For many audio enthusiasts, there is a frequent desire to upgrade their setup to achieve a greater performance. No matter how long you’ve had your turntable, there can be the constant desire to seek more sonic performance from your home audio system. Once you’ve caught the upgrade bug, the path comes in a range of forms from small accessories and add-ons to upgrading turntable parts or components in your audio system. With endless products and accessories available to enhance your setup, ensure you explore your turntable upgrade path options to improve the quality of your system in the most cost-effective way.
Depending on your goals and budget, certain turntable upgrade choices can drastically improve your audio playback without a major change in your entire audio setup. So what can you improve on your turntable system without breaking the bank?
Upgrading your phono cartridge is an excellent place to start.
- Why should you upgrade your turntable cartridge?
- What to look out for when upgrading your turntable cartridge
- Can you install the cartridge yourself?
Why should you upgrade your turntable cartridge?
The cartridge is the heart of your turntable. It’s pivotal in converting vibrational energy picked up from the stylus into the warm, analog sound you love. Years back, changing cartridges was like a rite of passage for turntable owners, but with time, many are treating it like a black art, missing out on the convenient benefits of a cartridge upgrade.
Improve overall sound quality: Simply put, your turntable’s sonic performance is how close your record player can recreate music close to the original sound, the way the artist intended. A cartridge upgrade may get you closer to this reality, and take your analog listening experience to the next level for your turntable setup. Sound qualities that can be improved as a result of your cartridge upgrade include clearer, lively sound, improved dynamic performance, more precise sound stage, lower distortion, and better controlled channel separation.
Change the sound characteristics: Are you looking for neutral and uncolored music identical to the original sound? Depending on personal preference, you may want to consider upgrading to a cartridge with warm or analytical/bright sound characteristics. A cartridge with warm character is a preferred choice amongst vinyl collectors due to its naturalistic and mid frequency output. Whereas analytical/bright emphasizes higher frequencies.
Better tracking: Of course, you want a cartridge that isn’t susceptible to skipping, dancing, jumping, and so forth. Higher-priced cartridges are better trackers than entry-level ones. However, it isn’t a black and white situation. Depending on your tonearm, cartridges that perform better in one turntable may not be strongly compatible in another.
The trick here is to stay within the range of what is tried and tested. It is best to check your manufacturers suggested upgrade path for your turntable model.
What to look out for when upgrading your turntable cartridge
Before rushing to buy a new cartridge, it’s best if you understand the different parts of turntable cartridges. Doing your research will help avoid pitfalls that most people fall into when shopping for a new turntable cartridge.
Moving Magnet (MM) vs. Moving Coil (MC) Generator
Moving Magnet and Moving Coil cartridges are both electromagnetic generators that use magnets and coils to convert sound vibrations, mechanically created by the stylus moving up and down in the groove of the record, into electrical signals. The electrical current is fed via wires down the tonearm, and processed by a sound system to produce the sound waves you hear from your turntable. While both cartridges work towards the same objective, they differ in their design and function.
The Moving Magnet cartridge achieves sound conversion by linking the vibrating cantilever that holds the stylus to permanent magnets that vibrate between a pair of coils. Whenever the stylus moves, the magnets create an electrical current between the coils, forming electromagnetic generator. The Moving Magnet cartridge produces moderate to high-level outputs and are suitable for most household stereo equipment.
Conversely, the Moving Coil cartridge works in reverse by enabling the cantilever to vibrate the two coils that contain the fixed magnets inside the cartridge body. The coils used in Moving Coil cartridges are much smaller than that used in a Moving Magnet cartridge, resulting in a lower level output, increasing precision and subjectively better performance. This cartridge is ideal when you require detail and if you don’t mind the high maintenance costs.
The shape of the stylus is integral in determining the contact your stylus makes with the record groove to impact playback. The narrower your stylus, the better it will aptly track groove modulations. Conical and elliptical styli are the most common shapes, so it would be wise to spend some time on them.
The Conical stylus is sphere-like with a large radius that traces the center of the record groove walls. As a result, conical styli may miss the record’s tiny groove modulation that represent higher frequencies, producing lower-quality sound. Due to their wide design, they pick less of sound imperfections deeply engrained in the record’s grove. Conical styli are the least expensive and commonly used by music lovers.
The Elliptical stylus (bi-radial stylus) has a dual radii design that covers a lot of surface area; the front radius bring wider than the side radius. It’s triangular shape allows the stylus to pick up a record’s center groove modulation while the side radius accurately tracks the higher frequencies. Elliptical styli are more precise, have lower distortion, and have an improved frequency response. If you are looking to amplify the inner, hard-to-track grooves, the elliptical stylus will produce better results.
To get the best performance out of your cartridge, it should be matched with the tonearm. It’s important to understand not all cartridges are mechanically compatible with all tonearms — and vice versa. An interaction between a cartridge and tonearm produces resonance at specific frequencies due to the interaction between the cartridge (playing a spring’s role to produce compliance) and the tonearm (acting as the weight).
Getting the right combination of compliance and mass is pivotal in enhancing the quality of sound. A cartridge/arm resonance falling below 5 Hz results in record warps and rumbles that distort the sound. Additionally, tremendous boosts rising above 20 Hz may result in a “tubby” or “bloated” sound. To be on the safe side, double-check with your manual to ensure that you are within the acceptable minimum and maximum values.
Is your headshell fixed or removable?
The headshell plugs into a turntable’s tonearm just before the cartridge. Your turntable is likely to have a removable headshell, although you can still find those with fixed headshells. Proponents of removable headshells argue that they are easy to maintain and allow an easier upgrade of the turntable. Some enthusiasts also like to have several cartridges on hand and swap them out for different styles of music. The removal headshell allows for easy changeups. Unlike fixed headshells mounted on fixed arms, removable headshells are commonly mounted with a 4 pin H-4 connector, making it easier to add or replace your cartridge. You can simply disconnect it, and add another cartridge and headshell to the tonearm without having to worry about realigning it each time. *Note that each cartridge a unique recommended tracking force so if you are swapping cartridges in and out that will need to be adjusted every time.
Can you install the cartridge yourself?
Now that you know what to identify before upgrading your turntable’s cartridge, can you change the cartridge yourself? Many manufacturers will provide the information you need to upgrade and change your turntable cartridge at home. If you are ready to test your handicraft prowess, you will need a new cartridge, a flathead screwdriver or 2mm Allen key, and a cartridge alignment tool.
Armed with these tools, follow the procedure below:
Take the new cartridge out of the box, inspect to ensure the stylus cover is properly mounted
- Loosen the headshell screws using the screwdriver or Allen key (check manufacturers manual).
- Unplug the tonearm wires. Be sure to hold these wires with the plastic sleeve to avoid breaking.
- To install the new cartridge, begin by mounting the new cartridge onto the arm. Do not rush or over-tighten things.
- Next, reattach the tonearm wires, which are colored coded for easy identification.
- Align the cartridge using the cartridge alignment tool. You can enhance the alignment by adjusting your cartridge with the headshell slots and then tighten the screws.
While upgrading your entire turntable is the first notion that comes to your mind, it’s wise to look into upgrading certain parts of your current turntable that may be aged. For example, you may want to change the stylus on your turntable to improve tracking and audio playback. That said, upgrading your cartridge is a perfect place to start in your quest to harness your turntable’s sonic performance potential.
If you’re looking for a high fidelity turntable with absolutely stunning sound quality that achieves the purest analog sound reproduction, check out Fluance’s turntables at www.Fluance.com
Featuring a High Density Acrylic Platter and Ortofon 2M Blue Stylus, the RT85 Reference turntable delivers a warm, uncompressed listening experience that commands your attention, allowing you to get lost in the music.
RT85 Reference High Fidelity Vinyl Turntable
Featuring a High Density Acrylic Platter and Ortofon 2M Blue Stylus, the RT85 Reference turntable delivers a warm, uncompressed listening experience that commands your attention, allowing you to get lost in the music.Learn More