Despite the advent of digital technology, playing records on a turntable is still a well-loved way to enjoy favourite music. Many consumers, from the casual enthusiast to the informed audiophile, are interested in maintaining and optimizing a turntable with the necessary parts to deliver superior sound performance. Finding quality turntable cartridges and styluses is an essential part of this process. Good cartridges and styluses can make all the difference between a full and resonant turntable sound and a merely adequate sound.
Understanding how cartridges and styluses work, and how they integrate into the other components of a turntable is an important part of the purchasing process when one is in the market for these items. Some consumers who are new to turntables may even need a refresher on the individual building blocks of a turntable. It is also helpful to have an understanding of how one can utilise the online website, eBay, in order to secure good deals on cartridges and styluses.
Components of a Turntable
As one begins to look for a turntable, cartridge, or stylus, it is helpful to understand the components that make up a turntable before making a purchase. The parts of a turntable range from tone arms to dust covers.
Turntable Dust Covers
Turntable dust covers are used to protect the elements of a turntable from collecting too much dust and debris. Dirty components in a turntable can directly affect both the sound performance and the functionality of a system. Dust covers can also work as an important layer of protection for records when they are playing on a turntable and can keep them safe from falling objects that could crack or scratch a record.
The platter of a turntable is the round and flat disc onto which the record is placed. The platter spins to rotate the record beneath the sound capture elements in order to create sound. Turntable platters are capable of rotating at several different speeds to create the correct audio performance with different records. The most common revolution per minute settings are 16, 33, 45 and 78.
Turntable Tone Arms
A turntable tone arm, also called an arm, is the component that is placed onto the record to read its audio and interpret audio information. A turntable tone arm is comprised of several parts. Turntable arms have counterweights that balance the arm to keep it optimally positioned on the record. The headshell is the mount to which the cartridge and stylus are attached. The cartridge and stylus themselves are the sound components which read and translate the record’s grooves into audio.
The Distinction Between Cartridges and Styluses
Many new audiophiles may be confused about the distinction between a cartridge and a stylus in terms of both their functionality and their application within a turntable. These two devices are interrelated, and the selection of one can affect the selection of the other.
Turntable styluses are commonly referred to as the "needle" of the turntable. The stylus reads the grooves of the record to capture the wave structure that was imprinted into the record during recording. The quality of a stylus can directly affect the final sound produced by a turntable. Stylus choices are dependent on the type of cartridge used and are often sold in tandem with a cartridge.
A cartridge on a turntable is the component to which the stylus is attached. As such, the selection of a particular type of stylus directly affects the choice of the cartridge, if they are purchased separately. Many turntable cartridges are sold for their unique look, but most are sold for their technical advantages. There are a wide range of cartridge types on the market, but all fall into certain categories: standard mount, P-mount, moving magnet, and moving coil cartridges.
Standard Mount Cartridges
Standard mount cartridges are those that consumers can find in a large number in the marketplace. Standard mount cartridges affix to the tone arm of the turntable via two screws which are 1.27 cm apart. Four lead wires attached to the tone arm are plugged into the back of the standard mount cartridge. It is through these wires that the cartridge transmits the audio information culled from the stylus to the amplification system of the turntable. Standard mount cartridges need to be aligned when they are installed and require a good deal of attention during the installation process, but they deliver a high quality of sound.
P-mount cartridges are much easier for consumers to install. These cartridges feature four pins that plug directly into a tone arm that works with this type of cartridge. Since they are an easier answer to cartridge installation, P-mount cartridges do not always deliver the detailed and balanced sound of a standard mount cartridge. They are, however, convenient for new audiophiles who are not completely experienced in turntable calibration and balancing.
Moving Magnet vs. Moving Coil Cartridges
Within each mounting type of cartridge, one can find either a moving magnet or moving coil design. A moving magnet cartridge, also called MM cartridge, uses a magnet that moves in response to the grooves in the record, capturing a magnetic signal. This signal is then transferred to coils which process it into an electrical signal. This electrical signal is then addressed by the amplification system of a turntable with built-in speakers or sent out to external speakers via RCA cables or other connectors.
Moving coil, or MC, cartridges move the coils themselves in response to the record grooves. MC cartridges do not have styluses that can be replaced by a consumer, while MM cartridges do. An MC cartridge must be replaced completely with a new cartridge and integrated stylus.
Advantages and Disadvantages of MM and MC Cartridges
Deciding between an MM and an MC cartridge can be difficult for new turntable enthusiasts. The following chart elucidates the advantages and disadvantages of each type of cartridge.
MM Cartridge Advantages
MM Cartridge Disadvantages
MC Cartridge Advantages
MC Cartridge Disadvantages
Compatible with phono inputs
Stylus can be replaced
Heavier than MC cartridge
Cannot scan subtle detail in a record’s grooves
Low mass and lightweight
Can scan detail in grooves
Stylus is not replaceable
Lower output than MM cartridge
Consumers deciding between an MM and an MC cartridge should weigh the above options, taking into consideration the make of a record player and the type of music played most often on that turntable. In this way, they can determine the ideal cartridge that can create audio output for a turntable.
Selecting the Correct Cartridge and Stylus for a Turntable
The process of selecting the right cartridge and stylus for a turntable can seem complicated, but there are several steps a consumer can follow to determine the right choice. To replace a stylus individually, consumers should check the model of the record player they own. Many styluses are marketed in association with a particular brand and model. Consumers can also check the model of the cartridge on the tone arm. This information can typically be found on the body of the cartridge.
The process for replacing a cartridge and stylus together can be executed in the same way, using the record player’s model number as a reference. Consumers can also use the mounting style of a tone arm as a reference, and then peruse different options in either standard mount or P-mount cartridges. A consumer should consider what tone qualities he or she is looking for, including the warmth of the sound or the detail of a sound produced by a record player.
Shopping for Cartridges and Styluses on eBay
The online retailer, eBay, has a large catalogue of both styluses and cartridges. When initiating the purchasing process on the website, you can begin looking through listings by running a search. Find the search bar on any page on the site, and enter a specific search term, such as "Sanyo cartridge and stylus". You may also use the advanced search option to more narrowly define a search. Take the time to look through relevant listings in detail and see whether a listing’s features match up with your needs.
You should also take some time to evaluate the sellers on the site by looking at their past transactions and feedback they have received. You can also take the step of communicating directly with a seller to ask questions you may have regarding a cartridge or stylus, and ask after their opinion on the compatibility of a product with your turntable. Being proactive in getting to know and communicating with sellers can ensure that you find the ideal cartridge and stylus for your player.
Listening to music on records is a time-honoured practice that has not lost lustre despite the advent of new technologies. Records are still collected and shared by many consumers, and these individuals put a lot of effort into perfecting the quality of their turntables. Finding and purchasing quality cartridges and styluses does not have to be a complicated process. With the right understanding of the advantages of various cartridges and styluses, a consumer can find a good match for a record player.
An enormous resource for turntable consumers is the online website, eBay. On this website, record enthusiasts can find many listings of cartridges and styluses of any type. eBay listings offer detailed information on individual products and whether or not they can complement a particular turntable. By looking through listings and taking a moment to communicate with a seller, consumers can leverage eBay in the search for the right cartridge or stylus that can enhance the experience of listening to a record.