Using Turntable Cartridges: An Overview

The turntable cartridge is the most important part of a turntable system, and it’s also one of the more complicated parts to understand. The reason for this is that there are many different types of cartridges, each with their own unique design and intended purpose. This article will explain what makes up a cartridge, how they work, and which ones you should use in your turntable setup.

The Turntable Cartridge: What It Is And Why You Need One

A turntable cartridge is an electronic component used to convert audio signals from analog to digital format. In other words, it converts the sound waves into electrical impulses (or “signals”) that can be read by your turntable’s internal electronics. When you plug your turntable into a wall socket, the electricity flowing through the cord causes the needle on the record to move across the surface of the vinyl. As the needle moves, it creates tiny vibrations that cause the stylus to pick up the grooves on the record. These grooves contain information about the music being played, including pitch, volume, and timing. Your turntable cartridge then reads these grooves and translates them into digital data that your turntable can process.

This conversion process is very similar to the way computers read CDs or DVDs, except that instead of using lasers to read the disc, the turntable uses magnets to do so. Because the magnetic field created by the magnet is much stronger than the laser light emitted by a CD/DVD player, the turntable cartridge has to be able to handle a lot more power.

There are two main types of turntable cartridges: phono cartridges and moving coil cartridges. Moving coil cartridges are generally considered superior because they have higher fidelity and better tonal balance. However, they tend to cost more than phono cartridges. Phono cartridges were originally designed as a cheaper alternative to moving coils, but over time they became the standard.

Phono cartridges consist of a small, low-power amplifier circuit that amplifies the signal coming from the turntable’ s pickup arm. The amplified signal is then sent to a preamplifier, which boosts the signal even further before passing it to a high-impedance input stage. From here, the signal passes through a filter and gain stage before finally going to the output stage. The output stage consists of a transformer, rectifier, and buffer.

Moving Coil Cartridges: A Brief History Of Audio Technology

Moving coil cartridges were first developed in the late 1800s when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. He was trying to create a device that could play recorded music without having to change records, so he needed a way to amplify the sound waves picked up by his microphone. His solution was to place a diaphragm directly over the recording horn, which would vibrate whenever the needle hit the groove on the record. Unfortunately, the resulting sound was too weak to hear clearly.

Edison soon realized that if he moved the diaphragm away from the horn, he could increase its sensitivity. By doing this, he was able to capture the sound waves with greater clarity. This led him to develop the first moving coil cartridge, which consisted of a thin copper wire wound around a bobbin. The wire acted like a loudspeaker cone, while the bobbin acted as a driver.

The first moving coil cartridge was patented in 1887. It was called the “Edison Phonograph” and it was made by the American company Western Electric. Over the next few decades, many companies began manufacturing moving coil cartridges for use in their own brands of phonographs. One of the most popular brands was Columbia, whose name is still associated with quality moving coil cartridges today.

The early moving coil cartridges had several drawbacks. For one thing, they weren’t very efficient at converting the mechanical energy stored in the rotating vinyl into electrical energy. In addition, the moving coil cartridges didn’t have any kind of amplification circuitry, so they couldn’t boost the audio signals enough to make them audible.

In the 1930s, engineers at RCA discovered how to solve these problems. They found that by adding an amplifier circuit to the moving coil cartridge, they could greatly improve its efficiency and power handling capabilities. They also added a separate preamp section, which allowed them to add a volume control and other features to the cartridge. These improvements eventually led to the development of the modern moving coil cartridge.

Today, moving coil cartridges are used in virtually every type of portable audio player, including MP3 players, iPods, and smartphones. They can be found in both digital and analog formats. Moving coil cartridges are also commonly used in home hi-fi systems, where they provide excellent fidelity and dynamic range.

The Cartridge Body

A moving coil cartridge contains two main components: the cartridge body and the cartridge head. The cartridge body houses all of the electronics inside the cartridge. It includes the preamp section, the power supply, the tone controls, and the volume control. The cartridge head is attached to the cartridge body using screws or glue. It contains the moving coil and the stylus assembly.

Moving Coil Cartridge Design

Moving coil cartridges are designed to reproduce high-quality audio recordings. To do this, they must faithfully reproduce the original waveform of the recording. Because of this, they need to accurately track the grooves cut into the vinyl disc.

To achieve this, the moving coil cartridge uses a stylus assembly that consists of a small magnet mounted on a steel armature. When the cartridge is powered up, the armature moves back and forth over the surface of the record. As it does this, the magnetic field created by the magnet interacts with the magnetic field produced by the groove cuts in the vinyl. This interaction creates a changing flux pattern, which causes the armature to move back and forth.

This movement produces alternating current (AC) voltages in the coils of the moving coil cartridge. These AC voltages cause the coils to vibrate, creating sound waves that travel through the air. The vibrations are then picked up by the stylus and converted into electronic signals that are sent to your headphones or speakers.

Because the moving coil cartridge needs to accurately follow the grooves cut into vinyl records, it has to be precisely aligned with the turntable platter. This alignment is achieved by placing the cartridge head onto the cartridge body using screws. Once the cartridge is properly positioned, the screws are tightened down until the cartridge head is firmly attached to the cartridge body.

How Moving Coil Cartridges Work

As mentioned above, moving coil cartridges use a stylus assembly consisting of a magnet mounted on an armature. When the armature is moved across the surface of the record, it generates a varying magnetic field. This varying magnetic field interacts with the magnetic field generated by the groove cuts in vinyl. This interaction creates alternating currents in the coils of the cartridge. These alternating currents create vibrations that are transmitted to the cartridge’s stylus via the cartridge’s suspension system.

These vibrations are then converted into electrical signals by the cartridge’s preamplifier circuitry. The resulting electrical signal is amplified and fed to the output terminals of the cartridge. The amplified signal is then sent to your headphones or other audio equipment.

The moving coil cartridge also contains a low-pass filter circuit that removes any unwanted frequencies from the signal before it reaches the amplifier stage. This prevents distortion caused by the cartridge’s internal electronics from being heard when you listen to music.

Moving Coil Cartridges vs Moving Magnet Cartridges

Moving coil cartridges have been around for decades. In fact, they were first developed during World War II as part of the effort to develop radar systems. However, moving magnet cartridges were invented much later.

In the early 1980s, Philips introduced its first moving magnet cartridge. Since then, moving magnet cartridges have become increasingly popular because they offer better performance than their moving coil counterparts.

Moving magnet cartridges work similarly to moving coil cartridges, but instead of using a moving coil, they use a permanent magnet. A permanent magnet is a type of magnet that doesn’t lose its strength over time. Instead, it retains its strength indefinitely.

Unlike moving coil cartridges, moving magnet cartridges don’t need to be adjusted after installation. Because there is no moving coil, there is no need to adjust the position of the magnets relative to the record.

Another advantage of moving magnet cartridges is that they can produce higher levels of bass response compared to moving coil cartridges. This is because the magnets used in moving magnet cartridges are larger than those used in moving coil cartridges.

While moving magnet cartridges are more expensive than moving coil cartridges, they provide superior sound quality at lower cost.

Moving Coil Cartridge Specifications

Moving coil cartridges come in two basic configurations: single-ended and balanced. Single-ended cartridges are usually found in budget models while balanced cartridges are typically found in high-end models.

Single-ended cartridges consist of one pair of magnets and one pair of coils. Balanced cartridges contain four pairs of magnets and four pairs of coils.

A moving coil cartridge must be carefully designed so that all parts function properly. If any component fails, the cartridge will not perform correctly.

Because moving coil cartridges are relatively inexpensive, manufacturers often make minor changes to improve the sound quality of their products. For example, some companies add a second set of coils to increase the amount of bass produced by the cartridge.

Some moving coil cartridges include a low-pass filter built into them. Low-pass filters remove unwanted frequencies from the signal. Without this feature, the cartridge would create an unpleasant “hiss” when playing records.

Cantilever and Suspension

The cantilever design is the most common suspension system used with moving coil cartridges. Cantilevers are made up of a thin metal plate suspended above the record surface.

When the cartridge moves across the record, the cantilever vibrates back and forth. As the cantilever oscillates, it creates a varying magnetic field that interacts with the magnets inside the cartridge.

This interaction causes the cartridge’s voice coil to move back and forth as well. The movement of the voice coil changes the current flowing through the voice coil windings.

This changing current produces a corresponding change in the voltage generated by the cartridge’s amplifier circuit. The amplifier circuit converts the varying voltage into an audio output signal.

In addition to producing sound, the cantilever also acts as a mechanical spring. When the cartridge stops moving across the record, the force exerted on the cantilever by the record gradually decreases.

As the force decreases, the cantilever returns to its original position. This return motion helps keep the cartridge centered over the record.

In order for the cantilever to maintain proper alignment over the record, the cartridge must have enough mass to counteract the forces created by the record.

If the cartridge has too little mass, the cantilever may become misaligned or even fall off the turntable.

To prevent this problem, many moving coil cartridges use a heavy weight attached to the underside of the cantilever.

The suspension system used with moving magnet cartridges is similar to that used with moving coil cartridges except that the cantilever does not need to be weighted.

Instead, the suspension system uses a small permanent magnet located at the end of the armature shaft.

When the cartridge is moved across the record, the magnet attracts the pole pieces of the magnets inside the cartridge, causing the cartridge’s voice coil and armature to move back and forth.

The movement of the voice coil generates a varying magnetic field that interact with the magnets inside the moving magnet cartridge.

This interaction produces a corresponding change in current flowing through the voice coils. The amplifier circuit converts this changing current into an audio output signal that can be heard via headphones or speakers.

Stylus (Needle)

A stylus is a device that touches the record surface. It usually consists of a needlelike tip mounted on a rigid support.

The stylus is used to play music recorded on vinyl records. In addition to touching the record, the stylus also serves as a pointer.

The stylus’ tip is designed to touch only the grooves cut into the record. The groove cuts help guide the stylus along the record’s spiral path.

The stylus’ point is shaped like a tiny knife blade. Its sharp edge makes contact with the record when the stylus is pressed against the record.

The stylus tip is typically made from tungsten carbide, which is harder than steel. Tungsten carbide is often coated with diamond powder to make the stylus more durable.

Styluses are available in different sizes and shapes. Some styli are designed to work with specific types of records. For example, some styli are designed to fit into the grooves of 45 rpm records while others are designed to fit into those of 33 1/3 rpm records.

Some styli are designed to be interchangeable so they can be used with multiple record formats.

Some styli are designed to accommodate both 45 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm discs. These styli are called universal styli.

Most styli come in sets of two. One stylus is placed on top of the other. The bottom stylus is then pushed down onto the record.

The lower stylus is held firmly in place by the upper stylus. If the upper stylus is removed, the lower stylus will remain in position.

Stylus Tip

The stylus tip should be smooth and pointed. A blunt tip will wear out quickly.

In addition, it is important that the stylus tip be properly aligned with the centerline of the record groove. This ensures that the stylus will follow the groove accurately.

The stylus needs to be carefully adjusted before use. To do this, remove the stylus from its protective case and gently press the stylus tip against the record.

If the stylus tip is too high, the stylus may skip over the record. If the stylus tip is low, the stylus may dig into the record.

To adjust the height of the stylus, hold the stylus upright and slide it up and down until the stylus tip just barely touches the record.

To align the stylus tip with the centerline of a record groove, rotate the stylus slightly clockwise or counterclockwise.

When the stylus tip is correctly positioned, the stylus will not wobble.


  • The groove is the track on the record where the stylus moves.
  • The groove is cut into the record at a slight angle. This angle helps keep the stylus moving smoothly along the groove.
  • The groove is generally about 0.004 inch wide.

Groove Width

  • The width of the groove determines how much sound energy is transferred to the stylus.
  • The wider the groove, the greater the amount of sound energy transferred to the stylus during playback.
  • However, the wider the groove, the less precise the stylus must be to follow the groove.
  • The narrower the groove, the more precise the stylus must become to follow the groove. However, the narrower the groove, the less sound energy is transferred to it during playback.

Groove Depth

  • The depth of the groove determines how far the stylus travels across the record surface.
  • The deeper the groove, the farther the stylus travels across a given distance.
  • The shallower the groove, the closer the stylus comes to the record surface.

Groove Angle

  • The angle of the groove affects the quality of the sound produced when the stylus follows the groove.
  • A shallow groove produces a higher-pitched tone than a deep groove.
  • A steeply sloped groove produces a higher- pitched tone than a shallow groove.
  • A flat groove produces a lower-pitched tone than either a shallow or steeply sloped groove.

Record Speed

  • The speed at which a record spins determines the pitch of the recorded music.
  • 45 RPM records spin at approximately 78 revolutions per minute (rpm).
  • 33 1/3 RPM records spin at approximately 45 rpm.
  • 7 ½ RPM records spin at approximately 14 rpm.


This concludes our explanation of turntable cartridges. We hope you found this information helpful.

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 1 Average: 5]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *