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You could have the best record player in the market with a fancy amplifier and exceptional speakers. Still, without a reliable high-end cartridge, you’ll always question the quality of the sound produced. After all, the cartridge is the only part of the turntable responsible for reading the undulations on the vinyl records.
This component, especially the MC cartridge, does more than protect your records; but it also guarantees you high-quality sounds. So if you want to know how to tell if your cartridge is MM or MC, please read on…
The MC (moving coil) cartridge comes with coils glued to the cantilever and spinning in a field created by permanent magnets. On the other hand, the MM (moving magnet) cartridge has vibrating magnets that vibrate around the coiled wire. The MM cartridge comes with a replaceable stylus.
The cartridge plays a crucial role in the quality of the sound produced by the record player and the longevity of your vinyl records. Therefore, when purchasing a new turntable or replacing a damaged cartridge, you need to know the difference between the two types of cartridges. This article will show you the difference between the MM and the MC cartridges.
Table of Contents
The record player’s cartridge is a crucial component that links your vinyl records to the speakers. The cartridge, however small, can affect the quality of your music, which is why audiophiles have several cartridges attached to the headshells of their turntables. The multiple cartridges allow for flexibility in enjoying certain music genres.
Luckily, every turntable comes with a reliable turntable, with the high-end ones coming with high-quality cartridges. But if you purchase a low-end turntable, you can upgrade it with time and improve the quality of the sound it produces. Fortunately, the cartridges have evolved over the last few decades from the mono cartridges to what we have today.
Like the mono cartridges, some have a design intended to read old vinyl records. The mono cartridge was developed specifically for reading monophonic records. Therefore all the mono vinyl records manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s are read using the mono cartridge. (source)
When the 78RPM records were introduced, the manufacturers made the 78 RPM cartridge. The 78RPM was explicitly designed for vintage records with a wider groove than the typical vinyl records. But currently, most record players are designed for reading 33 1/3 and 45 RPM records. But some folks still have the old vintage record players that can read even the 78 RPM records.
After all, some cartridges come with a removable stylus while others have a fixed stylus. So if you own the latter, you will have to replace the cartridge every time the stylus wears out. Suppose you have ever found yourself in a position to replace the cartridge. In that case, you must wonder what the difference is between the MM and the MC cartridges. (source)
The two most common turntable cartridges are the Moving Magnet and Moving Coil cartridges. Both the MC and the MM cartridges have their advantage and disadvantages. So before purchasing a new cartridge, you should test it first. Or, if you buy it online, you should ensure that the description matches the sound quality you’re seeking. But if you don’t know how to differentiate the two, you may purchase the wrong option.
The MC and MM cartridges function as small electromagnetic generators. These cartridges have a needle that reads the vibrations on the vinyl records’ grooves and converts the mechanical movement or vibration to an electric signal. After all, the cartridge is the only component associated with the records directly, thanks to the stylus. (source)
These cartridges use a combination of wire coils and magnets to generate the electric signal by vibrating with the stylus. The signal is sent to the amplifier and the speakers. Unfortunately, the amplitude of navigating the record’s grooves is not an easy task.
The signals amplitude varies, and this requires a generator that can react quickly to the bumps and dips of the records. It would be best to have a light and robust stylus that can read the vibrations on the records’ grooves to achieve this. The needle must be light to limit vinyl record wear and respond quickly to the vibrations. Of course, you’ll set the tonearm balance, but check to ensure it matches the original manufacturer weight specifications for the cartridge. It should also be sturdy enough to transmit the mechanical signal from the tip of the needle to the generator. (source)
The cartridge should have little resonance. If it has to have resonance, its frequency should be between 20 and 20,000 Hz (outside the audible frequency band. It won’t affect the sound quality if it’s within this range. It should also have a low frequency that won’t accentuate the resonance and the noise of vibrations. (source)
The MM cartridge is a crucial part of the turntable that features a unique cantilever-stylus combination with some small permanent magnets. These are placed between two sets of coil wires to create an exceptional electromagnetic generator. (source)
As the magnets vibrate while responding to the stylus’s movement on the record’s groove, the electromagnetic generator induces a current in the coils. When the two magnets vibrate, they cause the production of the electric current of lower intensity. (source)
In the MM cartridge’s assembly, the heaviest components are the magnets. But by positioning them near the pivot point or fulcrum of the cartridge, the weight of the needle will be minimized for it to respond accurately and quickly to the needle’s motion in the record’s groove. Other than enhancing the response, the lower tip mass lowers the force applied on the record to reduce the record’s wear and damages.
The MM cartridge produces high to moderate output levels, has a replaceable stylus, and works perfectly on a phono input on a receiver or stereo amplifier. The MM cartridge comes with a robust design that makes them excellent for demanding tasks like archiving, radio broadcasts, and live DJ.
- It is affordable
- It comes with a replaceable stylus
- It is compatible with all the preamplifiers
- It is heavier than the MC cartridge
- It is less accurate
The MC cartridge reverses the position of the wire coils and the magnets. Therefore, the two coils get glued to the cantilever instead. They move in a field of fixed magnets positioned in the cartridge’s body to create the electromagnetic generator. The coils on the MC cartridge are smaller than those used in the MM design; plus, they use thin copper wire in their construction. The styli’s weight gives it an advantage over the MM cartridge design.
The electric signal produced by the arrangement is of low-output-level signals and low impedance. It might not seem reasonable at first, but this lightweight cartridge guarantees:
- A wider frequency response
- An improved transient response
- A detailed overall output, especially the low-level signal that a heavier cartridge can miss.
The MC cartridges are small, precision components that are generally more costly than MM. The high price is due to the difficulty and precision in manufacturing them. In fact, they are loved by audiophiles thanks to their better and measurable performance.
Unfortunately, the MC produces low-level output that requires an extra gaining stage to increase its volume. So it would be best if you had an even high-quality receiver and amplifier designed for that purpose.
You may sometimes find a dedicated set of phono inputs labeled “MC” that you can use with the record players with the MC cartridges. If your receiver or amplifier doesn’t have the magnetic coil section, you require a step-up transformer. You can also use an MC photo stage between the amplifier and the record player to get this gain. The MC is unique compared to the MM cartridge, but it has a fixed stylus.
The MC cartridge is available in two varieties, the high output, which produces over 1.5mV, and the low output, which makes less than 1mV. Other MC cartridges come with an even lower output of less than 0.3mV. When used on the MM inputs, the high output MC cartridges are compatible with the older preamplifier gain. On the other hand, low output cartridges have insufficient preamplifier gain or excess noise. (source)
A considerable percentage of the preamplifiers come with separate low noise and high gain MC inputs that accommodate the excess noise produced by the MC cartridge. A cartridge with low output requires a separate pre-phono amp phase before reaching the MM or MC preamp phase.
- It provides a better tracking experience than the MM cartridge
- It comes with lighter mobile components
- It provides high frequencies that guarantee more precision
- You cannot replace the stylus
- Restricted compatibility
Despite performing the same function, these cartridges are pretty different. In fact, their difference is what makes them unique and reliable. So here are some of the main differences between the MM and MC cartridges:
Producing the MM cartridges is easier and cheaper; therefore, they are common among low-end turntables. On the other hand, manufacturing the MC can be costly, so they are pretty expensive and common among high-end turntables. (source)
Plus, you will need some additional amplifiers to amplify the small signal produced by the MC cartridges. The high-quality receivers play a vital role in the price of turntables with MC cartridges. So if you plan on upgrading your turntable, you should go for the MC cartridges, which can improve the output quality.
But despite their price and unique designs, the debate on which produces better sound is quite heated, with audiophiles preferring the MC cartridges. But the difference between the quality of their outputs is usually blurred by their design and cost. (source)
Generally, many believe that the Moving Coil cartridges have a lower moving mass, which is true compared to low-quality MM cartridges. The low-quality MM cartridges on low-end turntables are heavier. But the high-quality MM cartridges provide an even lower moving mass than some high-end MC cartridges.
A good example is technics EPC-100CMK4 which has a tip mass of about 0.55mg of MM design, while the Denon DL-301 MC design has a moving mass of about 0.270mg. Therefore, the moving mass of the MC design is lower than the low-end MM cartridges. (source)
The Moving Coil cartridges have low impedance and inductance than the Moving magnet design. Therefore, the MM cartridge’s capacitance effects are negligible compared to that of the MM cartridges. Even though the MM cartridges have a high impedance and inductance, their cable capacitance can easily affect the linearity of the phase response and flatness of your system’s frequency response. The adverse effects of cable capacitance account for the sonic benefits to the MC turntables. (source)
Unlike the MC cartridges, the MM cartridge comes with a replaceable stylus. Therefore, when the needle of the MM cartridge gets damaged or wears out, you can only replace the stylus, which is relatively easy and cheaper. You have to remove the old stylus and install the new one.
But when upgrading your low-end turntable’s cartridge, you should be ready to either change the needle or the entire MM cartridge. On the other hand, the MC cartridge comes with a fixed needle. Therefore, the stylus is glued permanently to the cartridge. When it gets damaged, you have to replace the entire cartridge.
Generally, both the MC and the MM cartridges guarantee excellent performance. They come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, prices, and quality levels. Therefore, folks looking to achieve high-quality sound from the turntable must pick one with an MC cartridge. (source) luckily, the model and make of the record player are the most crucial factors.
After all, most record players are compatible with one or more kinds of cartridges. So if you’re unsure of which types of cartridges are compatible with your turntable, then you should look at its manual or online. So when picking your next cartridge, you should confirm before purchasing just an option in the market.
Generally, most manufacturers recommend that you should replace the cartridge or stylus after 1,000 hours of play. But if the stylus has worn out, you should replace the cartridge of the MC turntable as soon as possible if you plan on protecting your records. So here are a few things to watch out for when determining the right time to replace the cartridge:
Suppose you detect the static, crackle, channel imbalance, noise, or fuzziness. In that case, you should replace your cartridge or stylus as soon as possible. If you detect any form of distortion, you should look for a new cartridge for your turntable. (source)
Some of the physical signs of the record player you need to replace the cartridge or stylus. If the needle bounces or skips the records’ groove, it is time to purchase a new cartridge. You can also examine the needle using a magnifying lens for deformities or muck. If it’s coated with oil and dust, they combine to form a hardened residue that can mess the tip of the needle. (source)
If the stylus’s tip is damaged, distorted, or bent, then you need a replacement. Remember, even the MM cartridges need replacement at some point. After all, they are not designed to last forever. Replacing the needle can give your cartridge a new lease of life. But if you purchased a second-hand turntable, the first thing you should do is replace the cartridge. (source)
The most common thing to watch out for is the presence of a replaceable stylus. If the turntable has a replaceable stylus, you can replace the needle. Then it is most likely an MM cartridge. But if it has a fixed stylus, it’s an MC cartridge.
The moving magnet cartridge is the most common of the two cartridges in the market. The MM comes with tiny magnets attached to the cantilever, glued to the stylus. So, in this case, the coils are fixed while the magnets move to create the electric signal that is converted to sound.
Generally, most low-end turntables come with an MM design. So if you are working with a tight budget, you have options. But if the sound quality matters to you, you should go for the record players with MC design.
Generally, the most common types of cartridges are MM and MC cartridges in the market. But if you are new to the world of turntables, you may not know the difference between the two types of cartridges. The main difference between the two is the presence of a replaceable stylus found in MM cartridges and the position of the magnets and coils in the cartridges.
- David Murray, A guide to Turntable cartridges and the best budget models, Accessed January 06, 2022
- Clement, Moving Magnet or Moving Coil Cartridge: What is the Difference and Which Model to Choose? Accessed January 06, 2022
- Wikipedia contributors, Magnetic Cartridge, Accessed January 06, 2022
- Gary Altunian, Comparing Moving Magnet and Moving Coil Phono Cartridge Types, Accessed January 06, 2022
- Stanley Goodner, How to Choose Your Next Turntable Cartridge or Stylus, Accessed January 06, 2022
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