Oh yes, it really does.
A cartridge is a transducer, just like a microphone or speaker. It’s doing incredible work, converting groove modulations into movement, and then into tiny electrical signals. This requires a staggering level of precision and materials engineering. Like anything that relies on precision and expensive materials, you really do get what you pay for.
Cartridges can cost anything from $10 to $10 000 and sound anywhere from horrible to sublime! Spend as much as you can on a cartridge, sonically it’s a big part of the sound of a turntable, and better cartridges will last anywhere from 1000 – 2000 hours, as compared with just 200 – 500 hours for a cheapy.
A good cartridge will also preserve your vinyl by causing much less record wear. The larger contact area of a Shibata or line-contact diamond exerts much lower pressure on the vinyl, at the interface between the stylus and record. This causes less heat and therefore less wear.