What Is An MM/MC Phono Stage? A Comprehensive Overview

Vinyl records have made a comeback in recent years, and with it, the need for high-quality phono stages.

But what exactly is an MM/MC phono stage? And how does it differ from a standard phono stage?

In this article, we’ll explore the world of MM/MC phono stages, including the differences between MM and MC cartridges, the benefits and drawbacks of each, and why investing in a high-quality phono stage can make all the difference in your vinyl listening experience.

So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the world of MM/MC phono stages.

What Is MM MC Phono Stage

An MM/MC phono stage is a type of phono preamp that supports both MM and MC cartridges. MM stands for Moving Magnet, while MC stands for Moving Coil.

A Moving Magnet cartridge is the most common type of cartridge found in turntables. It has a metal cantilever with a tiny magnetic element on its end, which works with the magnets within your phono preamp to create an electrical signal that’s then converted into sound through your speakers or headphones. This type of cartridge features two main benefits: it can produce consistent and robust output, making it compatible with a variety of phono stages and allowing it to be used in a wide range of stereos. Additionally, the needle may be replaced in the event of breakage or wear.

On the other hand, a Moving Coil cartridge uses a similar motor system as the Moving Magnet cartridge except that the magnet is fixed and the coils, which are fixed to the cantilever vibrate in response to the movement of the stylus tracking the record grooves. Due to the smaller parts and greater precision, moving coil cartridges tend to be expensive compared to a moving magnet cartridge. The primary difference between the cartridge types is that Moving Coil cartridges have a much lower output voltage compared to Moving Magnet cartridges, so they require a higher level of amplification before input to your amp.

In higher-end MM/MC phono stages, two entirely separated phono stages are included – one for MM and one for MC – with load and gain adjustment for the MC input. Budget MM/MC phono stages tend to skip the important load and gain adjustment for the MC input, which might sacrifice some of the sonic performance you want to achieve by buying an expensive MC cartridge.

What Is A Phono Stage?

A phono stage, also known as a phono preamp, is an electronic device that connects your turntable to your amplifier. When vinyl was the standard for audio recording, the phono stage was built-in to receivers and amps, allowing direct connection of a turntable. However, as new formats like CD were introduced and began to replace vinyl, manufacturers of amplifiers removed or reduced the quality of their in-built phono stages and inputs as they were no longer being used. A lot of hi-fi amplifiers now won’t let you plug in a turntable directly. You need to connect via a phono stage to make the very small signal from the turntable powerful enough for your main amp to work with.

Turntable cartridges output a very small signal and this needs amplifying up to several hundred times the size before it is loud enough for your amplifier. If any noise creeps in before or during amplification, it will become increased in volume detracting from the potential audio quality. A dedicated phono stage is fine-tuned to reproduce the warm sound of vinyl, free from hiss or bearing rumble thanks to our engineers’ expertise in circuit design, component choice and layout. Connected using a single audio interconnect cable, a phono stage is set-up in seconds allowing you to appreciate stunning clarity, musicality, and resolution from all your vinyl recordings.

Some amplifiers are already able to support turntable connections but these in-built phono pre-amplifiers are usually out-performed by external phono stages. Vinyl lovers will instantly hear the difference that a dedicated phono stage makes to music quality. It’s important to note that MM/MC phono stages have different input impedance in order to match the different output impedance of MM and MC cartridges. MC phono stages have adjustable gain and input impedance that you must manually adjust to meet the signal levels of your specific MC cartridge. MM phono stages don’t require that, making the phono stage set-up easier.

The Difference Between MM And MC Cartridges

When it comes to cartridges, the primary difference between MM and MC cartridges is the way they produce an electrical signal. A Moving Magnet cartridge has a tiny magnetic element on its end that works with the magnets within your phono preamp to create an electrical signal. In contrast, a Moving Coil cartridge has coils fixed to the cantilever that vibrate in response to the movement of the stylus tracking the record grooves.

Moving Magnet cartridges tend to be more affordable and feature a higher output voltage compared to Moving Coil cartridges. This means they can produce consistent and robust output, making them compatible with a wide range of phono stages and stereos. Additionally, the needle may be replaced in the event of breakage or wear. However, Moving Coil cartridges are more expensive and tend to be more delicate due to their smaller parts and greater precision. They also have a much lower output voltage compared to Moving Magnet cartridges, so they require a higher level of amplification before input to your amp.

When choosing a phono stage for your turntable, it’s important to consider whether you have an MM or MC cartridge. In higher-end MM/MC phono stages, two entirely separated phono stages are included – one for MM and one for MC – with load and gain adjustment for the MC input. Budget MM/MC phono stages tend to skip the important load and gain adjustment for the MC input, which might sacrifice some of the sonic performance you want to achieve by buying an expensive MC cartridge. Therefore, if you have invested in an expensive MC cartridge, it might be wise to choose a high-quality dedicated MC phono stage that will enable you to extract the sonic potential of the cartridge or buy a high-end MM/MC phono stage that includes a separate high-quality phono stage for MC.

The Benefits And Drawbacks Of MM Cartridges

Moving Magnet phono cartridges, also known as MM cartridges, have several benefits and drawbacks. One of the most significant advantages of an MM cartridge is its affordability. They are generally less expensive than MC cartridges, making them a practical choice for those on a budget.

Another advantage of MM cartridges is their compatibility with a wide range of household stereo equipment. Most standard phono inputs connect with MM outputs, making them a simpler choice when it comes to installation. Additionally, MM cartridges often come with a replaceable stylus, which can help prolong the life of the cartridge.

On the downside, MM cartridges tend to have a higher tracking weight compared to MC cartridges, which can lead to increased wear on your vinyl records over time. Additionally, MM cartridges may not produce the same level of detail and accuracy as MC cartridges due to their design differences.

It’s important to note that choosing between an MM and MC cartridge ultimately depends on personal preference and the specific needs of your setup. While MM cartridges may be more affordable and easier to install, MC cartridges may offer superior sound quality for audiophiles willing to invest in more expensive equipment.

The Benefits And Drawbacks Of MC Cartridges

While MC cartridges provide exceptional sound quality, they come with some drawbacks that must be considered before making a purchase. The first drawback is the cost. MC cartridges are generally more expensive than MM cartridges due to their complex design and the precision required in their manufacture. Additionally, the preamplifier needed to make them compatible with normal amps and sound systems can add a significant cost to the overall setup.

Another drawback is that MC cartridges have a much lower output voltage compared to MM cartridges, which means they require a higher level of amplification before input to your amp. This can result in additional noise being introduced into the system, which can be especially problematic if you go cheap on the step-up amp.

Finally, if your stylus goes bad on an MC cartridge, you can’t simply replace it. You need a whole new cartridge, which can be an expensive proposition. Additionally, you will need to purchase another preamp, set it up with your already existing preamp, and get another set of cables as well.

Despite these drawbacks, MC cartridges have some significant benefits that make them worth considering. They offer exceptional sound quality and are capable of reaching audiophile heights that MM cartridges cannot match. Additionally, some modern MC cartridges have a step-up circuit included, which avoids the need for an additional step-up amplifier and can mean huge cost savings in the long run.

Ultimately, the decision between MM and MC cartridges comes down to personal preference and budget. If you’re looking for an affordable option that is easy to install and maintain, an MM cartridge may be the way to go. However, if you’re a serious audiophile looking for the highest possible sound quality, an MC cartridge may be worth the investment despite its drawbacks.

What Is An MM/MC Phono Stage?

An MM/MC phono stage is a phono preamp that includes electronic circuitry to support both Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC) cartridges. This type of phono stage provides the connection between the record player and an amplifier. When vinyl was the defacto standard for audio recording, the phono stage was built-in to receivers and amps, allowing direct connection of a turntable. However, as new formats like CD were introduced and begun to replace vinyl, manufacturers of amplifiers removed or reduced the quality of their in-built phono stages and inputs as they were no longer being used.

In higher-end MM/MC phono stages, this is usually accomplished by including two entirely separated phono stages – one for MM and one for MC – with load and gain adjustment for the MC input. Budget MM/MC phono stages, on the other hand, tend to skip the important load and gain adjustment for the MC input. This might sacrifice some of the sonic performance you want to achieve by buying an expensive MC cartridge.

Therefore, if you have invested in an expensive MC cartridge, then it might be wise to choose a high-quality dedicated MC phono stage that will enable you to extract the sonic potential of the cartridge. Alternatively, you could buy a high-end MM/MC phono stage that includes a separate high-quality phono stage for MC. A dedicated phono stage is fine-tuned to reproduce the warm sound of vinyl, free from hiss or bearing rumble thanks to engineers’ expertise in circuit design, component choice, and layout.

Why Invest In A High-quality Phono Stage?

Investing in a high-quality phono stage can greatly enhance the sound quality of your vinyl records. While budget phono stages can get the job done, they often lack the necessary features to fully optimize the performance of your turntable and cartridge. A high-quality phono stage will provide more accurate amplification and RIAA equalization, resulting in a clearer and more detailed sound.

Furthermore, a dedicated MC phono stage is essential if you have invested in an expensive MC cartridge. These cartridges require more amplification and specific load and gain adjustments, which can only be achieved with a high-quality phono stage. Additionally, higher-end phono stages are more versatile and can accurately amplify a wider range of cartridges, including rare moving coil cartridges that require much more gain and have different electrical requirements than common moving magnet cartridges.

When choosing a phono stage, it’s important to consider your existing vinyl system and budget. If you have a budget turntable with a moving magnet cartridge, then an affordable phono stage that’s compatible with MM cartridges is sufficient. However, if you’re a hi-fi enthusiast with a premium turntable and enjoy fine-tuning your system with different MM and MC cartridges, then a high-quality phono stage with flexible cartridge loading and gain adjustments is necessary to achieve the best sound quality possible.

In conclusion, investing in a high-quality phono stage is essential for anyone who wants to fully optimize the performance of their turntable and cartridge. While budget options may suffice for some, those who are serious about their vinyl collection should consider investing in a high-end phono stage to achieve the best sound quality possible.