Last updated: August 9, 2021
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Welcome to our big cartridge test 2022. Here we present all the cartridges we have tested in detail. We have compiled detailed background information and added a summary of customer reviews on the web.

We would like to make your purchase decision easier and help you find the best pickup for you.

You will also find answers to frequently asked questions in our guide.
If available, we also offer interesting test videos. Furthermore, you will also find some important information on this page that you should definitely pay attention to if you want to buy a pickup.




Summary

  • The function of a pickup, often called a record needle, is to pick up the vibrations in the grooves of the record to produce sounds.
  • There are two different pick-up systems. The most common pick-up system is called MM (moving magnet), followed by the MC system (moving coil).
  • A distinction is made between spherically ground needles and elliptically ground needles.

The Best Pickup: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a cartridge

How do cartridges work?

The cartridge is an assembly mounted on the tonearm of a record player, consisting of a stylus, needle carrier, transducer and housing.

The vibrations picked up by the cartridge are converted into electrical signals or electrical voltage. This voltage is passed on to the record player where it is converted to be reproduced as sound. Here, the needle that travels in the grooves is the smallest part of the pickup. It also consists of a transducer, a needle carrier and a housing.

The stylus is usually made of diamond, but there are also models made of sapphire or ruby. The different materials of the needle differ in their durability.

The connection to the tone arm can be realised in different ways. Depending on the type of pick-up. Here, a distinction is made between variants that are attached with the help of a component called headshell. Four pins provide the signal transmission, while the head itself is held to the tonearm with two screws.

How do I adjust the pick-up?

Most turntables today come with a pre-assembled tonearm, headshell and cartridge. If this is not the case for you, you have to adjust the cartridge and bring it into position.

First you attach it to the headshell, the head of the tone arm. You only need to tighten the screws slightly, as we will adjust the cartridge more precisely on the turntable later.

Now you connect the cables to the connection pins of the tonearm to create an electronic connection between the two components. In the next step, you can adjust the weight of the cartridge on the turntable.

This can be done by hand or with the help of a scale. First, take down the tonearm lift and set the anti-skating on the tonearm to zero. Then balance the weight so that the tonearm swings freely in the air. You can now use a scale to set the correct support weight on the turntable.

To ensure that the needle is at the optimum angle to the record groove, it is now time to adjust the pick-up. To do this, use an adjustment template to set the overhang on the pick-up.

Most turntables come with an adjustment template. Now move the cartridge in the headshell socket until the needle meets the two marks on the template. Now you can tighten the screws.

The anti-skating counteracts the force that tries to pull the tonearm inwards. Most tonearms have a device to counteract the skating force. The value to be set can be found in the manual of your turntable.

For the start, you can't go wrong if you adjust the anti-skating to the counterweight. If the contact force is 1.75, you can also set this value for the anti-skating device. From here, lower the value in small increments. The anti-skating force should not be higher than that of the counterweight. The needle point should sit perfectly in the plate groove at the end.

In the last step, you should adjust the height of the tone arm on the turntable. When the needle is in the groove, the tone arm should be horizontal above the record.

Which record needle is right for me?

The needle is the only component of the cartridge that is in direct contact with the record to scan the track in the groove of the record. There are two different types of needles. The spherically ground needles are pointed and therefore lie deeper in the groove.

This minimises the risk of jumping out of the groove. Due to these characteristics, this type of needle is particularly widespread among DJs, as they are very well suited for scratching. A disadvantage is that the spherically ground needles have problems producing a clean sound in the treble range.

You should opt for an elliptical-ground needle if you are mainly concerned with sound quality. Due to a somewhat blunter grind, the needle can sample every depth, middle and height in the best possible way. For this reason, they are less suitable for DJs, but all the more for connoisseurs. These types of needles are more expensivedue to the more complex grinding process.

Did you know that the pickup needle imitates the movement of mechanical sound waves?

The pickup produces the same movements of the air molecules that are produced by sound waves. That's why you can hear what's on the record very softly when the volume of the amplifier is set to the lowest level.

You can read more about this below under "Buying criteria: These are the factors you can use to compare and evaluate cartridges".

How much does a record player cartridge cost?

The price range is really enormous for this small device. You can get cartridges for as little as 30 euros, but you can pay over 1000 euros for a high-end cartridge.

Of course, with such a hefty price tag, you should really ask yourself whether there might not be cheaper dupes that do exactly the same job, fit in with the rest of your setup and give you the sound you want. Small rule of thumb: Spend about one tenth of the price of your turntable on the cartridge.

Cartridge type Price
MM cartridge from 30 €
MC cartridge from 200 €
Piezo cartridge from 10 €

Decision: What types of pickups are there and which is the right one for you?

There are different ways to generate the electrical voltage that is then transmitted to the device via the tone arm. One can distinguish between three different types of pick-up systems.

  • Electromagnetic transducer MM
  • Electrodynamic transducer MC
  • Piezoelectric transducer

What are the characteristics of the electromagnetic transducer and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

MM stands for Moving Magnet and refers to the most widely used pick-ups. These pick-ups are quite cheap to produce and offer the advantage that the needle can be replaced individually, so that the whole pick-up does not have to be replaced straight away.

In the transducer, a small iron part is moved near small coils with iron cores. the movements and changes in distance generate a voltage in the coils.

Advantages
  • Needle can be replaced
  • Inexpensive
  • High output voltage
Disadvantages
  • Susceptibility to faults
  • Lack of accuracy of fit due to replaceable needle

MM pick-ups can produce a higher signal voltage than other systems, but they are sometimes prone to distortion. It should also be noted that turntables with MM systems require a preamplifier.

What distinguishes the electrodynamic transducer (MC) and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

Electrodynamic pick-ups use moving coils, where MC stands for Moving Coil. This pick-up system is defined by the coils, which are moved in a magnetic field that is as stable as possible.

MC systems are divided into "low output" (around 0.5 mV), "medium output" (around 1 mV) and "high output" (2 mV and more). With the exception of the High Output system, all MC pick-ups require a preamplifier . It is not possible to exchange the needle itself, except for a few systems. However, some manufacturers offer exchange programmes.

Advantages
  • Low susceptibility to interference
  • Large selection of different systems
Disadvantages
  • No exchangeable needle carrier
  • More expensive

Almost all MC pick-ups require a sensitive preamplifier or matching transformer before the equalisation preamplifier. Here, too, as with the MM, the signal voltage is generated electromagnetically.

In the MC system, a coil permanently connected to the needle is moved in a magnetic field. In MM systems, the magnet itself moves. MC systems are mainly found in the high-end sector, as it is usually necessary to replace the entire cartridge, which can be cost-intensive. On the other hand, MC cartridges deliver a higher quality sound.

What distinguishes the piezoelectric transducer (MC) and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

Here, piezoelectric ceramic strips generate the signal voltage. You don't need a preamplifier for this transducer. This system is usually only used with very low-priced turntables, because the pick-up influences the playback by self-resonance.

Advantages
  • Cheap
  • No preamplifier needed
Disadvantages
  • Resonance of the pickup influences sound

Buying criteria: These are the factors you can use to compare and evaluate pickups

Now you have an overview of pickups. Now it's time to look at a few more buying criteria so that you don't forget anything when making your decision.

The following factors should be considered in detail in the next section when buying a pickup:

  • Exchangeable needle
  • Material of the needle
  • Sound quality
  • Tracking force
  • Output voltage
  • Needle grind

Replaceable needle

As already mentioned, the needle may wear out after a certain time and need to be replaced. If this is not done, it will affect the sound quality and may also increase the wear of the record.

It is therefore not advisable to buy a record player where the needle cannot be replaced. Otherwise, you will have to invest quite a bit of money to have the needle professionally replaced as part of a replacement programme or always buy a complete new cartridge.

Needle material

The two most common materials used for the needle on a pickup are sapphire and diamond. Sapphire needles usually only last for about 50 hours of play before they start to wear out and you start to notice a loss of sound.

Diamond needles, on the other hand, usually only need to be replaced after about 1000 hours, as they are much harder and more robust, although for cost reasons they are not made from a whole piece, but consist of glued diamond dust.

Sound

Pickups and their needle cuts can not only look completely different, they can also sound completely different. Depending on which pick-up system and which needle cut you choose, you will notice striking differences in the reproduction of music.

One of the most important and decisive points for the sound quality of the pick-up is the correct system adjustment. If this is done correctly, you can be sure that you will have a great sound experience that you can look forward to again and again.

Of course, everyone experiences something different as good or bad. The enjoyment of music is and remains subjective, but with the right tricks you can get the best out of your cartridge.

Tracking force

Why is it so important to set the correct tracking force on the pick-up? If you minimise the tracking force so much that it even falls below the minimum value specified by the manufacturer, this could actually have fatal consequences for the needle and the record.

The needle will lose contact with the record groove and flap uncontrollably. Both the record surface and the needle tip can be damaged. The diamond can even splinter, even though it is said to be a very hard material.

If the pressure applied to the record is too high than that specified by the manufacturer, this will only increase the wear and tear on the record.

With some systems, however, the damper rubber can wear out relatively quickly, so that a replacement needle carrier is necessary for MM cartridges and a complete replacement system for MC cartridges.

As a rule, a good turntable should be set to a stylus weight of 1.5 to 2.0 grams if it is a diamond stylus. If it is a sapphire needle, the contact weight should be in the range of 3.0 to 5.0 grams, as sapphires are usually not as sharply cut as diamonds.

Output voltage

MM systems have a comparatively high output voltage. Typical values are between 2mV and 6mV at 47kOhm.

In contrast, systems that operate on the moving coil (MC) principle require a particularly high-gain MC input. MC systems have typical output voltages between 0.1mV and 0.5mV at 30 ohms to 500 ohms.

It is often assumed that MC systems sound better because the moving mass (the coil) is less than in MM systems. And what connections does your amplifier have? Does it have an input labelled "record player", "phono" or something similar? Then you can connect a record player to your amplifier.

Check whether the input is designed for MM and high-output MC systems. Most phono inputs are adapted to MM systems. Some manufacturers also offer switchable inputs or can have the input converted accordingly at a service workshop.

If your amplifier does not have a phono input, you must also connect a phono preamplifier between the turntable and the amplifier.

Needle cut

Which record needle should you use? The needle is the only component of the cartridge that has direct contact with the record. During operation, it is located in the groove of the record and scans the track there.

The conical needle

The conical needle is the most widespread, cheapest and simplest variant of needle grinding. The spherical tip of the conical needle touches the centre of the plate groove flanks, usually at a radius of about 0.6mil.

The conical cut is used for cartridges that are mainly found in turntables in the low to medium price segments. However, they also prove their worth for older turntables whose tonearms work with a higher contact force and whose arm inclination cannot be adjusted.

The elliptical needle grind

In contrast to the conical needle, the elliptical needle has a wider radius at the front than at the side. This means that the elliptical needle is able to follow the centre of the groove, just like the conical needle, but is able to scan the heights more precisely because it has a smaller side radius.

Note the sizes given for elliptical needles. 0.3 x 0.7mil and 0.4 x 0.7mil indicate these, with the first value indicating the side radius of the needle. The smaller the side radius, the better the resolution and thus the sound.

The Line Contact needle

This cut, like the Micro Line Contact cut, offers the best treble pick-up with only minimal abrasion. This gives you the lowest possible distortion and minimal plate wear.

The Micro Line needle

The most elaborate needle cut, where the needle almost resembles the shape of the cutting stylus used to cut the original master record. It is obvious that this very elaborate cut gets the most out of the "groove".

due to its special cut, the Micro Line needle is able to scan areas that other pick-up needles cannot reach. you get the most precise reproduction in the high frequency range that can be achieved at all.

The frequency response is almost straight over the entire treble range. The grinding is very complex and is done in several stages. Therefore, a pickup with a micro line needle is naturally very expensive.

However, in return you not only get the best possible sound, but also a longer lifespan of both the needle and the played records, as the wear is even.

Facts worth knowing about cartridges

Can I build a pick-up myself?

If a record needle is defective, you can order a replacement needle, but it is much more complicated to make a cartridge yourself, because such a cartridge requires a considerable amount of precision engineering skills and various tools.

Did you know that the basic technology of the record player was invented in 1888?

The first hard rubber record was invented in 1888 by Emil Berliner, a German who emigrated to the USA.

If you want to get close to the quality of an off-the-shelf cartridge by building your own, you would have to be able to grind the diamond needle and draw your own needle carrier tubes, and these are only some of the easier problems you might encounter.

It is always advisable to order a cartridge and not to try to make one yourself, because in the worst case not only the record player but also the records could be damaged by the wrong manufacturing method and the whole device would become unusable.

Image source: pixabay.com / Ratfink1973

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