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How to Choose the Right Cartridge for Your Turntable

How to Choose the Right Cartridge for Your Turntable

What is a Phono Cartridge?


In layman’s terms, a turntable works by dragging a small diamond through the grooves of your vinyl. The cartridge is a type of transducer, whose job is to turn the resulting vibrational energy into velvety sound. Mounted on the end of the tonearm, the cartridge includes a needle (stylus) which, in itself is an electro-mechanical device that reads the data held within the grooves and then 'transmits it into an electrical current which is passed through your record player, amplifier and out through your speakers to produce sound. There are a few different types of cartridges and given the vast amount of musical information held within a record, obviously the quality of your cartridge has a direct impact on the quality of the sound. Sometimes, the simple step of swapping out your cartridge can negate the need for a new turntable.


The Components of a Phono Cartridge

To ensure this works smoothly, turntable cartridges need a few components working together in sync. There is the cartridge body, the stylus, the cantilever and suspension and finally the magnet and wire coils.


Moving Magnet vs. Moving Coil

Moving magnet cartridges use a tiny magnet on the stylus arm that activates a current into two coils as the stylus moves in the groove.

In a moving coil cartridge the position of the magnets and coils is reversed. Two coils are fixed to the cantilever and move within the field of a fixed magnet which is located inside the cartridge body. There is much debate as to which method sounds better, but most high-end phono cartridges tend to be moving coil which on the downside, makes them more expensive.


Key Cartridge Brands


For its price, the Goldring E3 (MM) is an impressive and versatile with clean and precise sound. It’s compatible with a slew of turntables and has clarity and power by the bucket load.  Made by Britain's oldest cartridge company, it has been designed to maintain the creative nuances, musicality and rhythm that the artist intended you to hear. The Goldring 1042 (MM) has been in existence since the 1990’s and is still a great choice today. It can be tricky to fit but the reward of intricate sound is well worth the effort.


Market leaders Ortofon have a vast range of phono cartridges in varying price brackets but the Quintet Blue (MC) is probably the leader of the pack when it comes to performance. It’s a very homogeneous cartridge whose sound image will tend to more smooth reproduction compared to Quintet Red and moderate dynamic strength compared to Quintet Bronze. Likewise, the Ortofon 2M Red (MM) makes a great upgrade choice or even a first stage cartridge. It offers precise and accurate retrieval of the information in the record groove. Indeed, it is Ortofon's philosophy to only ever play the recorded sound, without colouration. The 2M Red and 2M Blue both use the same engine with split pole pins. With this improved engine Ortofon have been able to increase the output to an impressive 5.5 mV


The Pro-Ject Pick-IT DS2 is a new Moving Coil (MC) concept from Pro-Ject. Aimed squarely at the passionate vinyl listener who owns a mid-to-high-end turntable, it is designed to be both easy to set-up and engaging to listen to. It’s bursting with musicality and the sound is dynamic and thoroughly expressive. It’s simple to fit too which only sweetens the deal.


How to Mount a Phone Cartridge

Attaching a new phone cartridge can be intimidating and with good reason. The wires are small and fiddly and the cartridge itself is a delicate piece of equipment. Taking you time and working in a w4ll lit area can help.

  1. Make sure you have the right tools for the job before you start, i.e. a small screwdriver.

  2. Ensure your turntable is at eye level in a well-lit area. Use a headlamp if necessary.

  3. Gently fix the cartridge body to the tonearm headshell with the supplied screws. This will need to be aligned using a cartridge alignment protractor. Once you have the cartridge aligned you can tighten the cartridge screws.

  4. Wires up next. There is a universal colour code for phono cartridge leads. Red= Right Positive, Green= Right Negative, White= Left Positive, and Blue= Left Negative.

  5. Using a needle nosed pliers, gently grab the middle to rear part of the sleeve on each wire.

  6. Connect the 4 colour coded cartridge wires to the 4 pins on the rear of the cartridge. You may need to use a pair of needle nosed pliers. Take care not to damage any of the connections.

  7. Set the tracking weight and anti-skate in accordance with the manufacturer's guidelines.


These instructions are meant as a general guide only, and as always. Refer to the manufacturer’s manual for any specific or brand specific instructions.


At HiFiHut we are here to help. Get in touch with our Dublin crew today with any of your phono cartridge related enquiries.


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