A lot of those new to the world of turntables often mistake a stylus for a cartridge and vice versa, but in reality they are two seperate components which in turn make up the 'phono cartridge'. The phono cartridge is what is responsible for not only 'reading' the information on your record, but also converting that information into an electrical signal that is later amplified and heard through your speakers! Cartridges and styli are one of the most important elements that make up your turntable and in reality is the place where the magic of analogue sound begins. Therefore your cartridge is one of many individual components which can be upgraded to produce a much better sound out of your hifi system!
How do they actually work?
To put it simply, a phono cartridge is a transducer; it converts mechanical energy into an electrical signal! Vinyl records are cut using an electrical signal that is fed into a cutter head, which then converts those electrical signals into mechanical vibrations through the cutters stylus, which in turn creates the grooves in a record! When a vinyl is cut the grooves are cut in a V shape, which is important when it comes to stylus tips (more on that in a sec).
A phono cartridge then in simple turns does that opposite! The stylus tip 'reads' the information cut into the groove of a record, and then converts that to an electrical signal, which in turn is amplified to your speakers and just like magic music is heard !
So why are some cartridges more expensive than others?
The world of phono cartridge design is as much of an art as an exact science. With variations on designs used as well as materials producing differing sound outputs! From the shape of the stylus tip, to the actual cartridge construction, all these things can have a dramatic effect on the sound quality of your HiFi system!
Remember how we mentioned that grooves are cut with a V shape, different stylus tip shapes affect how much information your stylus can read from your vinyl! For example a spherical shaped stylus can't get deep into the grooves of the record and may miss some information, whilst a Microline/Shibata shaped tip gets deep into the grooves, reading as much information as possible!
So how do you digest all this and chose the right cartridge?
Great sound from the equipment you own comes from upgrading components to just within the threshold of the Law of Diminishing Returns. In terms of cartridges, it means one that'll squeeze the best possible sound from your turntable without (a) spending too much, and (b) inhibiting the range this cartridge has to offer.
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