Nine Cartridges Reviewed, Compared and File Identities Revealed!

First of all thanks to everyone who participated. More did than we initially expected. This is a learning experience for sure. Future such surveys will feature “normalized” files so levels will be equal. I’ll be far more careful about clipped files too.

It’s possible that a statistical expert and/or veteran tester could tell me how file order might affect results. In other words, does file #1 out of 10 produce a certain bias? Does file #10? Does a file placed in the middle score statistically different? Had I put the same file in all 10 positions, how would they rank based upon positioning? All interesting questions! But more important than the rankings were the sonic differences you heard and how helpful this was to actually auditioning and choosing a cartridge. Only you can answer that one.

Overall I think this one was a useful, exercise flaws and all. When I played back the files, the differences I heard “live” were there to hear.

All of the Traveler files played at the same speed (fast). The Continuum file with the Ortofon Anna was at the correct speed. At least one reader discovered which was the Anna by identifying the one slower file.

As for the results, please go through them and draw your own conclusions. My listening was done using Wilson XLFs, darTZeel NHB-18NS preamp, darTZeel NHB-458 amplifiers and the DCS Vivaldi DAC, upsampler and clock currently under review. So that’s hardly representative, but I think I heard everything each file had to offer!

As for the results, it was gratifying to see that what I thought were the two best cartridges (and the two most expensive), the Audio-Technica 150ANV and Ortofon 2M Black came in first and second. I was disappointed that the two inexpensive Audio-Technicas tied. I thought the 95SA was strikingly superior sounding to the 95E. I also thought that Blue Point Special would do better and especially the Nagoaka MP-300, which I think is a superb sounding cartridge.

As for the relatively poor showing for the Ortofon Anna, Continuum Caliburn, Ypsilon VPS-100/MC-16 combo, read on!

The Audio Technica AT95E (file #3—5%, 22 votes)



Output: 3.5mV (1kHz, 5cm/sec.
Separation (@1kHz): >20dB
Balance: (@1kHz): within 2.0dB
Tracking force: 1.5-2.5
Load resistance:47kOhms
Cantilever: aluminum
Stylus: .4 x .7 mil
Weight: 5.7g
Price: $49.95

Long a budget favorite, the AT95E sells for around $50 and is often discounted. With its elliptical stylus it combines reasonably good tracing and detail retrieval while not being too fussy about stylus rake angle, though if you can adjust that parameter, do so. A replacement stylus costs around $35.00.

The sound is “lively” and vivid but with a bit of transient leading edge iciness and brittleness compared to more expensive and sophisticated cartridges. The midrange also projects somewhat forward—just the opposite of the $90 Shure M97xE not covered in this survey. That’s another excellent value but it is somewhat reserved in the mid band.

On the test track, that you’re probably sick of at this point (as am I believe me!), the cymbals were accentuated and a bit crunchy while the vocals were a bit brittle and ‘cardboardy’. The sax lacked “reediness”, the trumpet was timbrally “dumbed down” and the piano shadowy. Reverb elements were tamped down, helping to lead to a somewhat flat soundstage.

Still, while the AT95E produces a shadow of what the recording has to offer, overall, the sound was surprisingly pleasing and I’d say in a modest system with an inexpensive ‘table and two-way stand mount speakers, the cartridge’s overall “musicality” would be complementary. A steal at $50 in my opinion.

The Audio Technica AT95SA (file #8—5%, 20 votes)



Output: 3.5mV (1kHz, 5cm/sec.
Separation (@1kHz): >20dB
Balance: (@1kHz): within 2.0dB
Tracking force: 1.5-2.5
Load resistance:47kOhms
Stylus: Shibata
Cantilever: “Zualum”
Weight: 5.7g
Price: $149.95

LP Gear rather than Audio Technica, USA markets this $149.00 AT95 variant. It appears to be the same body as the AT95E but fitted with a far superior Shibata stylus mounted on a lightweight cantilever of “Zualum,” which I figure is an aluminum alloy of some kind. The Shibata is a “severe profile” originally developed for quadraphonic LPs that feature an ultra-high frequency tone approaching 45,000Hz, making imbecilic the arguments of CDs fans who claim their favorite format produces superior high frequencies compared to vinyl’s “soft, rolled off, frequency limited top end”.

The Shibata stylus features a very small horizontal contact area and a wider vertical one. It can better trace the grooves, particularly the inner ones where the wavelengths get “scrunched” due to smaller groove radii. The Shibata produces less record wear too.

But the stylus profile requires careful SRA setting to get good sonic results and low Intermodulation Distortion (IM), so it should only be used on tone arms that allow you to adjust VTA/SRA and only if you are willing to go the “extra mile” during set-up.

The sonic differences between the AT95E and SA are nothing short of enormous. The SA’s high frequency performance is vastly improved, with silky, smooth transients, better extension (unless you confuse “crunch” with genuine extension) and “gobs” more resolution.

The improvements don’t stop there: the midrange is far more supple as is the upper bass. This results in far superior bass: no more cardboardy string plucks. Voices take on greater weight and warmth and instrumental timbres are remarkably improved. Ms. Taylor’s voice now sounds rich, warm and three-dimensional. The saxophone now has a “reedy” quality missing from the AT95E rendering. A major transformation for the better.

Though it costs 3X as much as the AT95E, the AT95SA is probably 10X better. It’s difficult to quantify that way but I’m doing it anyway. Listening to this track had I not known what I was listening to I’d have a difficult time believing it was recorded using a $149 cartridge, an under $1000 phono preamp and a $1500 turntable. It sounds that well-resolved, rhythmically superb, tonally sophisticated and just plain right! The Audio-Technica AT95SA is among the “best buys” in reasonably priced MM cartridges, if not the best buy, but only if you carefully set SRA.

The Audio-Technica AT7V (file # 10—7%, 32 votes) 713AT7V.JPG


Output: 5mV@1kHz, 5cm/sec
Separation: 27dB@1kHz
Balance: >1dB@1kHz
Tracking force: 1.75-2.25 (2 recommended)
Load resistance:47k Ohms
Stylus: nude elliptical (0.2 x 0.7mil)
Cantilever: tapered aluminum alloy
Weight: 6.2g
Price: $159

This is another LP Gear exclusive import not distributed by Audio Technica USA. The build quality appears high along with its static compliance rated at 35x10-6 cm/dyne but these measurements can be very confusing and tricky especially since dynamic compliance rating is 7.0 x 10-6 cm/dyne and how these measurements are made puts most of these numbers into question. I’m comfortable rating this and most MM cartridges as mid-to-highly compliant. All of the cartridges surveyed worked well in the medium mass Traveler arm.

As with the other budget cartridges, you have to use those tiny nuts, which can be maddening if you’re inexperienced. Fortunately you can remove the stylus to avoid danger and you should!

This, like some other A-Ts I’ve heard through the years, is a sweet-sounding cartridge with a slightly depressed midrange, slightly soft transients and an overall warm sound that’s easy to listen to and live with. The piano almost disappears other than during the break where it’s featured and even there it’s on the soft side.

The cymbals have a soft “air brake” kind of quality and Ms. Taylor sounds somewhat veiled but if your system needs some taming, this one will do it without turning it into mush. Images are on the large, not particularly well defined side and soundstage depth is on the flat side. I’d go for the AT 95SA’s somewhat brighter, more lively “transient-snappy” performance and greater detail retrieval.

The Grado Prestige Gold 1 (file #6—4%, 19 votes)



Output: 4mV (1kHz, 3.54CMV)
Separation: average 25dB, 10-30kHz
Balance: N/A
Tracking force: 1.5
Load resistance:47kOhms
Stylus: elliptical
Cantilever: “multiple alloy”
Weight: 6g
Price: $220

Grado’s moving iron designs have been around for seemingly forever at this point, and they continue to enchant their supporters up and down the line’s price points. This $220 Grado is both reasonably priced and sonically high performance in the Grado world of rich, full and big but with a series of important caveats.

The unit’s light weight and relatively high compliance mean it should not be used in high mass tone arms, but I found it worked well in the Traveler tonearm as well as in a Rega RB8 I just finished reviewing for Stereophile.

Still, the famous “Grado bounce” was somewhat in evidence and those of you who own or have owned Grados know what that is. Still I wouldn’t worry about it in the proper mass arm. More problematic is the Grado’s susceptibility to motor-induced hum, particularly on Rega ‘tables or others with motors mounted directly under the platters.

Those issues aside, the Grado Prestige Gold 1 produces a rich, warm sound many find addicting particularly in systems that are overly bright or etched, which is often the case with budget electronics.

The drums on the test track were notably softer, richer and warmer. Ms. Taylor’s voice was also warmer, rounder and fuller, as were the backup singers voices. Overall transient performance was notably softer than that of the AT95SA.

The cartridge’s ability to tamp down groove noise was excellent so if you play a lot of noisy records it would be a great choice, though on pristine records it sounds equally warm, sweet and ultra-quiet. If you like big soundstages, the warmth and perhaps other aspects of the design help produce big stages! Note: you can convert this to a P-mount cartridge by removing a set screw.

Overall, the Grado Prestige Gold 1 is the “Dockers” cartridge of this survey: a ‘generous’ fit that will sound pleasing in a variety of systems, particularly the brighter ones, though the sound is more “easy listening” than exciting. If you listen to a great deal of classical or vocal music and your system needs tonal and textural taming, this might be a good choice but if you prefer musical excitement, maybe not so much!

The Ortofon 2m Bronze (file #2—13%, 59 votes)

713OrtRed.jpg Specs:

Output: 5mV
Separation: 15dB@15 kHz
Balance: 1dB@1kHz
Tracking force: 1.4-1.7
Load resistance:47k Ohms
Stylus: nude Fine Line (r/R 8/40 µm)
Cantilever: N/A
Weight: 7.2g
Price: $419

Ortofon’s 2m Bronze is second from the top of the 2M line. It is housed in a body fabricated from a highly rigid, low resonance Noryl plastic/glass composite also used on the 2M Black. It is fitted with a Fine Line diamond stylus that like the Shibata demands careful SRA set-up. Both the 2M Bronze and Black feature an upgraded motor featuring silver plated copper wound coils.

With its tapped and threaded body, mounting was easy compared to the Audio Technicas and Grado. Those will be an absolute nightmare for first-timers. (Set-up tip for those: put a sticky substance in you index finger tip, press the nut into it and proceed).

The 2M Bronze is all about detail and more detail. It’s overall tonal balance is neutral, far more so than the Grado, but no doubt many will prefer the Grado, giving up all of that inner detail resolution to get romance and warmth.

Here the textural balance is somewhat dry, but transients are well-devoloped and natural-sounding. Cymbals and drums have just about the right balance of transient snap and suppleness and what’s that on the right channel? Oh! It’s a guitar the lesser cartridges buried almost completely under the bass line. The saxophone is both reedy and appropriately hard when the player expels more air. The trumpet also goes from indistinct to genuinely brassy and Ms. Taylor’s voice is not bathed in texture and tonal-obscuring warmth but instead sounds natural and more convincing—at least to my ears. As for the piano, now there’s a piano that’s both tonally and percussively believable, though a bit dry.

Imaging and staging take the 2M Bronze to another level, commensurate with its price. Images have excellent three-dimensionality and solidity and the stage now holds far greater interest, with more separate instruments to “see” upon the stage. Dynamics surpassed those of the less pricey cartridges as you might expect.

Priced at $419 the 2M Bronze won’t find its way into budget systems, which is a good thing since its high resolution and precise transient performance probably will make it sound less than stellar (another way of saying “pretty awful”) on lesser systems.

I haven’t looked at the voting but I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2M Bronze scored poorly. That is not a reflection on its performance in my opinion: it is superb in every way, especially it’s tracking and tracing abilities. Still if you prefer the warmth of tubes to the resolution of solid state, you will not like the 2M Bronze. I admired the 2M Bronze’s resolution of detail and it’s imaging and transient precision. It’s a sonically sophisticated cartridge for highly resolving systems, but even there, those who prefer tube-warmth will not be smitten, though if you pair it with a tubed phono preamp you might be smited!

The Sumiko Blue Point Special EVO III (file #4—8%, 33 votes)

713BluePoint.JPG Specs:

Output: 2.5mV
Separation: 35dB
Balance: .5dB
Tracking force: 1.7g-2.1g (2g recommended)
Load resistance: 47k Ohms
Stylus: elliptical (0.3mil x 0.7mil)
Cantilever: N/A
Weight: 9g
Price: $499

The only MC in the group (moving coil), the Sumiko BPS’s output is on the low side for a MM and on the high side for a MC. Nonetheless its 2.5mV should be sufficient for most MM phono preamps and it is classified as a “high output moving coil” cartridge.

Back in 2005 I wrote about this “bodyless” cartridge: "A reasonable amount of punch and an overall clean, bracing demeanor." In comparisons with more expensive cartridges, I noted stilted harmonic development, restricted dynamic range, and diminished soundstaging. In 2004 I wrote “The elliptical stylus helped make the BPS a good tracker, and transients were clean and tight, if a bit lacking in nuance. You'll get a richer midrange and greater liquidity from, say, Grado's wooden bodied Sonata, but not this level of excitement. The Sonata might make a better overall choice for classical and acoustic music, especially female voices, but for rock and pop at an affordable price - especially if your budget system needs a shot of adrenaline - the Blue Point Special Evo III will fit the bill.”

I’ll stick with that! The BPS is a great all around cartridge. Not as warm as the Grado here either, but not as dry and not nearly as detailed as the Ortofon 2M Bronze. Images are larger and less distinctively drawn and the stage is narrower and not as deeply drawn.

Its transients are somewhat softer and less distinct than the ones drawn by the 2M Bronze’s Fine Line stylus but overall it threads the needle between the Grado’s warmth and the 2M Bronze’s detail. That’s why it works so well in so many settings. It’s also priced attractively for what it offers. In a direct comparison with the Bronze, I’d take the Bronze for less money but I can easily hear why others might prefer the BPS’s warmer, more relaxed presentation.

The Nagoaka MP-300 (file #1—6%, 25 votes)

713NagaokaMP300.JPG Specs:

Output: 5mV @ 1kHz,5cm/sec
Separation: 35dB
Balance: >1dB@1kHz
Tracking force: 1.3g-1.8g
Load resistance: 47k Ohms
Stylus: Superfine polished elliptical
Cantilever: Boron
Weight: 8g
Price: $669

I don’t know what you heard here but I thought this cartridge combines elements of the Ortofon 2M Bronze’s detail retrieval and excellent transient response with the BPS’s warmth and overall relaxed presentation.

It produced greater detail resolution and finer images on a wider, deeper better-defined soundstage than did the Blue Point but was less dry and analytical than the 2M Bronze. Its overall balance was among the most pleasing of any of these cartridges, regardless of price.

It especially well defined the slight ambience around the saxophone and I thought its presentation of Ms. Taylor’s voice was especially convincing and pleasing.

The guitar on the right channel was buried and not distinctly presented as it was through the two Ortofons and the piano’s transients were slightly blunted but the instrument’s woody warmth shone through and I like the way it presented the saxophone’s reedy tone.

The soundstage was noticeably wider than the one produced by the BPS and the images were more finally rendered as well. I also liked the cymbals and drum kit overall. Dynamics were also improved compared to the BPS.

The Nagoaka’s “price/performance” ratio struck me as being especially high. A boron cantilever for $669? That’s impressive and no doubt contributed to the cartridge’s fast, well defined but not etchy high frequency transient response.

The Ortofon 2m Black (file #9—18%, 78 votes)

713Ort2Mblack.JPG Specs:

Output: 5mV
Separation: 15dB@15 kHz
Balance: 1dB@1kHz
Tracking force: 1.4-1.7
Load resistance:47k Ohms
Stylus: nude Shibata (r/R 6/50 μm)
Cantilever: N/A
Weight: 7.2g
Price: $799

In the full review in Stereophile I wrote that the 2M Black is “ridiculously good.” I stand by that! The 2M Black and Bronze differ from one another much as the Audio Technica AT95E differs from the AT95SA, though not to the same degree. The Black is certainly much better than the Bronze but the ratio of “better” is not as great as between the two Audio Technicas.

The 2M Black produces a less dry, less analytical overall picture, with rounder, more solid images and less dry but more pristine high frequency transients. The Black better floats images on a wider and especially deeper stage.

The background singers are far easier to delineate and after you’ve become used to hearing this track on the other cartridges hearing it for the first time via the 2M Black is startling. You’ll hear heretofore buried parts and “see” the singers with an ease most of the other cartridges can’t come close to reproducing.

Dynamics are far superior and better nuanced. You can follow all of the instruments with far greater ease yet there’s no sense of unnatural “hyper-detail”.

There’s much more tonal and textural detail and especially macro-dynamic expression to the piano. Plus the Black’s rhythmic drive takes the track to another level of sonic and musical intensity.

But the Black’s most salient quality is its utter transparency. It sounds less like a recording and more like “live.” On my system at least, Ms. Taylor sounds more convincing here than through any of the other surveyed cartridges And that’s what it’s all about!

The Audio-Technica 150ANV (file #7—23%, 100 votes)

713AT150ANV.JPG Specs:

Output: 5mV
Separation: 30dB@1kHz
Balance: .8dB@1kHz
Tracking force: 1.2-1.8 (1.5 recommended)
Load resistance:47k Ohms
Stylus: “micro-linear” (ML)
Cantilever: 0.4mm sapphire pipe
Weight: 9.5g
Price: $995

Yes, some folks are going to blast me for concluding that the sonic performance of all of these cartridges is commensurate with the prices, but that’s what I found. This limited edition Audio-Technica 150ANV, also available only through LP Gear, was a small but significant step above the 2M Black, particularly in terms of large dynamic swings, but its slightly less refined top end made it sound more like a recording and less like “live,” which is where the 2M Black exceled.

The 2M Black may have been slightly smoother and more detailed thanks to the Shibata stylus profile, but the 150ANV produced greater dynamics and overall “punch” especially in the bass. This cartridge had the best bass extension and definition. In fact, it was superior at both ends of the sonic spectrum.

Its transient performance was also fast and very clean. The cymbals sparkled realistically and were sized just right. You could easily hear the guitar comping on the right channel and the piano’s body, transient definition and physicality were also notably good.

The AT150ANV also produced the most airy soundstage. Add it all up and you have a dynamic, punchy, macro and micro-dynamically impressive cartridge that takes MM cartridge design to new heights in my listening experience.

It’s possible that the standard production $299 440MLa shares many similar sonic characteristics though it doesn’t use a sapphire cantilever and so probably isn’t as fast and extended as this one.

All things considered, the most expensive cartridge was also my favorite and easily the best sounding, though the Ortofon 2M Black’s smoother, more refined presentation also had plenty of appeal and some may prefer it, especially in terms of transparency and freedom from mechanical artifacts, but I think the 150ANV’s dynamics make this the overall best of the bunch. It’s certainly the most exciting and vital sounding. The music just jumps from the grooves.

Ortofon Anna: (file #5—12%, 51 votes)

This $8900 cartridge on the Continuum turntable ($150,000) and amplified by the Ypsilon VPS-100 phono preamp and MC-16 transformer ($32,000) got 12% and 51 votes, or about half the votes and percentage received by the Audio Technica 150ANV ($999) using the VPI Traveler ($1500) and Graham Slee Era Gold V MM phono preamp (under $1000). How to account for that? Is it “embarrassing”? No!

First of all, all of the files were “fast” compared to this one because the Traveler runs fast and the Continuum runs precisely at 33 1/3. That may have something to do with it as would the level variations among the files, which will never again happen, but I suspect more to the point is the expensive rig’s more subtle, far more refined presentation combined with the HRT Streamer being a very good $300 A/D converter but hardly ‘state of the art’. That plus the 150ANV sounds damn good! Perhaps I’ll again post the Ortofon/Continuum/Yplsilon file but using a considerably higher resolution Lynx 122 converter.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Thanks Mikey!

This is the kind of article I've been waiting for in the audiophile press.

I don't know if the results were more interesting because of how my rankings compared, or, how average rankings compared, or, price vs apparent value. Please do it again on other gear and, yes, do normalize signal strengths and maybe even consult with a survey designer to wash out other biases.  

Michael Fremer's picture

Will do all of that!

harmony's picture

Thank you for posting the results - On my part I find them very educational, and clarify or comfirm some feelings I have been having on some cart I have been looking at!

Yes - leveling the volume would help a lot. What one needs is software that will normalize across the files rather than individually. Here is a quote from the Dcart7 help section:

"Match Volumes of Numerous Wave Files with Auto Leveling

The Auto Leveling routine is contained only in the Batch Editor which is found under the Filter Menu.  It allows you to make .wav files sound very similar in loudness across a number of files.  It performs this function by calculating a combination of the RMS and Peak values of each of the files and normalizing them while accounting for both parameters and assuring that none of the .wav files overload.  This functionality is quite different in functionality from the Gain Normalize feature in which a single file is normalized in gain with respect to its own peak value...."

It would also be great if the reference table is used for all the cartridges!

Thanks again.

J. Carter's picture

I ended up picking the cart I own (the 2M Bronze)! That makes me feel even better about my purchase!

Michael Fremer's picture

I like that!

LS35A's picture

I've been on the fence for what to put on my new RP6.   After reading this review I'll be ordering my 2M Bronze Monday. 



LostArkitekt's picture

I had the Ortofon 2M Bronze in my top three...which I own, but I probably had it slotted between the two top choices. All of them came down to base response (double bass sounded better) and background vocals falling off in the others. It makes sense that #5 had something going on...I knew it, but couldn't put my finger on it. sounded muted to me...kind of muddy.

Dpoggenburg's picture

I didn't get around to voting (next time!) but I sure loved going through the different files and also comparing them to the 96/24 track I downloaded from HD Tracks. Good times!

I'm not sure when the right occasion will present itself (I'm sure this was pretty damn time consuming), but it would be FANTASTIC if you chose to pick a track from an upcoming audiophile reissue, and do a shoot out between, say, a 45 rpm reissue, an original pressing, and one or two other pressings, (maybe a cd 44/16 version as well), with the vinyl all played on the same rig. That would be VERY interesting.


Michael Fremer's picture

Yes! This survey certainly was but that's my job so I'm up for it. The problem with what you suggest is getting the rights to post files online. It becomes legally complicated unless it's a situation like this where someone owns everything as Chad Kassem did here.

I'm going to look into this further to see what the legal liabilities are and what my corporate masters will allow.

hmalbert24's picture

Great fun, it was a challenge to critically listen, much like all you reviewers do on a regular basis, I guess.  If you have the time, reposting the vinyl rip with the state-of-the-art equipment and a higher quality ADC would be much appreciated.  I want to start doing some of my own vinyl rips and was wondering what how much difference a higher quality analog-to-digital-converter really makes.  Thanks again!

SAllison's picture

Oh man I ended up picking the cart I own as my favortie of the bunch - the Grado Gold1! That makes me very happy :)


I think it is interesting that another reader picked the cartridge that he uses (the 2M Bronze) as his favortie as well. Maybe we grow accustomed to the sound of what we listen to regularly.

Michael Fremer's picture

I love reading that people blindly chose their faves! 

dhyman's picture

this leverages the power of the web and crowdsourcing the way a traditional magazine can't and points the direction for all reviewing publications.  true visionary work.  

leveling is obviously the missing piece.  when i sold speakers in an audio store in 1985 (i was 17), we always turned up the the volume of the unit we wanted to sell.  a few db increase always wins.  would be great to see the relative output levels of these cartridges and how that effected voting.

Michael Fremer's picture

The only file that played at the right speed was the Anna/Continuum/Ypsilon. All of the others were fast. I wonder if that played any role in the relatively low ranking of the expensive rig.

In other news, I might as well say it: this morning I accidentally BROKE a brand new Lyra Titan i that I just had re-tipped.

This is the FIRST time I've ever done this in 27 years of reviewing. I was installing it on a new turntable/tonearm (name withheld) that has a difficult and cumbersome cartridge installation and overhang adjustment system. 

You can't leave the stylus guard in place. You have to mount the cartridge to a special headshell and insert that into a jig and then tighten the screws from below. So I was holding this jig/frame in one hand above my head and attempting to tighten the screws (after aligning the stylus using the jig) with the other hand. 

Very cumbersome. The special headshell slid out of the jig and because i couldn't leave on the stylus guard, it fell to the floor and that was the end of the cantilever. 

I am soooo bummed.

floweringtoilet's picture

Thanks again for doing this. My favorites were #1 and #7.

I have to admit that #5 did not impress me as one of the better sounding files. One of the things that really bothered me about it was that there is some audible mistracking at around 39 seconds that I did not hear on any of the other tracks. Beyond that (looking back at my listening notes) I did not hear the separation between instruments or resolution of reverb and other subtle spatial cues that I heard with the tracks I thought sounded better. With headphones I could also hear a slight hum on #5 that I did not hear on the other tracks (possibly this is due to the step up transformer?).

I matched volume on all tracks using a 32 bit audio editing program (Adobe Audition), so it is possible that had some impact on my perceptions. Admittedly, I do not have the kind of high-resolution system that you are listening on. I still would have thought that benefits of the more expensive cart/arm/table/preamp would have been more apparent to me. 

There were some other things that surprised me. I identified the Blue Point as sounding "laid-back" and "mellow," the opposite of what I would have expected. I felt sure the Blue Point file was the Grado Gold based on my experience with Grado carts. I thought all the AT carts put on a good show, but I did rank them in order of cost with the most expensive being my favorite and the cheapest being my least favorite. 

I'd like to try a Nagoaka cart, as I really liked the sound of file #1 a lot. I thought it was very articulate with good separation between instruments, had very good transient speed and was tonally well balanced.

I guess I should be pleased because I'm never going to be able to afford a super high end system, so maybe it's better that I prefer the sound of a $400 Nagoaka cart to a $8K MC.

I am curious if your collegues at Stereophile (people who do this for a living) were able to easily identify your rig. Clearly I have no business being an audio reviewer. I found the process of listening and comparing fairly exhausting. It was fun to do as an experiment, but I wouldn't want to do it for a living! 

Thanks again,

Pete Bilderback

Michael Fremer's picture

Over time you do get better at it....or you burn out. Actually the less expensive cartridges do have more grit and excitement than the expensive, more subtle and articulate ones. That said, I wasn't happy with the sound of the Anna file either. Not sure why....perhaps it requires a more than $300 A/D converter to fully express its subtleties.

pruks's picture

I ended up choosing the AT150 first, 2M Bronze second, and 2M Black (which I own and like) as a third.

The AT150 is really a great cartridge, but very pricey indeed - but, then again, so is the 2M Black.

Besides the need to normalize and such, I would also think is is interesting to get your hands on a much better ADC to do this comparisons.

Best regards!

Michael Fremer's picture

I also have a Lynx L-122 in an older G5 Mac tower that's really great. For this test of relatively inexpensive cartridges I thought the HRT might be a more appropriate choice....

pruks's picture

Maybe, even if those are relatively inexpensive, the differences in character among the tested cartrides would be clearer with a better ADC.

We mostly discussed which one(s) pleased more, and which one sounded better (according to particular tastes) - but not exaclty the differences in sounding character.

Just a thought anyway...

JohnVF's picture

The Apogee Duet for MAC (assuming you're on a MAC, ignore if not) is a nice ADC for not a ton of money. It's normally used for hobbyist home studio types and as such also acts as a DAC and headphone amp/monitor preamp with phantom power and a quiet mic preamp. But the ADC in it is not bad at all, for the sake of things such as this.

otaku2's picture

If you refer back to my earlier post, you will see that I identified the two most expensive and two least expensive cartridges correctly, in the correct order. I also correctly identified my Grado Black.  What megabuck system did I use to do this?  A MacBook Pro with Audirvana Free, an AudioQuest Dragonfly, and a pair of AKG-K701 headphones.  You don't need super-expensive equipment to have an excellent listening experience.

Michael Fremer's picture

What spelled the difference here more than the gear is your PERCEPTIVE ABILITIES. Don't sell short your accomplishment!  

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Well put.  

Perhaps politicians can learn something here about assigning budgeting priorites.  But, they'd have to account for an overrepresentation of technically savy and motivated respodents, who of course might skew the "public opinion".

Oh, wait!  Two phrases come to mind!  "Don't ask the question if you can't handle the answer."  "Be careful what you wish for."

Oh well, nevermind.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Hey Mikey

Now that I've had my coffee, I think dyman is really on to something here.  This crowdsourcing of reviews (moderated by an acknowleged "expert") is just what the audiophile community needs to kick it up to the next level.  JA and SM, editors at your sister publication Stereophile, have for some time been lamenting creeping cost to value ratios.  Can you imagine the effect such crowdsourced reviews might have on manufacturers, to say nothing of educating listener's ears, now that brick and motar stores are dying and trade shows provide poor acoustic listening environments. It might even get young people - who view our hobby as a rich old fart's pastime - more involved through it's no-cost participatory nature.   What a way for Source Interlink Media to rise above the pack! 

Michael Fremer's picture

But I do have to say that the "live" playback bettered file playback....still, with it all reduced to the same digit resolution it becomes a level playing field and a great deal can be learned about both the performance of the gear and of the listeners....

swimming1's picture

After all the dust and bits settle,I'll stick with my Clearaudio Maestro Wood!

Mendo's picture

Mikey you are the man! This was a brilliant excersise. I can see some serious potential here, imgaine the possibilites! One track gets the Furutech treatment, the other doesn't, a few phono pres in a shoot out, that is added TO a review!, different mats, tweaks, how about same cart. different arm?, pressings, or even CABLES!!! Maybe the amazing Randi or what ever that douche bag's name is will particpate. About the only item off limits for this would be speakers. You could only do this bringng another transducer into the fold. 

A few other thoughts...

  •  While I'm not sure what the best way to "normailze" files is, it needs to be done carefully so that cartridges all have their full dynamic range intact. If you normalize peak values, then you will essentially dynamically compress cartridges that have the greatest dynamic range. Maybe I'm wrong here. Somebody smarter than me can figure this out. Point is you can't pull down peaks to achievere the same RMS.
  • I know I suffered some serious listening fatigue. Maybe comparing a max of three or four things would be best. Or do two more often?
  • A few different types of music, so you don't have to try to chase that perfect demo track. 

I can't wait to go listen to the files again using Mr. Fremer's notes and improve my listening skills. I also need see how I voted when I got home. I can't remeber.  



Michael Fremer's picture

Along with making sure to do the transfers better and match levels I'm going to try to get interesting source material. I hope. I mean, what's the harm if I use a Beatles tune now and then? (My lawyer can tell me).

Jim Tavegia's picture

What fun and a great exercise that you made possible with lots of hard work.  We all have a greater appreciation for how hard it can be to define the sonic differences between carts, close in price or not.

Most importantly it shows that stylus type does matter greatly and that the 2M bronze is a great buy.  It is also clear that very good, respectable sound can be had for little money and why people are back to vinyl...thanks to you. 

Looking forward to your next round ouf cartidge shoot-outs. Knowing how maticulous you are about cart set-up, we can appreciate the hardest part of taking the time and care to mount all these cartridges. 


Thanks again,




Jim Tavegia's picture

That would be a window to the worlds of carts. 

vinylvalet's picture

After decades of consistantly excellent audio journalism, this is icing on the cake. Looking forward to more surveys like this.

Great timing. I just returned to the US after five years in Costa Rica (too humid for my LPs). Getting ready to pull my table and LPs out of storage and need a cartridge under $1k. The 2M Black was on my short list and now I know it's the one for me. Prior to leaving I used a number of $1k - $3k low output MCs. So I'm looking forward to seeing how the 2M Black stacks up in my system.

Thanks again.

Michael Fremer's picture

Did you run into any Coatimundis while in Costa Rica?

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

I suspect an equivalent survey of digital cameras from $50 to $8900 shooting the same subject would render much more consistent results.  I doubt our ears are as normalized as our eyes.

Michael Fremer's picture

Rick: I think the responses were pretty amazing myself. The most expensive and I think best sounding cartridges got the most votes. I think that's pretty good consistency.

sandyu's picture

It’s been said that if your eyes were as good as your ears, you could stand on a tall building in New York and see London.

Truth is: We can’t, yet, definitively measure what we REALLY “hear."

For example, here’s one issue: Human beings have two “brains,” one in the “gut” (or viscera) and the other in our skulls. And we “hear" through both, though only the skull-brain is directly attached to our ears. (Mostly, our viscera are more responsive to the bass regions.)

Here’s another: We know that men and women “hear” differently -- women can hear better in the “treble” range than men.

And that isn’t all: Women’s brains are different in many ways to men’s brains. But, how does that affect the differences in “hearing” we could measure -- let alone the ones we can’t, yet, because we don’t know what they might be? Obviously, nobody can say, for sure.

BTW, there’s this: Stereophile (my favorite audio book) doesn’t have any female contributors, but The Absolute Sound does. And I notice that the female contributor at TAS often picks different favorite gear than her male associates.

So, what’s going on there?

Look, it’s not that hard to rate cameras, really. Mostly, it all comes down to personal favorites and professional standards: I might be quirky enough to prefer Alpas over Nikons, or Hasselblads over Rollei SLRs, but there’s no really effective way to tell the difference between camera brands simply by comparing the photographs you took on your summer vacation.

Indeed, I’ve seen iPhone photos taken by Annie Liebowitz that rival the best a $10,000 reflex can do.

But!! If you attempted a similar comparison with phono cartridges (or loudspeakers, or even turntable mats or speaker cables), as Mikey does here, the results could NEVER be the same!! (As this test in fact reveals.)

Mistermuse1's picture



I've read your thoughts and opinions and agree with much of what you've said. Upon listening to these myself, I'd appreciate your opinion on my current cart, Dynavector 17d3 MCC(midlife) on a Rega P5 if you'd ever heard it. I've fallen in love with the AT 150ANV. I'm pretty happy with my Dynavector, but like anyone else, I'm always looking for better. The AT sounds amazing and this comparison has really shown me what an upgrade could do for the quality of my future rips.

Michael Fremer's picture

I haven't heard that cartridge on any turntable. I once owned a Dynavector Ruby back in 1980 and it changed my audio life. I set up a 17d for a friend recently but didn't really spend enough time to "get" it....

only analog for me's picture

I miss my Win Jewel...

FETT1979's picture

The result is amazing!

I'm pretty sure everyone here was afraid to choose the 50$ cartridge as favorite !

I learn something today...  Don't spend too much money on excessive hardware !

Thank you Michael for this GREAT article !

FETT1979's picture

Its only a suggestion.... but...

It could be great to add a part 2 with some "low entry cartridges".

Exemples : 2m red, 2m blue, shure m97xe, Denon DL-110 ,DL-103, AT-120...

It could be great reference for audio maniacs like us  :)

Halcro's picture

Very brave test Mikey......and you have done the analogue world a great service (among the many in your history).

The voting however has not raised the obvious questions I thought it would?......

For nigh on 30 years.....high end analogue has accepted the supremacy of LOMC cartridges over MMs without any questions? I myself crossed to the MC side over 20 years and only 5 years ago returned to MMs.

I have over 40 cartridges, two turntables and have had a dozen tonearms (now reduced to my current 6 favourites). I have owned over a dozen of the best and costliest LOMCs in that time and still have 5 of my preferred ones in my collection today......but prefer the sound of the great vintage MMs from the past (which admittedly can be difficult to procur).

No-one who hears my system (including audiophiles) can pick when a LOMC or MM is playing.....and everyone prefers the sounds of the MMs on both turntables in various arms.

When John Elison picked No.5 as being the Caliburn/Cobra/Anna due to the 'timing' issue of the track....he thought that the Cobra tonearm was the reason it sounded poorly?

Having vast experience with the Caliburn/Cobra/Olympos...and owning a Copperhead mounted on my Raven AC-2 for over 5 years.....I stated on VinylAsylum that it was the cartridges which were determing the sound....and that I wouldn't be surprised if the AT-150ANV was the winner as I owned it and knew of its strengths?

In all the comments since you revealed the results.....I have read no surprise (or outrage) that a lowly MM cartridge could beat a $10,000 LOMC?

Or that nearly 90% of listeners preferred the sounds of the MMs over this high priced MC? seems that this fact is being swept under the rug and ignored as it has continuously been for decades?

What a shame?




Jim Tavegia's picture

I was just amazed at how many of the carts sounded more alike. I was expecting a greater variaton, but more money does bring minimal? improvements. I think it does prove that someone can put a very nice vinyl rig together for little money. A Project Debut Carbon with an Ortofon Bronze might be a great table paired with a Graham Slee phono stage.

I also think that your entire system comes into play to hear many of the small, but important details and why Mr. Fremer and you  can spotlight these differences. Many others of you as well.  Me not so much with my midlin systems and old ears. Being old with hearing loss and being an audiophile is disappointing at times. 

It is reason that I'm not so quick to move from my older Stanton 881S, Ortofon OM 20,  or my Shure M97. They will all get a Jico stylus when they are do to up their performance. This test did prove that a great stylus can make huge improvements. 

I wonder if VPI will come up with a new pulley to fix their speed problem? Maybe they like it that way. 

Michael Fremer's picture

I'm not sure I'd draw the same conclusion from those results. They are based on one song on one album for one thing. For another, the "high priced spread" is far more nuanced and subtle performer. The cartridges surveyed tend to be more exciting and more "brash" and certainly draw one's attention more than does the Anna on the Caliburn. 

But like speaker buying where the brighter and/or voiced to sound more "exciting" speaker often wins and the buyer is later left with "buyer remorse" only long-term listening can produce a result that should lead to drawing a hard conclusion.

I'm not saying your conclusion for you is incorrect! Just that drawing conclusions from this experiment should be done with caution...

hanuman's picture

Normalizing is not the right tool at all for this kind of exercise, in my opinion. What's actually needed is consistent recording levels. This should be done objectively. Here's how I recommend the next test be done:

Before each recording play a 1 KHz test track and set the analogue input levels of the ADC to some pre-determined "0VU" level. The first track of the Analogue Productions "Ultimate Analogue Test LP" is ideal for this. I generally set this to read "0VU" on an analogue-needle-style meter plugin calibrated to -18dB RMS. In other words -18dB RMS digital becomes "0VU" on the virtual analogue meter. Set this way almost any record will fit with a few dB of unused range. A Sheffield Lab direct-to-disk will clip in places (Tower of Power Direct does).

I'm pretty sure this is the right way to do this. You don't want to go messing with dynamics processing after that. Normalizing peak or average loudness levels is especially out of bounds in my view because you might actually be "normalizing" some of the valid differences between the cartridges under test. If 1 KHz is at the same volume from all recordings then any variation in average or peak loudness levels should be presented as it is. Such variation, if present, would be an important differentiator between the items under test.

As for the tests, I was right about the Caliburn / Anna being the sample with the distinctively low noise floor. I was pretty certain of that but I didn't choose it, going instead for #1 in a very close call with #7. That's interesting because I bought an AT-150MLX recently to hear what a really good MM sounded like and It was going to be it or either a Nagaoka MP300 or MP500. Without the possibility of auditioning I took a punt on the AT. It's a great cartridge and I've got some expensive MCs to compare it to. I'm not in the least surprised that a majority of voters thought its more illustrious brother was the best of this bunch, Anna included.

Michael Fremer's picture

Thanks for such a thoughtful and illuminating comment.

harmony's picture

At times what is uncolored can be perceived as boring, or ordinary. Some people like their hi-fi to 'add' something to the sound, a little color perhaps or bass for instance. All this is great and lots of choices to achieve that out there! But it is harder to make a transducer that is transparent, as that means more accurately meeting a lot of constraints. The beauty of such a product is that it will not attract attention to itself, as it tries to 'be out of the way' but rewards in the long run precisely because of that IMO. I am not sure if #5  is that but I thought it was aiming at that!

harmony's picture

Setting volume using the output at one frequency may work in some cases, but not all. For instance two carts may have the same output except at 1kHz be 0.5db off! If you use this setting then it will bias one in loudness! Using broad band noise may be safer overall, but then how broad (there ought to be a correlation to the track being sampled)? .

hanuman's picture

I think it should be kept as simple as possible. 1 KHz is not just any arbitrary frequency. It's the default reference frequency for any technical measurement in audio design, engineering and operation. Unless I'm mistaken it's often taken as the reference frequency by sound engineers when checking for "unity" through a process - precisely what we're aiming to do here. The rationale for 1 KHz is that it is expected that the system response should be linear particularly in the 1 KHz  - 2 KHz region, as much as possible, because it's a region of the spectrum that most overlaps the area of maximum sensitivity of the ear and the area of maximum distribution of a lot of music and natural sounds, as far as I know. If you do what you suggest then you are, to some extent, altering the effects of frequency response variations.

In the hypothetical case of a cartridge with a dip at 1 KHz in an otherwise unremarkable response I would take that as a case of bad design or implementation (because the linearity around 1-2 KHz should be sacrosanct) and that should be presented, not hidden.

Ben Adams's picture

Hi Mr Fremer, I'm the fellow who posted a link to your shootout over at the Steve Hoffman forums, and brought a little bit of the traffic over here.

Next time around, I'd be very curious to see the Shure M97xE cartridge featured, both with its standard stock stylus and also with the Jico replacement stylus that currently retails for $189.99.  For about $250 you wind up with a combination that most feel is slugging way above its weight.  It'd be fascinating to see how it fares in a shootout like this.

Michael Fremer's picture

I'm thinking of posting files of Shure V15VxMR with original and Jico stylus as well as M97xE original and Jico.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Now you're talkin' audio "for the rest of us".  I really look forward to hearing those two Shures with the Jico stylus.  As the past owner of a V15 and current owner of a M97xE with a Jico SAS stylus, I've always suspected they hold their own with much costlier stuff.  Now we'll be able to compare apples to apples.  And while you're at it, why not throw in the Pickering XV-15 and Stanton 681eee competitors to the V15?

morricab's picture

This is the standard version of the AT150ANV and instead of a sapphire cantilever it uses the gold plated boron cantilever but with the same microline stylus. For a street price of only $299 it will run right up there with the best in this survey (I am wondering if the big brother is really better or not).

swimming1's picture

So, what might we conclude from the results?

    Energy is perceived differently by different organisms.

    Tests are extremely difficult to set up.

    Digital reproduces midi-fi OK.

    Digital does not reproduce Hi-fi as well.

    You pay for what you get!

    As the Rockman said in The Point, "You see what you want to see,you hear what you want to hear!"

  Peace,Love and understanding-Nick Lowe 



dconsmack's picture

The thing that sold me on this experiment was the phono stage! The Graham Slee is no joke. The bass response had just the right amount of "tube" without the sloppiness that real tubed phono stages can have. 

I have to admit, I value a cartridge's accuracy of frequency response. I don't want a cartridge to "improve" a record because in my experience for one problem it solves, it creates another. And, if it makes a poor recording sound great, it'll likely make a great recording sound awful. I'm on a never ending search for the most neutral cartridge. So my "control" for this test was the digital HD Tracks version of this tune (also on Analogue Productions) so I assumed the mastering would be nearly, if not exactly identical. I summed my amp to mono (to eliminate variances in stereo separation) and adjusted the gain of all the files to match. And the one cartridge that matched the tonality of the HD Tracks version almost exactly was the Audio Technica AT95SA! The only notable difference was the bass on the LP was a little "wetter" and more satisfying. I'll put my money on that being a (pleasing) coloration of the phono stage; it was that quality of the bass that was consistent among every cartridge on the list.

Subsequnetly, of all the carts on the list, the AT95SA would be the one I buy, not only because of the truly neutral frequency response, but the Shibata stylus. However, I'm not psyched about it tracking at 2g. But at $150, there's little to complain about. I firmly believe putting money into the phono stage for great analogue sound. And with a neutral cart, the agony of finding "synergy" is greatly reduced.  

My least favorite was the AT150ANV. HATE that sound: hyper boosted in the upper treble that adds artificial detail and renders the recording to sound "outlined" with all of the music's weight and density removed. It's like eating all frosting and no cake. I've heard a lot of moving coils sound like this. 

The Ortofon 2M Black was my favorite "sounding" on the list. Wow. 

Thanks, Mr. Fremer!

Mendo's picture

Sorry to hear of the Titan's death. For what it's worth (and I know you are noe a fan of thrid party re-tips) I had my Titan re-tipped/catilevered with Soundsmith's best at $400, and I think it sounds at least as good as before, maybe better. I worried dynamics would suffer. They didn't. Peter did a great job.


Halcro's picture

The cartridges surveyed tend to be more exciting and more "brash" and certainly draw one's attention more than does the Anna on the Caliburn. 

That has not been my experience with MMs vs LOMCs?

I find that when I switch from MM to LOMC.....the non-audiophiles look at each other in apparent puzzlement....whilst the audiophiles usually go...."oh yeh, listen to the 'tightness'? And the bass is solid and defined.....and boy....those 'clear' is that?"

So generally the LOMCs "tend to be more exciting and more brash" IMHO?

It's really when one goes in reverse.....from LOMC to MM after a long period.....that one can appreciate the natural 'relaxed' realism of the MM presentation in comparison.

Of course very few audiophiles ever go 'back' once they have mounted a LOMC...and the future is pretty much determined for them?

Perhaps you could consider for the next test, something in reverse? Three top of the line LOMCs, one cheaper HOMC....and the AT-150ANV?

Who's brave enough for THAT one?smiley

Michael Fremer's picture

I'll consider that for sure! Or for Shure.

hanuman's picture

I've gone a step further in this by doing test recordings using seven of my own cartridges after setting each one up according to the method I earlier described. The average loudness across the group was within a spread of 0.5dB - i.e. no recording differed by more than 0.5dB in average loudness compared to any other. This validates the method because 0.5dB is probably below the threshold of detectability for most people.

A couple of cartridges hit maximum for a sample or two while, on the other hand, a couple of others got no closer than about -1dB so the -18dB for 0VU meter calibration worked pretty well for the album I tried.

This is definitely the way to do this kind of thing.

Superfuzz's picture

I wasn't too surprised that the AT150ANV was #7, and that it was the favorite. I own this cartridge and am very happy with it.  I bought mine for $700, from Aiko Trading:

Although after I placed my order, I noticed they raised the price to $780. I don't think anyone in the US stocks this cart -- mine was shipped from Japan, and I suspect LPgear does the same.

It does have a slightly tipped up top end, but this sounds great on a lot of records. But not all, of course. And that's an important point to stress -- there is no *one* perfect cartridge (or any other piece of phono gear) that is going to sound perfect on all records... of course different gear will sound a little different, but the things that sound the most different, are the records!

This is why buying records that are well recorded, with good mastering, is very important. It's all about synergy, not just between components, but more importantly between the components and the record.  If a different track from a completely different record had been used, the results of this survey may have been quite different. The record used here was obviously a great sounding record with great mastering, which is why all the files sounded pretty good, even with the cheap cartridges.

The point put more succinctly: records first, equipment second.

ViciAudio's picture

My two favorites were the two Ortofon carts, Bronze and Black. Not really surprised as the Black was my second choice in "real life" tests (and the Bronze is just marginally inferior), right after the marvelous Goldring 2500 I have on my P9. I'm really sorry you didn't include the Goldring 2500 MM on this test Michael, it is really a beast of a cart and I'm sure many would find the tighter bass response and more extended natural highs of this cart very pleasing.

The ones I liked less were two AT carts... one of them is the AT150... I thing the Ortofon Black lush sound just makes it pale by comparison, no contest IMO.


Michael Fremer's picture

I'll try to include on another survey....

Superfuzz's picture

The Goldring 1042 is an excellent sounding MM cart, and highly regarded by those who've heard it... (I own it, sounds great, especially on rock, jazz and blues). A comparison between that and a Goldring 2500 would be interesting...

PeteH's picture

Here's an idea - would it be possible to actually have a growing database on your site with these vinyl rips(and hopefully more in the future) where folks could take a 'test drive'? The blind survey was a lot of fun - just thinking of ways to expand on it. 


Also, other members could upload rips from the same recording(assuming Mr. Kassem gives an Ok) to add to the database with hopefully more cartridge options. That would alleviate you from the task and also open up more possible cartridge/system options. And maybe a standardized form along with it to specify signal chain,  etc. to track variables between systems. It could be a great resource for us analog lovers since its always been difficult for most of us to hear a cartridge before purchasing. 


Just an idea. Thanks again for doing this comparison. 

nando's picture

Very Interesting match up

For me, it was hard to tell important diferences between files one to five

Then I quit

Maybe there were too many steps from Mr Fremer systems to my computer and system

I personally feel that digitalization of analog files takes away maybe the analog essence of music.

I dont know

Still, it was interesting 

Thanks to Mr Fremer for his efforts and support to analog ant the vinyl disc



kuretzu's picture

What a great opportunity to do a blind test, thanks!

I listened from 1-10 and again from 10-1 so as not to be overly affected by the relative merits of the pervious cartridge. In the end I was very impressed with the sound of #9, which I assumed "must" be the Anna. As it turned out it was the 2m Black, which is what I own and use. I ended up ranking the Anna middle of the pack, and I threw my old favorite the Sumiko PBS under the bus; many years ago I purchased the original BPS after auditioning several cartridges. What I found even more interesting was that there was no clear loser. 4 cartridges did stand out from the pack, but even the cheapest was preferred by 5%. My own comments on the AT95e placed it near the top of my preferences, finding it guilty of omission, but convincing musicality. Great test, looking foward to the next one!

JTR's picture

I didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked with the sample files before the results were posted, but my two favorites were #1 (Nagaoka) and #7 (AT). I could not clearly pick a preference because my thoughts seemed to change when listening to them at different times.

I've been a long-time Denon user. I've always thought their cartridges offered an incredible bang-for-the-buck - and still do. However, I've been using a Nagaoka MP-500 for the better part of this year, and I must say, my MP-500 bests every Denon I have owned.

I don't own the recording you used, but in my system, the MP-500 seems to possess a bit more sparkle and air at the top than most other cartridges I've used - and more than the MP-300 used in your test. I realize it's meaningless to compare to apples to oranges...

I know many rippers use AT cartridges due to their ability to track well and reduce/eliminate IGD. Should you decide to conduct another test in the future, I'd like to see the following cartridges used:

Audio-Technica AT150ANV
Denon DL-110
Denon DL-304
Dynavector DV-20X
Nagaoka MP-500
Shelter 501 MKII
Soundsmith Carmen
Sumiko Blackbird

And though it would take longer, maybe you could provide two recordings to sample? It might be difficult to get permission, but if you could include a classic rock song (like "Tom Sawyer" by Rush)...that would be really interesting.

Thanks for this little experiment though - it was quite fun!

l5chambre's picture

Great idea and competition. Guys who spend $995 on a cartridge or less should not think it is inferior to a $8400 cartridge. I have the AT95E and no table yet and happy to see many Audio Technicas out there. Definitely want to try a cart from a Stereophile or Ananlogplanet competition or review. And music hall and others do have speed controllers you don't need a Continuum.

Michael Fremer's picture

You "need" a blood transfusion. You don't "need" a Continuum but believe me, this test does not really tell you how it sounds and performs... 

Sean Zloch's picture

Thanks for taking the time to create these files. I enjoyed doing the test.

I ended up liking both the Audio-Technica AT7V and the Sumiko Blue Point Special. My current cart, a Dynavector 10x5, is a couple years old already. I plan to send it to Soundsmith to get it re-tipped.  Thanks to this test,  I ordered one of the AT7V's to have on hand as a back up cart, so I can keep on spinning vinyl while I wait to get my cart back. I'm looking forward to installing on my table this weekend.

I'd also like to hear the Sumiko cart in my system as well. In your opinion, is it a good fit with an older Rega P3 table? I'd hate to spend $500 on it if it's a bad match for the Rega.

Thanks again!

lpgear's picture

First and foremost, thanks for advancing the state of cartridge reviewing. The well-written reviews described with concise eloquence the musical strengths, weaknesses and comparative performance of each cartridge. The ability of end-users to listen and participate in the survey provided a multidimensional perspective. The noteworthy result - readers are better able to make an informed purchase decision which is how it should be.

We are delighted that the Audio-Technica AT150ANV came out THE WINNER. We discovered its exceptional abilities but couldn't be sure given our limited context. Its like going to compete in the Olympics. We knew we had a world class contender - we just didn't know its comparative position. Now everyone knows.

We are likewise delighted with the reviews for the Audio-Technica AT95E, LP GEAR AT95SA, Audio-Technica AT7V and the Nagaoka MP300 cartridges. We introduced to North America the AT95E in 2003 and it has become the go-to cartridge for modest to lavish turntables. The AT95SA is actually our best-buy favorite - it costs so little yet delivers enormous musical value. The AT7V is voiced differently from other Audio-Technica cartridges - it sounds like the respectable Signet cartridges of years past and reproduces music glowingly like classic tube gear.

One time when I was in Tokyo, Japan, I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Hiroshi Teramura, then the manager responsible for the development of Nagaoka cartridges. He was formerly a music conductor. Out of curiosity I posed to him which cartridge he favored personally. His response - the MP300. He admitted that the Nagaoka MP-500 is indeed more dexterous, more vivid, and performs more abundantly but he likes the overall presentation of the MP-300. We like the Nagaoka MP-300 too.

All the best,
Rome Castellanes

otaku2's picture

Were these cartridges all new (other than the MC Anna, obviously)?

If so, any idea whether a period of break-in would have changed the absolute or relative rankings?

Audiolad's picture

Be careful asking an important question. It will either be made fun of or ignored.

audiot's picture

I didn't get a chance to listen to these files until after the results were posted, so I didn't read the results until I listened first. I don't have a DAC yet, and my Denon receiver would not play the files directly so I used dbpoweramp to convert the files to WAV in order to play them on my system via an Airport Express which converts everything to 44.1KHz anyway (sigh!).

What surprised me more than the differences was how similar each cartridge sounded. Apparently I am not as golden eared as I would like to think. It was interesting to me that most of the time I thought I preferred the file I was listening to instead of the one I just heard.

You tossed some pearls before this swine, and in the end this pig picked #3 as his favorite, but he could live with any one of them and be happy.

detroitvinylrob's picture

Outstanding job Mikey!

ethebull's picture

The AT 150ANV is a short run product that carries a premium price and is not widely available. It would have been far more in keeping with the scope of this shoot out to have chosen the AT 150MLX, which is widely available for about $350, and a great cartridge in its own right. A far better value? I have yet to see a direct comparison.

rakalm's picture

"It’s possible that the standard production $299 440MLa shares many similar sonic characteristics though it doesn’t use a sapphire cantilever and so probably isn’t as fast and extended as this one."
Shouldn't this statement apply more to the AT150MLX? This is the cartridge I am looking at for my VPI Traveler. More in my price range than the Anniversary Edition. What does the anniversary edition really add?

Rudy's picture

I think it's appalling that as much as VPI is charging for the Traveler, that they can't even get the speed right.  Didn't the high end TT manufacturers learn a lesson from all those years of Rega turntables that ran way too fast?  Can't say this impresses me at all about VPI's engineering if they can't even figure out a simple drive ratio between two pulleys--it's not rocket science, it's basic mathematics.  (And in my line of work, calculating that drive ratio is something you learn the first week at the company.)  Too bad you felt it skewed the results of the test--perhaps if you need to use that TT for comparisons in the future, one of those external speed boxes might help bring that speed back into line.  Or, hell, if you own it, send it back and make VPI get it right.  I know I would!  I pick up on speed variance within a couple of seconds.   And in a subtle way, it likely influenced the outcome of the results of these carts vs. the Anna.

Nice lineup of cartridges though!  I'd love to see a comparison between some of the Shure V15 Type V retips out there also.  Much as I hate to, I'm retiring my V15VMR (which I've owned since 1982, when it had only the HE stylus), but the consolation is that I am getting the 2M Black to replace it.  I've had to save up for four months to be able to get it, but I figure after the trying couple of years I've had, I can afford to treat myself.  

bfwiat's picture

Hi there,

I realise the results have been posted, but I would still like to hear the differences between these cartridges... are the files still available to download?

:) bfwiat (:

Michael Fremer's picture

All of the voting type stories and associated files are under the "Votes" category you'll find at the bottom of the home page. The link for these files is:

fearlessraccoon's picture

Hi, brand new here -

Great article, but am I blind?  I cannot see where to find the sound files to listen to each cartridge.  Can someone lead me to them please?


Michael Fremer's picture

All of the voting type stories and associated files are under the "Votes" category you'll find at the bottom of the home page. The link for these files is:

zalmoxe's picture

Hello guys and hello Mr. Fremer!
I have also read the review about de Jico V15xMR stylus into Shure M97 and I have read all the comments there.
I want to buy a catrige to fit it on a REGA RP3, the budget is around 500 USD. I am puzzled about the follow-up cult of the Shure V15. As I have read, even Mr. Fremer owns one. I realy need your help and I will appreciate any recommendation and comment. Thanks!

HermetechMastering's picture

Just did the blind test! My results:

1 AT150ANV
2 Ortofon 2M Bronze
3 Ortofon 2M Black

So looks like I need to get saving for the AT!


HermetechMastering's picture

By the way, I got all the files at exactly the same level and exactly the same starting positions before I did the test using iZotope RX4 Advanced's "Loudness" module (calibrated to -23 LUFS BS.1770-2/3 to ensure no clipping).

guesstimator's picture

Went through the original listening sequence for about an hour and jotted down notes as i went ....
in order my favourites and relative notes:

7) Brilliant mids , loved the piano end female voice, bass very good tight but not lean. However clarity of mids less than 9
9) Very detailed...somewhat forward sounding....less airy than 7 bass better on 7
10) very open,balanced , lacks a bit of bass
6)very nice cymbals nice bas but not as good as 9...very "listenable", not fatiguing

after discovering that n6 was a grado I am now determined to try one!!!

Audiolad's picture

I looked at the AT95SA, but I didn't like the AT440MLa for the the brightness. I did order the AT-7V for the kind of output that was shown in the review. The combination of price and the fact I play records sometimes 8-10 hours a day. I hope it beats my other turntable which has the Grado Prestige Green, but to date nothing has.

rwortman's picture

I did listen to all the files and jot down notes. I was suprised to find out how much I liked the $50 AT95E. Not the best here but quite enjoyable. I was also surprised at how muffled and foggy sounding I found the Nagaoka. I currently run a Ortofon Rondo Blue that I have had for 7 years. I am considering try a MM for a change. I read good things about the Nagaoka carts but I found this one the least attractive of all. Perhaps on extended listening and breaking in it becomes warm and smooth instead of boring but in this company I liked it least. My favorites were the two Ortofons, the AT7V and the Grado. I thought the 150ANV was just OK and I did find the high priced spread to be the most balanced top to bottom but nothing that blew away the other files. Based on this test, I canned my plan to buy a Nagaoka MP-200 and ordered an AT VM740ML. I'll report back.

wemist's picture

hanuman's normalizing comments are dead-on, I think. If anyone hasn't said it, there's still the need to set recording levels low enough that the loudest output cart doesn't clip. And that is what has happened here with the 150Anv file- there is digital clipping at the loudest points in the track. It must not be very audible, but the fact is that the audio file could sound better.