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Best budget cartridge: Shure M97XE, Ortofon OM10/OMB10, Denon DL-110/160, or AT440ML?

post #1 of 54
Thread Starter 
Hello,

I'm looking to a purchase a budget cartridge that still performs well. I'm looking for something that provides good lows and highs, audible mids, and vocals that are not scratchy/distorted. I listen to a wide range of music, from hip-hop (hence the need for good deep bass) to rock (hence the need for audible mids and clean/clear vocals) to jazz (hence the need for good highs). I've also got a system and location that unfortunately tends to accentuate surface noise and hum, respectively, so it would be good to have a cartridge that is good at reducing the significance of those two things. My turntable is a Technics 1200mk5.

From what I've read, the following seem to be some of the best budget cartridges:

Shure M97XE

Ortofon Super OM10 or OMB10

Denon DL-110 or DL-160

Audio Technica AT440ML

Anyone have any thoughts about which one performs best or would be best for me, given what I want to get out of it and my concerns about hum and surface noise? Any insight you can provide would be great! Thanks!
post #2 of 54
I only have experience with the 440mla and it's very good, a more detailed sound that some may say is a bit strident in the top end but it's also clear and extended. Nice bass & tracks like a champ. I think you could be happy with any of the carts in your list. What are you using now and what is your preamp?

eta. The contact line stylus of the 440mla does very well with surface noise.
post #3 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by steelglam View Post
Hello,

I'm looking to a purchase a budget cartridge that still performs well. I'm looking for something that provides good lows and highs, audible mids, and vocals that are not scratchy/distorted. I listen to a wide range of music, from hip-hop (hence the need for good deep bass) to rock (hence the need for audible mids and clean/clear vocals) to jazz (hence the need for good highs). I've also got a system and location that unfortunately tends to accentuate surface noise and hum, respectively, so it would be good to have a cartridge that is good at reducing the significance of those two things. My turntable is a Technics 1200mk5.

From what I've read, the following seem to be some of the best budget cartridges:

Shure M97XE

Ortofon Super OM10 or OMB10

Denon DL-110 or DL-160

Audio Technica AT440ML

Anyone have any thoughts about which one performs best or would be best for me, given what I want to get out of it and my concerns about hum and surface noise? Any insight you can provide would be great! Thanks!
Tonearm compatibility is more important than actual sonic performance. The Denons should work best from your list. The Stanton 681EEE should also work if you want a warm cartridge. Some also report that the new Ortofon 2M series also work on your tonearm.
post #4 of 54
The Denon DL160 has a wide soundstage, good transparency, great highs and lows (very neutral) and is very low in groove noise. An all around great cart.

I don't think you would be dissapointed with it, I know I'm not.
post #5 of 54
Go for the DL-160. A great match for your arm and a superb sounding cart. IMO one of the best deals going.
post #6 of 54
I'll be blunt : I don't know what actual improvement can be substantially had over say a DL-110, regardless of how much more you spend. It's almost completely neutral(flat) and has very low distortion and has superb tracking.

If the objective is to extract the data from the record without alteration, it seems you can not much improve on the DL-110, even if you spend thousands.

If I am mistaken, please, someone explain to me precisely the measured characteristics which are audibly relevant that are only available by spending much more money. If you respond to this point, be certain to be specific and to correlate these explanations with known human audibility thresholds(as established by various perceptual research). Subjective babble/speculation is not going to help explain anything.

I am beginning to think high-end multi-thousand dollar cartridges are much like other primarily psychological audio issues(like cables). Of course, unlike cables, I suppose a cartridge is far more likely to have large frequency response variation from model to model - which is just a form of equalization. And of course, cheaply made units may not track well, or may have crude tips(?) that can not accurately read grooves(?). But just going to the relatively low price DL-110 seems to have no such problems - and that is my point.

Chris
post #7 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by searchenabler View Post

I am beginning to think high-end multi-thousand dollar cartridges are much like other primarily psychological audio issues(like cables). Of course, unlike cables, I suppose a cartridge is far more likely to have large frequency response variation from model to model - which is just a form of equalization. And of course, cheaply made units may not track well, or may have crude tips(?) that can not accurately read grooves(?). But just going to the relatively low price DL-110 seems to have no such problems - and that is my point.
Cartridges are very difficult to measure because of the necessity of a mechanical match to the whole tonearm and turntable plinth and motorboard which introduce resonances of their own of course.

So finding a cartridge which works for your particular set up is never so straightforward as one might hope.

Generally the Denon carts are a tried and trusted design which hasn't been altered too much, especially in the case of stalwarts like the DL-103, and therefore work well on old fashioned tonearms like the stock Technics one.

The quoted compliance measurements for the Denon's are slightly idiosyncratic and difficult to fathom but the most common explanation for this match working is that older tonearms with lots of joints are more damped than modern arms like the Rega and the Denon's incompliant suspension dumps a lot of energy into the arm tube which if left unchecked feeds back into the plinth and motor making them sound grainy and coarse.

There is a sophisticated new suite of tools for measuring and optimising cartridges by Dr. Feickert which may be of interest Adjust+ - Home
post #8 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by memepool View Post
Cartridges are very difficult to measure because of the necessity of a mechanical match to the whole tonearm and turntable plinth and motorboard which introduce resonances of their own of course.

So finding a cartridge which works for your particular set up is never so straightforward as one might hope.

Generally the Denon carts are a tried and trusted design which hasn't been altered too much, especially in the case of stalwarts like the DL-103, and therefore work well on old fashioned tonearms like the stock Technics one.

The quoted compliance measurements for the Denon's are slightly idiosyncratic and difficult to fathom but the most common explanation for this match working is that older tonearms with lots of joints are more damped than modern arms like the Rega and the Denon's incompliant suspension dumps a lot of energy into the arm tube which if left unchecked feeds back into the plinth and motor making them sound grainy and coarse.

There is a sophisticated new suite of tools for measuring and optimising cartridges by Dr. Feickert which may be of interest Adjust+ - Home
Thank you for the reply, but the only issue you really addressed here was the standard arm mass/cartridge compliance issue which is well known - but not really the issue I was wanting to address(compliance is not something attached to price, for example).

This issue I raise has to do with cost justification.

As far as measurement/analysis - the software referred to is not really needed; it's an integrated easier to use analysis method - but you can do manual analysis of every aspect(as I have been beginning to do) if you have the proper analysis software and a reference grade test LP with the proper selection of test signals(such as The Ultimate Analog Test LP) and with very high grade pressing. Now, I do find the software interesting - it can speed up the analysis and prepare a neat little report for you. But I won't pay the money for it since I can do the same thing with a bit more effort using manual analysis.

I should say: I tried to get a very high quality arm(relatively speaking) and turn table and I simply want to have the highest quality sound reproduction possible. I am not against spending around $1000 on a cartridge if that can quantifiable achieve something relevant to audibility by a substantial degree. I actually have a cartridge that is near $1k(Clearaudio Virtuoso) but it's still factory sealed - I have not decided if I want to open it(and lose it's value) or not. So far I am using a Denon DL-110 which measures and seems to function nearly transparently, which I did find surprising, actually, since I was expecting something lack luster based on the constant subjective ramblings about 'expensive' cartridges that you can read anywhere.

-Chris
post #9 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by searchenabler View Post
So far I am using a Denon DL-110 which measures and seems to function nearly transparently, which I did find surprising, actually, since I was expecting something lack luster based on the constant subjective ramblings about 'expensive' cartridges that you can read anywhere.

-Chris
Funny how that is.... similar ramblings about technics tonearms, which if rewired and equipped with a nice headshell and silicone damper probably do nearly as well as any other hi-fi arm. But then you can't sell hi-end gear in magazines...
post #10 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by DigiPete View Post
The Denon DL160 has a wide soundstage, good transparency, great highs and lows (very neutral) and is very low in groove noise. An all around great cart.

I don't think you would be dissapointed with it, I know I'm not.

I don't have any experience with the other cartridges the OP mentions but I completely agree about the Denon DL160. I've been listening to it for the past 1.5 year and it definitely has a w - i - d - e soundstage and excellent transparency. And it also has low groove noise as already mentioned. You will not be disappointed by it.
post #11 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by DigiPete View Post
Funny how that is.... similar ramblings about technics tonearms, which if rewired and equipped with a nice headshell and silicone damper probably do nearly as well as any other hi-fi arm. But then you can't sell hi-end gear in magazines...
That might be...

I will know soon. I have a Technics SL-Q2 on the way and a 2nd DL-110 cartridge on the way. This deck has almost identical arm of the SL1200, and similar overall as well, with cast metal deck,etc. I am going to measure/analyze this compared to my Marantz TT-15S1 and Clearaudio Satisfy tonearm. I will use the measurements, partially, to compensate for any slight frequency response difference between the two DL-110 units in software correction. I will then record the same music tracks from both set ups and proceed to do blinded evaluations. I want to settle this matter of what qaulity arm is really needed. For reference, audiophiles for the most part when I looked it up, considered the Clearaudio Satisfy arm to be far superior, on a different level of performance, than the Rega RB250/300 and 600 arms, by their subjective impression(s). I don't know if these opinions are reflection of real performance, or simply by way of psychological influence. But if I can get a SL-1200 type arm in blind tests to sound identical or near identical in blinded tests, I will have to consider this yet another audiophile goose chase.....

Chris
post #12 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by searchenabler View Post
That might be...
I am going to measure/analyze this compared to my Marantz TT-15S1 and Clearaudio Satisfy tonearm. I will use the measurements, partially, to compensate for any slight frequency response difference between the two DL-110 units in software correction.
I don't know what kind of equipment you have for making measurements but I fear that they may be of limited value. As I mentioned in the previous post you need to take into account that you are measuring not just the cart but the arm and turntable and these all effect each other.

It's not simply a question of mechanical compliance between arm and cartridge as you alluded to but the mechanical coupling between the plinth and the motorboard all of which feedback into the measurement to a greater or lesser degree especially comparing direct and belt drives.

This is why I thought the Dr. Freickert tools would be of particular interest if you want to do any meaningful measurements. These are pretty revolutionary in this respect and represent the first serious commercially available product to attempt this since JVC and Matsu****a were working on Quad in the 1970s. Of course they didn't have powerful desktop computers back then which is why the Adjust+ is a considerable step forward.

Similarly with tonearms not many publications attempt to measure these today. Hi-Fi World in the UK is a notable exception and they use a B&K Accelerometer which is a pretty expensive piece of kit. To find measurements of '70s vintage stuff I had to go back to Hi-Fi Choice yearbooks which I have a large collection of. You can see plots of various vintage and new tonearms posted in this thread for comparison http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f7/who...39/index2.html

As you can see the Technics SL1200 stock tonearm was no great shakes by 1970s standards. The SME 3009, a similar looking fifties design, was far superior which was why Technics usually fitted it the SL120, which in effect was an SL1200 for more discerning audiophiles. Of course Technics also made their own more expensive separate tonearms like the EPA 100 / 500 which were reference quality in the 1970s and are sought after collectors items today. But measurable benefits have been introduced especially at the lower end of the market with cheap single cast arms like the Rega which you can see in the traces

Similarly advances have been made in carts especially in magnets, since the 1980s and this allows lighter generators with less coils which is easily measurable as is stripping down the bodywork as you see on Benz and Lyra carts these days or using new non resonant composites in moldings like on the Ortofon Rhondo bodies.

As far as value for money in cartridges is concerned the Denon is an excellent product and of course benefits from analogous cost benefits due to scale of manufacture as the Technics SL1200. Similarly Denon carts havn't undergone much development since the 1980s at least or the 1960s if you look at their classic 103. Specialists like Eifl in Japan and many others around the world tweak these things by upgrading the generator or removing the can and here is where the cost comes in.

Making cartridges, like hand winding transformers for valve amps, is labour intensive and highly skilled work. Moving magnets can be stamped out on a production line because they are easier to make. Most moving coils are basically handmade so have always been more expensive.
post #13 of 54
I understand how to analyze mechanical system behavior(s), although I have not had specific experience with turntable systems. But it all seems very straight forward to me at this point. I have the required hardware and software to do sufficient analysis for my immediate purposes in order to carry out my planned test. I also have an accelerometer, though it's now low enough in mass to attach to the tone arm while it is functioning; it's mass would cause substantial shifts. So that unit is limited in usefulness to measuring parts other than the tone arm. But this is getting off track a bit - my first and fore most objective is to see just how much difference, audibly(not just graphs), under blinded conditions, can be present, comparing a sub optimal(technically) vintage arm/system to a supposedly very high quality modern arm/system. If the difference is non existent in actual listening, or so small as to be considered irrelevant(that is, hardly audible), then this will answer my question: does one really need to use expensive, super high-precision tone arms for nuetral/near-nuetral effect? Or will a somewhat 'good' design one, that is nothing excessive, do the trick?

If appreciable differences are audible under blinded conditions and with frequency response corrected/compensated, then further investigation/analysis would be warranted.

BTW, just for curiosity - do you have a measurement set in those mags for the Clearaudio Satisfy Aluminum arm?

-Chris


Quote:
Originally Posted by memepool View Post
I don't know what kind of equipment you have for making measurements but I fear that they may be of limited value. As I mentioned in the previous post you need to take into account that you are measuring not just the cart but the arm and turntable and these all effect each other.

It's not simply a question of mechanical compliance between arm and cartridge as you alluded to but the mechanical coupling between the plinth and the motorboard all of which feedback into the measurement to a greater or lesser degree especially comparing direct and belt drives.

This is why I thought the Dr. Freickert tools would be of particular interest if you want to do any meaningful measurements. These are pretty revolutionary in this respect and represent the first serious commercially available product to attempt this since JVC and Matsu****a were working on Quad in the 1970s. Of course they didn't have powerful desktop computers back then which is why the Adjust+ is a considerable step forward.

Similarly with tonearms not many publications attempt to measure these today. Hi-Fi World in the UK is a notable exception and they use a B&K Accelerometer which is a pretty expensive piece of kit. To find measurements of '70s vintage stuff I had to go back to Hi-Fi Choice yearbooks which I have a large collection of. You can see plots of various vintage and new tonearms posted in this thread for comparison http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f7/who...39/index2.html

As you can see the Technics SL1200 stock tonearm was no great shakes by 1970s standards. The SME 3009, a similar looking fifties design, was far superior which was why Technics usually fitted it the SL120, which in effect was an SL1200 for more discerning audiophiles. Of course Technics also made their own more expensive separate tonearms like the EPA 100 / 500 which were reference quality in the 1970s and are sought after collectors items today. But measurable benefits have been introduced especially at the lower end of the market with cheap single cast arms like the Rega which you can see in the traces

Similarly advances have been made in carts especially in magnets, since the 1980s and this allows lighter generators with less coils which is easily measurable as is stripping down the bodywork as you see on Benz and Lyra carts these days or using new non resonant composites in moldings like on the Ortofon Rhondo bodies.

As far as value for money in cartridges is concerned the Denon is an excellent product and of course benefits from analogous cost benefits due to scale of manufacture as the Technics SL1200. Similarly Denon carts havn't undergone much development since the 1980s at least or the 1960s if you look at their classic 103. Specialists like Eifl in Japan and many others around the world tweak these things by upgrading the generator or removing the can and here is where the cost comes in.

Making cartridges, like hand winding transformers for valve amps, is labour intensive and highly skilled work. Moving magnets can be stamped out on a production line because they are easier to make. Most moving coils are basically handmade so have always been more expensive.
post #14 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by searchenabler View Post
my first and fore most objective is to see just how much difference, audibly(not just graphs), under blinded conditions, can be present, comparing a sub optimal(technically) vintage arm/system to a supposedly very high quality modern arm/system. If the difference is non existent in actual listening, or so small as to be considered irrelevant(that is, hardly audible), then this will answer my question: does one really need to use expensive, super high-precision tone arms for nuetral/near-nuetral effect? Or will a somewhat 'good' design one, that is nothing excessive, do the trick?
You might be interested in reading the review of the Technics Sl-1200 (and a few different cartridges) David Rich wrote for $ensible Sound last year:

KAB Special Edition Technics SL-1200MK2SE and custom modifications. - Free Online Library

Rich is probably the most methodical/technical audio journalists working today (a reviewer who is actually an engineer), and spends some ink describing his testing methods. To do his cartridge evaluations, he made CD-R burns of the turntable output, so was able to do A-B comparisons endlessly.

The link above points only to the turntable review and his testing methodology. Cartridge reviews from the same issue are here:

http://www.kabusa.com/SS1200b.pdf
http://www.lpgear.com/images/at150mlx_review.pdf
http://www.lpgear.com/at440mla_review.pdf
post #15 of 54
I'm starting to believe that proper loading of carts is need to bring out the best in them. I remember a cart review of the budget nagaoka mp-11 on TNT audio that showed how much it can change the performance of a cart. Nagaoka MP11 phono cartridge - [English]

Differences in cabling between tone-arms will come into play as well as the loading on the preamp,. something to take into account when reading reviews or making comparisons.
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