Lowest priced MC thats better than a Premium MM?

I’ve only used MM’s with my Technics 1200Gr with Luxman Phono Pre. I’ve used a couple AT "540ML" series, a Ortofon black, KAB Concord with 40 stylus (very close to Ortofon Black in sound) and my current Nagaoka JT80BK (which I love). I tend to change cartriges (and keep them with headshell intact) at a point to where the stylus still has around 40% -50% life. I sometimes I switch out and listen to my older ones for a change of flavor.

I’m now wanting to try a MC however, I want to keep it under $1200 or so. An Ortofon SPU would be fun to try, however, from what I've read, I do not think its a good match for my tonearm. For my 1200GR, can anyone recommend a good MC Cartridge. I’m tempted to try a ZU modified 103r. Thoughts?


There are many good  "entry level" MC cartridges that sound great and are compatible with your tonearm. The Benz Ace, Hana SL or SM and the Ortofon Quintet models come to mind. I would also look at the excellent Grado Statement and Reference cartridges that are in your price range. These are MI designs, not MC but they share many qualities of MC cartridges.

Although you may like the Zu Denon, keep in mind that it is unusual in having low compliance and a spherical stylus. Plus, the cartridge per se is on the heavy side and recommended VTF is on the high side. Spherical stylus has its own limitations and consequences. Finally, I am not sure your tonearm is the best match for all of the above parameters. Audio Technica 9Xa and 9Xi cartridges are excellent but cost is slightly above your upper limit. Just about every question likes yours elicits recommendations for Hana. I’ve never heard one, but "50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong". (In this case it’s dozens of audiophiles not 50M Frenchmen.)

lewm is on target here. I enjoyed my Zu Denon as my first MC until I switched to a retipped Phasemation and discovered the limitations of a spherical stylus, and in the process the quality of everything else downstream. I have the Hana in a different system that's not as resolving- I don't think it's broken in yet, but I like what I'm hearing so far . . .

AT33PTG/II was/is my choice. It is better than my MM's, and friends bring their MC cartridges here, we compare, subtle differences, 'preferred not better'.

always compare specs, for imaging look for widest channel separation and tightest center channel balance. consider tracking force when comparing.

it's 0.3mv signal strength, combined with coil impedance 10 ohms are a good relationship when choosing SUT or Phono Stage's xFactor/resultant impedance 'shown' to your phono input.

recent thread about SUT/xFactors/Impedances




I’ve been playing a Benz Micro Glider SL through first a Musical Surroundings Nova III phonostage, then a Quadratic MC-1 SUT (for reasons). For over a year now I’ve been enjoying its reproduction of sound.

I bought mine through Kron out of HK some time ago (actually pre-covid, then forgot about it for well over a year - seriously ill from covid), It was $600 well spent.

I’ve seen them advertised for around a grand lately and I can’t recommend it highly enough.


I would just get a grado cart like a $1000 Master3 it has a new elliptical diamond that is way easier to set up and less fussy!

You may want to consider a Hana ML. Read some reviews. Available new around $1200. 

The Hana ML was on 20% sale from $1,200 to $960 before 12/31. It might be worth calling a few stores to see if they'll give you the sale price. I bought one at the sale price but haven't yet set it up. See, e.g., 


I think the premise of your question, that there is a cheap MC superior to the best MM, is flawed, and it’s especially flawed if you include MI types. I’d stay away from HOMC entirely.

Go with the Hana or a Benz MC cart. As stated above you will need a cartridge that plays well with your tonearm for balancing. This is the most important factor when selecting your cartridge. I would've thought that your Ortofon Black would be a perfect match for your table. Good luck! 

Another that I haven't seen mentioned that is worth considering is the Ortofon Quintet Black.  Nice combination of detail and musicality.

don't rule out a Moving Iron cart MI, light like a MC but the output of a MM.

I find at this price point the stylus type has more of an effect than the magnet structure type. Moving to a micro line, Shibata, VDH type stylus on any of the motor types is a big step up from a conical, elliptical that's typical of most MM. 


@lewm + 1 - dunno if there are many 'cheap MC's' that are on a performance level with my Clearaudio Charisma MM. Good question, though, as I'm interested in getting a headshell with an MC or MI just for a change of pace.... 

MI cartridges can be low output, like an LOMC in output V, or high output, sort of like a lowish output MM. Most or maybe all of the vintage MI cartridges can drive an MM stage with ease. So too can the Nagaoka MP500, SS The Voice in high output version, and some Grado. Unlike the case with MC cartridges, the high output types can be just as fantastic as the low output ones. Acutex 320 and B&O MMC1 or MMC20CL (where MC stands for Moving Cross, the shape of the iron that moves) are some of the finest sounding MI cartridges extant. So there should be no stigma associated with high output MI types. Whereas I have never been able to love a HOMC type. These are my opinions based on listening in my own home system, only.

I use an Ortofon Quintet Blue MC...best 500 bucks I've ever spent on an audio item.

@lewm 1++

The Soundsmith Voice is the best high output cartridge I have ever had in my system. In order to better it with a LOMC cartridge I had to spend $8000 plus. They are two different markets and the pricing is vastly different. I had a conversation with Peter Ledermann asking him why the Sussusso cost $2000 more than The Voice as they look like the same cartridge, the only difference being the number of windings on the coils. His response was, "the market." He makes low output cartridges so audiophiles can use their fancy phono stages and he can make a higher profit. Peter is honest to a fault and stands firmly behind everything he makes. I just ordered a Hyperion MR through Sounds of Silence. If you are in the south eastern New England area this is a great dealer.

Certainly, at $3000 and below you are much better off with a high output cartridge. Like Lew I tend to prefer MI designs. I look for the best cantilevers and stylus profiles with ultra low mass designs. I avoid aluminum cantilevers with swaged ends. That is unnecessary mass in a place you definitely do not want it. Styluses should be so small they are hard to see with the naked eye. Cantilevers should be boron, sapphire or diamond. It is all about low mass and high stiffness. 

Even the $700 Hana SL is better than most premium MMs, and better balanced than the inexpensive AT MCs. 

Says you. And you’re entitled to your opinion. But everyone has an opinion.

I run MC in three systems ranging from Koetsu Urushi, through vintage Lyra Clavis to a modern Goldring Eroica LX. I recommend the latter as a  c. $1,000 option for you.

I agree that there is no such thing as a price-point or specific MC that beats out any MM/MI cartridge; it is really a matter of taste.  There are some who would say that a Decca London will beat out any cartridge of any type for example.  But, there are certainly lower priced MCs that do, to me sound quite good for their price and are worth checking out.  As someone mentioned above, the Ortofon Quintet Blue is a bargain, particularly if one is looking for a warm cartridge along the lines of a Koetsu, but at a fraction of the price. 

For a completely different sound (or detailed, less warm sound) an at a much higher price, I like the Lyra Delos.

A Soundsmith'd Denon 103D.  A giant killer and it has a higher compliance for a low to medium mass arm.  My Nak Dragon loves it~

I have - and love - a Hana SH. Yet some people dismiss all HOMC carts, Hana Dynavector, Sumiko, with a wave of the hand and not so much as a whiff of reason why. Care to explain?


Sure. MC cartridges already use very powerful magnets. The only option to increase the output is to increase the size of the coils which adds a lot of mass to the moving system making it harder to damped effectively. Theoretically they would also go through styluses and record grooves faster. In short it is a silly marketing idea. MM and MI cartridges are far superior when it comes to high output design. 

MM and MI cartridges are far superior when it comes to high output design. 

And sound, sometimes.

First of all, lewm said it best, the premise of the question, that is that MC cartridges are going to be superior to MM (or MI) cartridges in all cases is flawed.  That may of course be true sometimes, but not always, for every application, music style or taste.  I will offer an example that is pertinent to the OP.  My go-to turntable for mono recordings is a Technics SL1200 GAE.  I have several cartridges for it both MM and MC, but the one I prefer for most listening, especially for older jazz records is an Ortofon 2M Mono SE, which is the mono based on the 2M Black.  I also use a VAS MC for some recordings, but like I said most often it is the MM that is the winner...for me, my tastes, my musical preferences.  Your results may vary.

My experience:

The best MM I have is the Shure V15 VMR with a JICO SAS stylus. Very nice. 

A Hana SL, $750 at the time. Very nice.

And an AT33PTG/2,$549 when I bought it, but now it's $599 on the Audio-Technica site. This is my favorite by a good margin and I am completely satisfied. I run it on a Sumiko Premier MMT rewired with Cardas  for comparison. I am using a Musical Surroundings Phonomenon II. A modest set up but surprisingly satisfying.

The Audio Technica  AT 33SA is a fine cartridge for top shelf moving magnet money. A top shelf moving magnet is a fine sounding cartridge in its own right. Use of a top shelf moving magnet cartridge is not like suffering in a gulag.

VAS Nova. Hand built by Steve Lueng of Valve Audio Science in New Jersey, who is great to deal with by the way. He has 3 or 4 different output levels now. Harry Weisfeld of VPI once compared it to the Lyra Atlas! Entry level .8mv  output is around 1500.00. I started with that one but but .4 mv a couple of years ago, and sent it back to Steve recently who upgraded it for an upcharge difference and rewired my VPI tonearm with upgraded wire. Very happy with the result.

@billstevenson I think the reason I wanted to try an MC is because all over the various forums there a "you are missing out on something" attitude by some by using a MM. I see there are a few using Denon 103's or the ZU modified versions on 1200gr's, however, there others that say 103's are a terrible match for the GR tonearm. For 78's I have a KAB concorde and a OM 78 stylus. I listen mostly to Jazz recordings and Classic Rock. 

Well, many very decent LOMC cartridges have already been named, many of them made by Hana. Why not pick one and see for yourself if it’s a revelation? I’d only stay away from Denon DL103 variants and all HOMCs, not because those cannot possibly be good choices but because those are a bit off the question. By the way, I can’t recall whether your phono stage has enough gain for a typical LOMC (0.2 to 0.6 mV output at 3.54 or 5 cm/sec stylus velocity). If not, there’s another can of worms.

@lewm This is the phono section specs for my Luxman 

input impedance
PHONO (MM) : 2.5mV / 47kΩ
PHONO (MC) : 0.3mV / 100Ω
LINE : 180mV / 47kΩ
BAL.LINE : 180mV / 55kΩ
MAIN IN : 550mV / 47kΩ

I had the Grade 2 Prime+ (~$1100) Zu 103 cartridge and within weeks of receiving it, damaged the cantilever. Somehow, I also managed to damage the internal wiring and thus could not be fixed due to the epoxy potting of the cartridge (became landfill as Zu only gave me 20% store credit).  There are many better choices out there for modded Denon 103's - Musikraft, Mighty Ana Sound, VAS to name a few.

Aberyclark, sorry I did not see your phono specs until now. If the 100 ohm load resistance at your MC inputs is fixed, you ought not to try to drive it with a low output MI, because those have a high enough inductance regardless of the stated internal resistance which may be low, to require at least a 500 ohm input impedance. You’re fine to use a high output MI into your MM inputs.For that matter, some LOMCs (e.g., some Denon and Benz cartridges) are also not a good match to a 100 ohm input Z.

Why do people choose a cheap MC over a good MM/MI? I don't think there is a benefit by doing so. In my experience a 1k MM/MI is about the level of a 5k LOMC, and no worry about buying an SUT or a phono stage that copes with LOMC.

Is moving coil so important as a label that much cheaper but better sounding options shall be disregarded?

Giant killer might be overused..but a Soundsmith Ruby OCL on the Grace F9 body is a pretty amazing bit of affordable kit. My take on the Hana ML ( from real ownership experience w a host of other cartridges ) is that due to scale and strategy it’s really ( rebadged ) a $2 K performer. It’s not the truth teller a Lyra Delos is, but may work better in systems that run lean.

Dog and Tomic, This is what I and Mijostyn and some others have been saying; MM and MI with high output alternatives ought to be considered way ahead of LOMCs at the lower price points (and for me personally, even at the higher price points).