Turntable vs Cartridge

the thin end of the wedge
Post Reply
Mr Pig
senior member
senior member
Scotland
Posts: 281
Joined: 13 Feb 2018 23:17

Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by Mr Pig » 31 Aug 2019 14:36

Yes, the title is correct and I thought I'd put it in the cartridge section as it's more relevant to people upgrading cartridges.

There is a balancing act to be performed. The quality of the turntable vs the quality of the cartridge you put on it. After buying a turntable, many of not most users will look to upgrade their system by upgrading the cartridge at some point down the line. The question is, how good a cartridge should you put on a given turntable. It's not a simple question and I think a lot of people get it wrong.

Many years ago, when Linn introduced the Ekos tonearm, the dealer in Glasgow did a dem of the Ittok with a Troika cartridge versus another LP12 with the new Ekos on board but using a very cheap Basik cartridge. Those were good times. You could go into a dealer and find loads of turntables all set up and ready to play. In this example, the Ekos/Basik sounded better than the Ittok/Troika. Not in absolutely every respect but it was the combo I would have picked.

Over the years I have owned and experimented with lots of turntables and nothing I have done has suggested to me that Linn were not correct. Perhaps the most extreme example being a Rega Carbon cartridge on the RP10 yet I often see people putting fairly expensive carts on modest turntables. I understand the lure of a moving coil cartridge as they are seen by many to represent the best possible sound, but this simply isn't true. A really good cartridge will only give its best performance on a turntable talented enough to exploit it. If it's a moving coil, you'll also need a good phono amp to get the most out of it.

What are the fundamentals of music? The notes and the timing. Both of these are defined by the turntable. If the speed, and therefore the pitch stability and timing, of the turntable are off then no cartridge can fix it. Conversely, a really good turntable will imbue a modest cart with great timing and tunefulness.

The turntable also largly defines the noise floor, the amount of feedback in the system and the limit to which the cartridge can work. A really good arm will let a modest cart work to its best ability, which will almost certainly be a lot better than a more expensive cart in a poor arm.

Another thing to consider is that cartridges are wear items. Either the stylus or the whole cart will need replacing every few years so a better turntable and a cheaper cart will also be cheaper in the long run.

Putting a £500 cart on a £500 turntable might sound like an upgrade but you'd be better off trading the deck up to one costing £1000 and sticking with a cheaper cart.

lenjack
long player
long player
Posts: 1745
Joined: 23 Jun 2017 02:11
Location: Liverpool,PA

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by lenjack » 31 Aug 2019 15:45

Apparently, you believe the cart wears out. I don't think so. Replace the stylus, assuming it's replaceable, and it should be as good as new.

wolfie62
senior member
senior member
United States of America
Posts: 969
Joined: 04 Jan 2017 15:47
Location: Birmingham

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by wolfie62 » 31 Aug 2019 16:07

There were a few carts that had elastomer dampers in the cart body that could age, but not wear out.

This is the first time I’ve heard this:


“Another thing to consider is that cartridges are wear items. Either the stylus or the whole cart will need replacing every few years so a better turntable and a cheaper cart will also be cheaper in the long run.”

I run vintage carts. Original styl are scarce, and so are expensive. But, the overall quality of aftermarket styli seem to be improving, at least that’s my experience. But the bodies don’t wear out.

A great cart makes an average table sound better; a great cart makes a great table a thing of beauty.
Last edited by wolfie62 on 31 Aug 2019 16:09, edited 1 time in total.

Mr Pig
senior member
senior member
Scotland
Posts: 281
Joined: 13 Feb 2018 23:17

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by Mr Pig » 31 Aug 2019 16:09

lenjack wrote:
31 Aug 2019 15:45
Apparently, you believe the cart wears out. I don't think so. Replace the stylus, assuming it's replaceable, and it should be as good as new.
If you buy an expensive cartridge the cost of either replacing the stylus, or the whole cart if a moving coil, is high. Say around £300 for a stylus on a 2M black. Over six or seven years that's about a grand on styluses. Most decent moving coils cost more than that.

raphaelmabo
long player
long player
Sweden
Posts: 1801
Joined: 30 Aug 2010 21:01
Location: Askersund, Sweden
Contact:

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by raphaelmabo » 31 Aug 2019 16:22

I agree with Ivor Tiefenbrun/Linn here. Turntable first, then cartridge. Personally, I follow the 2-1 philosophy. What I mean by this, is that the turntable is twice as expensive as the cartridge, or the price of the cartridge should not exceed half the cost of the turntable. So I get 2 cartridges for the same amount as 1 turntable. So, for a 1 000 euro turntable I would happy spend up to 500 euro on the cartridge, with a 500 turntable, I would spend up to 250 euro on the cartridge. I currently have a 700 euro turntable and a 300 euro cartridge. If I ever feel like spending 1000 euro, I will spend them on an even better turntable, not on the cartridge.

Mr Pig
senior member
senior member
Scotland
Posts: 281
Joined: 13 Feb 2018 23:17

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by Mr Pig » 31 Aug 2019 17:13

raphaelmabo wrote:
31 Aug 2019 16:22
Personally, I follow the 2-1 philosophy. What I mean by this, is that the turntable is twice as expensive as the cartridge, or the price of the cartridge should not exceed half the cost of the turntable.
I don't know that you can make rules. Where is the law that says cartridges of a given quality cost as much to manufacture as turntables? But if we use your example, I would go further. I don't think I would spend £500 on a cartridge until the turntable was nearing the top of the tree. I've done it, but I wouldn't do it again knowing what I know now.

As I said, you can't be dogmatic about these things, there are a bunch of variables at work, but I do slap my forehead when I see people putting top cartridges on a Trio KD-1033.

billshurv
long player
long player
Posts: 2333
Joined: 16 Oct 2014 15:38

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by billshurv » 31 Aug 2019 17:16

Ivor wanted to sell as much of his own stuff as possible. And upgrades. Especially the upgrades. As a result of careful training of the dealers and a tame UK audio press some UK audiophiles have ended up with a somewhat twisted view of things. All IMHO.

Having said that the quality of the turntable and arm DOES matter but what is good enough may not be what people expect and there is a lot of very good stuff out there that will rock with the best cartridges.

So for everyone programmed to thing replacable headshells are evil there are plenty who wouldn't be without them and don't think they are missing out even with expensive cartridges.

Then again I would never (again) pay silly money for anything. The replacement cost of my 30 year old front end is stupidly high now. And my Trio KD-550 #2 is good enough for my best MCs

Mr Pig
senior member
senior member
Scotland
Posts: 281
Joined: 13 Feb 2018 23:17

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by Mr Pig » 31 Aug 2019 17:30

billshurv wrote:
31 Aug 2019 17:16
Ivor wanted to sell as much of his own stuff as possible. And upgrades. Especially the upgrades. As a result of careful training of the dealers and a tame UK audio press some UK audiophiles have ended up with a somewhat twisted view of things.
Oh I totally agree with that. Linn propaganda hurt the UK hi-fi market as much as it helped it. It was good for a lot of UK manufacturers but it let to the dismissal of a lot of perfectly capable kit from Japan in particular. I'm glad to see things changing with Technics turntables finding shelf space in many specialised hi-fi dealerships.

sliceofhogan
member
member
Posts: 202
Joined: 14 Jul 2008 23:05
Location: Amsterdam

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by sliceofhogan » 31 Aug 2019 18:45

Well, call me crazy :mrgreen:

Turntable around $150 (used, but probably wasn't that expensive when new), catridge around $1500.
Optonica_SPU_OriHeadshell.jpg
(143.12 KiB) Downloaded 462 times
As it worked very well, I threw even more money at the system, a new headshell :D
Optonica_SPU_Wood.jpg
(182.23 KiB) Downloaded 460 times
Very happy.

Legrace
long player
long player
Canada
Posts: 1581
Joined: 23 Nov 2015 20:17

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by Legrace » 31 Aug 2019 21:53

More attention should be paid to proper compliance matching then relative cost. Someone with really low end table is unlikely to install an expensive cartridge.

Mr Pig
senior member
senior member
Scotland
Posts: 281
Joined: 13 Feb 2018 23:17

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by Mr Pig » 31 Aug 2019 22:01

Legrace wrote:
31 Aug 2019 21:53
Someone with really low end table is unlikely to install an expensive cartridge.
Probably not but it's not unusual to see decent moving coils on a Planar3 or an old, not very high-end Jap belt drive.

chgc
senior member
senior member
Posts: 341
Joined: 20 Jan 2018 20:54

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by chgc » 01 Sep 2019 01:16

I agree that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put a high end cart on a crummy deck. But I believe that there is only a rough correlation between price and performance, especially if one includes vintage gear in the comparison.

lbls1
member
member
United States of America
Posts: 218
Joined: 25 Mar 2018 15:46
Location: Queens

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by lbls1 » 01 Sep 2019 02:34

A good cartridge can last decades! I know this firsthand. At one point I used to think that cartridges would only last a couple of years, but recently someone advised me that many magnetic cartridges will last indefinitely. I have had poor cartridges on turntables in the past that I've replaced, but as an example my Technics "The family friend" has had its v15 cartridge since it was new (from 1990, 29 years ago). The Shure cartridge on my Dual I can tell is also quite aged, yet both cartridges play superbly. It was special to note that my M44C cartridge improved significantly when I replaced the stylus with a high quality new Shure stylus.

However, as with many things, longevity is very dependent on quality and construction, and you can have a cartridge that will either fail or its performance will downgrade with time. I just caution everyone to pay very close attention to your high quality cartridge when the music doesn't sound quite right. It may not be the cartridge's fault.

wolfie62
senior member
senior member
United States of America
Posts: 969
Joined: 04 Jan 2017 15:47
Location: Birmingham

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by wolfie62 » 01 Sep 2019 03:34

My Empire 880P is from 1961. Great cart! ADC 220X is from 1966. I’ve got numerous first gen Shures from 1964-1979 and later from 1997 and 2001. I have ADC and AT carts from 1971-1982.

The only carts I consider “old” are prior to 1970.

I think many folks today don’t know, or have forgotten that many cartridge makers back then “got it right.” Just because a cartridge is new, doesn’t mean it outperforms vintage cartridges! And, thankfully, several styli makers are producing increasingly higher quality aftermarket styli.

Just got a test record today that I tried out on several cartridges. The test record is from 1967. My Pickering XV-15 1200E passed with flying colors on tracking, frequency response. The 1961 Empire also passed handily.

noisefreq
senior member
senior member
United States of America
Posts: 909
Joined: 20 Feb 2013 20:04
Location: Independence

Re: Turntable vs Cartridge

Post by noisefreq » 01 Sep 2019 03:40

Your opinion about better arm/cheaper cart is one way to look at it.
But it think Legrace has it right. Compliance is the determining factor.
There are plenty mid-fi arms that can produce excellent results with a hi-fi cart and are also very capable with a workhorse cartridge, too.
It just depends on whether they are a good match.
And cartridges don't wear out...really!?
Styli can last hundreds of hours when properly aligned and kept cleaned.

I don't own a Linn/Ekos/Ittok... but I do have several suspension tables with well set up arm/cartridge combinations.
The cartridge will only sound it's best when the whole system, from stylus to speaker, is set up properly.
Having experience with several different TTs can be very enlightening and only comes with time.

Post Reply