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Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite Phono Cartridges

My favorite MM and MC phono cartridges of 2022 priced from $190 to $899.

Goldring Eroica HX Phono Cartridge

The recently released RIAA H1 2022 Recorded Music Revenue Report offered a rather interesting snapshot of where we are in the United States in terms of music consumption, but it was also notable for some trends that can’t be swept under the rug. 

Physical music sales only represent 10% of the total market in 2022; streaming is now 84% of the market and while there was not a huge uptick for audiophile platforms like TIDAL, Qobuz, and Deezer — they are not going away anytime soon. 

Vinyl sales jumped 22% during the first 6 months of 2022, but there are some takeaways from that modest level of growth as we move into the post-pandemic economy that is hampered by high inflation, and supply chain issues that persist.

During the same period in 2021, vinyl sales surged by over 97% — record stores were still closed in many places so consumers were forced to purchase vinyl online, there were 2 Record Store Day events, live music venues were still shuttered, and people were not traveling.

I was very fortunate to listen to 9 new phono cartridges in 2022 and with the exception of only one — they were all generally affordable.

Very few consumers are going to spend over $500 on a new phono cartridge and that’s perfectly fine. With consumers purchasing at least 200,000 new audiophile turntables in 2022 so far, there is an opportunity for the cartridge manufacturers to offer a logical upgrade path that won’t turn new vinyl listeners off and keep existing audiophiles well stocked for the rest of the decade.

Grado Labs Prestige Red3 Phono Cartridge atop Box '53
Grado Labs Prestige Red3

Grado Labs Prestige Red3 ($190 USD)

Can an inexpensive phono cartridge elevate the sound quality of your turntable? It has always been my advice to invest a majority of your budget in a better turntable and only upgrade the phono cartridge after you have had some time to figure out the table and its base sonic signature.

Even on a table as affordable as the Andover Audio SpinDeck Max, the $190 USD Grado Labs Prestige Red3 proved to be a genuine surprise. 

Grado does offer some rather expensive phono cartridges but the vast majority of its sales are below $300 and products like the Red3 make one question why you need to spend a lot more; I will continue to belabor the point that one should invest more in the turntable and use an overachieving cartridge like the Grado Labs Prestige Red3 or Timbre Opus3Denon DL-103Nagaoka MP-110, or Ortofon 2M Blue instead. 

Grado doesn’t promote the Red3 as much as the Black3 or Gold3, but it might be the place to start if you’re looking to upgrade the cartridge on your affordable new table or if you’re looking for something for an older vintage turntable.

The high output widens its appeal and it doesn’t fall into the trap of being really good at 1-2 areas and only average in the rest. The midrange is not as warm as you might expect from a Grado cartridge but the newfound detail and clarity really makes it work with a wider range of components and loudspeakers — which means that it can grow with you as your system improves.

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Where to buy$190 at Audio Advice | 4OurEars

Grado Timbre Opus3 Phono Cartridge
Grado Labs Timbre Opus3

Grado Labs Timbre Opus3 ($275)

Spending $3,000 on a phono cartridge is stupid. I would rather buy a $300 cartridge and spend the balance on records because of the long-term return on investment.

The Opus3 is nestled inside a Maple housing (8 grams) and I discovered that it sounded the best on my vintage Yamaha YP-701 and the replacement Ortofon LH-2000 Headshell that I ordered during the pandemic for another cartridge.

The cantilever is made from aluminum and the Opus3 uses an elliptical diamond stylus; mounting the cartridge was quite easy and I settled on a tracking force of 1.8 grams which was within the range but closer to the very top. 

Grado offers multiple versions of the Opus3 including the high output (4mV) version supplied, a low output model (1.0mV), and a mono version as well.

Presence, tone, texture, and detail have to be present or it’s just some flat rendition of something that doesn’t engage you at all. The Grado Labs Opus3 succeeds in every way with the kind of vocals that I enjoy listening to and that makes it a keeper.

If your budget ceiling is $300, the Grado Labs Timbre Opus3 is definitely a high-output cartridge to seriously consider. 

Where to buy$275 at Amazon | 4ourears

Sumiko Blue Point No. 3 High Output MC Phono Cartridge Front
Sumiko Blue Point No. 3 High Output MC Phono Cartridge

Sumiko Blue Point No. 3 ($499 USD)

Sumiko is one of our favorite phono cartridge brands and the Japanese manufacturer doesn’t update its extensive lineup unless the changes are significant. They consistently deliver great sound quality, excellent tracking, and long-term reliability; they didn’t become one of the most popular audiophile cartridge brands by accident. 

The Sumiko Blue Point No. 3 High and Sumiko Blue Point No. 3 Low phono cartridges replace the venerable Blue Point No. 2. Featuring a similar low-internal vibration body and mounting block as the recently updated moving magnet (MM) line, the Blue Point No. 3 is able to separate the cartridge’s generator from mechanical vibration more effectively than ever before.

The result is an affordable moving coil (MC) design that produces unparalleled detail and stereo separation. 

Both models benefit from a new shell design and a smoothly bevelled front fascia that allows for excellent visibility of the stylus tip when mounting. 

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The Blue Point No.3 High continues Sumiko’s history of affordable, high performance MC cartridges designs that are compatible with any MM phono stage.

Eric Pye and I both spent some time with the Blue Point No. 3 and his comments made me order my own because we use similar types of vintage turntables and listen to the same kinds of music.

Instrumental separation and soundstage are excellent. Instruments and voices are clearly differentiated, and placement of each performer in relation to the listener easily discernable.

The $499 asking price will deter some because $500 is the absolute ceiling for most consumers when it comes to phono cartridges but it’s definitely worth the money and proof that you can find a high-performance MC for $500 in 2022. Just ask Denon and Sumiko.

Where to buy$499 at Crutchfield (High Output) | $499 at Crutchfield (Low Output)

Goldring Eroica HX angled

Goldring Eroica HX ($899)

I’ve only spent over $500 on a phono cartridge thrice in 52 years; I paid over $1,000 CDN for a Benz Micro Glider SL in 1999, $750 for a Dynavector 10×5, and $750 USD for the Ortofon 2M Black in 2018.

A very clumsy human being destroyed the Benz Micro Glider and that really made me reconsider the expensive cartridge thing for almost 18 years; the 2M Black on my restored Thorens TD-160 Super/Rega RB-303 is better than I could ask for and the Dynavector gets used a lot on my Thorens TD-145 MKII.

If the Goldring Eroica HX Moving Coil Cartridge offers the kind of performance for the money that made me open the wallet for the Goldring E3, this might be a phono cartridge to consider going forward for audiophiles looking for a high output MC that really digs out the detail.

Goldring doesn’t get the same attention from the audio press like Ortofon, Sumiko, or Grado Labs — but it definitely makes phono cartridges that are just as good, and even better value in some cases.

At $899 USD, the Goldring Eroica HX faces some stiff competition from the Ortofon 2M Black, Hana SL, and Dynavector 10×5 MKII cartridges — but my time with it over the past month convinces me that it belongs in the same conversation.

The 2.5mV output matches the Dynavector but that’s where the similarities end; the 10×5 is a warmer and rounded off at both extremes whilst the Eroica HX is vibrant and transparent from top to bottom. Clarity? I hate the “like looking through an open window” expression because it’s totally untrue.

My review is forthcoming in December and I would hold off on any MC purchases until then.

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Where to buy: $899 at goldringusa.com

Related Reading

Best Affordable Audiophile Turntables

5 Vintage Turntables for Your Stereo System

Editors’ Choice 2022: My Favorite Turntables

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Kenneth Anderson

    December 1, 2022 at 6:10 am

    Is it really worth it? I have 4 Technics SL-Q2 tables. Using Pickering V15, Audio Technica AT-320, Shure N97ED and Shure N-95 respectively. Can’t tell differences between these cartridges on the same turntable. I have owned one of these turntables since I bought it new in 1979.

    • Ian White

      December 1, 2022 at 12:04 pm

      Kenneth,

      I can hear the differences between all of these cartridges. I’ve run them on multiple decks and they don’t sound similar at all.

      Love the Shure carts.

      Best,

      Ian White

  2. John Phelps

    December 1, 2022 at 2:48 pm

    Great recommendations, I agree that the Grado Opus3 is an excellent sounding cartridge and a bargain. In my experience better cartridges like the Opus3 also benefit from precise alignment, I’ve had good luck with the MoFi Geodisc.

  3. Ron

    December 1, 2022 at 7:01 pm

    I have great speakers, great Eq, and awesome amp, and would never spend that much on a cartridge.

  4. Greg Anderson

    December 7, 2022 at 1:53 am

    Great review! I used to think the only thing that affected sound signature and quality were speakers, and in the case of records, the phono cartridge. Now I know the difference good electronics make. But still, a good carts mounted on a good, quiet, steady ‘table really makes vinyl happen. And every cart has its own character.

  5. Fred

    January 4, 2023 at 3:03 pm

    This article’s timing is perfect. My YP-701 needs a new cart and it is nice to get a direct recommendation for that TT.

    • Ian White

      January 4, 2023 at 4:35 pm

      Fred,

      I’ve very happy with the Grado on that table. I did need to change the head shell to the aforementioned Ortofon.

      Best,

      Ian White

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