If you’re a vinyl enthusiast with a modest budget, you’re likely to select a mid-range record player when it’s time to replace your old machine. Happily, there are some great turntables out there at very reasonable prices, particularly if you’re prepared to shop around and avoid big name brands in favour of smaller, more eclectic audio tech companies.
While we don’t believe that you have to spend a fortune on a top of the range turntable to get great sound, we’ve noticed that many mid-range and budget record players suffer with the same problem – a pre-installed cartridge that’s inferior to the overall quality of the machine.
Even when a good quality cartridge is pre-installed, it may not match the turntable’s overall capacity. In fact, many record players could have their sound quality vastly improved with the addition of a superior cartridge and replacing it is a quick, easy and relatively inexpensive way to instantly update or upgrade your system.
Though cartridges are generally robust and built to last, they will gradually lose sensitivity over time and will eventually need replacing.
What does a record player cartridge do?
Record player turntable cartridges are designed to read the tiny undulations in the grooves on a disk, converting this mechanical motion into electrical impulses that are then amplified through a hi-fi system where they become our favourite sounds and songs. The job of a record player cartridge is complex and difficult, making these little workhorses an important component of any turntable-based hi-fi system.
Are there different types of record player cartridge?
At Divine Audio, we sell two different types of record player cartridge: moving magnet and moving coil.
Moving magnet Cartridges
Moving magnet cartridges are usually on the cheaper end of the spectrum as they require a lower level of micro-engineering in production. In a moving magnet cartridge, the cantilever that carries the stylus has a tiny permanent magnet inside, positioned between two sets of fixed coils, forming a tiny electromagnetic generator. As the magnet vibrates in response to the stylus needle tracking along the record groove, it induces a tiny current in the coils.
Moving coil cartridges
Moving coil cartridges are also tiny electromagnetic generators, but unlike moving magnet cartridges, their coils are attached to the cantilever and move within the field of a permanent magnet.
The coils in this type of cartridge are much smaller and made from very fine wire. Since the number of windings that can be supported in such an armature is very limited, the output voltage level is correspondingly small. The resulting signal is only a few hundred microvolts and thus more easily swamped by noise and induced hum, etc. It’s challenging to design a preamplifier with the extremely low noise inputs needed for moving-coil cartridges, therefore a ‘step up transformer’ is sometimes used instead. The cost of this is in addition to the cartridge itself often accounts for the extra expense incurred with choosing a moving coil.
Moving coil cartridges are precision instruments built on a micro scale. As such, they tend to be much more expensive than moving magnet cartridges. Vinyl lovers often prefer this type of cartridge due to a subjectively better performance.
What’s the difference between a cartridge and a stylus?
Although they work together as a precision instrument, a turntable cartridge and stylus are two separate parts. If you think of turntable cartridges like windscreen wiper assemblies on cars, the stylus would be the thin rubber blade that makes direct contact with the windscreen. You know that the blade is starting to wear out when it can no longer effectively clear away the rain. And so long as the wiper assembly is still in good condition, you would need to replace only the blade portion. This same concept applies to how you would treat a turntable — if the cartridge is still in good condition, replace only the stylus.
The exception to the rule is that some types of turntable cartridges lack a removable stylus, so you would have to replace the entire cartridge.
When should I replace my record player cartridge or stylus?
If your record player is producing sound that’s distorted, fuzzy, crackly, static-filled or blurry, it may be time to replace the stylus head (containing the needle) or cartridge.
First check the stylus, as this is the most inexpensive part to replace. You may be able to detect physical signs that the needle is past its best, for instance if it appears bent, warped coated with solidified dust and oil that can’t be removed with specialist cleaning products (check out our specialist needle cleaning putty from Winyl.)
If you’re still experiencing problems after replacing the needle, or if you can see the cartridge wobbling or jumping while a record is being played, it’s probably time to invest in a new one.
If you’ve purchased a used turntable, it may also be a good idea to start off with a new cartridge as you have no idea how old the original is or whether it’s been well cared for, putting your precious record collection at risk of damage.
When assessing the sound quality of your machine make sure that you use clean records, as dust and dirt stuck in the grooves along with static build-up are the most likely cause of poor sonic output. For advice on keeping your record collection squeaky clean, check out our recent blog post.
I need to replace my record player cartridge. What brand would you recommend?
At Divine Audio, we exclusively stock Audio Technica record player cartridges. The brand’s range of moving magnet cartridges start at £30 and go up to £800 while their moving coil cartridges are a little pricier, ranging from £250-£1000. London and Shelter are also kept on the shelf for those with bigger budgets.
Audio Technica is a worldwide group of companies that designs and manufactures a range of professional grade problem solving audio equipment, including microphones and phonographic magnetic cartridges. The company has been producing cartridges since it was established back in 1962 in Tokyo and is still at the cutting edge of product design, having won numerous industry awards for quality, price and performance.
We stock Audio Technica cartridges because they’re great quality at a very competitive price. We buy direct from the manufacturer rather than through distributors, passing this saving on to our customers. Not only are we cheaper than buying from the country of manufacture, we offer UK-based product support and aftercare. If you have any problems with your cartridge after purchase, come straight to us!
Over the years, we’ve also found Audio Technica to be one of our most reliable brands (in fact, we’ve never had a faulty product from the company in over 15 years!) Their prices are reasonable given the quality of the product and they’re every bit as good as some of the ultra-fashionable, hand-made, bespoke cartridges that hi-fi snobs rave about (we know where we’d be spending our money.)
Which record player cartridge should I choose?
Get in touch. We can advise which models are compatible with your record player along with helping you decide which meet your individual needs. We’re happy to chat through options with no obligation to buy.
If you decide to make a purchase, we offer next day delivery and can talk you through installing and getting the best out of your new cartridge, along with fixing any teething problems. All our products come with a 12-month Divine Audio warranty along with the manufacturers guarantee. If we can’t fix a faulty product, we’ll replace it at no cost.