audio-Technica AT95e, the Shure M92E creates pretty good sound, but it is nowhere near the quality that you will get with some higher priced cartridges. Many reviewers state it correctly when they say that if you are a serious audiophile, the Shure M92E will likely be subpar for your listening experience. If you are just starting with turntables or have a little bit of experience, this will be fine, particularly for the price you are getting it at.


Audio-Technica AT3492P .7 mil Conical Cartridge

We need to get this out of the way upfront: the AT3492P .7 mil is only for turntables with a P-Mount. This may be why the cartridge is on the cheaper side, but it does still create pretty good sound quality for its price range. It creates a pretty well-balanced sound with a quality that most people will find good enough for the price. It is little wonder that its affordability and quality has gotten it the coveted “Amazon’s Choice” designation, which is making it more popular.

  • Pros

For its price and the components used, this cartridge creates pretty good sound quality. Coming equipped with Audio-Technica’s trademark diamond stylus, this will create sound pretty close to the original quality intended by the record’s maker. If you have a P-mount, this cartridge will be perfect for you, making sure that you are listening to good-quality music.

  • Cons

This is a pretty specific device. Not everyone has a P-mount, and not all of those can use .7 mil cartridges. This definitely is a drawback, meaning that a lot of turntables will not be able to use it. But if you have a P-mount and are looking for something that will provide great sound quality, the AT3482P is a great cartridge for you at an even greater price.


Ortofon OM Pro S

The Ortofon OM Pro S is a cartridge that is most commonly used by new DJs looking for affordable cartridges that create good quality sound. Nonetheless, it comes with the same spherical design as the other Ortofon cartridges, which creates good sound quality whether you are planning on just listening to vinyl or are scratching (as some DJs are doing with this).

  • Pros

This cartridge is basically Ortofon’s more high-priced cartridges in a more affordable package. However, it doesn’t trade off any of the quality that Ortofon’s higher priced cartridges come with, creating a really good sound quality that is almost unparalleled amongst other similar cartridges in the same price range. This is largely due to Ortofon’s trademark spherical design, which translates those vibrations really efficiently between record and amplifier.

  • Cons

The designation “Pro S” means that it is primarily used for DJ scratching, which could mean that the quality of sound may be lost for different records. The tracking force on the cartridge is between 3 to 5 grams, so if you are looking for a cartridge at which you can scratch on more records more reliably, you will have to find another. Many consumers are therefore rather disappointed when buying this cartridge for a record player that they intend just to listen to, which may indicate that you will want to buy this one only if you are a DJ that scratches.


While these are the best phono cartridges under $100, there are numerous others that are really good cartridges as well. Trusted names like Audio-Technica, Ortofon, and Shure all produce quality components that can be added to a turntable to provide really good sound. Remember, though, that when you are looking for cartridges at this price range, you may be trading some quality that a true audiophile would notice and not like. If you are an audiophile, consider buying a cartridge that is a bit more expensive, but if you are a beginner or have a little experience, these cartridges will be perfect for you.