Choosing the Best Moving Coil Cartridge (MC) for your system.
When you decide on the best moving magnet cartridge (mc) for your system, there are a number of important factors to consider.
Firstly it may help some, if we start by clarifying why you would choose a moving coil cartridge over a moving magnet cartridge. There is only one reason: Low output moving coil cartridges (mc) have long dominated the high end due to their lower tip mass which allows for increased speed, dynamics and detail retrieval.
This performance increase usually comes at the cost of electrical output which is typically around 0.5mV (10 times lower than moving magnet cartridges). Because of their low output, they need a high quality phono stage or you will not hear the benefits.
Some moving coil cartridges can be treated the same as moving Magnets
It can cause confusion that high output moving coil cartridges can be treated exactly the same as moving magnet cartridges. This is because they have similar outputs as moving magnet cartridges and work into the standard moving magnet input of 47Kohm.
Factors affecting choice of the best moving coil cartridge
When you choose the best moving coil cartridge for you particular system it’s not only a matter of looking up review rankings. There are factors which are not always mentioned:
- Sound Quality
- What features you are investing in with higher value cartridges
- How much to invest
- Which model of mc cartridge will best match your system
- Musical taste
Sound quality improves significantly with the best moving coil cartridges. The reasons for this are explained below under the “Features” heading.
Those unfamiliar with turntable hierarchy tend to believe intuitively that cartridge quality will determine the sound quality of your record player more than anything else.
Tests have proven this to be a big mistake. The performance of your moving coil cartridge is determined largely by the quality of your record player and tonearm. This is especially true for moving coil cartridges which tend to vibrate with higher mechanical energy than moving magnet cartridges and need an extremely rigid platform. For example a £300 cartridge can outperform a £3000 cartridge simply by virtue of being in a better tonearm (incredible but true). Knowing this will help you achieve the best possible increase in sound quality within a budget.
Features of the best moving coil cartridge models
Cartridges features can be incredibly sophisticated as evidenced by models in excess of £10,000. This is a complex subject so the following is a brief explanation of various features of cartridges.
The Stylus is in contact with the surface of your record and is invariably a diamond. Diamond tips vary from spherical to highly profiled tips.
High Quality materials and build
Ideally the cantilever which holds the stylus should be rigid, low mass and non resonant. To achieve these criteria requires expensive, high grade materials and specialist manufacturing techniques. The same holds true for the miniature electrical coils, magnets, suspension system and cartridge body.
Precision and Tolerances in the best moving coil cartridge models
Precision plays an important role in sound quality. This is a complex aspect which is fully dealt with in our youtube video “how to tune your cartridge by ear”. For example on more expensive moving coil cartridges, the stylus angle affects sound quality markedly and it’s expensive to ensure accuracy to within 1 degree or less.
Each component needs to be assembled with meticulous care to build the best moving coil cartridge. Dimensions of things like magnetic gaps vary depending on tolerance. Magnetic gaps are very important for sound quality but the tighter the gap the more expensive it is to build.
How much to invest in a moving coil cartridge?
Apportioning how much you invest in the best moving coil cartridge depends entirely on the quality of partnering source components. You want a balanced approach to the value of each component in the audio chain which yields maximum return.
If you use an integrated amplifier and plug your turntable into the phono input, it’s unlikely to yield optimum results for the important reasons explained in Phono Stage overview. In summary we strongly recommend using a good stand alone phono stage.
For Origin Live Turntables a loose split down of front end value is:
- Turntable 30%
- Tonearm 27%
- Phono Stage 27%
- Moving Coil Cartridge 16%
This is a huge approximation for budgeting purposes only. From a performance standpoint improving any one of the four items above will result in improvement.
For other brands of turntable and tonearm, guidance will vary enormously depending on the brands involved. Things are too complex to provide concrete guidance, however taking an average we would advise:
Phono Stage 30%
Moving Coil Cartridge 15%
Which is the best moving coil cartridge (mc) to match your system?
There are 4 factors to consider in order of importance:
- Synergy with System and Room Acoustics
- Synergy with tonearm
Synergy with System and Room Acoustics
As described on our cartridge overview page, moving coil cartridges each have their own musical character. Because of this opinions and recommendations vary widely. Its best to read about these before reaching any decision.
Synergy with Tonearm
Due to the obvious tonal character of many tonearms it’s well know that there is a need to match the cartridge. For this reason the best coil magnet cartridge (mc) choice will vary depending on the arm. This is not about a compliance mismatch but tonal imbalances which affect musicality and timing. It’s worth adding that Origin Live arms do not seem to have the synergy issues that plague many tonearms.
Compliance is not as significant as some folk make it out to be. Yes it does affect matters, but is only one factor among many. We hear regularly of perfect compliance matches that mistrack and conversly of mismatches which track perfectly. Most moving coil cartridges will work with most tonearms nowadays and it’s only when they get far from the norm that this can become and issue. There are also aspects of compliance which we feel are not properly understood which means the mathmatical models are flawed.
Musical Taste affects your choice of the best moving coil cartridge (mc)
If your system is perfectly neutral in terms of tonal balance, you may need to consider the character of the best moving coil cartridge (mc) from what you like to hear most. For example,you may be an analytical listener who enjoys a very detailed sound with outstanding transparency. Cartridges which major on these aspects often lack a powerful punchy bass. If you want a good all round moving coil cartridge it will generaly be at the expense of one aspect or another so it helps to know what your priorites are.