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12 Best Cartridges for Rega Planar 3 (RP3)

I have finally upgraded to a Rega Planar 3 turntable and a NEO PSU. It is something I have been thinking about it for a long time. Hopefully, this will be my end-game turntable.

Now, the big question is what cartridge to put on it.

The Rega Exact cartridge I use on my old Rega Planar 2 has been amazing. But I am tempted to try something different on the Planar 3.

In my search for the perfect Planar 3 cartridge, I ended up with a list of 12 cartridges that seem to be the most popular and highest rated by the vinyl community.

I have shared my findings in the reviews below. I hope it can be of value if you are evaluating Planar 3 cartridges as well.

PS! I will discuss VTA and the need for spacers towards the end of the article, including Rega’s own advice on the subject.

#1. Ortofon 2M Bronze

Price: Click to check price on Amazon

Type: Moving Magnet

Stylus: Nude Fine Line

Output Level: 5mV

Rec. loading: 47kOhm/150-300pF

Weight: 7.2 grams

Rec. VTF: 1.5 grams

Height: 18mm

Rec. spacer height: 3-4mm (recommended)

The Ortofon 2M Bronze sits between the Blue and the flagship Black in Ortofon’s range of 2M moving magnet cartridges. The Bronze shares the same body as the top-of-the-line 2M Black, but it has a Nude Fine Line stylus whereas the Black has a Nude Shibata stylus.

What does the community say?

The Ortofon 2M Bronze is considered a great cartridge for Planar 3. I found it to be one of the most frequently recommended. Smoother sounding than the 2M Blue. Offers comparable performance as the Rega Exact, but with a slightly more open and forward personality. The Exact is regarded as more relaxed and laid-back. The Ortofon 2M Bronze is tall and seems to be a cartridge that benefits most from spacers. It is also reported to be quite sensitive to VTA. 3-4 mm spacers are recommended to eliminate IGD and sibilance issues.

My thoughts

I have tested the Ortofon 2M Blue on my Audio-Technica turntable and I find it to be too harsh and “soulless” sounding for my ears and system. What I found from research is that the Bronze is significantly sweeter and smoother sounding than the Blue, without sacrificing details. So, I shouldn’t let my experience with the Blue scare me away from the Bronze.

I was very close to put an Ortofon 2M Bronze on my trusted Planar 2 when I upgraded from the stock Rega Carbon, but I decided on a Rega Exact in the end. Mainly because the Exact is simpler to fit using Ragas 3-point-system and doesn’t need spacers.

PROS

  • Nicely priced for Planar 3
  • Good all-rounder
  • Becomes a 2M Black with only a stylus upgrade

CONS

  • Seem to require spacers, sensitive to VTA
  • IGD and sibilance problems seem not too uncommon

#2. Ortofon 2M Black

Price: Click to check price on Amazon

Type: Moving Magnet

Stylus: Nude Shibata

Replaceable stylus: Yes 

Output Level: 5mV

Rec. loading: 47kOhm/150-300pF

Weight: 7.2 grams

Rec. VTF: 1.5 grams

Height: 18mm

Rec. spacer height: 3-4mm (recommended)

The Ortofon 2M Black is Ortofon’s flagship MM cartridge. It is considered a true high-end MM cartridge that performs very well on Rega Planar 3. The 2M Black shares body with the 2M Bronze, but it has a Shibata stylus. You can upgrade from a 2M Bronze to a 2M Black by changing the stylus and keep the Bonze’s body.

What does the community say?

The Ortofon 2M Black is a fantastic cartridge for the Planar 3 but requires spacers as it is quite sensitive to VTA. Needs to be set up accurately to sound its best. The Black is more detailed and open than the Bronze. Sounds closer to a top MC cartridge. Could be the best MM cartridge on sale today. Performance is in another world than the Rega Elys. Claimed to outperform the Rega Exact with deeper and cleaner bass, more accurate midrange, and smoother and more accurate treble.

My thoughts

The 2M Black is very tempting because it might close the gap to many MC cartridges on details and dynamics without triggering the need for a step-up transformer or a MC compatible preamp.

My primary concern is that its detailed nature might become fatiguing over the long haul, just as I experienced with the 2M Blue. I am a fan of systems that are on the laid-back and relaxed side of the spectrum, but that is a personal thing.

Another factor, probably not a major for most vinyl enthusiasts, but I think the 2M Black is the cartridge that looks the best of the bunch on the RB330 tonearm. Might be an argument for those interested in design and interior. Or if you need a selling point to convince your wife.

PROS

  • Arguably the best performing MM cartridge on sale
  • MC-like sound without a step-up transformer or MC phonostage
  • Might be the endgame cartridge for the Planar 3 – could eliminate the urge for further upgrades

CONS

  • Require spacers for optimal performance, sensitive to VTA
  • Not the cheapest cartridge on this list
  • Might become fatiguing for some listeners with analytical systems?

#3. Audio-Technica VM95ML

Price: Click to check price on Amazon

Type: Moving Magnet

Stylus: Microline

Replaceable stylus: Yes

Output Level: 3.5 mV

Rec. loading: 47kOhm/100-200pF

Weight: 6.1 grams

Rec. VTF: 2.0 grams

Height: 17.2mm

Rec. spacer height: 2mm (optional)

The VM95ML is Audio-Technica’s cheapest cartridge that features the highly rated microline stylus. It sits below the VM540ML and VM740ML in Audio-Technica’s range of microline MM cartridges.

What does the community say?

Compared to the relatively similarly priced Rega Elys, the VM95ML is often regarded as more open and less (falsely) warm. It might also have a slightly slimmer low-end than the Elys. The VM95ML furthermore seems to have a much broader fanbase than the similarly priced Ortofon 2M Blue, which vinyl enthusiasts tend to either love or hate because of its very detailed and (for some ears) slightly harsh sound character. For its price, the VM95ML is known to perform extremely well. A safe bet if you are looking for a good all-rounder in this price range. Its performance seems to be a positive surprise to many enthusiasts that try it. Could be one of the true over-performers out there.

My thoughts

I am very intrigued by the VM95ML as a high value for money proposition, but I am worried that it might just come short as a long-term cartridge to extract the potential from the Planar 3. I do, however, believe this is the best “budget option” out there if you need to start out with a lower priced cart. Or you might already have one laying around, in that case, fit it to the Planar 3 and enjoy it until you have the funds for something even better.

PROS

  • Great tracker
  • Six interchangeable replacement styli
  • Known to offer fantastic value for money

CONS

  • Relatively low output level for MM
  • Possibly not your endgame cartridge for the Planar 3
  • Will you regret you didn’t make the stretch for the slightly more expensive VM540ML?

#4. Audio-Technica VM540ML

Price: Click to check price on Amazon

Type: Moving Magnet

Stylus: Microline

Replaceable stylus: Yes

Output Level: 4.0 mV

Rec. loading: 47kOhm/100-200pF

Weight: 6.4 grams

Rec. VTF: 2.0 grams

Height: 17.3mm

Rec. spacer height: 2mm (optional)

The VM540ML has replaced the legendary AT440ML that has been a go-to cartridge for many vinyl enthusiasts for decades. The VM540ML is the premier cartridge in the 500 series and the next most expensive Microline MM cartridge offering from Audio-Technica after the VM740ML.  

What does the community say?

The VM540ML is often argued to be the best value cartridge in this price range by the community. It is one of the cartridges out there that receives the most praise overall. And very little critique. A cartridge that probably would cost more if it was sold by one of the lower volume cartridge manufacturers. It is mentioned to have quite a bit more details than the cheaper AT95ML. It is also mentioned to have more details and clarity than the Rega Elys, something I believe is true after reading quite a few comparisons. Some find it a tad bright, so I if you have a system that already is on the bright side, this is probably not your best option.

My thoughts

The VM540ML was one of the first decent cartridges I bought for my turntables. I have a lot of experience with it, and I love it. It offers plenty of details, but with much more smoothness and charm than the Ortofon 2M Blue that I have compared it extensively with. The VM540ML is also a very god tracker. I have never had real issues with IGD or sibilance. The microline stylus is no joke. I believe the VM540ML is an excellent choice, with no real downsides. I think it is one of the most “intelligent” choices for the Planar 3. But, at least to me, I don’t know if it is the most exciting. That can just be because I know the VM540ML well and want to try something new.

PROS

  • Great value for money
  • Grat mix of details and smoothness
  • Very good tracker
  • Musical and dimensional

CONS

  • Can sound slightly bright on some systems if loaded with too high capacitance

#5. Audio-Technica VM740ML

Price: Click to check price on Amazon

Type: Moving Magnet

Stylus: Microline

Replaceable stylus: Yes

Output Level: 4.0 mV

Rec. loading: 47kOhm/100-200pF

Weight: 8.0 grams

Rec. VTF: 2.0 grams

Height: 17.3mm

Rec. spacer height: 2 mm (optional)

The difference between the VM540ML above and the Microline flagship VM740ML is that the latter features a die-cast aluminum alloy housing that reduces vibration and adds a natural electrical shield. The MM flagship 700 series is also available with Shibata stylus (VM750SH) and special line contact stylus (VM760SLC).

What does the community say?

The VM740ML is known to sound very similar to the VM540ML. The difference seems to be a fraction more emphasis on details. It is probably easier to make sound good on the RB330 tonearm than the Shibata VM750SH that, in theory, is more sensitive to perfect VTA. Quite a bit more detailed than the affordable VM95ML, but the VM95ML is less sensitive to capacitance loading and might sound less bright with higher capacitance.

My thoughts

Personally, I think the VM540ML is the sweet-spot in the Audio-Technica MM cartridge range. My impression is that the difference between the VM540ML and the VM740ML is quite small, but it might still be worth the $100 premium for those that want that tad more details. For those that already have an AT440ML or a VM540ML in their collection, I think the gain achieved from investing in a VM740ML is not worth the money.

PROS

  • Great tracker
  • Less dependent on shims than Ortofon´s flagship MM cartridge, the 2M Black
  • Costs less than the 2M Black

CONS

  • Can sound bright to some when loaded with too high capacitance
  • Probably not a significant upgrade from the cheaper VM540ML

#6. Rega Elys 2

Price: Click to check price on Amazon

Type: Moving Magnet

Stylus: Elliptical

Replaceable stylus: No

Output Level: 7.0 mV

Rec. loading: 47 kOhm

Weight: approx. 4.75 grams

Rec. VTF: 1.75 grams

Height: 14 mm

Rec. spacer height: Not needed

The Elys 2 sits between the entry-level Carbon and the flagship Exact in Rega’s MM cartridge range. (The Rega Bias seems to be discontinued.) It is the cartridge that is most frequently bundled with the Planar 3 from the factory.

What does the community say?

The Elys 2 is known to have a warm sound character with good bass and weight. Some categorize it as “falsely” warm with a too muted treble. It seems to be highly praised by magazines and reviewers but receives a fair amount of criticism from the vinyl community. Just like the Ortofon 2M Blue, it seems to be a love or hate type of cartridge. The main criticisms seem to that it is sensitive to surface noise, IGD and Sibilance. Also described as a decent all-rounder but not excellent in any way.

My thoughts

I have not tested the Elys 2 personally. Being a cartridge that is highly praised by reviewers/publications, I am amazed by the amount of criticism it gets from the community. One probable explanation might be that because it is the cartridge that is mounted to most Planar 3 sold in stores around the world, it is also the cartridge that the highest number of owners dislike and choose to upgrade from. The owners that enjoy how it sounds probably don’t defend it in the cartridge upgrade threads on forums. It is probably a better cartridge than its reputation on certain online forums. But it doesn’t excite me that much, to be honest.

PROS

  • Rega 3-point fixing makes set-up easy
  • High output level
  • Often comes pre-mounted with the Planar 3

CONS

  • Reported to be sensitive to surface noise
  • It seems to be better all-rounders in this price range
  • Too “entry-level” for the Planar 3?

#7. Rega Exact

Price: Click to check price on Amazon

Type: Moving Magnet

Stylus: ‘Vital’ – Complex fine line micro-ground

Replaceable stylus: No

Output Level: 7.0 mV

Rec. loading: 47 kOhm

Weight: approx. 4.75 grams

Rec. VTF: 1.75 grams

Height: 14 mm

Rec. spacer height: Not needed

The Exact is the flagship in Rega’s range of handmade MM cartridges. It is a popular cartridge option for Rega Planar 3, 6 and 8. While the Planar 6 can be purchased with the Exact fitted from factory, this doesn’t seem to be an option for the Planar 3. Many Hi-Fi stores do, however, offer the Planar 3 bundled with a pre-mounted Exact.

What does the community say?

Whereas the Elys receive very mixed feedback from the community, the Exact receives much more respect. It is hard to find much criticism. Many users report it is a better tracker than the Ortofon 2M Bronze with less sibilance and IGD. Otherwise, very similar performance to the 2M Bronze, possible with a touch more warmth. Some users report the treble is a bit too muted for their taste. Known to have solid bass.

My thoughts

I don’t think you can go wrong with the Rega Exact. If you have the budget, I think this is one of the best options for the Planar 3. It is easy to fit on the Planar 3 and it is known to one of the best sounding MM cartridges out there. It offers great dynamics and details in a warm and pleasant way. Glorious body. It is not harsh or bright. I have used it for years on my Rega Planar 2 and I love it. I have had zero issues with it. Highly recommended.

PROS

  • Good body, great dynamics, and detailed without harshness
  • Easy to fit (3-point system and no spacers needed)
  • High output level
  • One of the best trackers on the RB330 tonearm

CONS

  • Needs a decent budget
  • Stylus not replaceable

#8. ZU/DL-103R (Denon DL-103R)

Price: From $800

Type: Moving Coil

Stylus: 0.2 mm square base diamond (conical cut)

Replaceable stylus: No

Output Level: 0.3 mV

Rec. loading: 200 – 300 Ohm

Weight: 14 grams

Rec. VTF: 2.5 grams

Height: 15 mm

Rec. spacer height: Not needed

Please read the complete spec sheet from Zu Audio for more information if you consider this cartridge.

The Denon DL-103R is one of those cartridges that has a true legendary status among MC fans. It has proven for decades that it is an affordable MC cartridge that performs close to MC cartridges that cost many times more. The original Denon DL-103 does unfortunately perform best on tonearms with higher mass than the RB330, but the modified and heavier ZU/DL-103R by ZU Audio fits the RB330 tonearm quite nicely.  

What does the community say?

Both the Denon DL-103R and Zu/DL-103R are known to have a sweet character and lush midrange. Old fashion sound, musical. Sound more alive than anything. Full of texture and life. Very musical to use that word.

My thoughts

I love vintage and lively sound. I currently run 300B tubes and Klipsch horns. So, the vintage, musical and lively character of the ZU/DL-103R is something that really gets my attention. I am not really into vintage turntable designs, but having the modern looking Planar 3 sound vintage is a highly welcomed idea to my eyes and ears. As I write this article, it does however seem hard to find a store that stock new Zu/DL-103R.

PROS

  • No shims needed – only 1mm higher than Rega cartridges
  • Real MC magic for sensible money
  • Musical “vintage-like” sound
  • Can add “life” to an otherwise analytical system

CONS

  • Needs a MC compatible preamp of decent quality to fully shine (or SUT)
  • Not as detailed as modern line profile type cartridges
  • Might require heavier counterweight (read spec sheet)
  • Currently, hard to find new stock (might change)

#9. Nagaoka MP-200

Price: Click to check price on Amazon

Type: Moving Magnet

Stylus: Superfine elliptical diamond

Replaceable stylus: Yes 

Output Level: 4.0 mV

Rec. loading: 47 kOhm

Weight: 6.5 grams

Rec. VTF: 1.75 grams

Height: 18 mm

Rec. spacer height: 2 mm (optional)

The MP-200 is nicely placed in the middle of Japanese Nagaoka’s MM cartridge range which comprises the MP-100, MP-110, MP-150, MP-200, MP-300 and MP-500.

What does the community say?

The Nagaoka MP200 is a great sounding cartridge. Warm and velvet with great tone, good dynamics and great heights. The MP-200 is known to be more detailed and neutral than the MP110 and MP150, that also have a high status among Nagaoka fans. The MP-200 is reported to work well with the RB330 tonearm. I haven’t really seen anyone that reports significant issues at all.

My thoughts

To be honest, I have not found too much user feedback on the Nagaoka cartridges. They seem to have a small but loyal fanbase. However, from what I have found, it seems to have a character close to the similarly priced Rega Exact. Smooth, open, and detailed, but still a touch on the warm and laid-back side of the spectrum. Personally, I wonder if the Rega Exact is the better option for the RB330 tonearm if you look for a cartridge with these characteristics because of the straight-forward 3-point system and perfect cartridge height. Nagaoka fans might not agree with that though…  

PROS

  • Smooth sound with good details and dynamics
  • Technically well matched to the RB330 tonearm
  • No real issues reported

CONS

  • Is the Rega Exact a similar performing but safer option in this price range?

#10. Goldring 1042

Price: Click to check price on Amazon

Type: Moving Magnet

Stylus: Gyger S (Line contact)

Replaceable stylus: Yes 

Output Level: 6.5 mV

Rec. loading: 47kOhm/150-200pF

Weight: 6.3 grams

Rec. VTF: 1.75 grams

Height: 17 mm

Rec. spacer height: 2mm (optional)

The Goldring 1042 is the flagship MM offering from Goldring. It sits above the 1006, 1012 and 1022 in Goldring’s range of MM cartridges.

What does the community say?

The Goldring 1042 is another cartridge that seems to get a lot of praise and very little criticism. Good tracker, neutral tone, but unfortunately not cheap. A good all-rounder with great musicality. No real downsides. Reported to offer significant improvements to the Rega Elys.

My thoughts

The Goldring 1042 seems to be a great cartridge with a loyal fanbase. Probably one of the very safe bets for the RB330 tonearm. However, at its price range, it competes with a handful of cartridges that seem to have a larger fanbase. From my research, it seems to have quite similar characteristics to the Audio-Technica VM540ML. My question is if the Goldring is worth the premium over the microline VM540ML that offers such great value for money.

PROS

  • Excellent tracker
  • Neutral sound character

CONS

  • Might be hard to find new stock in the US
  • Is the quite similar VM540ML better value for money?

#11. Dynavector 10X5

Price: Approximately $750

Type: Moving Coil (high-output)

Stylus: Shibata

Replaceable stylus: No

Output Level: 2.8 mV

Rec. loading: > 1000 ohms

Weight: 7.5 grams

Rec. VTF: 2.0 grams

Height: 18 mm

Rec. spacer height: 2mm (optional)

The Dynavector 10X5 is the cheapest offering from Dynavector’s rather pricy range of MC cartridges. It sits below the 20X2 which we will look at next. Dynavector cartridges work very well with Rega tonearms.

What does the community say?

Well, I think we have reached the Rolls-Royce department of Rega Planar 3 cartridges at last. Both the 10X5 and the 20X2 from Dynavector seem to offer something extra over all the other carts we have looked at so far. This is a characteristic MC cartridge with lively sound and great dynamics. Fantastic leading-edge attack. Warm body. Sounds great on RB330 tonearm, as any Dynavector cartridge will do. Users report both the 10X5 and the 20X2 to be superior to the Ortofon 2M Black in any audible measure.

My thoughts

The two Dynavector cartridges that complete this list (we’ll look at the 20X2 next) will probably offer a step up in performance from all the other cartridges on this list. They are both very well suited to the RB330 tonearm and very high-regarded MC cartridges in general. It is hard to ask for more. For those that can afford it, I believe the 10X5 will give a real value in return for the money spent.

PROS

  • Works with regular MM phono preamps
  • Very well suited for Rega tonearms
  • Real MC magic

CONS

  • Starts to get quite pricy for the Planar 3
  • But probably worth the premium if you can afford it
  • Known to take long to fully break in

#12. Dynavector 20X2

Price: Approximately $1000-$1200

Type: Moving Coil

Stylus: Micro-Ridge

Replaceable stylus: No 

Output Level: 0.3 mV / 2.8 mV

Rec. loading: > 30 Ohms / > 1000 Ohms

Weight: 9.2 grams

Rec. VTF: 2.0 grams

Height: 18 mm

Rec. spacer height: 2mm (optional)

The Dynavector 20X2 is the next cheapest offering from Dynavector’s range of MC cartridges. The 20X2 comes in a low-output and a high-output version. I have included data for both versions above.

What does the community say?

The 20X2 is (unsurprisingly) reported to be quite similar to the 10X5 we reviewed above, but a bit more refined sounding. Open, transparent, and dimensional, without becoming fatiguing. The common opinion is that it is worth the premium over the 10X5 if you can afford it.

My thoughts

If money is no object, this is certainly (and objectively) the best sounding Planar 3 cartridge on this list. There are much more expensive cartridges out there, but they are not really on the radar for most Planar 3 owners. The Dynavector 20X2 might be one of those products that causes me to stretch my budget far outside my current comfort zone. It seems amazing. One question I haven’t found the answer to is if the high output version sound as good and authentic as the low output version. Do they have the same moving mass? I would guess not. I would probably choose the low output version to be on the safe side.

PROS

  • Come in low and high output versions
  • Dynamic, lively, open, and transparent sound
  • Not fatiguing or harsh
  • Very well suited for the RB330 tonearm

CONS

  • Takes long to fully break in
  • Require good electronics
  • Pricy – Might push the edges of what’s sensible for the Planar 3

Conclusion – What I will choose

I am not an Oracle on Planar 3 cartridges, but I hope the list above can be a good recourse to get you started on your search for the best Rega Planar 3 cartridge.

I strongly believe that all the cartridges on this list will be good companions for the RB330 tonearm.

Are there some of them that stand out?

Well, we all have our favorites.

If I was to pick my favorites from affordable to expensive, based on value, performance, availability, and lack of reported downsides and issues, it would be these four carts.

Best affordable: VM95ML

Best value: VM540ML

Best overall: Rega Exact

Best expensive: Dynavector 20X2

I would furthermore consider the Ortofon 2M Bronze, the Ortofon 2M Black and the Dynavector 10X5 as excellent alternatives (runner-ups) to the Rega Exact and Dynavector 20X2.

The “vintage character” of the ZU/DL103R also caught my attention, but it currently seems hard to get hold of new ones.

The Rega Elys, Goldring 1042 and Nagaoka MP-200 are surely great options, but I believe the VM95ML, VM540ML and Rega Exact are slightly better alternatives. I might be wrong.

What will I choose?

I haven’t completely decided yet, but I will probably start with the outstanding Audio-Technica VM540ML that I already have laying around. And enjoy that one until I am economically and mentally ready to pull the trigger on a Dynavector 20X2 that will set me back up to $1200.

My best guess today is that the Rega Planar 3 with a Dynavector 20X2 will be my endgame turntable setup. I will hook it up to my lovely 7-Watt 300B tube amplifier and my Klipsch Heresy IV horn speakers. For preamp, I will start with my Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 and see how that works out.

Edit: After many months delay due to supply issues, I have finally taken delivery of my Rega Planar 3 and a Dynavector 20X2. Yes, I went for the Dynavector 20X2!!! I will post a review when I have lived with it for a few months and properly compared it to my Planar 2 and Rega Exact combo.

Spacers / VTA

Rega’s own cartridges are 1-4 mm lower in height than most other cartridges.

It might therefore be recommended to elevate the RB330 tonearm with spacers for certain cartridges to compensate for the added cartridge height and achieve correct vertical tracking angle (VTA).

There are, however, mixed opinions on the importance of spacers. Some say it is a must. Others say it does not matter at all in the grand scheme of things.

My take is that Rega themselves and the people that have tried different carts on the planar 3 seem to be most relaxes about VTA.

Here is what Rega writes about spacers on their website.

Arm height or V.T.A adjustment can be a controversial subject. Rega believes that the integrity of the arm fixing onto the arm mounting board is much more important than the questionable facility of arm adjustment. The arm should be reasonably parallel to the record surface or slightly lower at the mounting. The only time a spacer is necessary to raise the arm height is if the rear of a cartridge is hitting the record whilst playing.

Rega Research

VTA is not an exact science. I’ve found that some people believe cartridges sound best when they are run tail-up. Other swear that tail-down is best.

There are several reports online where people can’t hear a difference between no shims and 3mm shims. Which I think is interesting.

My advice is to add 3 or 4mm shims if you run one of the Ortofon 2M cartridges. They seem to be the most sensitive to VTA based on my research. They are also some of the tallest cartridges.

For the remaining carts that are taller than Rega’s, I consider it optional if you want to add 2mm shims or not. It probably won’t make a big difference, if any at all.

Thoughts?

Please feel free to contact me with feedback on this article. I would love to hear your thoughts.


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