Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking to upgrade your turntable’s cartridge?
It’s important to know that not all cartridges are created equal and not all of them will fit on any turntable.
In fact, there are two main types of cartridges that install and function differently on a record player: Half-Inch and P-Mount.
But how do you determine which type of cartridge you need for your turntable? And what other factors should you consider when choosing a cartridge?
In this article, we’ll explore the compatibility of cartridges with turntables and provide some tips on how to choose the right one for your setup.
So, let’s dive in!
Will Any Cartridge Fit Any Turntable
The short answer is no, not all cartridges will fit on any turntable. The reason for this is because there are two main types of cartridges that fit differently on turntables: Half-Inch and P-Mount.
To determine which type of cartridge you need for your turntable, you can look at the headshell. The 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. If your tonearm has a removable headshell, you can easily determine which type of cartridge you need by looking at the mounting slots. If there are two screws on the top of the cartridge fastening it to the tonearm, it is a half-inch cartridge. If there are four small pins instead, it is a P-Mount cartridge.
But compatibility doesn’t end there. When choosing a cartridge, you also need to consider the mass of the cartridge and whether it is compatible with your turntable’s tonearm. Each turntable is different, so referencing the product manual can help you determine the acceptable range of mass for your tonearm.
Additionally, you’ll need to decide between a moving magnet or moving coil cartridge type. Moving magnet cartridges are more common and generally less expensive than moving coil cartridges. However, moving coil cartridges offer better sound quality and are often preferred by audiophiles.
It’s important to note that some turntable models are only compatible with one cartridge type, while others offer flexibility by being able to work with either moving magnet or moving coil cartridges.
Understanding The Two Types Of Cartridges: Half-Inch And P-Mount
There are two main types of cartridges that fit differently on turntables: Half-Inch and P-Mount.
Half-Inch cartridges have four terminals at the back, with larger pins that connect to four individual wires at the end of the tonearm. The cartridge is secured to the tonearm’s headshell with two screws spaced 1/2” apart. Most modern turntables manufactured today use the Half-Inch cartridge.
P-Mount cartridges, on the other hand, have four terminals at the back that simply plug into the end of the tonearm. The cartridge is then secured to the tonearm with a single screw. Cartridges that use P-Mounts tend to be skinnier and longer.
It’s important to note that some tonearms will not have a removable headshell and are actually part of the tonearm itself. In this case, you can determine whether your cartridge is a Half-Inch or P-Mount by looking at the screws on top of the cartridge. If there are two screws, it is a Half-Inch cartridge. If there are four small pins instead, it is a P-Mount cartridge.
It’s also worth mentioning that once equipped with an optional half-inch adapter bracket, P-Mount cartridges become compatible with both Half-Inch mount tonearms and headshells.
When selecting a cartridge for your turntable, it’s important to ensure compatibility with your specific model and to consider factors such as mass and type (moving magnet or moving coil) to achieve optimal sound quality.
Compatibility: Which Type Of Cartridge Fits Your Turntable?
When it comes to compatibility, the type of cartridge you need for your turntable depends on several factors. First and foremost, you need to determine whether your turntable requires a Half-Inch or P-Mount cartridge. This can be easily determined by examining the headshell and looking at the mounting slots.
Once you have determined the type of cartridge you need, you’ll also need to consider the mass of the cartridge and whether it is compatible with your turntable’s tonearm. The mass of the cartridge is an important consideration because it affects the overall balance of the tonearm. The goal is to have the total mass of the tonearm, including the cartridge, balanced just right so that the stylus accurately tracks grooves without pressing down with too much force or not enough.
To find out which cartridge mass is compatible with your turntable’s tonearm, you should refer to the product manual. The manual should list a range of acceptable minimum and maximum values that will ensure optimum performance.
In addition to cartridge mass, you’ll also need to decide between a moving magnet or moving coil cartridge type. Moving magnet cartridges are more common and generally less expensive than moving coil cartridges. However, moving coil cartridges offer better sound quality and are often preferred by audiophiles.
It’s important to note that some turntable models are only compatible with one cartridge type, while others offer flexibility by being able to work with either moving magnet or moving coil cartridges. Therefore, it’s important to check your turntable’s manual or do some research before purchasing a new cartridge to ensure compatibility.
Factors To Consider When Choosing A Cartridge For Your Setup
When choosing a cartridge for your turntable setup, there are several factors to consider. Here are some important things to keep in mind:
1. Stylus shape: The shape of the stylus affects how it makes contact with the record groove. The two most common shapes of styli are conical and elliptical. Elliptical shaped styli have a smaller contact radius than conical styli, allowing them to trace grooves more accurately and extract more musical information, especially high frequencies.
2. Cantilever: The material, size, and construction of the cantilever affect how well a cartridge can reproduce a range of audio frequencies. The most common material used in cantilevers is aluminum alloy, although carbon, boron, and certain copper alloys are often used.
3. Trackability: This spec describes how well the stylus can track a modulated record groove. Trackability is influenced by many factors – including stylus shape, cartridge alignment, and tonearm compatibility. The spec is often listed in micrometers (μm) – the higher the trackability spec, the better.
4. Generator type: The two main generator types are moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC). MM cartridges are most common. MC cartridges tend to be lower output and require a preamp with a special MC setting. MC cartridges are generally more expensive.
5. Mount type: Most cartridges are standard mount, secured to the tonearm by 2 vertical screws spaced 1/2″ apart and feature four small posts for connecting the tonearm leads. P-mounts have four slender pins that plug directly into tonearms specifically made for use with P-mount cartridges.
6. Frequency response: This is a measure of the range of sounds that the cartridge will reproduce uniformly. A flat frequency response ensures that no frequencies are given over- or under-emphasis.
7. Channel separation: This is the measure of how well one channel “ignores” the other stereo channel, so that you don’t hear signals from the right channel in your left-side speaker.
8. Channel balance: Both sides of a stereo cartridge should have equal loudness when equally recorded levels are present.
9. Output level: This is important in matching your cartridge to the electronics. Too low a level can result in noise, too high a level can over-drive a preamp into distortion.
When selecting a cartridge for your turntable setup, it’s important to consider all these factors to ensure you get the best performance and sound quality from your vinyl records.
Installation: How To Install A Cartridge On Your Turntable
Once you have determined the correct type of cartridge for your turntable, it’s time to install it. Here are the steps to follow:
1. Gather your tools. You will need a flat-head screwdriver, pliers, and the screws and nuts provided with your cartridge.
2. Remove the old cartridge. Use a flat-head screwdriver to loosen the headshell screws on your current cartridge. Next, gently unplug each of the four tonearm wires. Make sure you hold the wires by the plastic sleeve (do not pull on the wire itself, or else they will break).
3. Attach the tonearm wires. Each colored tonearm wire has a corresponding colored pin on the cartridge (if your cartridge does not have colored pins, please consult the cartridge’s manual). Since the stylus is very fragile, it is best to leave the stylus guard on during installation.
4. Mount the new cartridge onto the headshell. 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.
5. Align your cartridge. With the cartridge mounted, use a protractor or 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.
6. Adjust vertical tracking force (VTF). Use a stylus force gauge to check that your VTF is correct. For MM cartridges, the VTF range is usually 1.5-2 grams, but this varies. The manufacturer’s recommended VTF will be listed on your cartridge’s spec sheet. If you need to adjust VTF, loosen the thumbscrew on the counterweight and adjust the counterweight’s positioning on the back of the arm.
7. Tighten all screws and nuts. Once everything is in place and aligned properly, tighten all screws and nuts securely.
8. Break in your new cartridge. The new cartridge may need a few hours to break in before it really starts singing.
It’s important to note that these installation instructions are specific to certain turntables and cartridges, so be sure to consult your product manual for specific instructions and details on compatibility with your equipment.
Maintenance: How To Care For Your Cartridge And Turntable For Optimal Performance
Once you have determined the appropriate cartridge for your turntable, it’s important to maintain both the cartridge and turntable for optimal performance. Here are some tips to keep your equipment in top shape:
1. Clean regularly: Regular cleaning of your turntable and cartridge is essential to ensure they work properly and sound great. Use a carbon fiber brush to remove dust and debris from the stylus and record surface before each use. You can also use a cleaning solution specifically designed for turntables and cartridges to remove any buildup or dirt.
2. Keep your turntable level: Ensure your turntable is level with the floor to prevent tracking force fluctuations that can damage your records. Use a spirit level to make sure your turntable is perfectly level.
3. Properly align your cartridge: After installing the cartridge on the headshell, use a protractor to align it properly for best performance. This will ensure that the stylus tracks the record grooves accurately and produces optimal sound quality.
4. Set correct tracking weight and anti-skate bias: Every cartridge has an optimum tracking weight which can be found in the cartridge specifications. Using a cartridge with incorrect settings can cause damage to the cartridge. Make sure you set the correct tracking weight and anti-skate bias for your specific cartridge.
5. Replace worn-out parts: Turntable cartridges and stylus wear down through use, so it’s important to periodically replace them to maintain top sonic performance. This will also help preserve the integrity of your vinyl collection, which can become scratched or damaged from needles played out past their recommended lifespan.
By following these maintenance tips, you can ensure that your turntable and cartridge work without a hitch and produce high-quality sound for years to come.