How To Upgrade Your Turntable Cartridge – A Step-By-Step Guide

Are you looking to take your turntable’s performance to the next level?

One of the easiest and most effective ways to do so is by upgrading your cartridge.

The cartridge plays a crucial role in converting vibrational energy from the stylus to an electrical signal that your amp and speakers turn into music.

However, most affordable and midrange turntables come with cartridges that don’t extract their full sonic potential.

In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of upgrading your turntable cartridge, step by step.

Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or a beginner, we’ve got you covered.

So, let’s dive in and unlock the full potential of your turntable!

How To Upgrade Turntable Cartridge

Before we get started, you’ll need a few tools: a new cartridge, a flathead screwdriver or 2mm Allen key, and a cartridge alignment tool.

Step 1: Loosen Screws

Use a flat head screwdriver or Allen key to loosen the headshell screws located on the cartridge.

Step 2: Unplug the Wires

Next, unplug the tonearm wires. Be sure to hold these wires by the plastic sleeve to prevent them from breaking.

Step 3: Install the New Cartridge

Now it’s time to install the new cartridge. Begin by re-attaching the tonearm wires. There are colored pins for each of the colored tonearm wires. If you don’t see them, refer to the manual to determine where they go. Try leaving the stylus guard on, because the stylus can be very fragile.

Step 4: Put the Cartridge Together

Insert the screws into the designated slots and then through the cartridge’s housing. Use your finger to hold the headshell in place while turning the screw until its threading catches. Do this with both screws, but make sure they are snug but don’t tighten them entirely just yet.

Step 5: Align the Cartridge

With the cartridge in place, use an alignment tool to ensure it is aligned correctly. The alignment can be adjusted by adjusting the position of your cartridge and the headshell slots. Once aligned, tighten the screws completely.

Congratulations! You have successfully upgraded your turntable cartridge.

Understanding Cartridges: Moving Magnet Vs. Moving Coil

When it comes to upgrading your turntable cartridge, you’ll need to choose between two main types: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). Both cartridge types are transducers that convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. However, they differ in how they perform this conversion.

Moving magnet cartridges use a magnet attached to the cantilever that vibrates near a pair of coils. The small magnet vibrates and produces an electric current of low intensity. Moving magnet cartridges are robust and produce a moderate to high output level. They are generally compatible with all hi-fi stereo amplifiers equipped with a phono input as well as with all phono preamps. However, the moving parts of MM cartridges are heavier than on the moving coil models, which can make them less accurate when it comes to reading subtle changes in the groove, especially at high frequencies.

Moving coil cartridges, on the other hand, use an inverted design compared to that of a moving magnet model. The cantilever vibrates a coil near fixed magnets, which generates the electrical signal. The coil is much smaller than those used in a moving magnet design. Thanks to their low mass, moving coil cartridges offer better tracking of the groove, resulting in a wider frequency response and better transients in the high frequencies. They also offer a more detailed reproduction of the original signal. However, the manufacture of a moving coil cartridge is more expensive, which is reflected in the price of the cartridge. The output signal is much weaker and requires a phono preamp with an additional gain stage. Moving coil cartridges are also more delicate than moving magnet models and their stylus generally cannot be replaced by the user.

So which one is right for you? It depends on your personal preferences and budget. Moving magnet cartridges are a good choice for those on a budget who want a robust and reliable option that produces moderate to high output levels. Moving coil cartridges are ideal for those who want a more nuanced sound with better tracking and more precise highs and lows. However, they come at a higher cost and require more delicate handling. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which one best suits your needs and preferences.

Choosing The Right Cartridge For Your Turntable And Budget

When it comes to choosing a new cartridge for your turntable, there are a few things to consider. First, determine your budget. Cartridges can range from budget-friendly to high-end, so it’s important to set a price range that works for you.

Next, consider the type of cartridge you want. There are two main types: moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). MM cartridges have a cantilever that transfers mechanical vibrations directly into the cartridge’s magnet, while MC cartridges have a fixed magnet and mobile coil. MC cartridges tend to be more expensive but can provide a higher fidelity sound due to their reduced inertia.

Another important factor to consider is the specifications of the cartridge. Look for frequency response, channel separation, channel balance, and output level. These specifications describe how well the cartridge will perform and how well it will meet your needs. A flat frequency response ensures that no frequencies are over or under-emphasized, while high channel separation ensures that you don’t hear signals from one channel in the other.

Stylus shape is also important. The narrower the contact radius, the better the stylus will be able to track modulations in the groove. The two most common shapes are conical and elliptical, with elliptical shapes providing more accurate tracing of grooves and extraction of musical information.

Finally, consider the mount type of the cartridge. Most cartridges are standard mount, secured by two vertical screws spaced 1/2″ apart and featuring four small posts for connecting tonearm leads. P-mount cartridges have four slender pins that plug directly into tonearms specifically made for use with P-mount cartridges.

By considering these factors and doing some research, you can choose the right cartridge for your turntable that fits both your budget and audio needs.

Tools You’ll Need For Upgrading Your Cartridge

When upgrading your turntable cartridge, there are a few essential tools you’ll need to ensure a successful installation.

1. New Cartridge: The first tool you’ll need is the new cartridge itself. Make sure to choose one that is compatible with your turntable and fits your budget and audio preferences.

2. Flathead Screwdriver or 2mm Allen Key: You’ll also need either a flathead screwdriver or a 2mm Allen key to loosen the headshell screws located on the cartridge.

3. Cartridge Alignment Tool: An alignment protractor is an essential tool that ensures the stylus inside your cartridge is aligned with the groove. This tool helps prevent inner groove distortion or a lopsided stereo image as the stylus favors one side over the other.

4. Needle Nose Pliers: Lastly, you’ll need needle nose pliers to carefully unplug the tonearm wires from the back of the old cartridge and plug them into the new one without damaging the wires.

Having these tools at hand will make upgrading your turntable cartridge an easy and hassle-free process, allowing you to enjoy improved sound quality and enhanced musical experience.

Removing Your Old Cartridge: Step-by-Step Guide

Before installing a new cartridge, you’ll need to remove the old one. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through the process.

Step 1: Fit the Stylus Guard

Before removing the old cartridge, fit the stylus guard to prevent damage to the cartridge. You never know if you’ll need to use it again.

Step 2: Disconnect the Wires

Using needle-nose pliers, carefully disconnect the four lead-out wires from the cartridge. These color-coded leads are fragile, so only pull them from the metal connector at the cartridge end rather than the wire itself.

Step 3: Loosen Screws

Using a flathead screwdriver or 2mm Allen key, loosen the headshell screws located on the old cartridge.

Step 4: Remove Old Cartridge

Once the screws are loosened, gently remove the old cartridge from the tonearm.

Congratulations! You have successfully removed your old turntable cartridge.

Installing Your New Cartridge: Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you have the necessary tools and have loosened the screws and unplugged the wires, it’s time to install your new cartridge. Follow these steps for a smooth and easy installation process.

Step 1: Re-attach the Counterweight and Set Tracking Force

Make sure to re-attach the counterweight and set the tracking force as per your cartridge manufacturer’s stated optimal tracking force. You can do this by balancing the tonearm so it floats parallel to the platter surface. This means that we now have zero tracking force, and you can adjust the dial (which spins independently to the counterweight) so that it shows the number zero. After this, twist the actual weight so the dial moves with it. In this case, we want to achieve 1.8 grams, which we can get by turning the weight to 18. Most turntable manufacturers will include detailed instructions on this process in your manual.

Step 2: Check Stylus Cover

Once you’ve got the new cartridge out of the box, make sure to check that the stylus cover is still properly mounted. Cartridges are immensely fragile, and any lack of care will usually result in catastrophic damage. No matter how careful you are, there are times when accidents will happen. If you have a moving magnet design, then it’s usually possible to get a replacement stylus assembly. This won’t be cheap though, typically costing around 60% of the total cartridge price. If you damage a moving coil cartridge, then there’s no cheaper way back. You’ll typically just have to buy another one or get it repaired at great cost.

Step 3: Mount New Cartridge onto Arm

We recommend mounting the new cartridge onto the arm first. Use the supplied fixings. This can be a bit fiddly, particularly if the cartridge body doesn’t have captive nuts. Take your time and don’t over-tighten things; just do the bolts up enough so that the cartridge body doesn’t move around.

Step 4: Connect Lead-out Wires

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. This is where pliers come in handy. If the connectors are a little loose on the pins, then you can use pliers to squeeze them a little tighter. Take care not to damage or break those connectors.

Step 5: Adjust Alignment

Use an alignment tool to adjust cartridge alignment by adjusting the positioning of your cartridge along the headshell slots. We recommend using our own cartridge alignment tool, which is incredibly simple to use. Please note that our alignment tool is only compatible with our OA2 tonearm. If you have our unipivot tonearm, then you will need to use a Stevenson Protractor.

Step 6: Check Vertical Tracking Force (VTF)

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 varies depending on your manufacturer’s recommended VTF listed on your cartridge’s spec sheet.

Step 7: Break-In Period

Finally, give your new cartridge a few hours to break in before it really starts singing.

By following these steps, you should be able to successfully install your new turntable cartridge with ease and precision for an enhanced listening experience.

Setting Up Your Cartridge: Alignment And Tracking Force

Now that your new cartridge is installed, it’s time to set up the alignment and tracking force. This step is crucial in ensuring that your turntable plays music with the highest fidelity possible.

Step 1: Set the Azimuth

The first step in setting up your cartridge is to set the azimuth. This refers to the angle between the plane of the turntable and the vertical axis of the cartridge. The stylus must be perpendicular to the record to prevent any imbalance between the right and left channels of the groove.

To set the azimuth, locate the small screw on the tonearm hinge. This screw may be hidden by the external ring of the hinge or directly in the headshell, depending on your turntable model. Adjust it until the stylus is perpendicular to the record.

Step 2: Set the Alignment

Next, you’ll need to set the alignment of your cartridge. This ensures that it is perfectly aligned on the groove’s tangent. To do this, use an alignment template and position it on the platter of your turntable. Place your cartridge on the mark and check if it is aligned horizontally and vertically.

Once you’ve aligned your cartridge, ensure that you apply the recommended tracking force. The tracking force is the amount of pressure with which the stylus sits in the groove of your record.

Step 3: Set Tracking Force

To set tracking force, use a stylus force gauge. The recommended tracking force for MM cartridges typically falls within a range of 1.5-2 grams, but this may vary depending on your cartridge’s specifications.

To adjust tracking force, loosen the thumbscrew on your counterweight and adjust its positioning on the back of your tonearm. Moving it backward will decrease tracking force, while moving it forward will increase it. Once you’ve positioned it correctly, tighten the thumbscrew.

Remember that a meticulous setup will result in less distortion outside of null points, leading to maximum musical enjoyment. Using a cartridge alignment tool will ensure that your cartridge is properly aligned, but remember that this isn’t a matter of right or wrong – it’s a matter of degree.

By following these steps, you’ll be able to set up your new cartridge with ease and enjoy high-quality sound from your turntable.