Comparison Review: The Best Budget Cartridges 2020

The most important part

A new and better cartridge is the simplest and best solution for better sound. Comparison review of the Best Budget Cartridges 2020.

Best Budget Cartridges

The music flows out of the speakers and the warm, pleasant sound spreads like a dawning summer day around the body. At the same time, a small stone, smaller than a pinhead, is dragged along deep grooves in a rotating vinyl record.

The contact surface is so marginal that a small vibration can endanger the entire operation and stop the music. The mechanical connection is quite delicate.

It does not matter what kind of cartridge the turntable has. It should not only keep track all the time, it should preferably make it as undisturbed and accurate as possible. If it fails, it goes beyond the sound quality, playback and in the worst case creates wear on discs – and pins.

To get all the music out of the grooves, there are a long list of things with turntables that need to clap. If we assume that the turntable is good, and in good condition, the most important single part of the player is precisely the cartridge.

This is also where it is easiest to upgrade to better sound, something you should definitely consider. Instead of replacing the pin, a newer and better cartridge can give an audible boost in sound quality.

More marked bass dynamics, clearer midrange, improved stereo perspective and clearer treble are just some of the things that can provide audible improvements with a better cartridge. In short, there will be more partying and fun with better cartridges.

In this test, we have collected five different cartridges in the same price range. Here, the quality is several notches up from the usual unmarked cartridges which unfortunately come with many turntables.

Our recommendations in the budget class

We usually recommend replacing the old pin with a brand new cartridge. For turntables at the lower end of the price range, this usually means Ortofon 2M Red – or 2M Blue – Sumiko Pearl or Rega Elys2.

But here we have taken the step up a class, and compare cartridges that are suitable for most players between 2,000 and 10,000 kroner.

As you can read here, they also have different properties, and here it is important to find out which one is best. Some are better at classical than rock, and vice versa, and others have qualities that some value more than others.

So read the tests before you decide.

Important about RIAA

All cartridges need a custom entrance. For turntables or amplifiers that do not have it built-in, you need a separate box called turntable amplifier, phono amplifier or RIAA stage. These cost from a few hundred bucks, and are often adapted to either Moving Coil or Moving Magnet cartridges. Check which one you have before you buy.

To set up the turntable on 1, 2, 3

The best advice to get good sound from the plates is to read the installation instructions.

When unpacking a turntable, you need to find all the parts. Lay them on a table so you have an overview. In addition to the player and a transparent dust cover, you must have a power supply, audio cables, turntable, felt or rubber turntable, drive belt and a counterweight to the arm.

It must also be accompanied by assembly instructions. It’s smart to follow.

Most turntables have belt drive. The rubber strap is tightened as shown in the installation instructions, the plate and the mat are put on and the counterweight is mounted as described. The scale has a scale that rotates to zero when the arm is in balance. Then it ‘floats’ level – in line with the plate. Remember to carefully remove the plastic cover on the cartridge before adjusting the weight.
You do this by turning the scale and the weight at the same time, usually to 2 grams of pin pressure – still without the plastic protection on.
Next to the axis of the arm, there is usually an anti-skating scale. Unless otherwise indicated, turn it to half the pin pressure, or one and a half value (1.5) if the arm is still forced outward when lowering the pin into the plate grooves.

If you do not get any bass, or the pin jumps all the time, increase the weight by 0.1 gram until it fits snugly in the grooves. Otherwise, with too high pin pressure, the sound is distorted and the wear on pins and plates increases.

Products in this test

Audio-Technica AT-F7

Refined sound master

This cartridge will sweep into the record collection like a breath of fresh air, opening up for sounds you have not heard before.

Superb richness of detail, beautifully focused midrange and good dynamic contrast.
Slimmer bass than the competition.

Ortofon MC Quintet Red

The balance artist

Ortofon MC Quintet Red is the obvious choice for those who want a neutral sound image.

Balanced sound image with almost completely neutral sound. Easy to assemble.
The dynamics do not sparkle, and the sounds lack a little depth.

Sumiko Olympia

Affordable multi-artist

Sumiko Olympia is an affordable all-rounder that will clearly be experienced as an upgrade for many.

Rhythmic and dynamic sound with rich sound.
Slightly muted detail and relaxed treble.

Denon DL-103

Classic sound from Denon

The Denon DL-103 is worth every penny and almost perfect as an all-round cartridge.

Open sound image with sparkling dynamics and sharp focus.
Loses some of the definition in the treble.

Grado Gold 1

Rocks your record collection

Grado Gold 1 is an obvious choice for those who want a colorful sound image with more impact.

Full-bodied sound and potent bass reproduction.
Lack of resolution, dynamic contrast.

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