What Is a Record Player Cartridge?

Mary McMahon

A record player cartridge is a key component of a record player that turns the vibrations of the needle on the record into sound. The record player comes with a default cartridge and attached stylus, known as the needle. It is possible to change cartridges to improve the quality of the sound or to bring out specific desired traits in the music, depending on the kind of music that the user wants to play. Firms that manufacture record player cartridges might offer a lineup of products from which consumers can choose.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Several different systems can be used inside a record player cartridge, including crystal, ceramic and magnetic systems. In all cases, as the record rotates and the arm of the record player moves across it, the stylus remains in constant contact with the grooves in the record. It vibrates, vibrating the record player cartridge in turn. By attaching the cartridge to an amplifier, the user can produce audible sound.

Sound quality on a record player is determined by a number of factors, and the cartridge is one of them. Some produce a very warm, rich, full sound that is prized by audiophiles and collectors of records. Others tend to produce a more tinny or grainy sound that lacks a wide range. The record player itself can sometimes limit quality, but it often is possible to improve sound quality significantly with a replacement cartridge. These usually fit using generic pins, so it is easy to swap them out.

It is possible to change the stylus independently as it wears out or develops problems. Most needle changes are very easy, and it is common to keep spare needles around to make them available in the event that a needle suddenly breaks. Spare cartridges can be more expensive but potentially worthwhile to keep with a record player if they are difficult to obtain. Otherwise, the user might need to wait several weeks for a replacement if a record player cartridge fails.

Records that are kept clean and in good condition will produce better sound. Record players often have covers to protect the equipment as well as the record, limiting the introduction of dust and vibrations. If the sound quality changes radically when the user has not replaced any parts, it might be the result of a problem with the needle, the record player cartridge or the components inside the device. Replacing parts that are prone to wear, such as the stylus, is a good start with record player troubleshooting, although it might ultimately be necessary for the owner to take the record player to a repair shop to have it fixed.

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Discussion Comments


A good stereo cartridge can last for years, but know going in that you will probably have to replace that component if you buy an "old" record player. Purchasing one of those can be a bit of a chore if you don't know what model record player you have, the pin configuration on your tone arm, etc. Fortunately, cartridges don't cost much and finding exactly what you need through an Internet search isn't overly complicated.

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