How To Change A Cartridge On A Turntable – A Step-By-Step Guide

Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to upgrade your turntable’s sound quality?

One of the most important components of your turntable is the cartridge, which houses the stylus that reads the grooves on your records.

Changing a cartridge may seem daunting, but with the right tools and instructions, it can be a simple process.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the steps to safely and effectively change your turntable’s cartridge, so you can enjoy your music with improved clarity and fidelity.

How To Change A Cartridge On A Turntable

Step 1: Gather Your Tools

Before you begin, make sure you have the necessary tools on hand. You will need a flat-head screwdriver, long-nose pliers, and possibly a cable tie or alignment tool depending on your turntable and cartridge model.

Step 2: Remove the Old Cartridge

To remove the old cartridge, first, loosen the headshell screws on your current cartridge using the flat-head screwdriver. Next, gently unplug each of the four tonearm wires. Make sure you hold the wires by the plastic sleeve to avoid breaking them.

Once the wires are unplugged, unscrew the headshell screws that are sticking down into the cartridge using your flat-head screwdriver. In some cases, there may be hard-shell nuts or fasteners attached to the end of the screws that should be saved and reattached to the replacement cartridge.

Step 3: Install the New Cartridge

Begin by attaching the tonearm wires to your new cartridge. Each colored tonearm wire has a corresponding colored pin on the cartridge. If your cartridge does not have colored pins, consult the cartridge’s manual.

Since the stylus is very fragile, it is best to leave the stylus guard on during installation. Insert the headshell screws into the slots on the headshell and then through the slots on the cartridge housing. Using your finger, hold the headshell nut in place and turn the screw until the threads catch. Repeat with both screws.

Make sure the screws are snug but don’t tighten all the way just yet. With the cartridge mounted, use an alignment tool to make sure that your cartridge is properly aligned. Adjust cartridge alignment by adjusting the positioning of the cartridge along the headshell slots.

Step 4: Connect Wires and Adjust Tracking Force

Next, connect the four lead-out wires. These are color-coded (red, blue, green, and white), and you’ll find corresponding markings next to each of the four pins on the back of the cartridge. Use long-nose pliers to gently connect them.

Use a stylus force gauge to check that your vertical tracking force (VTF) is correct. For MM cartridges, the VTF range is usually 1.5-2 grams, but this varies depending on your cartridge’s specifications.

If you need to adjust VTF, loosen the thumbscrew on the counterweight and adjust its positioning on the back of the arm. Moving it backward will decrease VTF and moving it forward will increase VTF. Once positioned correctly, tighten the thumbscrew.

Step 5: Test Your New Cartridge

Your new cartridge may need a few hours to break in before it really starts singing. Once it’s broken in, test it out by playing some of your favorite records and listening for improved clarity and fidelity.

Understanding The Anatomy Of A Cartridge

Understanding the anatomy of a cartridge is crucial when it comes to changing the cartridge on your turntable. A typical cartridge consists of four main components: the case, primer, propellant, and projectile. The case is the shell of the cartridge that holds everything together until you’re ready to use it. The primer is a percussion charge that ignites the propellant when struck by the firing pin. The propellant is the actual chemical compound, normally gunpowder, that moves the projectile out of the barrel when ignited by the primer. Finally, the projectile is the actual bullet that leaves the barrel and hits its target.

When changing your turntable cartridge, it’s important to know how to properly remove and install each of these components. To remove the old cartridge, you’ll need to loosen the headshell screws using a flat-head screwdriver and unplug each of the four tonearm wires. To install the new cartridge, you’ll need to attach the tonearm wires to their corresponding colored pins on the cartridge and then mount the cartridge onto the headshell using screws.

Once mounted, make sure to properly align the cartridge using an alignment tool and adjust the vertical tracking force (VTF) using a stylus force gauge. With these steps completed, you can test out your new cartridge by playing some of your favorite records and listening for improved clarity and fidelity.

Understanding the anatomy of a cartridge is just one step in changing your turntable cartridge, but it’s an important one that will ensure your new cartridge functions properly and produces high-quality sound.

Gathering The Necessary Tools

Before you start the process of changing your turntable cartridge, it’s important to gather all the necessary tools. The tools you’ll need include a flat-head screwdriver, long-nose pliers, and possibly a cable tie or alignment tool depending on your turntable and cartridge model.

The flat-head screwdriver will be used to loosen the headshell screws on the current cartridge. The long-nose pliers will come in handy when unplugging the four tonearm wires from the old cartridge and gently connecting them to the new one.

Depending on your turntable and cartridge model, you may also need a cable tie or alignment tool. A cable tie can be used to secure the tonearm wires in place, while an alignment tool is essential for ensuring that your cartridge is properly aligned.

It’s important to have these tools on hand before starting the process of changing your cartridge. This will help ensure that you can complete the task without damaging any of the delicate components of your turntable or cartridge. With these tools at your disposal, you can confidently move on to removing the old cartridge and installing the new one.

Removing The Old Cartridge

Removing the old cartridge from your turntable can be a bit tricky, but with the right tools and technique, it can be done easily. To begin, make sure the turntable is turned off and unplugged from the power source.

First, loosen the headshell screws on your current cartridge using a flat-head screwdriver. Be careful not to strip the screws or damage the headshell. Next, gently unplug each of the four tonearm wires from the old cartridge. Hold the wires by the plastic sleeve to avoid breaking them.

After unplugging the wires, unscrew the headshell screws that are sticking down into the cartridge using your flat-head screwdriver. In some cases, there may be hard-shell nuts or fasteners attached to the end of the screws that should be saved and reattached to the replacement cartridge.

At this point, you should be able to lift out the old cartridge from the headshell. However, if it is stuck or difficult to remove, do not force it out as this could damage the tonearm or other parts of your turntable.

Instead, try dousing the cartridge with white vinegar and waiting for an hour or two. This will dissolve any mineral deposits that may be binding it. After soaking, grip the cartridge stem with long-nose pliers and gently pull it out of the headshell. Be careful not to damage any wires or connectors in the process.

Once you have successfully removed the old cartridge, you can proceed with installing your new one following the steps outlined above. With patience and attention to detail, changing a cartridge on a turntable can be a simple and rewarding process.

Installing The New Cartridge

After successfully removing the old cartridge, it’s time to install the new one. Begin by carefully attaching the tonearm wires to the new cartridge. Ensure that each colored wire is connected to the corresponding colored pin on the cartridge. If your cartridge does not have colored pins, refer to the cartridge’s manual for guidance.

It’s important to handle the stylus with care as it is very fragile. Leave the stylus guard on during installation to prevent any accidental damage. Insert the headshell screws into the slots on the headshell and then through the slots on the cartridge housing.

Using your finger, hold the headshell nut in place and turn the screw until the threads catch. Repeat with both screws. Make sure that the screws are snug but don’t tighten them all the way just yet.

With the cartridge mounted, use an alignment tool to ensure that your cartridge is properly aligned. Adjust cartridge alignment by adjusting the positioning of the cartridge along the headshell slots.

Next, connect the four lead-out wires. These wires are color-coded (red, blue, green, and white), and you’ll find corresponding markings next to each of the four pins on the back of the cartridge. Use long-nose pliers to gently connect them.

Check that your vertical tracking force (VTF) is correct using a stylus force gauge. The VTF range for MM cartridges is usually 1.5-2 grams, but this varies depending on your cartridge’s specifications.

If you need to adjust VTF, loosen the thumbscrew on the counterweight and adjust its positioning on the back of the arm. Moving it backward will decrease VTF while moving it forward will increase VTF. Once positioned correctly, tighten the thumbscrew.

Finally, test your new cartridge by playing some of your favorite records and listening for improved clarity and fidelity. It may take a few hours for your new cartridge to break in before it sounds its best.

Aligning The Cartridge

Proper alignment of your cartridge is crucial for getting the best sound quality out of your turntable. After installing the new cartridge, you need to align it correctly. To do this, use an alignment tool to make sure that your cartridge is properly aligned. Adjust cartridge alignment by adjusting the positioning of the cartridge along the headshell slots.

Loosen your cartridge enough to allow it to slide back and forth with gentle resistance. Then, move the cartridge forward so that the tip of the stylus will lower into the corresponding dot in the alignment tool. Using the grid lines on the tool, square up the cartridge body so it is parallel to the lines.

While some tonearms with removable headshells allow you to move the cartridge on the tonearm’s axis to be sure that the cartridge is at a perfect 90-degree angle to the groove, others require more precise adjustments. Once the overhang is set properly, recheck the tracking force using a stylus force gauge. It may have gone up or down by a tenth of a gram or two. Just twist the counterweight very slightly to bring this back to where you were.

The next adjustment is the VTA/SRA. If you do not have access to a stylus microscope or sophisticated cartridge alignment tools, try and visually align the bottom of the cartridge body so it is parallel to the surface of the record. Your instruction manual will tell you how to set this for your turntable, but again, think small increments.

Once you’ve set VTA to the best of your ability, check tracking force one last time and you’re ready for the final step – anti-skate. Setting the anti-skating force properly will keep the stylus where it belongs and prevent premature wear of your records and stylus. If you go too far in either direction, it can cause channel imbalance from left to right.

Testing And Fine-Tuning The Sound Quality

Once you have installed your new cartridge, it’s important to fine-tune the sound quality to get the most out of your turntable. The first thing to check is the tracking force, which is the amount of pressure the phono cartridge puts on your records. Too little force will cause the cartridge to bounce and skip, while too much will wear out your stylus and records too quickly.

To adjust the tracking force, use a stylus force gauge to check that your VTF is correct. This is usually specified in grams somewhere in the owner’s manual for your cartridge. If you need to adjust VTF, loosen the thumbscrew on the counterweight and adjust its positioning on the back of the arm. Moving it backward will decrease VTF and moving it forward will increase VTF. Once positioned correctly, tighten the thumbscrew.

In addition to tracking force, you may also want to fine-tune other tonearm adjustments like azimuth or vertical tracking angle (VTA). While some people insist on using test records to dial in these adjustments, many audiophiles find that the best way to fine-tune their turntable is simply by using their ears.

One way to do this is by playing a record with a known sound quality and making small adjustments to your tonearm until you hear an improvement in clarity and fidelity. You can also experiment with different cartridges or stylus types to find a sound that suits your personal preferences.

Ultimately, the key to testing and fine-tuning the sound quality of your turntable is patience and experimentation. Take your time and don’t be afraid to try different things until you find a setup that sounds great to you. With a little effort, you can unlock the full potential of your turntable and enjoy high-quality analog sound for years to come.