Cartridges

The gram or two of tracking force of a stylus when distributed across two small contact points in a record groove is equivalent to a force of hundreds of pounds (or several tons per square inch) depending on magnitude of the groove modulations. Moving through between 8" and 20" of vinyl each second generates enough heat that, for a tiny fraction of second, the vinyl actually softens making it easier for dust and debris - some of which comes from the stylus as it is worn down - to embed into the groove walls accelerating further vinyl and stylus wear even more.

How long do they last?

Hard shellac 78 rpm records would wear out crude inexpensive steel styli after a small number of plays. Todays laser cut diamond styli last a lot long longer and depending on the geometry and degree of fine polishing a stylus will typically last for between 1000 to 2000 record plays. When a cartridge is correctly aligned the gradual loss of high frequencies as the sylus ages is more likely due to a worn stylus than a worn groove. Poorly aligned cartridges however will 'mistrack' greatly accelerating both stylus and record wear. If significant groove wear has occured, changing to a stylus with a broader area of contact may recover high frequencies from a section of the groove wall that has not been worn.

Alignment/setup

Mistracking of the more heavily modulated passages, particularly towards the end of the side, is likely to mean both a misaligned and worn stylus. When groove wall damage occurs over a large section of the groove wall, permanent loss of information results. You can install and reasonably set up a cartridge with a few basic tools but some cartridges are far more forgiving than others.

Price points

The diamond tip is a big cost factor in the price of a cartridge. Less expensive ones use bonded styli - a smaller cap of diamond glued onto a stub. More expensive cartridges use whole "nude" diamonds that can be machined into the more complex geometries that provide the broader groove contact area. The hardness quality and degree of polish is also a factor. Stronger magnetic materials are also desirable but there is a cost to be paid. Hand assembly is required and there is yield loss from cartridges which don't meet specs and have to be reworked or discarded.

Moving Coil v Moving Magnet

Moving Magnet(MM) designs have higher outputs and thus less gain is needed from the phono stage. Bass response and R/L channel separation can be good, but the mechanics of moving a higher mass (magnets are attached to the shank and the cartirdge body houses the coils) limits high frequency tracing and decreases the threshold for mistracking. They are physically a bit more robust and some brands offer replacement styli without having replace the whole cartridge - or realign it.

Moving Coil(MC) cartridges are more delicate. They have a lower effective tip mass and a thinner shank with coils moving adjacent to magnetics that are now in the body of the cartridge Moving Coil(MC) cartridges trace higher frequencies more easily because with a lower moving mass, the response time is faster due to lower inertia. There are also other aspects of generator linearity and magnetic flux effects benefitting performance. Performance may drift more than moving magnet cartridges if critical suspension elements change their physical characteristics over time. They require a more elaborate - and therefore more expensive - phono stage for low noise and good dynamic range. A high performing tonearm and table is required to achieve the sonic potential of a moving coil cartridge and upgrading to this kind of platform is a significant step up in investment in vinyl record playback that only a dedicated vinyl enthusiast will want to entertain.

Proof of the pudding

Try out some of your own records at kemela to hear how good your they can sound. Several affordable tables have great sound while our top models will demonstrate why vinyl records are treasured as much as they are. We also have a good selection of phono stages.


 
  • Ortofon

  • Ortofon

  • Ortofon

  • Ortofon

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  • Ortofon 2M Red

    Ortofon
    2M Red

  • Rega Bias2

    Rega
    Bias 2

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  • Ortofon 2M Blue

    Ortofon
    2M Blue

  • Rega Elys2

    Rega
    Elys 2

  • Ortofon 2M Bronze

    Ortofon
    2M Bronze

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  • Rega Exact

    Rega
    Exact

  • Ortofon 2M Black

    Ortofon
    2M Black

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  • Ortofon Quintet Red

    Ortofon
    Quintet Red

  • Ortofon  Quintet Blue

    Ortofon
    Quintet Blue

  • Ortofon  Quintet Bronze

    Ortofon
    Quintet Bronze

  • Ortofon  Quintet Black

    Ortofon
    Quintet Black

  • Rega Ania

    Rega
    Ania

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  • Ortofon Cadenza Red

    Ortofon
    Cadenza Red

  • Ortofon Cadenza Blue

    Ortofon
    Cadenza Blue

  • Rega Apheta 2

    Rega
    Apheta 2

  • van den Hul MC ONE

    van den Hul
    MC ONE Spec

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  • Rega Aphelion

    Rega
    Aphelion

  • van den Hul Frog

    van den Hul
    FROG

  • Ortofon Cadenza Bronze

    Ortofon
    Cadenza Bronze

  • Ortofon Cadenza Black

    Ortofon
    Cadenza Black

  • van den Hul Crimson Stradivarius

    van den Hul
    Crimson Stradivarius

Under $200
$200-$500
Over $500

Ortofon cartridges Rega research cartridges
Under $1,000
$1,000-$2,000
Over $2,000

Ortofon cartridges Rega research cartridges van den Hul cartridges