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Moving Magnet and Moving Coil pick-up cartridges are designed to read the tiny modulations in a vinyl record's groove, and convert the mechanical motion to an electrical impulse which can be amplified through a hi-fi system to music that we can hear and enjoy. It is a critical component to understand when trying to get the best from a turntable-based hi-fi system.
For detailed advice on cartridge set-up, visit our Cartridge Installation page. Here, we explain how pick-up cartridges work and what to look out for before you buy - particularly when considering an Ortofon cartridge.
Above are four drawings of a record groove. Slide a. shows the profile of an original cutting stylus – obviously this is what dictates the level of detail in a record groove. Slide b. shows a spherical stylus in the groove. Spherical styli are the most common and most basic profile; they are easier to manufacture, so they are more affordable, but they pick up little information from the record wall and also put high amounts of pressure on localised parts of the groove. Slide c. shows an Elliptical stylus in the groove. Elliptical styli have their sides polished so they read more of the groove, but are still at the more affordable end of the price spectrum. Finally, slide d. shows a Fine-Line stylus in the record groove. Fine-Line styli are often found in more premium designs and boast an optimized polished profile, which allows for far greater contact than both Spherical and Elliptical designs.
There are, broadly speaking, two types of pick-up cartridge in common use today. Typically, moving magnet cartridges are at the more affordable end of the price spectrum because of the extra level of micro-engineering involved in moving coil manufacturing. The main differences of each are detailed below...
Ortofon are one of the last remaining dedicated cartridge companies. As a result, they boast a wide range of cartridges suited to a variety of budgets and music preferences. The OM and 2M series represent Ortofon’s moving magnet models, though they offer replacement styli for a wide variety of older designs. Ortofon’s moving coil models range from the more affordable Quintet series and the premium Cadenza range up to the high-end, exclusive models - such as the flagship MC Anna.
All the models in Ortofon’s 2M, Quintet and Cadenza ranges are distinguished by their colour. The colour represents not only each models' price position in the range, but also its unique sonic characteristics. Below, the typical sound performance for each colour is described, in price-ascending order:
Good harmonic sound from a good value-for-money cartridge. The Red models always represent the entry-level cartridge in a range.
More precise sound than a Red cartridge; Blue cartridges tend to have a higher frequency bandwidth for a more ‘direct’ sound.
Bronze cartridges tend to have a more damped and romantic sound, suiting them particularly well to classical compositions.
Black cartridges always represent the top of a range, and as a result they offer the best of everything. They read a lot more of the groove, offering a more balanced and ‘truer’ musical performance than any other competitor product. They are strictly true to Ortofon's mantra of "Accuracy in Sound".
If you are still interested in learning more about Hi-Fi cartridges, take a look at Ortfon's Guide about Everything you need to know about Phono Cartridges.