Are Turntable Cartridges Universal? (Let’s Find Out)

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Turntable cartridges are not universal. They are not ‘one-fits-all’ because two types of cartridges install and function differently on a record player. The two types include Half-Inch and P-Mount. You can determine the type of cartridge you need for your turntable from the headshell.

Do You Need To Know If Turntable Cartridges Are Universal? 

Absolutely! The capabilities of a phono cartridge determine any record player’s ultimate performance. 

To begin with, tonal balance, stereo separation and imaging, clarity on musical peaks, and noise and distortion freedom are all influenced. Therefore the cartridge you choose is crucial to getting the most out of your turntable.

Are Turntable Cartridges Universal?

In short, No! 

This is because the two major types of cartridges fit differently on turntables. These are called P-Mount and Half-Inch. 

The most straightforward approach to figuring out which cartridge you have on your system is to check for the headshell.

Let me help you understand it better.

What Are The Types Of Turntable Cartridges?

The headshell determines the type of turntable cartridges. It is a piece attached to the tonearm of a turntable with the help of screws to keep the cartridge in place. Some tonearms do not have a replaceable headshell; instead, it is built into the tonearm.

Stylus Cartridge And Headshell

What Are Half-Inch Cartridges?

Simply put, half-inch cartridges get their name from the fact that the screw holes on top of the cartridge are spaced a half-inch apart.

Because half-inch cartridges are mounted on your turntable via a headshell, it’s simple to determine the sort of cartridge you require. 

If your tonearm has a headshell attached to the end, go for a half-inch cartridge.

Half inch Cartridge Screw Holes
Half Inch Cartridge Mounting Points

Today, most turntables manufactured have half-inch cartridges fitted to a headshell, from Audio Technica to Fluance and Project.

What Are P-Mount Cartridges?

The primary difference between these cartridges is the visibility of screw holes on the top. There are no screw holes on the top of the cartridge in P-Mount, and it does not necessarily require a headshell.

A P Mount cartridge easily slips into the tonearm and is secured by a screw near the cartridge’s back. The screw goes through the tonearm and into the cartridge to keep the cartridge in position.

Audio-Technica AT85EP Turntable Cartridge with Elliptical Stylus P Mount, 0.3 x 0.7 mil elliptical cartridge

Compared to Half-Inch, P-Mounts are easier to install. Therefore, this type is preferred by people who do not want to deal with the fiddly process of fitting a half-inch cartridge. Trust me; those tiny wires can be a pain!

Ortofon Concorde DJ Cartridges

This reminds me of Ortofon Concorde cartridges that are tailor-made to fit a tonearm directly.

These fantastic all-in-one options come with the headshell, cartridge, and stylus that you simply add directly to the tonearm. No need to worry about wires and alignment!

Ortofon Concorde MK2 DJ Single Cartridge

Differences Between Moving Magnet And Moving Coil Cartridges

Moving magnet and moving coil cartridges are both available in various prices, shapes, sizes, and quality levels. Both these cartridge designs can produce outstanding sound, but the MC model can reach audiophile levels. The best value, low-cost cartridges are usually of the MM design.

The moving coil cartridge is frequently chosen by those who want the best overall sound from their turntable.
However, it is highly dependent on the type and model of turntable you have.

Most turntables are only compatible with one type of cartridge.
If you’re unclear, a quick look through the product documentation for your turntable will tell you which type is required when it’s time to change the turntable cartridge (or stylus).

What Is The Needle On A Record Player?

The needle, also known as a stylus, sits in the record groove of the and ‘reads’ the undulations in the wall of the groove. This produces a signal delivered down the tonearm through wires to an amplifier. The signal then equalizes and boosts it to a level that can be transferred through another amplifier and into the speaker.

Are Record Player Needles Universal?

Again, the short answer is no!

Record player needles are not universal, and specific types are used on different players. 

Some styluses are marketed as universal and used on any cartridge or turntable. However, this is not always the case, and potentially they will not fit or work on all record players.

They will only function on record players that require that specific stylus type. This means that they are not all universal!

How Long Does A Stylus Last?

Turntable needles typically last 1000 hours. After that, it is frequently worn out, resulting in poor sound quality and increased wear and tear on records.

Replacing Cartridges And Needles

When replacing the needle on a record player, you have the option of changing just the stylus or the entire cartridge. However, this is dependent on the type of record player you own.

Some record players have a fixed cartridge, and only the stylus can be replaced. This is especially common with inexpensive record players. 

The cartridges on a more expensive turntable can be removed and replaced. However, when the needle wears out, you do not need to replace the entire cartridge. This way, you save money by just buying the needle. 

The only pragmatic solution to replace the cartridge even when the needle is worn out is to change it with a better-sounding, more expensive cartridge. Otherwise, the best way to go about it is by replacing the stylus.

When Should I Replace Record Player Needles?

Has the sound quality of your vinyl started to sound bad? If so, it’s time to consider an upgrade.

If undesired noises in the form of sibilance or hiss begin to develop in tracks that used to sound great, you should consider replacing the needle. 

Worn Out Stanton D500 Stylus

A worn needle is one of the main reasons your record is not producing quality output.

Another sign that your stylus needs replacing is when you notice the needle starts to skip some parts of a song. 

Finally, if you see any damage or wear on the needle, you should replace it immediately. 

Playing records with a needle that is heavily worn can cause damage to your vinyl.

How Do I Know What Needle I Need for My Record Player?

So, what now if your stylus is damaged? How do you find what needle is suitable for your turntable?

There are a few ways to find the right needle for your record player. The first method is to check the manual that came with your turntable. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, as manuals tend to get mislaid.

The second method is to search for the model name of your turntable on Google or even Amazon or eBay. For instance, if you own an Audio Technica AT-LP120 Turntable, do a simple search. The results will show you the correct option you should consider.

If you’re still having trouble finding the right option, you can also ask on different online forums such as Reddit or Facebook groups with other like-minded vinyl heads!

Note: If you’ve replaced the cartridge body on your turntable and it is different from the stock one, you will need to look for a replacement stylus for that cartridge, not the original one.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What are the types of cartridges?

There are two types of phono cartridges mainly used: Half-Inch and P-Mount. You can easily differentiate via the headshell of a cartridge.

What is the difference between a turntable cartridge and a stylus?

The stylus tip is attached to a turntable cartridge. The stylus makes contact with your vinyl, sending the sounds signals to an amplifier.

How do you know if your turntable is MM or MC?

A simple comparison between the MM cartridge (Moving Magnet cartridge) and MC (Moving Coil cartridge) is that the stylus can be replaced on MM but not MC.

Why are phono cartridges so expensive?

Turntable cartridges are one of the most expensive parts. The is because cartridges are a very delicate component to manufacture. The best phono cartridges can significantly impact the sound quality.

How often should records be cleaned?

Technically, it depends on the use of the record player and the vinyl. If your usage is reasonable, the needle should be cleaned weekly. For vinyl, you should regularly clean them. Click here to learn more about cleaning records.

Final Words

Turntable cartridges are not universal. Some mono record players can accommodate an extensive range of cartridges. Still, others may be compatible with only one specific cartridge.

It is essential to accurately align a fresh stereo cartridge on the tone arm when installing it on a turntable. A protractor is used for this. 

It’s also worth noting that cartridges’ output levels and impedance might vary significantly. 

It is a good idea to double-check that the input on your phono preamp or amplifier is compatible with the cartridge you want to use on your turntable.

Have you ever wondered why turntables are so expensive? Click here to find out more.