Does the cartridge really affect the sound of a turntable?

Yes, it most certainly does.

Remember that a cartridge is a transducer, just like a microphone or speaker. It’s doing an incredible amount of work, converting groove modulations into movement, and then into absolutely tiny electrical signals. This requires a staggering level of precision and materials engineering and, like anything similar, you really do get what you pay for.

Cartridges can cost anything from $10 to $10 000 and sound anywhere from sh@t to sublime! Spend as much as you can on a cartridge, sonically its a big part of the sound of a turntable and better cartridges will last anywhere from 1000 – 2000 hours, as compared with just 200 hours for a real 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.