The choice of a cartridge has its importance over the restitution quality. Various technical characteristics as well as the connection to the other elements (tonearm, turntable, preamplifier) can sometimes make this choice difficult. In this shopping guide, we share you the impact of your choice in phono cartridge, and the reasons why you should overcome this obstacle and invest in a MC cartridge if your system allows it.
1. What is a phono cartridge?
First of all, it is essential according to us to remind the goal of a cartridge in an analogue system.
The phono cartridge is a key element of the turntable. Indeed this is the part in contact with the vinyl record thanks to its stylus that browses the grooves in order to extract an electrical signal. Then this signal will be sent to the tonearm thanks to magnetic coils and magnets called “generators”.
And, the signal is preamplified and equalized (RIAA) thanks to a phono preamplifier, before being processed in the pre-amplification and amplification circuits of the Hi-Fi system.
2. What is the difference between MM cartridge and MC cartridge?
Although the phono cartridges have the same role, they are different in terms of manufacturing, technology and therefore price. They are divided in two categories: MM cartridges and MC cartridges. There is also a third technology called MI (Moving Iron), used by manufacturers such as Grado (with the Grado Gold-2 MM cartridge) and Soundsmith, among others. This principle is electronically similar to an MM cartridge (high output, 47 Kohms impedance).
2.1. MM cartridges
Moving magnet cartridges (MM) are the most common ones and the less expensive. MM cartridges are standard that can be adapted to most of the phono preamplifiers thanks to their high output level and their high impedance (47 Kohms) such as the Ortofon 2M Blue MM cartridge.
Their cantilever, attached to the magnets, oscillates between the two coils of wire. The movement of the magnet produces a modulated audio signal. The “defect” of these cartridges is the limited frequency response and the perfectible channel separation that often generate high distortion level.
However the advantage is that we can easily change the stylus because it is not attached to coils of wire.
2.2. MC cartridges
For the moving coil cartridges (MC), it is the contrary! The coil is attached to the cantilever and the signal is generated by the movement of these coils in the magnets. On the market, we find two types of MC cartridges: low output such as the famous Ortofon Quintet Black S cartridge and high output ones, such as the Benz Micro Silver cartridge.
Furthermore, the coils of the MCs are smaller than ones of the MMs. Made of thinner cables, the moving parts are lighter and therefore swifter. In this way, the sound restitution is faster, clearer and more dynamic.
Indeed, MC cartridges technology allows a smoother and more precise movement than that of MM cartridges, offering a more linear frequency response and therefore closer to reality! With an MC cartridge, we have the essential to listen to analogue music!
Note: the difference in terms of quality between the cartridges also depends on the shape and the size of the stylus, the cantilever, the type of frame and the quality of the using coils. A high-end MC cartridge often offers a very low output level (< 0.3 mV) and an internal impedance of less than 10 ohms. It is the case for the Ortofon MC Anna Heritage cartridge.
3. Compatibility of the cartridge with the other elements of the turntable
It is not always easy to choose the right Hi-Fi cartridge. Some elements should be checked in order to make the right choice.
3.1. Phono preamplifier
The phono cartridge must be compatible with the sensitivity level of the phono preamplifier. Its gain must be between 60 and 66 dB.
The low output MC cartridges have a low output level (less than 0.6 mV), while high output MC cartridges have an output level higher than 2mV. This higher level is obtained by the winding of the generator. This one is heavier and the impedance is similar to a MM cartridge. Mechanically they are MC, but electrically MM.
These fit most of the MM phono preamplifiers on the market such as the GRAHAM SLEE Gram Amp2 Special Edition MM phono preamplifier.
Before investing in a new cartridge, it will be necessary to take into account the specificities of the tonearm of your turntable, in particular its technology, its effective mass or even its length. Also, its adjustment possibilities should not be neglected.
For example, if you wish to mount a MC cartridge on your turntable instead of a MM one, you will have to make sure that the compliance is in accordance with the effective mass of the tonearm. The heavier the tonearm, the lower the cartridge compliance must be.
Finally, the weight is also an important element. The tonearms are not compatible with all phono cartridge on the market because they may be too heavy but also too light. For example, a Benz Micro LP-S cartridge is not compatible with a Rega Planar 6 turntable because the cartridge is too heavy. However, it is compatible with the Hana SL MC cartridge.
The cartridge and the tonearm must be compatible, so you must also take into account the turntable technology when selecting your phono cartridge. Indeed, some suspended turntable can have different behaviors depending on the cartridge.
Any cartridge cannot be associated with any tonearm, and any tonearm cannot be mounted on any turntable!
We hope that this shopping guide will help you get on the MM cartridge and discover the wonderful world of MC cartridge! If you would like any further information, do not hesitate to contact one of our technicians by phone (0 810 810 121) or by our contact form.