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What does a turntable cartridge actually do (and what is it)?

Vinyl Life Blog

Vinyl Life Blog What does a turntable cartridge actually do (and what is it)?

For such a tiny part, the cartridge on your turntable does a lot of the heavy-lifting to turn your records into music you can enjoy. Getting the information out of those grooves is a fiddly task, and how your cartridge does that job makes a huge difference to how your records end up sounding.

Take a step back – what IS a cartridge?
The most obvious bit of the cartridge is the stylus, which is sometimes called the needle – that’s the very fine diamond tip that you might be able to see if you squint hard enough – that actually touches your records, reading the bumps and waves that get turned into sound. The information picked up by the stylus is turned into electrical signals in the cartridge body – a box about the size of a finger joint on the end of your tonearm.

A close-up of the cartridge on a turntable

Each cartridge sounds a little bit different, so getting a new cartridge can change the way your collection sounds. The Ortofon cartridges that we choose for our turntables are some of the best available, and make it easy to experiment with new textures and timbres.

The OM series are robust, easy-to-use cartridges that sound as good as some much more expensive cartridges. From the entry-level OM 5S to the clearer, more detailed Super OM 5E, these cartridges are a solid option for anyone starting out in vinyl.
OM cartridge in black & white

Ortofon OM cartridge 

The next step up is Ortofon’s 2M Series, which covers a massive range of sound options to choose from so you can customise your vinyl experience to suit your tastes. You might have seen the 2M Red fitted to some of our best-selling turntables like the Debut Carbon. That’s because the 2M Red is a super-versatile cartridge that loves whatever music you can throw at it, bringing out the melody with a human touch that makes your records feel alive.

2M Red on a record
Ortofon 2M Red

The 2M Blue is a close relative of the 2M Red, but upgrades the Red’s tipped elliptical stylus for a nude diamond, so it can deliver a bit more energy where you need it (find out more about how a stylus changes your sound here). That extra energy means the Blue shines on more rhythmic tunes, so your funk, disco and electronic albums pump even harder with a Blue. It also cuts down on surface noise, so you’ll have less crackling sounds getting between you and your music.

2M Blue on a Pro-Ject 2Xperience SBOrtofon 2M Blue

If you’re into vintage vibes, the 2M Bronze is the perfect choice for you. Inspired by the warm analogue feel of records from the early 70s, the 2M Bronze shines on classic rock, country and soul. Surprisingly, the 2M Bronze is also right at home with jazz and classical, balancing the different instrument timbres in a rich, lifelike way.

Close-up of a 2M Bronze on a recordOrtofon 2M Bronze

The top of the pile is the 2M Black, which slices through the grooves of your collection to dig up the details other cartridges just can’t touch. You’ll hear your records like they’re brand-new, especially those with more modern, densely-layered production.

Close-up of a 2M Black playing a copy of Beck's album "Morning Phase"Ortofon 2M Black