If you’re a vinyl enthusiast or a DJ, you’ve probably heard the term “headshell” thrown around before. But what exactly is a turntable headshell?
In short, it’s the piece at the end of a turntable’s tonearm that holds the phono cartridge in place. But there’s more to it than that.
In this article, we’ll dive into the details of what a headshell is, how it works, and why it’s an important component of your turntable setup.
Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or just starting out with vinyl, read on to learn all about turntable headshells.
What Is A Turntable Headshell
A turntable headshell is a small but crucial component of a turntable’s tonearm. It’s the platform that holds the phono cartridge, which includes the stylus that makes contact with the record’s grooves and reads the information stored on them.
The headshell is typically made of aluminum or a special alloy material that minimizes erroneous resonance that can negatively affect sound quality. It’s attached to the end of the tonearm and can be either detachable or fixed directly to the tonearm.
Most phono cartridges offer 1/2″ mounting holes, and the headshell is usually fabricated with 1/2″ spaced slots to allow a cartridge to be mounted at the optimum effective length of the tonearm. Some headshells are designed to allow variable weights to be attached, which can be useful for preventing skipping if a DJ is scratching the record.
Removable headshells offer an advantage in that they allow for easy maintenance and upgrades. Since the cartridge is mounted and aligned to the headshell by screws, but is still removable, you can acquire more headshells and mount different cartridges, easily changing them out for one another. This allows you to quickly change up the sound profile without the hassle of removing and remounting the cartridge in the case of fixed arms.
The Anatomy Of A Turntable Headshell
A turntable headshell consists of several parts that work together to hold and connect the phono cartridge to the tonearm. The headshell mount is the part that connects the headshell to the tonearm, and it’s usually located at the end of the tonearm. The headshell itself is a small platform that holds the phono cartridge in place. It’s typically made of lightweight materials like aluminum or alloy to minimize resonance.
The headshell also has slots that allow for the mounting of cartridges with 1/2″ spacing. These slots are designed to ensure that the cartridge is mounted at the optimum effective length of the tonearm. Some headshells come with variable weights that can be attached to help prevent skipping during DJ scratching.
The phono cartridge is mounted and aligned to the headshell by screws, which allows for easy maintenance and upgrades. With removable headshells, you can acquire more headshells and mount different cartridges, making it easy to switch up your sound profile without having to remove and remount the cartridge.
How A Headshell Works With A Phono Cartridge
The headshell serves as the connecting piece that holds both the phono cartridge and stylus in place while also connecting these two pieces to the tonearm. It’s essentially a small platform that the cartridge and stylus are mounted onto, and then this platform is connected to the tonearm.
The headshell is responsible for connecting the electrical wires of the cartridge to the tonearm, allowing for the transfer of audio signals from the stylus to the tonearm and then on to the amplifier. Additionally, the headshell is where the cartridge alignment is calibrated, ensuring that the stylus tracks the record grooves perfectly.
Having a removable headshell allows for easy upgrades or changes in cartridges, which can significantly impact sound quality. For example, DJs may want to switch out cartridges with different weights to prevent skipping while scratching records. With a removable headshell, this process is quick and easy.
Types Of Headshells Available On The Market
There are two main types of headshells available on the market: removable and fixed.
Removable headshells are commonly found on modern turntables and offer the advantage of easy maintenance and upgrades. Since the cartridge is mounted and aligned to the headshell by screws, but is still removable, you can acquire more headshells and mount different cartridges, easily changing them out for one another. This allows you to quickly change up the sound profile without the hassle of removing and remounting the cartridge in the case of fixed arms.
Fixed headshells, on the other hand, are attached or fixed directly to the tonearm and cannot be removed. They were more common in older turntables from the 70s and 80s. While they offer a simple design, they lack the flexibility of removable headshells.
In addition to these two main types, there are also specialized headshells available on the market. For example, some headshells are designed to allow variable weights to be attached, which can be useful for preventing skipping if a DJ is scratching the record. Other headshells are compatible with specific tonearms or cartridges, so it’s important to check compatibility before purchasing.
Importance Of Choosing The Right Headshell For Your Turntable
Choosing the right headshell for your turntable is crucial to achieving the best sound quality possible. The headshell’s weight, material, and design can all affect the overall sound of your turntable.
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a headshell is its weight. The weight of your headshell should be compatible with the weight of your cartridge and tonearm. If the headshell is too heavy or too light, it can negatively affect the sound quality by causing unwanted resonance or skipping.
Another important factor to consider is the material of the headshell. Aluminum and special alloy materials are popular choices because they are lightweight and minimize resonance. However, some audiophiles prefer heavier materials like brass or copper for their superior vibration-damping properties.
It’s also essential to consider whether you want a detachable or fixed headshell. Detachable headshells offer more flexibility in terms of switching out cartridges and upgrading components. Fixed headshells, on the other hand, are often preferred for their simplicity and stability.
Ultimately, choosing the right headshell for your turntable comes down to personal preference, budget, and desired sound quality. It’s important to do your research and consult with experts if you’re unsure about which headshell is best for your specific setup. With the right headshell, you can enjoy optimal sound quality and get the most out of your turntable.
Maintaining Your Headshell And Cartridge For Optimal Performance
To maintain your headshell and cartridge for optimal performance, there are a few key steps to follow. First, make sure to carefully remove the stylus cover or guard before proceeding. Overhang refers to the distance the stylus “overhangs” the turntable spindle, and it’s important to check your turntable manual for the specific requirement.
For example, the Technics SL1500c requires an overhang of 52mm. To set the overhang correctly, loosen the screws and use a set of calipers to measure from the bottom ring of the headshell to the tip of the stylus. When tightening the screws, make sure the cartridge is parallel on the headshell when viewed from above. This means it should be facing straight forward, not twisted at an angle.
If you set the overhang and parallel position correctly, then the stylus should be perfectly aligned and ready to go. Tighten the screws carefully to ensure you don’t move the cartridge out of position. If you would like to check the alignment, you can use a cartridge protractor to ensure the stylus aligns with both null points. Most Japanese turntable manufacturers, such as Technics, use the Stevenson alignment protractor.
It’s also important to note that different headshells can offer unique benefits for your turntable. For example, some headshells move somewhat freely on the lateral plane, which reduces stylus wear and ensures the cartridge is equally balanced in the groove. However, this can also make cueing a new adventure.
Additionally, some headshells have been optimized for specific cartridges or turntables, and can improve performance by reducing standing wave resonances. No matter which headshell you choose, make sure it’s made of high-quality materials and fits securely onto your tonearm.
Headshell Upgrades: Do They Make A Difference?
Many turntable enthusiasts wonder if upgrading their headshell will make a noticeable difference in sound quality. The answer is that it depends on the specific components and materials being used.
Advanced technology headshells use special alloy material to attain unitary structural connection with the cartridge and tonearm, which minimizes erroneous resonance that can negatively affect sound quality. This can result in a cleaner, more accurate sound reproduction.
Additionally, some headshells are designed to allow variable weights to be attached, which can be useful for preventing skipping if a DJ is scratching the record. This can be especially important for those who use their turntables for DJing or scratching.
However, it’s important to note that upgrading your headshell may not always make a significant difference in sound quality. If you’re looking to improve your turntable’s performance, it’s often more effective to focus on upgrading other components such as the cartridge or speakers.
In summary, while upgrading your headshell can potentially improve sound quality and functionality, it’s important to consider the specific components and materials being used and to focus on other components for significant improvements.