Does a cartridge really affect the sound of a turntable?

Yes, it’s a critically important part of the chain, just as important as the turntable itself.

Cartridges are transducers, like microphones, headphones and speakers and you probably already know just how much each of these contribute to the sound you hear. In the case of cartridges, these tiny little transducers do incredible work, converting groove modulations into movement via the stylus and cantilever, then into tiny electrical signals, via magnets and wire.

These miniscule signals must then be amplified, which is another story. All of this work requires a staggering level of precision and materials engineering to achieve the best results. That’s why my Ortofon MC-A90 for example is so bloody expensive! You absolutely get what you pay for with anything that relies on this level of precision and expensive materials. The cost vs. performance correlation is fairly linear; the more you pay, the better the results.

Cartridges can cost anything from $10 to $10 000 and their sonic performance varies from unlistenable to sublime. Spend as much as you can on a good cartridge. It’s a big part of the sound of a turntable, and better cartridges will last anywhere from 1000 – 2000 hours, compared to just 200 – 500 hours for a cheapy.

A good cartridge will also help preserve your vinyl by causing much less record wear than a cheap. The larger contact area of a Shibata or line-contact diamond exerts lower pressure at the interface between the stylus and vinyl groove. This causes less friction, and therefore less heat and record wear.

Cheap playback systems like Crosleys for example will actually wear away your records before your eyes! Don’t EVER play your records on something like this if you care about them.

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