2024’s Best Cartridges, Tonearms and Headshells | Buyers Guide 2024

2024's Best Cartridges

Welcome to 2024’s Best Cartridges, Tonearms and Headshells section from the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide.

We’re not saying that these are the “best” cartridges, tonearms and headshells or that these choices somehow overrule anyone else’s favorites. We’re saying that these are the products we’ve reviewed, owned, or have had extended experience when it comes to performance and sound quality. This is the gear that we, the staff of Part-Time Audiophile, recommend.

2024’s Best Cartridges, Tonearms and Headshells

ortofon 2m red

Ortofon 2M Red ($99 USD)

Some of us believe that the moving-magnet 2M Red is THE cartridge for $100, while a few others believe it’s the only one worth considering at the price. There is some grain at the top, and a slightly thin balance, but the tonality is exceptional in its class. Added bonus: the upgrade path through the 2M line, a mere swapping of the stylii, is as simple as it gets.

Ortofon 2M Blue ($189 USD)

For many years, the high-output MM Ortofon 2M Blue phono cartridges have been the safe choice to recommend to your friends with simple analog rigs such as the lesser Regas, Pro-Jects and Fluances. The Blue might not be the last word in detail, and there is a bit of grain in the upper registers, but that’s only in comparison to cartridges that cost a lot more. It’s still one of 2024’s best cartridges due to its amazing performance with the Music Hall Stealth turntable.

sumiko amethyst

Sumiko Amethyst MM ($599 USD)

It’s rare when a high-output MM cartridge crosses the PTA threshold, but we’re always interested in a over-achieving MM that can emulate the sound of a moving coil. We found the Amethyst to be punchy and rhythmic, prompting us to bring out our classic rock albums from the ’60s and ’70s. “If you’re still loyal to MM, the Sumiko Amethyst has to be one of the most musical and balanced choices you can make.”

2024's best cartridges

Zu Audio DL-103 Mk. II ($599-$1,319 USD, depending upon grade)

The Zu Audio version of the legendary Denon DL-103 phono cartridges still retains the motor of the original, while substituting an Alcoa alloy body. The Mk. II version of the Zu also changes the shape of the housing for more strength, and adds a new epoxy that reduces noise and stabilizes the stylus assembly. “The midrange is rich in a way that would never be considered neutral, but is recognizable and touches the spirit down to the roots,” our reviewer concluded.

zyx bloom 3 cartridge

ZYX Bloom 3 ($1,200 USD)

ZYX makes some of the finest phono cartridges in the world—at a significant price. (See examples below.) But their entry level model, the Bloom 3, offers a considerable chunk of the musically honest and transparent sound of the bigger boys at a price that seems way too reasonable. “This sounds like most $3000-$4000 cartridges from other manufacturers,” we decided. Winner of an Editor’s Choice award.

phono cartridges

Hana ML ($1,200 USD)

Until recently, when this Japanese cartridge manufacturer announced the new $3,950 Umami Red, the ML was the flagship in the Hana line–and it sounded like a true flagship despite its very modest price. Hana has a no-nonsense way of making phono cartridges that keeps the costs relatively low while preserving an unusually high level of performance, and we found that the ML was perfectly at home with some very expensive analog rigs. Next to the original Denon 103, this might be the biggest bargain in phono cartridges.

Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe

Audio Note UK IQ III MM ($1,249)

One of 2024’s best cartridges is a moving-magnet design, which surprised the reviewer to no end. When used with the Audio Note UK TT-Two Deluxe turntable with the Arm Three tonearm, as well as Audio Note UK’s R-Zero II MM phono stage, we heard an MM sound incredibly close to MC cartridges at this price point. It features a Pocon body with integral mounting threads for easy installation, and these materials bring the IQ III in at a relatively light 6.3 grams. “There’s a liveliness and vigor about the AN sound that is really different than most of the high-end audio gear out there.” A Reviewers Choice winner.


ZYX Ultimate 100 ($2,195 USD)

One step up from the amazing ZYX Bloom 3 is the Ultimate 100, which “is all that and more for a moderate bump up in price.” We felt the Ultimate 100 possessed many of the same attributes as the scary-priced carts out there–smooth, liquid midrange and just the right amount of detail–leading us to proclaim that the ZYX is off the charts when it comes to the price-performance ratio.

luxman lmc-5
Luxman LMC-5 ($2,695 USD)

Luxman’s first MC design in 40 years is one of 2024’s best cartridges. Its unique aluminum body offers multiple advantages when it comes to controlling resonance, proper cueing and even protecting the stylus. With its diamond Shibata-profile stylus and stunning looks, the LMC-5 offers the same elusive mystique of the great Japanese cartridges of the past for a very reasonable price. “You hear a tonality that draws you in and makes you wonder if this is merely different, or specifically right and you’re hearing it for the first time,” we decided, handing the Luxman a well-deserved Reviewers Choice Award.

sumiko celebration 40

Sumiko Celebration 40 ($2,799 USD)

This version of the venerable wooden-bodied Celebration cartridge honors Sumiko’s 40th anniversary by adding the micro-ridge stylus from the Palo Santos, and using “plumwood” as opposed to the traditional pearwood for the body. We found the 40 to be “the ultimate chill-out cartridge with its huge sense of space and three-dimensionality.”

zyx airy

ZYX Ultimate Airy X ($3,295 USD)

Moving up from the wondrous Bloom 3 and Ultimate 100, which we love and admire enough to own, the Ultimate Airy X features the new C-1000 carbon cantilever–made from 1000 pieces–which makes it more rigid and lighter than most materials and truly makes this cartridge sing. The Airy was “the one that makes us deliriously happy for a very reasonable price, the one that’s accompanying us to the next level of analog playback.” A Reviewer’s Choice winner and still one of 2024’s best cartridges.

2024's best cartridges

Ana Mighty Sound TSD-15N (starting at $3,500 EU)

This French company is well-known for its superb cartridge re-tipping and re-building work, and now they’ve decided to use a “skeleton” of the lauded EMT TSD-15 as a launching pad for their own designs. (There are four versions, which vary in coil materials and impedance.) “The copper-coiled Ana Mighty Sound TDS-15N carries all the traits which are found in ultra high-end top shelve cartridges, namely minute details, frequency extension, dynamic contrast as well as an ultra-quiet background.”

2024's best cartridges

Vertere Acoustics Mystic ($3,599 USD)

This British cartridge from the mind of Touraj Moghaddam measures razor flat, and offers a completely balanced sound which includes “an articulate and detailed top end, with mids that were clear and rich without conspicuous coloration and bass that was tight and linear without feeling dry or overdamped.”

hana umami red

Hana Umami Red ($3,950 USD)

If Hana can make $1,200 phono cartridges that sound like $4,000 cartridges, what happens when they actually make a $4000 cartridge? The answer is the Umami Red, which is unusually transparent while also being a “Bali Hai” cartridge–warm and breezy and huge in sound. We found it to be a stunning match with the Technics SL-1200G and 1210-GAE turntables. A Reviewer’s Choice winner.

2024's best cartridges

Charisma Audio Signature One ($3,990 USD)

Bernard Li of Toronto-based Charisma Audio has come up with a winner for his flagship Signature One moving coil cartridge. The Ebony bodied Signature One features a Ruby cantilever with a super fine line contact stylus that produces a richly detailed, dynamic, and vividly holographic soundscape. The medium-low 0.4 mV output means you won’t need crazy amounts of gain from your phono stage to make those shiny black discs come alive.

allnic audio amber

Allnic Audio Amber MC ($5,100 USD)

This Korean-made low-output MC immediately distinguished itself by its ability to provide a flabbergasting amount of inner detail without once sounding bright or harsh. Allnic moves the coils closer to the stylus, away from the pivot, which results in this greater detail, and the “cutter head” type of design employs a new rubber damper along with copper clad aluminum (CCA) coils. A Reviewer’s Choice winner.

van den hul crimson

Van den Hul Crimson XGW Stradivarius ($5,495 USD)

Crimson means it’s the second line from the top. XGW means it has cross coils that are gold, along with a wooden koa body. And Stradivarius means the body has been coated with the same 400-year-old recipe used for the famous violins. The Crimson was exceptionally detailed and neutral, with “the same sweet, extended highs that first reeled me in when I fell for hi-rez digital streaming.” A Reviewers Choice award winner.

2024's best cartridges

Koetsu Urushi Black ($6,495 USD)

Returning to Koetsu after at least a dozen years of self-imposed exile, we found all of the mystique and inner beauty of these Japanese phono cartridges to be undiminished since the passing of Sugano-san. The Black Urushi is part of Koetsu’s lacquer-bodied, silver-plated coil line and it’s saturated with that “lit from within” energy that makes music just a touch more beautiful, a touch more rewarding–especially with the Koetsu Stepup Transformer ($4,995). A Reviewer’s Choice winner and one of 2024’s best cartridges–despite some uncertainty that this legendary manufacturer will survive in the future.

soundsmith hyperion

Soundsmith Hyperion II ($7,999.95 USD)

Peter Ledermann explained it best when he said this about the Hyperion’s cactus-needle cantilever, which offer exception stiffness and damping: “Humans have been designing cantilevers for LPs for 70 years, but nature has been making perfect ones for millions of years.” The sound of the Hyperion is so incisive and yet so listenable—it’s one of the few phono cartridges out there that seem impervious to any kind of tension or stress. Yep, one of 2024’s best cartridges uses cactus needles.

2024's best cartridges

Acoustical Systems Palladian ($11,995 USD)

We used the Palladium with the stunning Acoustic Signature Typhoon NEO and T-5000 tonearm and found that grooves and textures leapt out of the speakers. “It blossomed into a full, warm-yet-ultra-detailed thing of beauty,” we proclaimed. A Reviewer’s Choice award winner.

2024's best cartridges

Lyra Atlas λ Lambda SL ($12,995 USD)

The speed and the accuracy of the original Atlas is intact, but with the new Lambda SL the music is imbued with more passion. The SL now carries some of those qualities we love in wood phono cartridges, an almost a tube-like quality has been added when compared to the original Atlas. Dynamic and super accurate, the Lambda SL now brings about more soul—it’s also one of the best phono cartridges ever to ride the grooves in Mohammed Samji’s home.

phono cartridges

ZYX Universe Optimum 1 Ohm ($16,995 USD)

At this price it shouldn’t surprise you that this ZYX is one of 2024’s best cartridges, but we were still amazed at just how good it really is. With such a low impedance and an output of just 0.12 mV, you’ll need the right ancillaries to make the Optimum work, but you’ll be rewarded with a cartridge that possesses a “greater sense of realism” than most of the competitors. “Astonishment, personified,” we concluded.

analogmagik fidelity research


AnalogMagik Fidelity Research FR-64S to FR-66S Conversion ($1,200 USD)

This conversion kit from our own Richard H. Mak requires that you already own a Fidelity Research FR-64S, which will cost you $1,500 to $2,500 USD on the used market. But here’s the catch: this $1,200 kit turns the 10″ FR-64 into a 12″ FR-66, and the ’66s usually fetch around $10K. You’re basically getting a new, longer arm tube and two counterweights, but the result will be a classic tonearm that many enjoy far more than modern designs.

The Best Phono Cartridges

Sorane TA-1L ($1,875 USD)

From the Japanese company formerly known as Abis, this elegant and simple 12.7″ tonearm was well-made, easy to set up and a pleasure to pair with the Gem Dandy PolyTable Signature. Add the ZYX Ultimate Airy cartridge and you have a modestly-priced analog rig that makes a compelling argument for the most performance for under $10K complete. Winner of a Reviewer’s Choice award.


Pear Audio Blue Cornet 2 ($2,495 USD)

The Cornet 2 is a unipivot design that is unusual in regards to maintaining azimuth and avoiding silicone with a “special material, developed with viscosity properties that do not flow and do not require settling time.” The carbon fiber arm tube arranges the fibers lengthwise for greater resonance control and rigidity. A Reviewers Choice award winner, and one of our go-to arms for 2024’s best cartridges.

the wand

The Wand Master Series (starting at $2,500 USD)

The flagship Master Series of unipivot tonearms from New Zealand’s The Wand features an unusually thick carbon-fiber arm tube that is much more rigid than normal tubes, and enough accessories to mount it on many, many different ‘tables. (It comes in 9.5”, 10.3” and 12” lengths.) Competitive with much more expensive arms, The Wand will convince you that a properly designed tonearm can have a huge impact on the sound of your analog rig.

best tonearms

Vertere Acoustics SG-1 Mk. II (from $2,995 USD)

The SG-1 proves that designer Touraj Moghaddam has thought more about counterweight design, and how it contributes to the entire performance of the tonearm, than almost anyone else. A lower center of gravity from this arrangement, combined with a tri-point articulated bearing that acts like a unipivot but isn’t, makes the modestly-priced SG-1 a winner: “With its dead quiet rendering of vinyl, it brought a great certainty and ease to anything played.”

best tonearms

Audio Origami PU-7 ($4,395 USD)

We reviewed the Audio Origami tonearm from Scotland with the now-defunct Palmer 2.5i turntable–it’s a synergistic match that sells extremely well out there in the audiophile world. But the PU-7 excels because it is so unfussy about set-up. It moves with precision and deliberation, and avoids all possible quirks (except for a headshell that’s a little too big if you’re using a record clamp or weight). Also ideal for Linn LP-12s.

brinkmann 12.5 arm with zyx ultimate airy

Brinkmann 12.1 ($6,890 USD)

The Brinkmann 12.1 tonearm–yes, the model number refers to its length–is an endlessly fascinating piece of gear that is based on the remarkable Breuer arms, regarded by some of us as the finest tonearm ever built. Tight tolerances in the bearings are one of the keys to its excellence. Together with the Brinkmann Taurus turntable, the 12.1 received a Reviewers Choice award.

The Best Phono Cartridges

Acoustic Signature TA-5000 ($7,895 USD)

This German tonearm features a triple-layer carbon armtube, high-purity silver wiring and SKF hybrid bearings for “super-clean” analog playback that bordered on “digital clarity.”  Our reviewer “heard a whole lot more of what I love about playing records when we played them on the Acoustic Signature TA-5000 setup.” A Reviewer’s Choice winner.

best cartridges

Thales Simplicity II ($9,450 USD)

The Simplicity II is a pivoted tangential arm which moves like a normal pivoted arm, but it has the ability to move its headshell so that it tracks like a linear tracking arm. It’s an ingenious design which combines the strength of both a pivoted tonearm and a linear tracker, without sharing much of their weaknesses. This is an elegant design with ultra-precise machining quality.

best cartridges

Glanz MH-124S Premium ($26,500 USD)

Sure, that’s a lot of money for just a tonearm. But this Japanese design answered our question about these types of lofty designs: “How can perfection be made any better?” Coated with DLC (Diamond-like Carbon), the Glanz achieves new levels of hardness, damping and efficient energy transfer. “If the price is no object, then the Glanz MH124S Premium tonearm will surely hold a permanent position in [the] arsenal of the world’s best tonearms.”

The Best Phono Cartridges

Headshells (Removable)

Nasotec 202A1 “Swing” ($359.99 USD)

This unique headshell moves somewhat freely on the lateral plane, which reduces stylus wear and ensures that phono cartridges are equally balanced in the groove. Its inherent wiggliness makes cueing a new adventure, but the Nasotec is also effective at eliminating tracking distortion.

The Best Phono Cartridges

DS Audio HS-001 ($450 USD)

Beautiful fit and finish, robust leads and a mechanical integrity that brings out improved performance–this Japanese headshell is a superb choice for Technics SL-1200G and 1210-GAE turntables. Our reference for 2024’s best cartridges and tonearms.


ZYX Live18 ($700 USD)

Tooled from a single block of aluminum, the Live18 has been optimized for ZYX phono cartridges but will improve performance in your analog rig by reducing standing wave resonances. A perfect match for 2024’s best cartridges.

Acoustical Systems Arche ($795 USD)

Heavy and complex, this headshell’s major innovation is that you can make all of your adjustments while the phono cartridges and headshells are already mounted on the tonearm. Structurally sound to the point where the Arche seems to improve the sound of every analog rig.

The Best Phono Cartridges

If you would like to hear even more on our choices for the 2024 Buyers Guide, check out our tips, picks and highlights in our audiophile-oriented show The Occasional Podcast. You can stream the episode direct from the embed below, or from your favorite podcast platform including iTunesAndroidGoogle, Deezer, SpotifyiHeartRadio and more.

Check out the rest of the 2024 Buyers Guide:

Best Bookshelf Speakers

Best Floorstanding Speakers

Best Integrated Amplifiers

Best Power Amplifiers

Best Preamplifiers

Best Turntables

Best Phono Preamplifiers and SUTs

Best Cartridges, Tonearms and Headshells

Best Digital Playback

Best Headphone Gear

Best Cables, Power Management and Grounding

Best Hi-Fi Accessories