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Turntable Cartridge & Phono Cartridge Reviews

The cartridge is an integral part of the turntable. It is connected to the end of the turntable tonearm. Some cartridges are designed with the ability to adjust the weight. Extra weight can be interesting for DJs who need more pressure on the record as the needle would not skip during scratching. In the following text, we will choose the best phono cartridge for your need among the many phono cartridge reviews.

Types of cartridges

There are two types of vinyl cartridge. MM – moving magnet and MC – moving coil. These two types of cartridges have different design and performance. It all starts with a tonearm or with a needle on the cartridge. Tonearm travels over the grooves on the record by moving horizontally and vertically, following small fluctuations which represent a piece of music on the record. During this trip, the needle creates a weak audio signal generated by the proximity of the magnet and the coil. All cartridges have a magnet and coil – the difference is created in relation to their location.

MM Cartridges

mm-cartridge

Cartridge with moving magnet (MM cartridge) is used very often. It has two magnets at the end of the stylus (one for each channel). During the movement of the needle, magnets transmit waves on the coil which is located in the body of the cartridge generating a small voltage during this process.

Advantage of MM cartridges is in generating a strong output signal, which allows them to be compatible with any phono input on the stereo system. Most MM cartridge has a removable needle giving people greater opportunity to replace a needle if it breaks or wears.

The disadvantage of MM cartridges is that magnets increase the weight of the stylus, which is still reflected in their ability to rapidly cross the engraved grooves on the record. This lack of speed affects the finesse in the reproduction of the sound.

MC Cartridges

mc-cartridge

Cartridges are designed opposite to MM cartridges. Two coils are located on top of the stylus. The coils are smaller than magnets and much easier so that the stylus is more agile than that of MM cartridges. Generally, MC cartridges better follows the grooves on gramophone records due to less weight. Stylus on these cartridges gives more precise and better quality playback of recorded sound.

One of the disadvantages of MC cartridges is a low output signal so that these cartridges requires an additional secondary preamplifier or so-called phono preamp. This preamp gives sufficient power to output signal so that it can be attached to the phono input stereo system. Some MC cartridges can provide higher output and are compatible with phono inputs but their output power is weaker than that on MM cartridges. In this case, the stylus can not be independently replaced but only with the intervention of the manufacturer so it may be necessary to dismantle the whole stylus to replace broken ones.

Both types of cartridges offer a good sound quality but if you require top performance then choose MC cartridges.

Ortofon: 2M Red Cartridge Mounted on SH-4 Headshell
154 Reviews
Ortofon: 2M Red Cartridge Mounted on SH-4 Headshell
  • industry standard entry level audiophile cartridge pre-mounted on SH-4...
  • moving magnet design
  • designed to work optimally with a wide range of turntable setups
  • tipped Elliptical diamond stylus and split pole pins with a copper wire
  • fits most turntables

There are several different theories on how each part of the turntable system has an influence on the final sound in percentage. If we say that turntable system consists of the following components: cartridge, tonearm, turntable base (plate, bearing, drive, housing), interconnect cable and a phono preamp, then from our experience, each of this components affects the final result by this percentage:

– Cartridge – 30%
– Tonearm with its own internal wiring – 25%
– Turntable base (platter, bearing, drive, housing) – 35%
– Interconnect cable and phono preamp – 10%

It can be concluded by these percents that the cartridges affect by 40% (with the exception of interconnecting cable and phono preamp) in the overall sound of the turntable, and it is a most delicate part of a turntable and has the fastest wearing, if it is defective it can damage your records, etc. For all these reasons, as we have often repeated, we do not recommend buying used cartridges. Therefore, we here refer only to buying a new phono cartridge in the domestic market. The optimal tracking force is in these cartridges ranges from 2-5 grams, which is too much for the everyday home listening panel, because the higher the tracking force, the faster will record wear.

Buying a turntable cartridge can also be done online, where the choice is far wider and the prices are often lower.

When buying over the Internet, customers often fly into the purchase of so-called NOS (New Old Stock) cartridges, or those that have stood for years in the shop/warehouse and are never sold but are believed to be new. When buying NOS cartridges there is a high (50%) chance to not function properly, although it is new. There are several reasons for this: the collapsed suspension of a cantilever due to the aging of rubber, excessive influence of the elements (moisture, temperature changes, etc.), the oxidation of the contact/coil. It all depends on how much the seller has followed the prescribed storage conditions.

Denon DL 103R Moving Coil Cartridge [Electronics]
2 Reviews
Denon DL 103R Moving Coil Cartridge [Electronics]
  • The latest version of traditional DL-103
  • Output Voltage: 0.25mV | Playback Frequency Range: 20Hz - 45KHz |...
  • Needle Tip: 16.5 micron Diamond Round
  • Needle Pressure: 2.2 -2.8 grams | Weight: 8.5grams

Selection of manufacturers is reduced to Audio Technica, Clearaudio, Grado, Ortofon and Goldring. Here we do not take into account the DJ series Ortofon Stanton, which is available at retailers musical instruments and professional music equipment.

On the other hand, the ads often offer new, unopened cartridges from different manufacturers at very affordable prices. When buying a new (unused) cartridge over the ad you should pay attention to several things:
– Pay attention to the condition of the packaging, should be such that it was just removed from the shelves in the store
– In the box should be located a set of screws for mounting and guidance, and for the better (and more expensive) cartridges also a tool kit for mounting the head, and these are usually small screwdrivers, Allen key, a small key, brushes, etc.
* Hint: Before you complete the purchase with the seller, just browse the Internet to see how this cartridge looks when packed.

Phono Cartridge Reviews:

Audio Technica Cartridge Reviews

With Goldring, Nagaoka, Ortofon, Shure, and Stanton, one of the companies which has been supplying cartridges is also Audio Technica. Many global manufacturers of turntables for years have different versions of Audio Technica cartridge on its turntables (Akai, Dual, Linn, ….).
Today Audio Technica offers several models of a MM and MC cartridges that are often best buy in its class, such as model AT95E.

Audio Technica AT95E review

audio_technica_at95e_dual_magnet_phonograph

The best-selling and currently the most popular MM cartridge in the world. By the sound unsurpassed in its class. For a long time, the OEM version (instead of green, gray plastic) of this cartridge was sold as LINN K5. The only thing that is this cartridge manufactured by LINN company was three times more expensive than AT95E. In our market, can be found at a price of about 50$ (new). It is a great turntable cartridge that can be referred to anyone. We tried a lot of different turntables and tonearms/stylus, and in 90% of cases turned out to be impossible to buy such a sound for that little amount of money. The ideal cartridge for beginners and those who listen to the record player occasionally. Even if it is accidentally damaged or broken, the damage is measured in a few dozen dollars.

Audio-Technica AT95E Phonograph Cartridge for 1/2' Mount Turntables
513 Reviews
Audio-Technica AT95E Phonograph Cartridge for 1/2" Mount Turntables
  • Offers outstanding clarity and detail
  • Each cartridge is meticulously assembled with remarkably tight tolerances
  • The elliptical diamond stylus is designed to track record grooves with high...
  • Includes mounting hardware and stylus guard
  • Also includes zippered pouch, airline adapter and AAA battery; audio...

 

Audio Technica AT92ECD

audio-technica-at92ecd

Same as above, T4P version of AT95E cartridge

Audio-Technica AT95EX 1/2' Mount Elliptical Stylus Turntable Cartridge
42 Reviews
Audio-Technica AT95EX 1/2" Mount Elliptical Stylus Turntable Cartridge
  • Fits half-inch mount Turntables
  • Elliptical stylus
  • Bonded round shank construction
  • Durable dual-magnet design
  • Low distortion

 

Audio Technica AT120E Review

audio-technica-at-120-e

Middle-class cartridge which is offered at a price of up to 100$ (new). As the next step after AT95E, this cartridge is characterized by a solid sound throughout the range, with emphasis on precision and stability of the sound image which is excellent for its class.

Audio Technica AT120ET Phonograph Cartridge
82 Reviews
Audio Technica AT120ET Phonograph Cartridge
  • Frequency Response: 15-25,000 Hz
  • Channel Separation: 29 (dB at 1 kHz)
  • Vertical Tracking Force: 1.0-1.8 grams
  • Stylus Construction: Nude round shank
  • Recommended Load Impedance: 47,000 ohms

 

Audio Technica AT440MLa Review

audio-technica-at440mla

Advanced dual MM cartridge that is on the market can be found at a price up to 300$ (new), which can be considered very reasonable. One of the best-selling MM cartridges in the world and probably the absolute Best Buy, judging by the extremely positive response of many users, as well as tests in the global audio press. It comes with a MicroLine needle which provides an excellent tracking with minimal record wear. It is a serious competitor to a cheaper Goldring (2100, 2200, 1006), Grado Prestige series and Ortofon 2M series by the sound quality an especially by the price.

Today exists two versions of this cartridge: Audio Technica AT440MLa and Audio Technica AT440MLb. The 440MLb replaces the 440MLa. MLb has a slightly wider specified frequency response. They should both sound almost the same if not the same.

Audio Technica ATN440MLA Replacement Stylus
784 Reviews
Audio Technica ATN440MLA Replacement Stylus
  • Frequency Response:20-20,000 Hz
  • Channel Separation:>27 dB at 1 kHz
  • Tracking Force Range:1.0-1.8 grams (1.4 optimal)
  • Recommended Load Impedance:47,000 ohms
  • Output: 4.0 (mV, 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec)

 

We Recommend

Audio Technica ATF7

audio_technica_at_f7_dual_moving_coil

Dual MC head of the middle class, which represent a serious competition with cheaper MC heads of other companies such as Denon DL110, DL160, DL103, and cheaper Sumiko and Clear Audio models. It can be found at prices up to 260 $.

Audio-Technica at-F7 Dual Moving Coil Turntable Cartridge
12 Reviews
Audio-Technica at-F7 Dual Moving Coil Turntable Cartridge
  • Features Audio-Technica’s dual coil design and elliptical stylus (0.2 x...
  • Equipped with a 0.07 mm stainless suspension wire that allows excellent...
  • Neodymium magnet for dramatically increased magnetic energy, and PCOCC...
  • High-rigidity VC mold combined with potassium titanate minimize unnecessary...
  • Durable construction dedicated to achieving increased rigidity for improved...

 

Audio Technica AT-OC9ML/II

audio_technica_oc9ml_ii_dual_moving_microcoil

Dual Moving Microcoil Cartridge that can be found on the market at a price around 500$ (new). We have not had a chance to test this cartridge, but if we trust claims of popular audio magazines and forums, in combination with the appropriate tonearm and phono preamp – this is a top MC head.

Audio-Technica AT-OC9/III MicroCoil Special Line Contact Turntable Cartridge
8 Reviews
Audio-Technica AT-OC9/III MicroCoil Special Line Contact Turntable Cartridge
  • Features a special line contact stylus embedded into a low-profile solid...
  • Cartridge’s “VC mold” design ensures stability and rigidity
  • Dual moving coil offers excellent stereo separation and improved frequency...
  • PCOCC wire, a special copper with virtually no transverse crystal barriers...
  • Rugged body dedicated to achieving a design with increased rigidity

 

Goldring Cartridge Reviews

Another company veteran in the production of turntable cartridges. At the end of the 80s of the last century they kicked out on the market a series 1000, which is unchanged until today and it still produces. Particularly interesting are the models 1012gx and 1042nd.

Goldring 1012GX

goldring-g1012gx

This great MM Cartridge has excellent tracking thanks to Gyger-2 needles and is characterized by very precise and dynamic sound, which reminds a little bit to AT440MLa.