Under $300 Cartridge Comparison

 

 

We've taken our top 5 selling cartridges and done a head-to-head shootout using the same turntable and record so that you can compare the sound of each directly at home. These include the Ortofon 2m Red, Ortofon 2m Blue, Grado Prestige Red2, Nagaoka MP-110, and Goldring E3. 

A few notes on setup... We chose the Debut Carbon because this is the most common turntable out there and because so many people know them and own them, it is also the most frequently upgraded turntable. Everyone wants to know what's the next step after the Red.

We also chose a non-audiophile record to show that these differences are audible to regular people and on less than stellar recordings or vinyl quality. This record has been played hundreds of times, so things like tracking are perhaps more noticeable when done right, or wrong. Here are our notes from the comparison.

Ortofon 2m Red

The Ortofon 2m Red is probably the world's best selling cartridge at its price point because of its inclusion on the ubiquitous Pro-Ject Debut Carbon. Many of you will know the sound of this cartridge intimately because you own one of the Carbons. The 2m Red is a detailed cartridge with good frequency extension and a crisp punchy sound. Best for beginners

Ortofon 2m Blue

The Blue is physically very similar to the Red, and as a result has a very similar tonal balance. Crisp and precise with great detail. You'll notice from this video the extra air and space around snare drums compared to the Red. The Blue makes the Red sound opaque and one-dimensional in comparison. There is also slightly less distortion during peaks. Best for precision

Nagaoka MP-110

The Nagaoka MP-110 is competitive with the Blue, having a similar bite and precision with perhaps a slightly rounder bass. Whether this is to your taste is up to you and your system balance. It could be useful if you have smaller speakers or ones that tend towards bass lightness. Tracking and distortion sound a little better than the Blue with a little quieter background noise. Best for vintage sound

Grado Prestige Red2

The Grado Red2 has a decided bass and treble lift. Of all the cartridges here it has the most bass, which makes it really suited for party style tunes or if your speakers lack bass. The lower treble is also emphasized for some extra presence, but not the most extended range. Best for bass heads

Goldring E3

The Goldring E3 heard right after the Prestige shows just how more neutral it is with probably the most nuanced and natural midrange of all the cartridges. Bass is also tuneful and suitably extended without any undue exaggeration and the treble is not quite as bright as the Ortofon or Nagaoka, but on closer listening actually provides superior low-level detail. Best for everything

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