MM or MC Phono Cartridge – Which One Should You Buy?
Even though most people do not use vinyl record players to listen to music, these retro sound systems have not lost their magic yet. If you have ever owned or read about a turntable (also known as a gramophone, phonograph, record player, and disc spinner), then you know that the phono cartridge is the one indispensable component that makes all the musical magic!
In a turntable, the stylus creates vibrations, which make the phono cartridge generate electromagnetic fields, which in turn create the sound of music. In this article, I will talk about the two types of phono cartridges, their differences, their advantages and disadvantages, and which one you should buy.
The two kinds of phono cartridges are called Moving Magnetic or MM cartridges and Moving Coil or MC cartridges. Both of these two phono cartridges have their pros and cons, which will be discussed in detail in this article.
You can also read: Can any Cartridge Work for any Turntable?
What is a MM or Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge?
A MM or moving magnet phono cartridge contains a very small but potent magnet that is affixed to a cantilever with a diamond tip. The cantilever is the one that does the work of creating musical waves from the grooves on the vinyl record.
The vibrations from the cantilever are transmitted through metallic wires to the magnet which is encased inside a coil that is made with densely packed and highly delicate wires.
Due to the magnet’s movement inside the tightly encased coil, small electrical energies are generated which are transferred to a phono circuit that amplifies the electrical energy so that it can be used by the phonograph. The moving magnet usually outputs no more than five millivolts.
As explained earlier, this electrical output from the moving magnet is directly transferred into a phono circuit that, after amplifying it, creates the magical sounds we love. The moving magnet or MM cartridge is very reliable and does not breakdown easily, which is quite nice for people who have never used a turntable and are just starting with one.
The MM or moving magnet cartridge has two great advantages. The first is that it is capable of producing steady and powerful output, which makes it compatible with a wide array of phono circuits and can be inputted on many stereos. The other advantage is that the stylus of a MM or moving magnet cartridge can be replaced in the event of failure. Since the stylus is the only component of the turntable that comes into direct contact with the vinyl records, it is usually the most replaced component. Replacing the stylus is much more cost-efficient than replacing the entire cartridge.
On the other hand, the MM or moving magnet cartridge has one glaring disadvantage. Having a magnet, this cartridge has a greater mass, which means that the stylus has a much heavier load compared to an MC or moving coil cartridge. What this means is that the stylus of a MM or moving magnet cartridge cannot detect any subtle fluctuations within the grooves on a vinyl record which gives it a distinct performance disadvantage for more purist users of turntables.
Also, check out: Top 10 Turntable Cartridge in 2021
What is an MC or Moving Coil Phono Cartridge?
The MC or moving coil cartridge is very similar to the MM or moving magnet cartridge. In an MC or moving coil cartridge, as the name suggests, the magnet is fixed while the coil around it is capable of vibrational movement about the stylus as it tracks the grooves on the vinyl record. Due to a lower density of the coil and lighter mass, the stylus in a moving coil or MC phono cartridge can detect much more low-level frequencies and has greater bandwidth for musical signals from the grooves on a vinyl record. This leads to a much more nuanced music listening experience. However, as with all things the moving coil or MC cartridge has its disadvantages which can be one too many for beginner users of turntables. Because of the complexities of the MC phono cartridge, it is best suited for experienced or professional turntable users.
Although the moving coil cartridge provides a better listening experience, it is more costly and requires additional auxiliary equipment. As the moving coil cartridge can only output a maximum of 0.2 millivolts, it requires the use of an outboard amplifier and more interconnects which are quite expensive and necessitate expert handling.
Moreover, the moving coil phono cartridge requires experienced tuning otherwise the results of a fumbling novice can give out a less than sterling music listening experience.
Thus, for someone who is just starting on turntables, the MM or moving magnet phono cartridge is a better option.
You can also check Top 10 DJ Turntables in 2021
Moving coil VS Moving Magnet Cartridges: Which one should you buy?
Well, the answer is that whichever works for your individual needs! You should get that phono cartridge which you need. So here are some technical tidbits about both the MM and MC cartridges:
Volume or Gain
- Moving magnet cartridges give out around 35 dB of preamp gains that make it universally compatible.
- Moving coil cartridges create such low gains that they require additional amplifiers. Those amplifiers create a final output between 50 and 75 dB which are not compatible with any but only the high-end equipment.
Interference or Noise
- Moving magnet cartridges produce less interference and so they work well with all systems
- Moving coil cartridges have a lower output and due to the higher amplification. They have much more noise and require expensive equipment to normalize their sound output.
- Moving magnet cartridges are easier to use. But they are more prone to getting worn out and have to be replaced often. Good thing they are not very expensive!
- Moving coil cartridges have a more complex construction that makes them very delicate and very easy to break. However, they will last a long time if handled properly. MC cartridges are also quite expensive to replace.
Moving magnet and moving coil phono cartridges both have their strengths and weaknesses. It is not fair to differentiate them based on one or two factors. Any purchase should be made after considering the model, price, and technical parameters of your turntable. Based on what you can afford, you should choose between a moving magnet or moving coil phono cartridges.
In the end, your level of expertise in operating a turntable should choose between them. Although the moving coil cartridge outputs audiophile-grade music, the moving magnet cartridge is best for beginners and budget-conscious turntable owners.
Read more about Essential DJ Equipment