How to find our range of Stereo Cartridges
Go to the top menu Stereo and choose from the drop down menu.
Stereo was developed to give a more natural rendition of the spatial ambience found in normal listening environments and this was originally achieved by using two separate channels for the sound. Further enhancements have since been made with quadraphonic or ambient surround sound but they have never caught on compared to stereo. The majority of listeners still seem to find that placement of individual sounds within the ‘sound stage’ created by two channel stereo is fine, especially when listening through headphones or earphones.
The first commercial stereo vinyl record release was in 1957 by American company Audio Fidelity Records. It was rapidly followed by another American release from Bel Canto Records. Both were demonstration discs but mass market records quickly followed and over a relatively short period of time stereo became the must have format for LP records, although singles remained mono for many years. The equipment to manufacture and reproduce stereo sound was more complex and expensive than that needed for mono but the price was clearly deemed worth paying by both producers and consumers.
Modern stereo cartridges fall into three broad categories, moving coil (MC), moving magnet (MM) and ceramic. Other materials used in the past have also included piezoelectric crystals and some manufacturers replace the moving magnet with a small piece of iron (MI) and create the flux with a fixed permanent magnet over the coils.
Ceramic and crystal material is mainly used where costs need to be kept as low as possible and cartridges which use these materials have the added advantage that they tend to be quite resilient to poor handling. They also have relatively high electrical output allowing for less sophisticated amplification. They require a high tracking force (downward pressure) and have a low compliance (flexibility) at the stylus, so are more likely to damage the record grooves than other types. The low compliance also means sound quality is compromised.
Moving coil and moving magnet/iron cartridges use magnetic flux to generate the electrical signal and their output is much lower, particularly for moving coil cartridges. However both types have the advantage that they track at a much lower force than crystal/ceramic types. They also have more compliance at the stylus, allowing them to follow the record groove more accurately and without any potential damage. Some of the latest moving magnet/iron designs are very good compared to their forebears and the electrical output from moving magnet cartridges is generally about ten times that of moving coils. This means that there is a significantly reduced likelihood of interference along the pre-amplification path to the main amplifier. High output moving coils are available but the greater mass of the larger coils needed to generate the higher voltages can take away from the more nuanced sound which is often quoted as the main advantage of moving coils. Many hi-fi enthusiasts believe that moving coil cartridges offer the finest sound of all. This is despite their generally higher cost due the more complex manufacturing process, their significantly greater vulnerability to accidental damage and the need for more sophisticated amplification.
Another major difference between moving magnet/iron and moving coil cartridges is that it is generally possible to replace the stylus assembly on moving magnet/iron versions whereas moving coil stylii are necessarily part of the main cartridge assembly and cannot be replaced (although some manufacturers offer a re-tipping service to replace the actual needle tip part of the stylus).
The design of the stylus tip and cantilever has a significant effect on the quality of the sound reproduced and many manufacturers offer similar cartridge bodies with a range of stylus tips/cantilevers made from different materials. The stylus assembly is often the most expensive part of the cartridge and some moving magnet/iron cartridges can be upgraded just by replacing the stylus assembly with a better type. For example it may be possible to replace an elliptical stylus with a line contact type.
Correctly matching the cartridge to the preamplifier and cabling also has a noticeable effect on the quality of the sound being reproduced in higher end systems.
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