Ortofon VMS 3E Review

The legendary Ortofon VMS 3E was one of the 80s best cartridges. Sadly, it was discontinued, but you might still find it online, or in a pawn shop.

If you’re lucky enough to own one, you’re probably wondering how does this vintage cartridge stand among the advanced cartridges of recent years? Should you consider upgrading to a new cartridge?

We’ll answer all your questions in today’s Ortofon VMS 3E review. We prepared all the information you need to know about this historical cartridge. Let’s dive into the details.

Ortofon VMS 3E Review

The VMS 3E is one of Ortofon’s historical products. Unfortunately, the entire VMS series is no longer in production. As a result, it can be hard to find the cartridge for sale.

In our experience, the sound quality is comparable to the advanced cartridges of recent years. You’d be surprised by how a product this old offers a good soundstage. The music was realistic and three-dimensional.

The Ortofon VMS 3E Specs

Let’s check out the specs of this historical cartridge:

Ortofon VMS-3e


  • Output voltage at 1000 Hz: 6 mV
  • Channel balance at 1 kHz: 2.0 dB
  • Channel separation at 1 kHz: 20 dB
  • Frequency response: 20-20.000 Hz
  • Tracking ability (315Hz, lateral): 50 µm
  • Tracking force range: 17 – 23 mN (1.7 – 2.3g)
  • Recommended tracking force: 20 mN (2.0g)
  • Compliance, dynamic (lateral): 15 µm/mN
  • Stylus type: Elliptical
  • Tracking angle (vertical): 20°
  • DC resistance: 800 Ohm
  • Inductance: 600 mH
  • Recommended load resistance: 47 kOhm
  • Recommended load capacitance: 400 pF
  • Cartridge weight: 5g


  • Great Build Quality
  • Excellent Sound
  • Reliable
  • Money-Saver
  • Design


  • Damaging to Old Records
  • Unavailability

Pros of Ortofon VMS 3E

Although Ortofon released the VMS 3E in the 80s, it was packed with amazing features. Some would say it was ahead of its time. Let’s check some pros that make this cartridge a true gem.

1. Great Build Quality

Since you’re checking this review, it means you came across a VMS 3E cartridge. The fact that the cartridge you have in your hands survived for years is quite impressive.

As you might know, cartridges typically wear out over the years. So, it’s safe to say that the build quality of this cartridge is top-notch. In most cases, you’ll only need to replace the stylus with a new one.

2. Excellent Sound

Ortofon VMS 3E simply sounds excellent. It picks up every small detail on your record, offering a dynamic sound with minimal distortion.

To put matters simply, when you’re listening to your records with an Ortofon cartridge, you know they sound just right. There isn’t any overdrawn bass or overwhelming vocals.

The reason behind this is the cartridge’s elliptical stylus. It can track your records quite accurately due to the large contact surface with the vinyl’s groove.

3. Reliable

The 3E, just like most Ortofon products, is a cartridge you can rely on. You can store it for years and get back to it knowing that it’ll be good to use.

Related comparison: Ortofon 2M Bronze vs. Sumiko Blue Point 2

Even though the 3E wasn’t the star of the VMS line, it still provides you with satisfying performance. In other words, Ortofon is an overall trustworthy brand.

4. Money-Saver

The Ortofon VMS 3E is a cartridge that can last you a lifetime while still offering great sound and performance. Moreover, one feature that sets Ortofon cartridge’s apart is the replaceable stylus.

The needle is the part of the cartridge that quickly wears out. This means offering a replaceable stylus can help overcome this problem. Instead of purchasing an entirely new cartridge, you can just replace the stylus of your old one.

The only downside is that the replacement styli can be slightly expensive. However, you’ll still be saving a lot of money.

5. Design

The VMS line, including the 3E Mk II, featured a redesigned body from Ortofon. It included improved shielding and repositioned terminal pins, which are gold-plated.

This helps improve the connection significantly. The contact resistance was minimal, and the press fitting method offers great reliability.

Cons of Ortofon VMS 3E

Despite being an overall good cartridge, the 3E suffers from some issues that you need to know about. Let’s check them out.

1. Damaging to Old Records

While this cartridge can accurately track your vinyl records, it can actually be too good at tracking. It might even pick up on small amounts of dirt in the records’ grooves.

Not only can this lead to surface noise and distorted sound, but it can also cause irreversible damage to your records.

For this reason, if you haven’t cleaned your records in a while, keep them away from this cartridge. Furthermore, you don’t want to risk damaging your old, prized record collection.

Additionally, it’s best to replace the stylus after buying a used 3E cartridge, even if it looks in good condition. A used stylus can be the end of your favorite records.

You may also want to check our guide on how to clean a stylus using Magic Eraser.

2. Unavailability

The main problem with the VMS 3E is that it’s no longer in production. You can’t find them at most trustworthy retailers. However, you can find some used ones on eBay and in pawn shops.

Unfortunately, this means that the cartridge no longer has a warranty. So, don’t expect Ortofon to provide much assistance if you’re facing an issue with your cartridge.

Key Features

The VMS 3E is packed with amazing features. Let’s check some of them out.

VMS Magnetic Cartridge

The Ortofon VMS 3E is a magnetic cartridge with many features. To elaborate, it contains Ortofon’s famous Variable Magnetic Shunt (VMS).

Standard magnetic cartridges use a permanent solid magnet or an induced moving magnet with a set of coils. The VMS, on the other hand, features reduced effective tip mass.

That can help lower the distortion levels and offer a better transient response. More importantly, it can provide a sound with improved sonic depth and impressive clarity. Overall, this helps produce outstanding sound quality.

Replaceable Elliptical Stylus

One of the best things about the 3E is that after all these years, you can still find a suitable stylus to fit on it. The Ortofon D3E and F/FF needle styli are compatible with the cartridge.

When it comes to the styli, both feature an elliptical diamond. These styli offer impressive tracking and tracing of the grooves on your record. The sound quality you get with them is outstanding.

Low Moving Mass

One of the VMS 3E best features is its low moving mass, as the cartridge only weighs 5g. So, you can expect minimal distortion and exceptional sound. Additionally, it provides high channel separation.

The stylus cantilever of the VMS 3E is attached to a light, small tubular armature. The armature tube is thin-walled, which makes it even lighter.

That allows for easier moves inside the field of the magnet. As the stylus moves, the armature movements cut the flux lines of the magnet. So, you can say that it works as a magnetic shunt.

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Before you go out and buy the cartridge, you should check out our ratings first. It’ll help you make the right decision.

● Ease-of-Use 4/5

The cartridge is fairly easy to install and use. Additionally, replacing the stylus isn’t complicated. Most beginners will face no problem using the 3E.

● Features 5/5

Ortofon’s innovation in the VMS line is truly one of the all-time best. They’ve stepped up with state-of-the-art MM cartridges. These provide clear, dynamic sounds, with the lowest noise possible.

● Customer Service 3/5

Since the product is discontinued, you can no longer get assistance from Ortofon regarding any issues you face with it. However, you can’t expect the company to support products that were released 40 years ago.

● Value for Money 4/5

The Ortofon VMS 3E is affordable and can last you quite a while. The product proved to do well over the years. You can also replace the stylus of the cartridge easily, and it’ll save you some money.

Ortofon VMS 3E Alternatives

There are tons of 3E alternatives that you can buy from Ortofon and other reputable manufacturers. Most of these products are more advanced than the 3E. So, you can even expect them to perform better than the 3E.

Here’s a list of some of these products:

  • Ortofon 2M Red
Ortofon 2M Red Moving Magnet Cartridge

Sumiko Rainier Phono Cartridge

Recommended: Sumiko Rainier vs Ortofon 2M Red

  • Goldring E3

Goldring E3 Phono Cartridge

  • Denon DL-103R

Denon DL-103R Moving Coil Cartridge

  • Audio-Technica VM750SH

Audio-Technica VM750SH Dual Moving Magnet Shibata Stylus Stereo Turntable Cartridge Black


Was Ortofon Reputable In The 80s?

One of Ortofon’s most significant selling points is its reputation. The company has been producing premium-quality products for the past years. Many consider it to be one of the best cartridge producers in the world.

Axel Petersen and Arnold Poulsen, two Danish audio engineers, founded the company in 1947. In fact, they started experiencing with audio products back in 1918. So, it’s safe to say that the company was also trustworthy back in the 80s.

The entire VMS line was a huge breakthrough. It was one of many products that made the company reputable to this day.

Was The 3E The Best Cartridge Of The VMS Line?

The VMS series was a big success. The 3E wasn’t the best-performing cartridge of the line, but it was generally good. The VMS 20E offered slightly better performance.

Final Verdict

The VMS 3E is generally a good cartridge. It offers great build quality and the sound quality is impressive. The music sounds realistic and three-dimensional.

It’s hard to find the cartridge unused. However, you can still find replacement styli online and in some storefronts.

We hope that our Ortofon VMS 3E review helped you make the right decision.