Phono Cartridge, Turntable Cartridges, and Needles

Phono Cartridge, Turntable Cartridges, and Needles.

Phono Cartridge – Looking for a new turntable? Hold your horses. You might be able to improve the sound of your current record player just by switching to a new cartridge.

It’s the ‘don’t move, improve’ of the hi-fi world. Let’s go there!

Phono Cartridge

Put in brutally simple terms, turntables work by dragging a tiny diamond through the grooves of a record.

The cartridge’s job is to convert the resulting vibrational energy into a sweet, sweet analog sound.

There is a large amount of musical information encoded in records – so it should be no surprise that the quality of your cartridge has a big impact on sound quality.

What is a Cartridge?

A phono cartridge is a small electro-mechanical component mounted at the front of a tonearm on a turntable.

It holds the cantilever (a tubular arm) and stylus tip (or needle) that vibrates as it traces the record grooves

The stylus tip is the needle-shaped material at the front end of the cantilever. Now the cartridge converts the vibrations into audio signals which are amplified further up the electronic chain.

(Normally, a new cartridge when bought comes together with the stylus, many cartridges are designed with a stylus that is end-user replaceable)

Just for emphasis, An audio system sounds as good as your cartridge and no better.

The quality of output is determined by the quality of the input. What doesn’t go in cannot come out!

Tonal balance, response range, clarity on musical peaks, stereo separation, imaging, and freedom from noise and distortion are all affected at the outset.

The selection of this first component, the cartridge, is critical to the full enjoyment of the rest of your system.

Variations of Turn Table Cartridge

Turntable cartridges come in two types: moving magnet and moving coil.

Moving magnet (often abbreviated to MM) cartridges have a cantilever that transfers the mechanical vibrations picked up from the record groove directly into the cartridge’s magnet.

Its constantly changing magnetic field creates a magnetic flow that generates an electromotive force in direct proportion to the vibrations.

This signal is then amplified and turned back into sound by the speakers.

In order to use a moving magnet cartridge, your amplifier will need to have an MM phono input in order to boost the low voltage and drive the speakers.

A moving coil cartridge, however, has a fixed magnet and mobile coil. This coil moves within the magnetic field created by the fixed magnet, generating an electromotive force.

Because its moving mass is much closer to the pivot point, it reduces inertia, creating a more high-fidelity sound. The downside? Moving coil models tend to be more expensive.

We’ve included both types in our list of the best cartridges, which run from budget to break-the-bank.

Take a look, and consider which could be the best cartridge for you. Higher-quality audio is just a step away.

Phono Cartridge – Cartridge Mount

A cartridge is designed to be mounted on a turntable’s tonearm. Some tonearms use a universal headshell.

Others use a P-mount or T4P. A lesser number use a proprietary mount. The latter means you are restricted to their design.

A universal cartridge is designed for use in either a half-inch or P-mount tonearm. A universal cartridge is simply a P-mount cartridge with a separate half-inch mount adaptor included.

A listing of cartridges by brand and type is provided below as well as some of our specials.

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Exploring Different Phono Cartridges

1. Goldring E3

One of the best cartridges we’ve heard at the money – a fine all-rounder.

This impressive Goldring is a cinch to fit and is compatible with plenty of turntables, making it a very versatile cartridge indeed.

The sound is clean and precise, with clarity and power where required. It also handles rhythm well and has attacks in spades.

Furthermore, The perfect accompaniment to many a midrange deck and easily one of the best cartridges we’ve heard at the money.

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2. Ortofon Quintet Blue

An excellent moving coil cartridge that’s very modestly priced.

Ortofon has been making turntable cartridges since 1948, and it seems like all its expertise went into this one.

Phono Cartridge

The Blue is a true five-star product: simple to fit, not too heavy, so easy to balance out, and capable of a sound that’s worth every penny of its asking price.

It’s an agile sound, with a high level of sonic precision that’s brimming with detail. Plenty of refinement is evident too, and it’s rhythmically surefooted with a good sense of attack.

Just make sure you partner it with the right kit. Otherwise, it’ll be like fitting pram wheels to a Ferrari.

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3. Goldring 1042

This Goldring takes a bit of effort to get in place, but the sound is worth it.

Britain’s oldest cartridge company doesn’t disappoint with this model.

1042 has been around since the 90s and is still one of the best cartridges of its type.

It’s made of Pocan, a glass-reinforced plastic material that’s high in rigidity, so it’s definitely built to last.

It might be tricky to fit, but once in place it will reward you handsomely: the sound is incredibly detailed, letting you deep into the recording, with next to no noise in the background. Well worth the effort.

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4. Ortofon 2M Red

A great upgrade or first-stage cartridge for your turntable.

Another Ortofon, another great buy. This one is a lot more wallet-friendly than the Blue, but still puts in a great performance for the money.

Phono Cartridge

The midrange sounds full and expressive, especially vocals. Bass and treble also score well, though the former could do with a bit more presence.

But that’s a minor quibble. It’s simple to fit and align and provides more than an enjoyable listening experience. Proof that the best cartridges needn’t cost the earth.

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5. Ortofon 2m Blue MM

An excellent moving coil cartridge that’s very modestly priced.

Ortofon has been making turntable cartridges since 1948, and it seems like all its expertise went into this one.

Phono Cartridge

The Blue is a true five-star product: simple to fit, not too heavy, so easy to balance out, and capable of a sound that’s worth every penny of its asking price.

It’s an agile sound, with a high level of sonic precision that’s brimming with detail.

Plenty of refinement is evident too, and it’s rhythmically surefooted with a good sense of attack.

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6. Nagaoka MP110

An affordable but very capable Phono Cartridge.

Easy to fit and align, this cheap and cheerful cartridge gives a bright, breezy listen that will immediately brighten up a dull system.

It has a sweet midrange too. Downsides? The bass could do with a bit more authority, and the treble is a touch edgier than similarly priced rivals.

But in terms of dynamics, this cartridge punches way above its weight, sounding like a much pricier model. If you’re on a budget, it’s well worth investigating.

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