Best Cartridge Options for Your Turntable

 

Continuing one of the more surprising comebacks of the digital age, vinyl album sales in the U.S. have grown for the 15th consecutive year. More and more people are discovering — or rediscovering — the warmth, accuracy and dynamics of analog sound.  

Whether you’re buying a turntable for the first time or you’ve had one for awhile and you want to rejuvenate its performance, the right cartridge can make all the difference. In fact, in a record-playing music system, the cartridge is perhaps the most important element, as the entire playback process starts with how well the cartridge/stylus plays the record. If it doesn’t do this well, then no matter how good the rest of your system is, it won’t live up to its full potential.

Two types of cartridges: Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC) 

Both cartridge types are transducers, which means that they convert one form of energy to another — in this case, mechanical energy to electrical energy. Though both work by converting the mechanical movement (or vibration) created by the stylus riding in a record groove into an electrical signal, they each do it differently. 

A moving magnet cartridge connects the cantilever to a set of tiny magnets that then vibrate near a pair of coiled wires, which produces a small electrical current. A moving coil design works in the opposite way by allowing the cantilever to vibrate coiled wires near fixed magnets. The two coils are attached to the cantilever and move within the field of a fixed permanent magnet to form the electrical generator. These coils are much smaller than those used in a moving magnet design.

MM cartridges are popular because they have higher output than MC versions, so they’re compatible with most phono inputs on receivers and integrated amps. It’s also pretty easy to change out the stylus on an MM cartridge. MC cartridges are generally considered to offer more detailed performance, as the stylus can more widely track the information in a record’s grooves. They do often require the use of a dedicated phono pre-amplifier to a system. 

Top-Rated Cartridges

Check out some of our most popular cartridges…

Denon

The DL-103 MC cartridge was originally developed decades ago to meet the high standards of Japan's national broadcasting studios’ specifications for vinyl record playback for wideband FM stereo broadcasting, and became the official standard cartridge used in those studios. It was widely adopted by almost all professional broadcasting studios in Japan thereafter. Providing smooth response, Pearl Moving Magnet Phono Cartridgeit gives a pleasing sound and brings out the full detail of audio performances.

Based on the DL-103, the Limited Series Anniversary Edition DL-A110 premium MC phono cartridge offers an upgraded silver-graphite headshell, which is an exact reproduction of the original design. Weighing only 6 grams, the lightweight DL-A110 headshell ensures the cartridge is held securely and perfectly aligned, preventing any unwanted vibrations and leading to a detailed and clean audio reproduction with extended low frequency performance.  

Sumiko

Physically compatible with most tonearms on the market and a perfect fit for any MM system, the classic Pearl moving magnet phono cartridge is a reminder that you don’t have to break the bank to achieve next-level sound quality. Dynamic yet smooth and incredibly musical, it’s an evenly balanced cartridge with enticing highs, decisive mids and deep, well-rounded bass. 

RanierRainier raises the bar for what can be expected from a reasonably-priced MM cartridge. Sumiko’s optimized housing channels resonance away from the generator for fantastic clarity and a natural hint of warmth. You can expect a broader, rounder soundstage than previously thought possible at this price.

Ortofon

The MC-1 Turbo is an excellent entry into the world of high output moving coil cartridges. Ortofon introduced the world's first moving coil cartridge in 1948. Since then, the MC principle has been widely acknowledged as the ultimate sonic performance, but the high price of moving coil technology and the necessity of an outboard phono pre-amp to boost the low output voltage made the MC cartridges a luxury. With the introduction of the first high output cartridges like the MC-1 Turbo, Ortofon has demonstrated that it’s possible to produce MC cartridges with sufficiently high output to eliminate the need for additional step-up devices without compromising the construction principles and unique sound quality of moving coil designs.

The 2M Series of moving magnet cartridges features Ortofon’s trademark split pole pins, an invention that enables moving magnet cartridges to have a flat frequency response to rival that of a moving coil cartridge. Ortofon has optimized the design for ease of mounting the cartridge, and the weight and size to fit the most common turntables on the market today. 

2M Blue The 2M Blue adds more dynamics and resolution, sounds more open and reproduces more details compared to the entry-level 2M Red model.

The 2M Bronze features a Nude Fine Line diamond, which is particularly suited for demanding applications. The slim profile of the Fine Line stylus will track even the highest frequency information, making it a must for discerning listeners. Its larger footprint ensures reduced distortion and record wear. 

The 2M Black is graced with a high-performance Shibata diamond. Its slim, highly polished profile allows an extremely wide contact area to the groove walls and ensures notably detailed reproduction throughout the spectrum, including even the most high-frequency groove information. 

Hana Sl

Excel Sound (Hana)

With over 50 years experience in cartridge design and manufacture, Excel Sound builds many of the most highly regarded high-output MC cartridges. 

The Hana EH high-output moving coil cartridge is a great way to upgrade from "starter" MM cartridges that typically come packaged with most entry-level turntables. Weighing in at only 5 grams and possessing great tracking ability, it reproduces great bass and dynamics.The EH is plug-and-play compatible with MM phono stages found in many integrated amplifiers and AV receivers. 

Another high-output moving coil design, the Hana SL is the most reviewed and awarded Hana cartridge to date. It is distinguished by its black body and a Shibata diamond stylus expertly mounted to its aluminum cantilever. The Hana SL features tighter channel balance, greater channel separation, and improved high-frequency extension.