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What's the difference between all these cartridges?

What Is a Cartridge?

A cartridge (sometimes referred to as a phonograph cartridge or phono cartridge) is, at its basic level, an electromechanical transducer. It turns the mechanical movement of the needle (stylus) in the record groove into an electrical signal. There are two basic designs of a cartridge: moving magnet and moving coil.

How Does a Moving Magnet Cartridge Work?

In a moving magnet cartridge, the stylus travels through the groove of a record, transferring its mechanical force up a cantilever to a magnet attached to the other end.

The cantilever and magnet move (moving magnet), interacting with a coil to generate an electromagnetic signal. The signal is output through the four pins at the back of the cartridge. Audio-Technica uses two magnets and multiple coils (dual moving magnet design) in order to more accurately read both sides (left and right channels) of the record groove.

How Does a Moving Coil Cartridge Work?

In a moving coil cartridge, the mechanical process is opposite to that found in a moving magnet design. The mechanical force of the stylus transfers up the cantilever to a coil rather than a magnet.

The cantilever and coil move (moving coil), interacting with a magnet to generate the electromagnetic signal. The signal is output through the four pins in the back of the cartridge.

The moving coil structure has much lower mass than a moving magnet structure. The lower mass allows the stylus to react quicker to the changes in the record groove, resulting in more detailed reproduction. The lower mass also results in lower output voltage compared to a moving magnet design, thus requiring the use of a step-up transformer or moving coil phono preamp to boost the signal.

Why So Many Shapes?

The purpose of a stylus is to ride along the record groove capturing movement, which is then transferred into an electrical signal within the cartridge. Audio-Technica produces styli in five different shapes (Conical, Elliptical, Microlinear, Shibata, and Special Line Contact) that make contact with the record groove and capture movement in different ways, creating unique sound characteristics.

Conical Styli

The conical stylus is the simplest and most widely used stylus. Its spherical tip normally touches the center of the record groove walls. A conical stylus works best for low- to moderately-priced turntables and audio setups. It is also ideal for mono (vinyl with one channel) and older 78 RPM records. However, its shape prevents it from making detailed contact with much of the record groove walls, resulting in less fidelity.

Elliptical Styli

The elliptical stylus has two radii, the front radius being wider than the side radius. The front radius rides in the center of the groove like the conical, while the smaller side radius makes more contact with the groove walls. More contact with the record groove walls delivers a higher level of fidelity.

Microlinear Styli

The Microlinear stylus almost exactly duplicates the shape of the cutting stylus that produces the original master disc (the disc used to create the pressed vinyl record). This likeness enables the Microlinear stylus to track portions of the groove other styli cannot reach, resulting in extremely accurate tracing of high-frequency passages and a flat frequency response within the audible range. The unique multilevel shape also wears more evenly, greatly extending record and stylus life.

Shibata Styli

The Shibata stylus was originally developed to play four-channel (quadraphonic) vinyl records. The Shibata stylus has two radii, similar to an elliptical stylus. However, the radii of a Shibata stylus allow for more surface contact and effective pickup of ultra-high frequencies with less groove stress and distortion.

Special Line Contact Styli

The special line contact stylus is shaped to track the record groove with the highest level of precision, resulting in excellent high-frequency response, low distortion and minimum abrasion. The special line contact stylus makes more surface contact than any other stylus shape.

It should be noted that due to its high-fidelity, the line contact stylus may produce more noise on heavily worn records. The line contact tip is used on our higher-end cartridges.

Round or Square Shank?

The stylus shank is the piece that connects the tip to the cantilever. A round shank can be more difficult to align when it is affixed to the cantilever. Proper alignment is needed in order to position the stylus tip precisely in the record groove.

Square shank styli cost more to make than round shank styli, but mounting them in laser-cut square holes in the cantilever locks them in precise alignment with the record groove.

Bonded or Nude?

In a bonded (or jointed) stylus, a diamond tip is glued on a metal shank that is itself glued into the hole of the cantilever. While less expensive to manufacture, this construction may increase the mass of the overall tip and affect transient response compared with a nude stylus where the tip and shank are constructed from a single piece of diamond.

Nude styli, shaped from whole diamonds, are more costly than bonded styli. Their lower mass allows nude styli to track more accurately. Also, since our nude styli are grain-oriented, with their longest-wearing faces touching the record surface, they last longer.