The Basics of Your Turntable Stylus & Cartridge

Spending a great deal of money on your vinyl record collection means nothing if you can’t listen to albums properly. Records and turntables are delicate tools that can provide you with the optimum listening experience. However, it’s important to understand how your turntable works to treat both your records and ears.

What Is the Difference Between a Stylus and a Cartridge?

Your turntable stylus is the needle making contact with your records. The stylus is attached to a cartridge that locks to the arm of your turntable for translation. The stylus sends information as a signal to an amplifier for play-through via speakers.

Turntable needles partner with cartridges to convert mechanical movement into an electrical signal. Magnets trigger a voltage in a bundle of wires near the back of a cartridge for positive and negative connections. How effectively a cartridge functions to transmit a signal depends on the following:

  • Stylus shape
  • Motor stability
  • Turntable construction materials
  • Turntable isolation (cutting back on unwanted vibration)

The level of power created by a needle, cartridge and motor is rather low. Turntables typically require an additional amplifier (phono stage preamp) to advance voltage for use with home speakers.

Turntable Cartridge Replacement

Changing the cartridge on a turntable is often more challenging than swapping out the needle. The cartridge is responsible for applying downward pressure to your records, so you want to avoid vinyl damage through calibration after installation. You need to replace your turntable cartridge only under the following conditions:

  • Your current cartridge is lost or damaged
  • You’re ready for an upgrade
  • A compatible replacement needle is difficult to find (cartridges often come with new needles)

Setting your cartridge up successfully will create better sound and minimal record wear. You need to consider that the turntable cartridge establishes the contact of your stylus to records. Follow these steps for cartridge replacement:

  1. Open dust cover and find the headshell/cartridge
  2. Remove stylus from cartridge
  3. Remove entire headshell from the tonearm
  4. Release the cartridge by unscrewing turntable head screws
  5. Unplug attached wires from the pins on the back of the cartridge
  6. Match colors on new cartridge to the wire pins
  7. Attach the cartridge headshell back to the tower with stylus installed

Setting Downward Force

A number of turntable cartridges on the market come with tools for setting downward force. In the owner’s manual of your new cartridge, look for the recommended vertical tracking range. This number will be available in grams.

Consumers can purchase a tracking force scale to properly set downward pressure. Place your scale on your turntable mat, and turn your anti-skating knob to zero. Align your needle and tonearm over the scale and measure the downward pressure.

Adjust your counterweight until the scale matches the requirements of your new turntable cartridge. This upgrade should be completed carefully with attention to detail, as miscalculation can shorten the life of your record collection over time.

Contact Record Head for Vinyl and Turntables

Record Head is Milwaukee’s premier electronics and media shop. We offer buy, sell and trade for vinyl, studio equipment, speakers and more. Contact Record Head today to speak to our team about turntable cartridge upgrades and replacements.