Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with it, the need for turntables and their components.
One of the most important parts of a turntable is the cartridge, which houses the stylus that reads the grooves on the record. However, not all cartridges are created equal, and it can be confusing to identify which one you have or need.
In this article, we’ll break down the different types of cartridges and how to identify them, so you can get the best sound quality out of your turntable.
How To Identify Turntable Cartridge
There are two main types of cartridges that fit differently on turntables: P-Mount and Half-Inch. The easiest way to know which cartridge you have on your turntable is to determine whether or not there is a headshell.
A headshell is a piece designed to attach to the end of a turntable’s tonearm. The cartridge is screwed into the slots on the headshell to hold it properly in place. Some tonearms will not have a removable headshell, but it is actually part of the tonearm itself. You will still note the two screws on the top of the cartridge fastening it to the tonearm which will inform you it is a half-inch cartridge.
If you have a P-Mount cartridge, it will have four slender pins that plug directly into tonearms specifically made for use with P-Mount cartridges. These tonearms are not compatible with Half-Inch cartridges.
To identify the specific type and model of your cartridge, look for any identifying marks or logos on the front or top of the cartridge body. Some cartridges may also have serial or model numbers printed on them.
If you are still unsure about the type of cartridge you have, you can also consult your turntable’s manual or contact the manufacturer for assistance.
Moving Magnet Vs. Moving Coil Cartridges
When it comes to choosing the right cartridge for your turntable, there are two main types to consider: moving magnet and moving coil. Both types of cartridges have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to understand the differences between them before making a purchase.
Moving magnet (MM) cartridges are the most common type of cartridge and are typically less expensive than moving coil (MC) cartridges. They use a magnet to generate an electrical signal, which is then amplified by the phono preamp. MM cartridges are known for their high output level and are compatible with most phono preamps. They also have a replaceable stylus, making maintenance and replacement simple.
Moving coil (MC) cartridges, on the other hand, use a coil of wire attached to the cantilever to generate an electrical signal. MC cartridges typically have a lower output level than MM cartridges, but they are also known for their superior sound quality. This is because they have less moving mass, allowing them to track the record groove more accurately and transcribe more micro-detail, especially in the high frequencies. MC cartridges also tend to be more expensive than MM cartridges and require more specialized equipment to use.
In terms of maintenance, MM cartridges are generally easier to maintain and repair than MC cartridges. The magnets in an MM cartridge can be easily replaced or modified by almost anyone, while the coils in an MC cartridge are more delicate and require precise attention from a professional.
Ultimately, the choice between a moving magnet and moving coil cartridge comes down to personal preference and budget. If you’re looking for an affordable option that is easy to maintain and provides good sound quality, an MM cartridge may be the best choice for you. However, if you’re willing to invest in a higher-end cartridge that provides superior sound quality, an MC cartridge may be worth considering.
Identifying Your Cartridge Type
To identify your turntable cartridge type, start by checking if there is a headshell. If there is, the cartridge is most likely a Half-Inch cartridge, which screws into the slots on the headshell to hold it in place. You will note two screws on the top of the cartridge fastening it to the tonearm.
If you do not have a removable headshell, then your turntable may have a P-Mount cartridge. P-Mount cartridges have four slender pins that plug directly into tonearms specifically made for use with P-Mount cartridges. These tonearms are not compatible with Half-Inch cartridges.
To further identify your cartridge type and model, look for any identifying marks or logos on the front or top of the cartridge body. Some cartridges may also have serial or model numbers printed on them.
If you are still unsure about the type of cartridge you have, consult your turntable’s manual or contact the manufacturer for assistance. Remember that identifying your cartridge type is crucial in finding the best fit for your turntable and achieving optimal sound quality.
Understanding Cartridge Compatibility With Your Turntable
When it comes to cartridge compatibility with your turntable, it is important to consider a few factors. Each cartridge operates best in a particular range of tonearm tracking forces, so it is important to make sure that the range is within the capabilities of your turntable for optimal performance.
Additionally, record wear increases as pressure on the record surface increases. Tracking too light can cause as much (or more) damage as tracking too heavily. Therefore, it is crucial to find the right balance between tracking force and cartridge compatibility to ensure the longevity of your records and the best possible sound quality.
If you need to replace your cartridge or stylus, it is important to find a compatible replacement. To do so, you will need to know the make and model of your turntable and cartridge. This information can usually be found on the cartridge itself or in the turntable’s manual.
If you are unable to find this information, you can send photos of the cartridge and stylus currently fitted to your turntable to a professional for assistance in finding a suitable replacement.
Upgrading Your Cartridge For Better Sound Quality
If you are looking to upgrade your turntable’s sound quality, upgrading your cartridge is a great place to start. A cartridge upgrade can improve overall sound quality, change the sound characteristics, and provide better tracking.
Improved overall sound quality is the primary reason to upgrade your cartridge. A better cartridge can get you closer to the original sound of the music, and take your analog listening experience to the next level. Upgrading your cartridge can result in clearer, more lively sound, improved dynamic performance, more precise sound stage, lower distortion, and better controlled channel separation.
Changing the sound characteristics is another reason to upgrade your cartridge. Depending on personal preference, you may want to consider upgrading to a cartridge with warm or analytical/bright sound characteristics. A cartridge with warm character is a preferred choice amongst vinyl collectors due to its naturalistic and mid frequency output. Whereas analytical/bright emphasizes higher frequencies.
Better tracking is also an important factor in upgrading your cartridge. Higher-priced cartridges are better trackers than entry-level ones. However, it is important to stay within the range of what is tried and tested for your turntable model. It is best to check your manufacturer’s suggested upgrade path for your turntable model.
When upgrading your cartridge, it is important to set a budget and pick a stylus shape that fits within that budget. If you are replacing an entire cartridge, find a cartridge mass compatible with the turntable tonearm. An alignment protractor can also ensure that the stylus inside your cartridge is aligned with the groove, preventing inner groove distortion or a lopsided stereo image.
In summary, upgrading your turntable’s cartridge can greatly enhance your listening experience by improving overall sound quality, changing sound characteristics, and providing better tracking. It is important to identify the type and model of your current cartridge before upgrading and to stay within the range of what is recommended for your turntable model.