How do I choose my Hi-Fi cartridge ?

How do I choose my Hi-Fi cartridge ?

You're looking for a Hi-Fi cartridge to complete your Hi-Fi system (turntable, phono preamp, headphones, etc.), but you're not quite sure about the model? maPlatine.com tells you how to choose your phono cartridge among our wide selection of MM, MC and High Output MC cartridges.

1. Hi-Fi cartridge types

     A. MM cartridges

     B. MC cartridges

     C. Standard Hi-Fi cartridges

     D. Verso Hi-Fi cartridges

     E. PNP Hi-Fi cartridges

2. The choice of Hi-Fi cartridge depends on your phono preamp

3. The choice of Hi-Fi cartridge depends on the tonearm on your turntable

4. The choice of Hi-Fi cartridge depends on your turntable

5. The choice of Hi-Fi cartridge depends on the expected result

6. How much should you spend on a Hi-Fi cartridge?

7. What about mono and 78 rpm cartridges?

 

1. Hi-Fi cartridge types

There are two main types of Hi-Fi cartridges that vary according to their output level: MM cartridges and MC cartridges.

 

A. MM cartridges

MM cartridges, also known as moving magnet cartridges, are the most common phono cartridges. They are the most widespread turntable cartridges because they are simple to manufacture, and therefore the cheapest. Their output level (above 2mV) makes them compatible with most phono preamps.

Typically, MM cartridges have a detachable stylus that can be replaced at the end of its life or when broken. The average life of MM cartridge styli ranges between 600 and 700 hours of use, depending on the model, provided that your turntable is properly set up and that your records are in mint condition (clean, not warped, etc.).

 

Cellule Audio Technica AT95 E

 

B. MC cartridges

MC cartridges, also called moving coil cartridges, are technically more advanced and efficient that MM cartridges and are more expensive as a result. This type of turntable cartridge is divided into two categories: low output MC cartridges and high output cartridges.

 

Low output MC cartridges

As the name suggests, low output MC cartridges have a low output level (around 0.5mV), meaning that they must be used with a phono preamp that is compatible with this output level. If the stylus breaks, it cannot be replaced and the entire cartridge must be replaced.

 

Cellule Kiseki Blue N.S

 

High output MC cartridges

As the name suggests, high output MC cartridges have a high output level that is similar to that of MM cartridges (above 2mV), making them compatible with most commercially-available phono preamps. If the stylus breaks, it cannot be replaced and the entire cartridge must be replaced.

 

Cellule Dynavector DV 10X5

 

Next, you can find three other types of turntable cartridge, according to the way they are mounted to the tonearm of your turntable: standard, verso and PNP cartridges.

 

C. Standard Hi-Fi cartridges

As the name suggests, standard phono cartridges are the most common on the market. They are mounted by screwing the cartridge to the tonearm of your turntable from the top, as shown on the picture below.

 

Cellule Ortofon 2M Red

 

D. Verso Hi-Fi cartridges

Most of Ortofon's MM cartridges in the 2M range are available in verso variant. Namely, they have bottom-mount hardware, as shown on the picture below. These verso Hi-Fi cartridges are specifically designed for headshells that do not allow for a top-mount system. Therefore, it is important to check for the compatibility of this type of phono cartridge with your tonearm.

 

Cellule Ortofon 2M Blue Verso

 

E. PNP Hi-Fi cartridges

Most of Ortofon's MM cartridges in the 2M range are available in the PNP variant. The specific feature of these Hi-Fi cartridges is that they come on a headshell. PNP Hi-Fi cartridges are only compatible with SME type tonearms for this mount type. Therefore, it is important to check for the compatibility of this type of phono cartridge with your tonearm.

 

Cellule Ortofon 2M Black PNP

 

2. The choice of Hi-Fi cartridge depends on your phono preamp

This says it all… First of all, when you consider replacing your Hi-Fi cartridge, you need to know the model of your phono preamp and whether it is MM or MC compatible or both. 

If your phono preamp is a MM preamp (e.g. Thorens MM002 phono preamp) then you'll already have fewer options, because low output MC cartridges won't be compatible. On the other hand, High Output MC cartridges are compatible, as are MM cartridges.

If your phono preamp is MM/MC compatible, then virtually all commercially-available phono cartridges are potentially compatible.

Most phono preamps sold on maPlatine.com are MM/MC compatible.

 

Préampli Lehmann Black Cube Statement

 

 

3. The choice of Hi-Fi cartridge depends on the tonearm on your turntable

To choose a Hi-Fi cartridge, you need to consider the specifications of your turntable's tonearm. The tonearm's technology, its effective weight and length will determine the style of Hi-Fi cartridge that can be fitted to it.

 

Bras Rega RB 303

 

For example, on a lightweight tonearm, you will need a high compliance phono cartridge, meaning with a high level of elasticity on the suspension. The compliance of a Hi-Fi cartridge is considered high from 30 and over.

For example, the Audio Technica AT 440MLB MM cartridge has a high compliance:

 

Cellule Audio Technica AT440 MLB

Conversely, if your turntable's tonearm is heavy, then you'll need a low compliance Hi-Fi cartridge, with a compliance between 5 and 20.

The Clearaudio Concept MM V2 cartridge for example has a low compliance:

 

Cellule Clearaudio Concept MM V2

 

When purchasing a cartridge, you must also consider the weight of the HI-Fi cartridge. In fact, tonearms are not compatible with all commercially-available cartridge models because they may be too heavy. A turntable cartridge that is too heavy for a lightweight tonearm can cause severe damage to your equipment. If the cartridge is too heavy, then the tonearm cannot be perfectly adjusted to the zero balance, which will cause your stylus to wear a lot faster and even break. Worse still, the tonearm of your turntable could bend under the weight of the phono cartridge! So you need to check the load that your tonearm can withstand. On the other hand, the cartridge may also be too light, and therefore, incompatible.

 

All this information features in the technical details in the product data sheets. Also, our technicians are there to assist you via e-mail (contact@maplatine.com).

 

4. The choice of a Hi-Fi cartridge depends on your turntable

Besides the tonearm, you have to consider the design of your turntable to choose the right phono cartridge. For example, mounting a Pro-Ject 9 CC EVO tonearm onto a Rega RP1 turntable will deliver a completely different sound than if it were mounted onto a X-tension 9 CC Evo turntable. You won't turn an entry level turntable into a high end product just by replacing the tonearm.

The materials used to make the turntable will significantly affect the sound and reproduction quality.

Also bear in mind that for the Rega turntable brand, the choice of phono cartridge is a little more subtle. In fact, on Rega turntables, the tonearm height is not adjustable (VTA). Therefore, Rega cartridges are specifically designed to be mounted onto Rega turntables. So if you want to buy a phono cartridge of a different brand, you'll need to buy a spacer.

 

Cellule Rega Exact

 

 

5. The choice of a Hi-Fi cartridge depends on the expected result

Naturally, depending on what music you listen to and the sound quality you expect, you'll need to opt for different Hi-Fi cartridge models. Some phono cartridges provide many details and precision, while others focus on musicality. 

Browse our wide selection of turntable cartridge brands (Ortofon, Audio Technica, Benz Micro, Dynavector, Grado, Goldring, Kiseki, Hana, Accuphase etc.) in various ranges. 

 

Cellule MC Hana EH

 

Contact our technicians via e-mail (contact@maplatine.com) if you need help to choose a turntable cartridge.

 

 

6. How much should you spend on a Hi-Fi cartridge?

Before you opt for a phono cartridge, you need to determine how much you're prepared to spend. Note that the investment should be in line with the rest of your system. Turntable cartridge prices can vary from a few dozen euros to several thousand euros!

To give you an idea, on entry level turntables, you should ideally invest in a phono cartridge that costs between 15% and 30% of the price of your turntable. For high end cartridges, it is reasonable to invest in a Hi-Fi cartridge that costs between 20% and 50% of the price of your turntable.

 

Cellule Kiseki Blue N.S

 

7. What about mono and 78 rpm cartridges?

Mono and 78 rpm cartridges are specifically designed for monophonic or 78 rpm records. Before purchasing mono and 78 rpm cartridges, you need to determine how many records in these categories you have in your collection.  If you want to enjoy your records, you will have to mount the cartridge each time you play those records and replace it with a standard Hi-Fi cartridge to go back to your standard 33 rpm LPs. 

As this is tedious to do and requires that the turntable be properly set up between every change, we recommend that you only invest in this type of Hi-Fi cartridge if you listen to monophonic or 78 rpm records on a regular basis. 

Ortofon, a world leading brand famous for its phono cartridges offers a great alternative with the 2M range. The styli are easily interchangeable. Therefore the Ortofon 2M Mono stylus and the Ortofon 2M 78 stylus are compatible with the manufacturer's 2M cartridge range (Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, 2M Blue, 2M Bronze and 2M Black). And this is exclusive to the manufacturer.

 

Stylus Ortofon 2M Mono

 

 

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We hope that these recommendations will give you better insight into the matter. Feel free to contact us if you need help choosing a turntable cartridge.