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Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium, options for your turntable

Best cartridges Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best cartridges you can buy in 2019.

Looking for a new turntable? Hold your horses. You might be able to improve the sound of your current record player just by switching in a new cartridge. It's the 'don't move, improve' of the hi-fi world.

Turntable cartridges come in two types: moving magnet and moving coil. Moving magnet (often abbreviated to MM) cartridges have a cantilever which transfers the mechanical vibrations picked up from the record groove directly into the cartridge's magnet. Its constantly changing magnetic field creates a magnetic flow which generates an electromotive force in direct proportion to the vibrations. This signal is then amplified and turned back into sound by the speakers.

In order to use a moving magnet cartridge, your amplifier will need to have an MM phono input in order to boost the low voltage and drive the speakers.

A moving coil cartridge, however, has a fixed magnet and mobile coil. This coil moves within the magnetic field created by the fixed magnet, generating an electromotive force. Because its moving mass is much closer to the pivot point, it reduces inertia, creating a more hi-fidelity sound. The downside? Moving coil models tend to be more expensive.

We've included both types in our list, which runs from budget to break-the-bank. Take a look, and consider which could be the best cartridge for you. And with Black Friday around the corner, it's a good time to be keeping an eye out for bargains.

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Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium options for your turntable

1. Goldring E3

Well-balanced and adaptable, this is a fine affordable cartridge with a wide range of talents.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: Yes | Moving Coil: No | Cartridge weight: 6.9g | Nominal tracking weight: 2.0g | Tracking weight: 1.5–2.5g

Reasons to Buy

A refinement performer
Expressive
Plays nice with other kit

Reasons to Avoid

Nada at this price

This impressive Goldring initially went on sale for £100, but now can be had for under £70, which is fantastic value. Why? It's a cinch to fit and it's compatible with plenty of turntables, making it a very versatile cartridge indeed. The sound is clean and precise, with plenty of clarity and power where required. It also handles rhythm well, and has attack in spades. The perfect accompaniment to many a midrange deck and easily one of the best cartridges we've heard at the money.

Read the full review: Goldring E3

Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium options for your turntable

(Image credit: Goldring)

2. Goldring 1042

This Goldring takes a bit of effort to get in place, but the sound is worth it.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: Yes | Moving Coil: No | Cartridge weight: 7.6g | Nominal tracking weight: 1.70g | Tracking weight: 1.5–2.0g

Reasons to Buy

Great sense of timing
Good levels
Easy to replace

Reasons to Avoid

Tricky installation
Sensitive to set-up

Britain's oldest cartridge company doesn't disappoint with this model. The 1042 has been around since the 90s, so the fact it's still available is testament to its quality. It's made of Pocan, a glass-reinforced plastic material that’s high in rigidity, so it's definitely built to last. It might be tricky to fit, but once in place it will reward you handsomely: the sound is incredibly detailed, letting you deep into the recording, with next to no noise in the background. Well worth the effort.

Read the full review: Goldring 1042

Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium options for your turntable

(Image credit: Future)

3. Ortofon Quintet Blue

An excellent moving coil cartridge that's very modestly priced.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: No | Moving Coil: Yes | Cartridge weight: 9g | Nominal tracking weight: 2.3g | Tracking weight: 2.1–2.5g

Reasons to Buy

Detailed, precise
Plenty of expression
Simple to fit

Reasons to Avoid

Demands the right kit

Ortofon has been making turntable cartridges since 1948, and it seems like all its expertise went into this one. The Blue is a true five-star product: simple to fit, not too heavy, so easy to balance out, and capable of a sound that's worth every penny of its £300-odd asking price. It's an agile sound, with a high level of sonic precision that's brimming with detail. Plenty of refinement is evident too, and it's rhythmically surefooted with a good sense of attack. Just make sure you partner it with the right kit. Otherwise it'd be like fitting pram wheels to a Ferrari.

Read the full review: Ortofon Quintet Blue

Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium options for your turntable

(Image credit: Ortofon)

4. Ortofon 2M Red

A great upgrade or first stage cartridge for your turntable.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: Yes | Moving Coil: No | Cartridge weight: 7.2g | Nominal tracking weight: 1.8g | Tracking weight: 1.6–2.0g

Reasons to Buy

Excellent resolution
Decent midrange
Bags of insight

Reasons to Avoid

Could use more power

Another Ortofon, another great buy. This one is a lot more wallet-friendly than the Blue, but still puts in a great performance for the money. The midrange sounds full and expressive, especially vocals. Bass and treble also score well, though the former could do with a bit more presence. But that's a minor quibble. It's simple to fit and align, and provides a more than enjoyable listening experience. Proof that quality hi-fi needn't cost the earth.

Read the full review: Ortofon 2M Red

Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium options for your turntable

(Image credit: Nagaoka)

5. Nagaoka MP110

A fine first upgrade for turntable users.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: Yes | Moving Coil: No | Cartridge weight: 6.5g | Nominal tracking weight: 1.8g | Tracking weight: 1.5–2.0g

Reasons to Buy

Light, breezy sound
Good detail and insight

Reasons to Avoid

Could use more dynamics
Iffy treble

Easy to fit and align, this cheap and cheerful cartridge gives a bright, breezy listen that will immediately brighten up a dull system. It has a sweet midrange too. Downsides? The bass could do with a bit more authority, and the trebly is a touch edgier than similarly priced rivals. But in terms of dynamics, this cartridge punches way above its weight, sounding like a much pricier model. If you're on a budget, it's well worth investigating.

Read the full review: Nagaoka MP110

Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium options for your turntable

(Image credit: Ortofon)

6. Ortofon 2m Blue MM

A steady hand that lets music shine through.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: Yes | Moving Coil: No | Cartridge weight: 7.2g | Nominal tracking weight: 1.8g | Tracking weight: 1.6–2.0g

Reasons to Buy

Great timing
Dynamically surefooted
Easy to install

Reasons to Avoid

Could use more insight
Too much background noise

This is a step up from the 2M Red in the number four slot in this list, and as such it's a little more pricey. It has the same angular body of the Red, and has a removable stylus that's easy to replace should it break or wear out. The unit feels well built, despite its largely plastic construction, while getting it set up isn't too tricky if you know what you're doing. So, sound? The Blue delivers a real sense of vitality to recordings, and brings a good sense of timing to proceedings. If you can put up with a little more background noise than some rivals, this is a very capable little cartridge indeed.

Read the full review: Ortofon 2m Blue MM

Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium options for your turntable

(Image credit: Audio Technica)

7. Audio Technica AT-F7

It might be a bit fiddly, but once installed you'll reap the rewards.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: No | Moving Coil: Yes | Cartridge weight: 5g | Nominal tracking weight: 2.0g | Tracking weight: 1.8–2.2g

Reasons to Buy

Refined sound
Brilliant for acoustic music
Solid build quality

Reasons to Avoid

Timing could be better
Fitting it is difficult

Audio Technica has been making turntable cartridges since the vinyl heyday of the 1970s, and its models come in all shapes and sizes, to suit all budgets. This is one step up from entry-level, but you could be mistaken for thinking it's a lot pricier. The build quality is superb, feeling satisfyingly hefty in the hand. But it sounds beautifully refined, while still managing to pack plenty of impact. It's more suited to music that's on the more delicate side, rather than exploding with energy. As many would agree, that's no bad thing.

Read the full review: Audio Technica AT-F7

Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium options for your turntable

(Image credit: Goldring)

8. Goldring 2500

Easy to fit, and well worth a listen.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: Yes | Moving Coil: No | Cartridge weight: 8.6g | Nominal tracking weight: 1.7g | Tracking weight: 1.5–2.0g

Reasons to Buy

Full-throated audio 
Fits easily 
Great tonal balance and detail

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

Despite its lack of straight sides, the 2500 is easy to set up, thanks to its easy-to-align shell and use of captive nuts. And once set up it sounds assured and silky smooth, with a nicely handled tonal balance providing crisp treble, clear midrange and bass that's tighter than a worm's belt. There's plenty of warmth to the vocals too, giving songs a good deal of emotional punch. These sonic skills mean tunes are packed full of detail too, with impressive dynamics. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable listen.

Read the full review: Goldring 2500

Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium options for your turntable

(Image credit: Future)

9. Pro-ject Pick-it DS2

This moving coil cartridge bursting with talent and musicality.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: No | Moving Coil: Yes | Cartridge weight: 9g | Nominal tracking weight: 2.2g | Tracking weight: 2.0–2.5g

Reasons to Buy

Entertaining sound
Simple to fit
Gets the best out of any genre

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing

The DS2's body is made of a synthetic polymer and shaped by laser, in a bid to create a low-resonance base and help performance. And it works. The sound is thoroughly robust and dynamically expressive, with plenty of punch and bags of bass. The presentation is composed, and there's a ton of detail to get your teeth into. It's a doddle to fit and align too, thanks to its square-shaped body. A truly capable and musical performer.

Read the full review: Pro-ject Pick-it DS2

Best cartridges 2019: budget and premium options for your turntable

(Image credit: Future)

10. Roksan Corus2

A capable cartridge, but it could do with a touch more verve.

SPECIFICATIONS

Moving Magnet: Yes | Moving Coil: No | Cartridge weight: 8g | Nominal tracking weight: 2.0g | Tracking weight: 1.8–2.2g

Reasons to Buy

Measured presentation
Accurate sound
Tons of detail

Reasons to Avoid

Could be more thrilling
Awkward to set up

This generation of Roksan cartridge has been 30 years in the making, so to say anticipation is high is something of an understatement. It's a pretty heavy unit, and is a little fiddly to fit. But the sound is more than worth it. It's a refined, precise presentation, with tunes sounding crisp and detailed. The soundstage is wide and expansive - the sonic equivalent of a rolling vista - and there's a great level of insight. It treads a fine line tonally too, with plenty of body and authority. At times it lacks a little verve, but overall it's at home playing host to a wide range of musical styles and genres.

Read the full review: Roksan Corus2